Some woodworkers are made, while it seems that others are born to the craft. That just might be the case for Ralph Laughton, a London-area woodworker and published woodworking author.
Growing up in a houseful of boys, Ralph’s first exposure to the craft was with his uncle, a professional cabinetmaker. “We had all sorts of materials to hand. Off cuts of timber, second hand shuttering ply, scaffold poles and the like,” Ralph says, as he recalls his early days. “The tool kit consisted of a tin bucket half full of rusty nails, hinges, door bolts and other useful ‘stuff’, a couple of claw hammers and a saw.”
At age 11, Ralph started at comprehensive school – sort of a technical school – where he had his first formal training in the craft. His lessons started with the most basic and essential skill any woodworker should know. “Our very first lesson was on sharpening hand tools. From that day on I was hooked and the passion has never left me.”
At 15, Ralph moved on to three years of technical college where he studied mechanical engineering for three more years. “While I found that work interesting, I did not pursue a career in engineering but opted instead to enter the world of specialist publishing working for a military book publisher and subsequently moved on to design and commercial art. But, my passion has always been woodworking”
Over the years, Ralph’s skills increased. He’s tackled many different styles of furniture, and has even ‘dabbled’ in turning. “Mostly, I turn round parts for square projects.” Even though there is a millennium’s worth of cultural history in his native Great Britain, one of his favorite furniture styles comes from across the pond – the clean lines of Shaker projects.
As Ralph’s expertise grew, he was called upon by the editors of two British woodworking magazines – The Router and New Woodworking – to write his first two works – Success with Sharpening (ISBN – 978-1861083296) and Success with Joints (ISBN – 978-1861084156).
The books were well received, and, through them, he caught the attention of the late Danny Proulx. Danny, already a well-respected woodworking author in his own right, recognized Ralph’s ability to explain difficult woodworking concepts clearly, and introduced Ralph to his publishers at F&W Publications. “According to Danny, they were looking for some British authors to add a different perspective on things. I said ‘yes’, and things started to happen.”
After much thinking and collaboration with his wife Sue, Ralph hit on the idea for a book of storage projects for the home woodworking shop. Aptly titled Workshop Storage Solutions (ISBN – 978-1558708129), the book offers some interesting projects that draw their inspiration from some unlikely sources. “One day in the shop, Sue and I were talking about somewhere to put routers. A few sketches were made but nothing seemed right. A couple of days later Sue came up with the idea that the routers need to be taken to the work, just like a hairdresser uses a trolley to take the tools to the customer. A couple of thousand words, A few sketches and a working drawing, some MDF, a few wheels and the trolley was a reality.”
The creative process is helped along by Ralph’s prior experience with graphic layout and publishing. According to Ralph, putting the thoughts into words and creating the projects are the easy parts. “Writing books is just a long slog. Sue and I will formulate the idea, write a table of contents and then I will sit down and write the whole thing. From there, it’s off to the workshop to build the projects according to the instructions I have just written. We shoot the photographs following the captions like a script – that’s all there is to it…”
Time always seems to be at a premium for Ralph. “I have a few things in the planning stage such as some Victorian style built-ins in the master bedroom, I need to build a hobby chest to house a huge vintage Meccano – I think you call it ‘Erector’ in the US – collection. There are a few other projects needed to complete the follow-up to the Storage Solutions book and there are always the ‘requests’ from editors.”
Even as a published and well-respected woodworker, Ralph knows that he – and his readers – still have discoveries to make and skills to improve. “My goal is to pass on the basics, the first principles if you like. Once someone has mastered the basics the rest is just practice. Lots of it. In fact I am still practicing now.”