10 weeks of hands-on tutoring, with 10 students, teaching traditional oak framing techniques. That’s the outline of the live build phase of the annual Prince’s Foundation Building Craft Apprenticeship.
In 2011, I was one of those apprentices, and from 2012 onwards I’ve been one of the tutors. I learnt new trades alongside expert craftspeople and I’m now proud to be part of that ongoing knowledge sharing, keeping traditional skills alive.
I’m privileged to be part of the skill-sharing and learning cycle, it’s hugely beneficial for me to be working alongside craftspeople from other disciplines and I am constantly inspired by each group of students.
Learning the skill of green oak framing
I love exploring the discipline of green oak framing with the apprentices. Often, we’re using green oak from one of HRH The Prince of Wales’ estates. That means we have to deal with its changing form as it dries and the irregularities of the timber.
Green oak comes in bigger sections than many joiners and carpenters are used to working with, that means bigger tools and chisels and bigger tolerances. We’re working to develop skills fit for a profitable working environment, where four or five hours spent on one joint just isn’t economically viable. We have to be simultaneously fast and accurate.
Sharing on-site experience of green oak framing
The whole idea of the live build is to prepare the students to take their place in the workforce, often become experts in their area of the heritage sector. Site experience and the chance to work with seasoned professionals is a huge part of that preparation.
I’ve now tutored for 5 years, and the projects have included a summerhouse, a woodland shelter, a walled garden pavilion. Every year I’ve been so impressed by the dedication and enthusiasm of the apprentices. What’s really great about my continued involvement in the Foundation is that I’ve been able to employ some of the alumni on professional projects in my own business.
As I specialise in the design and build of traditional oak frames and structural timber work, I can select students who demonstrated a genuine interest in traditional building, sustainability and design. The benefits of the tutoring definitely go both ways.