A career in woodwork

 8 February 2011

John Birds is a joiner and cabinet maker at the Chatsworth House stately home. His job is anything to do with anything to do with woodwork, joinery and cabinet making.

The joiner’s workshop

“The workshop at Chatsworth House used to be the old Victorian Kitchen. In 1957 the 11th Duke came to live at Chatsworth and wanted lots of joinery work to be done. The joiner’s workshop needed to be on-site and anyway, people complained that the food was always cold because the kitchen was too far away. They moved the kitchen closer to the private apartments and this has been a workshop ever since.

“There are four joiners here in the workshop: myself, the foreman, and two young lads. We took them on from school when we needed apprentices. They answered all the right questions and have been a fantastic investment who we hope will carry on when we’re gone.”

Working as a joiner

“Joinery at Chatsworth is different from building trade work. I work on quite a lot of conservation work. I’ve worked on frames for valuable paintings, a couple of Rembrandts, for example.

"For this career, I would encourage people to have a passion for working with wood. It has always been my vocation to make things."

“I’ve repaired a lot of chairs – usually those on the public route. These tend to be identified first thing. They have to be tended to first.

“Occasionally I get a really good job. I built a library here that took me three years, that was a wonderful.

“You come across strange things. There seems to be a tradition of people writing anecdotes on the side of their work. A couple of months ago we were taking a sash window out of its frame to put a new cord on. On the old window, the joiner had written: ‘The big push is just about to start.’ It must have been middle of World War 1, 1915 and the Somme.

Career journey for a joiner

“I came to Chatsworth twenty years ago. I served my apprenticeship at a local firm in Bakewell.

“The pinnacle of my career was building this Irish library for the late Duke. I only had a very rough sketch and made it up as I went along. The dowager used to come in and we used to discuss mouldings, and pick mouldings out that fitted the existing panelling in the room and I made cutters to match the mouldings – it was a really interesting and worthwhile job.

“I’m getting to the end of my career now. What I have enjoyed here is that every job is different and you have to think a little bit – which I like.

“To get into this trade I would encourage people to have a passion for working with wood. I’ve wanted to be a joiner since I was five years old and I had a tool set for Christmas. It has always been my vocation to make things.”

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