John Shaw Furniture Maker - Fine Woodworking John Shaw Furniture Maker - Fine Woodworking


Fine Woodworking

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John Shaw Furniture Maker - Fine Woodworking

"An idea, an eye for design, fine flitches of wood, sharp tools and the centuries old skills of woodcraft come together in furniture maker John Shaw’s workshop.

Furniture that surpasses the expectations of the owner starts with a conversation. Individual design is about finding out what the owners want, what their expectations are, what sort of room the table and chairs will go into, what space a hall table will become part of, what art piece a particular shelf or cabinet will set off…

I think about it, make sketches and sometimes models. When we’ve agreed on what we’re making and we have some ideas about the type of wood that we’re using, I build a full-scale model, screwed together and made from pine. I have to be sure the overall form is right and the piece works - chairs need to be comfortable, shelves the right height. The design mustn’t overwhelm the material, seeking a balance is important to me”

John and family now live in Nelson, after 14 years in the Lud Valley. The landscape of this beautiful part of New Zealand is an inspiration, as is the collegial support of the Nelson Furniture Collective and Woodworkers’ Guild and the synergy of living in an arts mecca.

I am enjoying sharing a workshop with other woodworkers, in Port Nelson; and have started The Centre for Fine Woodworking.


Wood offers an enormous scope to the craftsman. It’s tactile, a pleasure to work with.

I love the qualities of colour and grain, the feel of shaping it and the challenge of constructing with it.

This is what keeps me committed to working with wood and motivated as a woodworker.”


John’s skills in design and craftsmanship are highly developed. His career started in 1982 when he passed his City and Guilds at Rycotewood College in Oxford, England, gaining confidence in the traditional techniques of his craft. In 1985 he studied for a year with James Krenov in California at the College of the Redwoods. He spent the ‘90s as a tutor at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. But the central influence of James Krenov is something he reflects on often.

I met James Krenov at a workshop in Wellington in the early 80s. I’d already read his books and been excited by his approach to craftsmanship. When he invited me to study at College of the Redwoods in California it was a turning point.
‘Striving for excellence’ hadn’t become a cliché back then!

Jim taught me to be comfortable about making my work personal. It’s not about a forced attempt to make your work different, it’s a progression, a union between what you know, what you’ve experienced and a natural ambition to grow and develop.”

Recognising that one is part of a tradition is important. A mortise and tenon joint, dovetails – John sees these and other traditional techniques as offering honesty, and integrity.


Handmade furniture should last for generations. But this doesn’t just mean durability.

The details of a piece create a rhythm, ensuring it will reveal itself slowly. It will unfold, there will be discoveries

that are not immediate. The conversation at the beginning of a commission may go on for a very long time...”

Commissioned to design and make outdoor seats for the new Nelson Visitor Centre.
2005 "Fine" exhibition in Wellington, a group of Nelson artists in various media.
: Commissioned to provide furniture for private fishing lodge, Nelson, NZ.
2001: Commissioned to design and make 24 chairs to accompany an existing dining table.
2001: ‘The Fourth Perspective’, contemporary NZ furniture. Judith Anderson Gallery, Auckland.
2000: Overall winner Weyerhaeuser Studio Furniture Awards, Suter Gallery, Nelson.
1998: ‘Gathering Momentum’, furniture design in Nelson, Suter Gallery, Nelson.
1997: ‘Framed’ a studio furniture survey Dowse art museum, Lower Hutt, Wellington.
1996: ‘Movement’, an exhibition of Nelson furniture, Suter Gallery, Nelson.
1990: ‘The Human Touch’, Rotorua Bath House Museum.
1988: ‘NZ Contemporary Furniture’, Auckland Museum.
1987: ‘Design for Living’, NZ Crafts Council, Wellington.
1986-1999: Tutor in furniture design and making Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.
1984/85: College of the Redwoods with Jim Krenov.
1984: Fulbright scholarship.
1984: Arts Council of New Zealand overseas study grant.
1983,84,86: Alternative Furniture Show, Christchurch.
1980: City and Guilds, Rycotewood College, Oxon,UK.


John Shaw Furniture Maker
257 Rutherford Street
Nelson, New Zealand

Tel: 03 548 8793
Fax: 03 548 8796

The workshop is always open for a visit, but it's best to call before you arrive.

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Hall table

Hall table
Made from spectacular and rare Andaman Padauk wood from islands in the Bengal Sea; with ebony details.
John based this design on Chinese altar tables he saw at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was purchased by an English furniture historian.
“I was impressed by your beautifully proportioned, balanced and made hall
table with its subtle placing of figure and grain and general attention to detail.
I have a strong ‘can’t wait to get it home feeling’.”

Dining table
Dining chairs Dining table and chairs
Commissioned for a Nelson holiday home by its overseas owners. An informal suite crafted from Ash and American Cherry.
“We are very pleased with John's design work and the excellent style and finish of the wood materials.
It’s real art, we could not have done this in Norway and from my point of view it's the finest table and chairs I’ve seen.”

Blackbean cabinet

Treasure cabinet

Small cabinets

These small cabinets were all exhibition pieces, intended as display or storage places for special objects.
The materials used range from the rich chocolate tones of Australian Blackbean to the cool sophistication of Fiddleback Sycamore.

Small cabinets

Fall flap desk

Fall flap desk, wall hung
Crafted in chestnut and oak and purchased as an heirloom:
“This is of course being written at your desk and what a delight it is
proving to be, both visually and practically. I discover something new
about your workmanship every day and no doubt will continue to do so
for some time to come. It will become a much-treasured family heirloom.”


An exhibition piece based on a gentleman’s shaving cabinet; purchased by a collector.
The drawers of Pacific maple and yew are well suited to storage of personal items.

Semi-circular hall table

Semi-circular hall table
European walnut thrives in New Zealand and provided inspiration for this piece. The fine grain shows particularly well in the detailed angles of the laminated block s forming the circular foot.

Dining chair

Dining Chair
In this commission for a dining suite with four chairs John used European Cherry, and devised a refined solution for the scarf joint that connects the curved rail under the seat to the chair legs – now one of his signature design features.


Quiver II

Art Display
Born from a fascination with bows and arrows, these three pieces explore form and tension to create dynamic and interesting spaces for the display of art objects.

Quiver is made from European beech. The stainless steel arms are connected under tension with a linen thread bowstring, creating a space for the suspended shelf.

Quiver II is a development of this concept, also in European beech, with two identical forms reflecting each other to support a long elegant shelf.

Phalanx is a 1.5m long shelf made from oak, quarter-sawn to reveal its grain, supported by a grouping of Canadian rock maple bow-staves.