Meet the artisan: Adam Bragg
PUBLISHED: 09:20 23 January 2018 | UPDATED: 13:01 23 January 2018
Sarah Lucy Brown
Tessa Allingham meets Adam Bragg, a talented young cabinet maker just out of school but already making quite a name for himself
Outside Adam Bragg’s family home in Chevington is a neat white van. It’s clean and smartly-liveried, Adam’s name is writ large, the words Craftsmanship in Wood printed in elegantly-flowing script, and tasks undertaken – gunstock refurbishment, marquetry, gilding, French polishing, antique renovation – listed on the back.
The van could for all the world belong to an old-school master-craftsman, a person steeped in a lifetime working the exquisitely precise, traditional skills of the 18th century maestro, Thomas Chippendale.
But the craftsman who opens the van door is just 19 years old. Despite his age, Adam, a cabinet-maker for the 21st century, is wasting no time in setting out his professional stall. Having graduated in June 2016 from the Chippendale School of Furniture near Edinburgh, he had his workshop up and running by July, his van sorted by August, pieces about him in the press by September, and is quickly gaining a reputation round these parts as a skilled wood-worker capable of turning his hand to most challenges.
A glance around the workshop in his back garden proves the point. It is meticulously ordered and unexpectedly dust-free. His second workshop is where the dustier machine work is done, with rows of chisels (metric and imperial dimensions, of course) saws, hammers and fine tweezers all in their slots. Beneath the benches are piles of wood, much sourced from Ickworth Park, which is literally on his doorstep, or off-cuts from Suffolk Handmade Kitchens.
“I work with Jamie [Hudson, owner of SHK] three days a week. It’s a great balance to my own business.” On one bench, dismantled, is a Beretta 687 shotgun, an angry cut slicing through the beautifully grained walnut wood stock. Opposite, a gorgeous shapely hollow-body electric guitar hangs on a leather-topped oak tripod stand, and along from that is the dashboard of a vintage Rolls Royce car. Adam loves this sort of variety. He indicates his restoration projects.
“Lots of people who shoot are very particular about their guns. It’s very easy to catch the stock on a zip or buckle and scratch the wood. It’s wonderful to be able to bring the wood back to its original state, and there aren’t many people who do this kind of work.” Using skills learned at the Chippendale Furniture School, Adam renovated a broken, rusted, over-under 12-bore with no woodwork, bought for just £40 from the gun shop in Barrow.
“I spent the summer on it, using English walnut for the stock and fore-end, stripping and cleaning the metalwork, getting the mechanism professionally repaired, hand-cutting the checkering on the grip, then French polishing the wood. It’s as good as new now, and it’s a piece I won’t ever part with.”
The Rolls Royce dashboard will require careful removal of flaking burr walnut veneer (the wood was flood-damaged), before replacing it with as close a match as possible and polishing it up to its original glamorous shine.
“With all restoration work,” Adam explains, “it’s vital not to lose the patina of a piece, the colour and detail that has built up over decades and, sometimes, centuries of use. Restoration is about bringing something back to life, not wiping out its character.”
But it’s original creations that excite Adam most. He’s about to start work on a bespoke music library for a client, and then there’s his beloved hollow body guitar made from Scottish sycamore and rosewood, the fretboard from Australian red gum, the nut a piece of fallow deer antler.
“That all started two or three years ago when I wanted a new guitar, but couldn’t afford it, so I decided to make one. I researched it on the Internet and six months later it turned out OK. Dad helped with the electrics and I’ve since made another guitar for myself, and one for a customer in Swaziland.”
He shows me other pieces. An occasional table, its tapered legs in white sycamore with inlay strips of walnut, and a burr walnut veneer top is contemporary, but clearly references traditional cabinetry.
“The form and style is traditional but the choice of woods brings it up to date,” Adam says. The same goes for the drinks cabinet in the family kitchen. It’s also made from light sycamore, but with unmistakable Chippendale-like refinement in the shape of the boxwood inlay walnut legs, the gleam of the burr walnut surfaces, and the smooth curve of the steam-bent front and drawers. Marquetry in sycamore, cherry and oak shows a shooting scene in intricate detail on the doors.
Adam’s cabinet-making journey started just a few years ago.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands, always knew I didn’t want a desk job,” he says, “and when I was given my grandfather’s lathe when I was 13 I just loved using it.” Hours after school and at weekends would be spent designing and making things and, A Levels completed, Adam was one of just 24 students from around the world to be accepted onto the 30-week course at the prestigious Chippendale School.
“I knew it was right for me. I did a taster week in Year 12 and just didn’t want to come home,” he says. “I had a wonderful teacher in Anselm Fraser [founder and director of the school] and graduated ready to set up on my own, prepared to juggle different projects and apply traditional and modern skills.”
A beautifully-made ‘apprentice box’ is effectively Adam’s CV. It’s deeply polished, constructed with precise hand-cut dovetail joints, the top decorated with a shooting scene, picked out in mahogany, maple and sycamore marquetry.
“I draw the pattern on paper, cut out pieces in tiny fragments of wood, glue them into place using tweezers, then use an iron to fix in everything.” Inside the box, six slots contain panels of wood that display Adam’s skills, including framed leather work, shimmering gilding, brass boulle inlay, veneering, marquetry and oyster work.
But what of fashion? What is the market for Adam’s kind of furniture, however beautifully it’s made? A diary busy well into 2017 with bespoke commissions and restoration projects answers that question.
“One of the best things about the Chippendale School was that I learnt not only a wide range of cabinet-making skills, but also how to get going in business. I feel able to adapt to whatever a customer wants, whether it be modern minimalist pieces, or traditional, elaborate classical designs, and I am hungry to show that I can make a success of this even though I am still young.”
To see examples of Adam’s work go to www.adambragg.co.uk or find him on Facebook www.facebook.com/adambragg.co.uk
When not working his lathe or delicately placing minuscule pieces of wood into an inlay, Adam will like as not be out enjoying country sports. He loves clay pigeon shooting, and in the season will spend Saturdays beating or – if he’s lucky – enjoying a day’s game shooting.
I like fishing too, but definitely only when the weather’s good. I can’t see the fun in sitting in the cold and wet.” Music fills spare time too. He’s a competent guitar-player and is a regular at gigs in Suffolk and further afield. “But really I’m so lucky that my hobby is also my career.”