August 2015 | Fiona Karn-Smith

Tom Young is a letter-cutter. Last year he produced the beautiful lettering on the stone gate piers flanking the Lewin Gates at the northern entrance to the site. The gates and inscription commemorate Lord Lewin, Admiral to the Fleet, and last Admiral to be housed here before the Navy left in 1998.

We asked Tom some questions about his trade, tools, skills and interests.

How did you become a lettering specialist?

I was interested in letters and graphic design, but also knew that I wanted to make things with my hands. Lettering was just the right combination those things.

When did you decide you wanted to go into this trade and how did you get into it?

I was lucky enough to meet Ralph Beyer, a letterer who, among a great many other things, carved the ‘Tablets of the Word' at Coventry Cathedral. He worked at The City and Guilds of London Art School where there was a fantastic course that specialised in lettering including carving, calligraphy, signwriting and engraving. From the moment I went there I knew it was the right place and that was what I wanted to do.

I actually run the lettering side of the Historic Carving course at The City and Guilds of London Art School and have been involved for about 20 years.

What are the key abilities you need to carry out this work?

In terms of key abilities, I think that you have to have a good eye for detail and you have to be quite patient.

What tools do you use?

Mostly a hammer, called a 'dummy'. We also use a number of chisels, putty rubber, my computer and pencils are essential.

Do you have any other specialist skills?

You have to learn to do lots of different things when you're self employed as a letterer, but luckily most of it is achievable.

What was your worst day on the job?

It isn't much fun drawing letters or carving outside when it's bitterly cold. Unfortunately it seems to happen quite a lot…

 Are there any other skills or trades that you would like to master?

I have always really enjoyed printmaking and would love to have the time to do more of it.

What is your proudest achievement?

The satisfaction in the work comes from making something from start to finish that works well in its setting.

Small jobs can be just as rewarding as larger scale projects, and interacting with clients is often one of the most enjoyable things about the work. When I was working on the lettering for the Lewin Gate a number of people were fascinated by what I was doing and stopped to watch and ask questions.

 What do your friends and family think about what you do?

They see it as a pretty good fit for me!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time in your trade?

I’m always on the lookout for interesting work and hopefully encouraging other people to take up lettering.

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