“We don’t really do working for, so much as working with,” says Matthew Platt of Workshop Heaven, in Oxfordshire. In this month’s Starrett dealer spotlight blog, we chat with the forward-thinking and positive owner of Workshop Heaven, suppliers of fine woodworking hand tools to uncover what inspires Matthew and makes him so passionate about his work.
“Last year my wife and I visited the Starrett factory in Athol. It really was like Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ but with tools.”
Tell me a bit about yourself.
Born in Oxfordshire, I’m married to a wonderful lady from the eastern United States and we live in a beautiful village in the Cotswolds. Our son and I are keen members of the local rugby club and as a family, we enjoy long walks in the countryside with our dog and cooking with fabulous ingredients from our neighbouring farms.
Who do you work for, how long have you been with the company and what’s your job title?
My wife and I started Workshop Heaven back in 2005, we don’t really do ‘working for’ so much as ‘working with’. There are no sales targets, people choose their own hours, and yet the team here organise themselves beautifully, work incredibly hard and consistently deliver outstanding results.
Tell us a little bit about your role in the company?
Most of my job is research and business development, finding wonderful materials, tools and techniques and then a team of lovely people help me share them with our customers who make beautiful things with them.
What’s your favourite aspect of the job and what do you enjoy the least?
A very wise university tutor once advised me to “make sure you really enjoy what you do”, in fact it was that conversation that really sparked the idea for Workshop Heaven. Now if there’s a task that I don’t particularly relish, I just find someone who loves doing it and give it to them. The best part of my job is visiting schools and colleges. Meeting people of all ages and backgrounds, many of whom had never picked up a chisel before, but with patience and time are now able to produce superb quality handmade furniture.
Is there one person alive or dead who you would love to talk with or meet, and why?
One, goodness no, there are hundreds, I love history and enjoy reading old books and theses, particularly about the industrial revolution and early steelmaking.
Top of my list of historical heroes would have to be the Georgian toolmaker John Jacob Holtzapffel, who back in the very early 1800s produced, in my opinion, the most elegant, ingenious, and beautiful tools ever made. I am the current custodian of one of his treadle lathes, which after 200 years still runs like a Swiss watch. We also use a Holtzapffel design for the handles on our range of rasps and files and often receive compliments on how comfortable they are.
Do you DIY yourself? What is your biggest project?
I love to make, although I’m not really faithful to any one craft. I’m currently working on a dovetailed infill panel plane and learning to hand grind chisels, but I’ve also made furniture for our home and dabbled in a bit of blacksmithing.
What’s your favourite tool and why?
I think it would have to be dividers, it amazes me that such a humble instrument is able to unlock a whole world of geometry and numberless mathematics. Dividers have helped artists to master nature’s proportions, builders to construct towering cathedrals and sailors to navigate the globe.
Tell us about your relationship with Starrett.
We have carried Starrett tools for many years and they have long been my go-to example of optimum quality and ‘bang for your buck’ that we look for when sourcing products for Workshop Heaven. Last year my wife and I visited the Starrett factory in Athol and for the first time I really understood just how similar Starrett’s values are to our own. There is a wonderful atmosphere in the factory, with great value placed on people, their skills, and finding solutions that make superb results easy and repeatable. It really was like Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ but with tools.
Would you recommend Starrett to a friend or colleague?
I do, daily, without hesitation. When buying a new tool, the investment is not so much the money you pay, but the time you spend learning to trust it and become skilled in its use. That investment is made once and will continue to pay dividends for the rest of your working life. If you like you can always go for a spin on the cheap tools merry-go-round first, pay twice and start again, or you can just buy Starrett in first place.
“When buying a new tool, the investment is not so much the money you pay, but the time you spend learning to trust it and become skilled in its use.”
Tell us more about the type of tools your company stock?
We believe that tools should be elegantly designed, work beautifully, and be made well enough to outlast the customers buying them. We only sell woodworking hand tools, saws, planes, chisels, squares etc. We warrant them for life, which helps to keep our focus tight and our standards high. By getting those bits right, everything else just falls into place.
What challenges do you think lie ahead for the industry and what do you think can be done to overcome these?
For companies like Starrett and Workshop Heaven, I believe the future is brighter than ever. The backlash against throwaway culture is gathering momentum by the day and customers increasingly want to own fewer items, of higher quality. Starrett’s investment in restoring water power for the factory, and our shared principle of using resources once to make objects of enduring utility, are an increasingly good fit with the times. The challenge, as ever, is to hold our course, maintain our standards and continue finding more people who share our love of good quality tools.
For more information about Workshop Heaven, follow this link: www.workshopheaven.com