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A Day in the Life of our Bespoke Team

6 March 2020

Ever wondered about the craftsmanship and design that goes into creating our unique steam bent bespoke projects? Here’s an exclusive behind the scenes look into our bespoke workshop.

Last year we celebrated the launch of our exclusive Tom Raffield Bespoke Service, an experimental and innovative part of our business which allows our experienced team of skilled makers the opportunity to create complex curves on a large scale and offer a unique service for our clients.

Following the success of our teams work on Colicci Coffee Kiosks by Mizzi Studios for London’s Royal Parks, our iconic Chelsea Flower Show Garden Stands and a steam bent desk for Institute of Physics to name but a few, our team have gained a wealth of experience that's applicable to an array of projects.

As spring approaches our team have started work on a bespoke steam bent egg structure, a collaboration between Tom Raffield and garden designer Tom Massey, for Yeo Valley’s Show Garden at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show. To celebrate this innovative design and the work of our talented team, we've taken a closer look at what it takes to bring a bespoke Tom Raffield design to life.

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Tom Massey's Yeo Valley Organic Show Garden featuring our steam bent egg structure.

8:00-9:00am: Arriving at our workshop in Falmouth the bespoke team don their steel boots and warm layers before getting the wood steamers fired up and ready to go. Whilst they wait for the steamers to reach optimum temperature (100 degrees), the team gather for a cup of tea to discuss the tasks they have coming up that day.

9:00-10:00am: The team are currently working hard to clad a giant egg-shaped metal structure for award-winning Garden Designer Tom Massey’s Chelsea Flower Show Yeo Valley Show Garden. Following sketches and 3D CAD drawings of the design, the team collaborate to discuss the best way to approach each step in the making process. As each project presents its own challenges and requires specialist techniques, no day is the same in the bespoke workshop!

Each custom jig is made especially for each component of the steam bent egg.

10:00-11:00am: A variety of complex jigs need to be custom designed and fabricated inhouse for the bespoke team to bend lengths of wood around. These are made to our specifications from plywood, with each one being entirely unique and purpose made.

The team set up the jigs ready for bending and load up the steamers with thick lengths of pre-cut sustainably sourced oak wood. The wood has been shaped especially for this design, with a thicker middle section and tapered edges, which will come together around the egg to fit the shape perfectly.

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Strapped and clamped: each timber length is secured both during and after the bending process.
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Thick lengths of oak are bent around a plywood jig to create the curved form of the egg's sub-frame.

11:00-12:30pm: The team begin bending the thinner lengths of wood that will take less time in the steamer. Each length of timber is skilfully bent around the jigs using a metal tension band to support the wood, clamping it into place as they go. This is a very skilled process and the team only have a few minutes to manipulate the wood when it comes out of the steamer before it starts to cool and the chances of it splitting or snapping increases. The wood will stay clamped in position overnight in our drying room to ensure that it holds its shape. Once the first lengths have been bent, the team head to the kitchen for some lunch.

“Our ground-breaking processes have opened a new world of possibilities for creating complex curves on a large scale and the ability to offer a more bespoke service to our clients. Our new planters and screens are an example of our flexible approach to design – allowing us to produce designs for different heights, surfaces and structures, all to bespoke measurements".

- Founder, Tom Raffield.
Clamps holding steam bent wood in place
Clamps are used to fix the steam bent oak in position as it cools.

1:00-3:00pm: The team begin to assemble the dried-out lengths of oak that they bent the day before to the inner metal frame of the egg. The complex frame is made from iron, and so an oak sub frame has to be positioned inside the iron frame in order for the outer cladding to be attached using screws. Assembling the oak sub frame inside the iron frame is a complicated job as the team have to fit each piece together like a puzzle, making sure everything is secure as they go.

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The metal shell of the egg was produced by the skilled team of workers at Surrey Iron Craft.
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Solid lengths of oak are fixed into place then screwed and secured into the metal frame.
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Marking and measuring. The assembly process requires utmost concentration.

3:00-4:30pm: Once the sub-frame is in place the team begin to attach the outer oak cladding to the outside of the egg. This is a delicate process as each piece of wood needs to be positioned uniformly around the curved edges of the structure. The inside of the egg also features a wooden bench which the team will need to hand craft in the following weeks.

4:30pm: Steamers turned off and workshop tidied so work can resume in the morning, our bespoke team head home to enjoy their evening.

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Solid pieces of steam bent oak take their shape.

Posted: 06.03.20
Updated: 15.04.21

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