Exchanging site work for fine workbenches and furniture, hand tool devotee Richard Maguire has more than a few tricks of the trade to share
Economists would have you believe this is no time for launching risky new ventures. As for a venture founded on manufacturing techniques similar to those used before the Industrial Revolution, you’d be forgiven for thinking that sounds more than a little ‘risky’. But that’s just what Richard Maguire’s up to with his budding woodwork business, and he isn’t phased whatsoever by the current spate of pessimistic news-casting. He has a vision, and he’s out to give it his all.
From the minute you meet young Richard, it’s obvious that he’s no ordinary woodworker. Walk through the open double doors into his workshop and the first thing likely to grab your attention is the lack of power tools and machinery. A large Startrite planer/thicknesser and bandsaw rest to the left of the doors, squeezed into the corner as tightly as could be with no working room around their perimeters; I get the distinct impression that they’re there through necessity rather than choice, like two misbehaving children banished to the naughty step! Meanwhile, two large, finely-made workbenches occupy the far and right-hand walls, and the centre of the workshop is devoid of equipment altogether, suggesting a space for building sizable items. On the left side a large wall-mounted rack provides storage for long native hardwood laminated sections – a clue, perhaps, to the industrious nature of this workshop.
Then there’s the man himself. Wearing a leather waistcoat, suede apron and traditional white shirt, Richard Maguire resembles a 19th century artisan. I’d spoken to him at some length prior to my visit and, having seen some photographs of him in his workshop, I had noted the traditional dress. As it turns out, there is no stage show for the camera here – this is standard workshop uniform for Richard. And when you see him work wood at the bench, believe me, there is no act. Only hard graft, genuine talent and just the right combination of dedication and passion needed to pull off an operation like this.
The operation, it should be said, is rather a mighty one. Not only does he make some very impressive furniture to commission, but that ‘risky venture’ we spoke of involves building extremely fine workbenches on demand. And when you consider his complicated educational background, his brave new pursuit is nothing short of inspirational.
Fighting the odds
Richard found out late on in his school years that he suffered from a severe form of dyslexia. This explained his difficulties with academic subjects at school. Unfortunately, by the time his dyslexia was diagnosed most of his school days had passed by. Richard left aged 14, without being able to read or write.
At around the same time, he met Helen, his now long-term partner. She was a star pupil from a nearby school and saw in Richard what his teachers had missed – untapped talent and a passion for doing things well. “She’s one of those good ’ns,” he says, his faced glazed over with reminiscence for those early years. They moved in together aged 17 and since then Helen has taught Richard to read and write; more than basic ability, his writing boasts something that can’t be easily taught – it’s eloquent and witty, as demonstrated by his workshop cupboard article, GW212:30. Helen also helps with the day to day running of the business from their purpose-built premises in Authorpe, Lincolnshire.
Following his early departure from school Richard was keen to work and earn a living. He took to roofing with his father, who specialises in traditional and unusual roof structures. Richard recalls a mansard roof they worked on together which wasn’t far off dome-shaped by the time it was finished!
Even on site he preferred to use hand tools. This wasn’t down to a disapproval of power tools, you understand, he just gelled with hand tools from the start – in fact, he found he could match this work-rate of his co-workers without the need for power. “I got some funny looks on site, with my bag of hand tools,” he explains. “But people got used to it and I could keep up with the pace. I could have carried on and done quite well on site.”
He continued for several years with his father but knew, deep down, that he was made to build furniture: “You can’t beat it [roofing] in the summer, but it’s not for me. I’ve known I wanted to be a furniture maker since I was 14.”
Richard banked every hard earned penny he could during that long period of site work until he had saved enough to kit out a workshop with a full complement of furniture making tools.