Danny McCance 6 Dec 2018 02:06pm

Six of the best: hands-on courses

Are you tired of giving friends and family the same gift year-in year-out, or perhaps a desk bound existence is making you feel significantly hands-off? All around the country, and the world for that matter, there are skilled and resourceful artisans who – for a fee – will show you exactly how they conduct their craft. Although the options are more-or-less limitless, here are six top suggestions for hands-on experiences

Caption: Why not try your hand at blacksmithing?

Framing it right

What could be more exhilarating than flying along on bike made by your own hand – with some serious expert input of course. Shropshire-based Bicycles by Design and Canterbury-situated Downland Cycles offer courses covering all aspects of the frame building process – five- and eight-day respectively – on completion of which you will have a custom frame to take home. Then there is London’s Bamboo Bike Club, which offers a two-day course in which you will learn how to build a bamboo frame, with additional courses available for adding components and extra finishes.

Footing the bill

With such a huge range of brands and of-the-shelf options, one might wonder what is the need for a bespoke shoe. However there is a poetry in using your hands to create something for your feet. London’s I Can Make Shoes offers a range of courses from simple half-day sandal making, to a weekend sneaker course and the more intensive 10-day footwear masterclass programme. And for those with the environment in mind, Devon’s Green Shoes offers a range of simple leather and vegan shoe options at in their one-day workshops.

Hammer and tongs

Beating an anvil all day long, while tiring, is a great way of letting off some latent office-related steam. The added benefit is you get to keep some unique and long-wearing metal goods. Berkshire-based Anvil Forge offers an experience day, for example, that will have you learning how to forge a fire-poker before moving onto more creative projects under the tutelage of the in-house smiths. And, at Leatherhead the Quinnell School of Blacksmithing, a three-day introductory course, culminates in students making a ram’s head toasting fork. Or, for another option, Clarke Knives in Wiltshire offers the opportunity to beat out and sharpen your own knife blade.

Stooling for time

A piece of furniture is also something that can last a lifetime, if not generations, and yet we take its complexity for granted. The New School of Furniture Making shows willing novices how to build stylish and sleek, but by no means simple, designs such as a Japanese bench completed in a weekend, or a locking table crafted evening classes over an eight-week period. For something a bit more involved, the Chippendale International Furniture School in Edinburgh offers an intensive, five-day introductory course in which you’ll make a hardwood box with a wooden hinge, an upholstered stool and a bowl turned in a lathe.

A real glass act

A glass vase, like the flowers it holds, is a beautiful gift for a loved one. A hand made offering is no exception – granted that you blow it right. Jonathon Rogers, based in Essex offers single- or two-day courses in which you’ll learn how to blow, shape and colour glass into many shapes and sizes. Glass Quarter Designs in the West Midlands will show you how to make a variety of decorative pieces such as glass beads, Christmas baubles and glass mosaics, as well as offering separate courses in bud vase blowing and glass bowl making.

You better brielieve it

From cheddar to Camembert, Roquefort to Red Leicester, cheese really runs the gamut of taste and texture. Understandably, this range of options desires a number of different techniques. The School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire offers a selection of courses fit for any cheese fancier ranging from a simple dairy skills course focusing on cheese, butter and yoghurt, to professional blue and hard cheese masterclasses, with many in between. Likewise, Wildes Cheese in London offers day-long cheese making courses, as well as short courses in Mozzarella stretching and, new for 2019, lessons in making your own halloumi.