in Mike and the Bush Mechanics on 9 September 2011
Once I’d finished my interview, I asked Hatton if he had any tips for tinkerers who’d like to make their own furniture (that is, ahem, did he have any tips for me?).
Earlier in the conversation he’d said this: “The way I approach everything is, well – if someone else can do it, I can do it. All I’m missing is the knowledge. I’ve never been scared of having a crack at something new.”
I liked that a lot, even if it made my mind scream through all the things I’d been too scared to try.
Several years ago, Hatton quit his job as a fisheries officer and began making wicker-style chairs from willow branches he gathered along clogged creeks. They turned out like this (see also his light-fitting made from leftover landscaping netting):
Lacking training as a carpenter or cabinetmaker, he learnt how to make things piece by piece. Lacking money, he used recycled or reclaimed materials. I have long, intricate daydreams in which I do exactly that, so I was very pleased to meet him.
Here was his first piece of advice: “Think about ergonomics, for a start. If you’re making a chair, humans are only a certain size. The first one I made was too tall, too wide and too deep,” he said. “Same for tables – they’re always the same height. If you want to know how high a table is, measure a table. The same for a chair – measure the angle of the back. If you want to create an armchair go measure up an armchair and you’ll see it’s wider and it sits a lot lower.
“The best way to learn is to grab something and use it as a template for your own designs.”
In his workshop there was an elegant wooden couch (awaiting cushions), which he’d adapted from the frame of a couch he’d picked up by the roadside.
His second piece of advice was about how to use a chainsaw to carve timber. I began writing it in this piece, but foresaw terrible limb-loss among readers, so I deleted it; I suggest you take a course instead.
As well as Hatton’s phlegmatic demeanour and his achingly nostalgic factory, there was something else that appealed to me about what I saw.
By necessity and by design, he had turned his limitations into his strengths. When he began, he had little money, but oodles of time (and a strong environmental ethic). So he used recycled materials.
He also didn’t have the expensive tools or the know-how to make slick, polished pieces. So he combined rustic finishes with a classic design aesthetic, and finished with a style all his own.
“I try not to sand too much,” he told me. “It’s an incredible amount of work and a large capital investment. If you can finish a piece of furniture with the natural weathered timber, why waste a day polishing the shit out of something and applying finish? There are so many people doing that already anyway. I think you can try to make things look too pretty, whereas it has inherent beauty relatively raw.”
Hatton has, however, spent several years working to shape a life that fits him perfectly – creatively, ethically and practically.