Sunday, January 3, 2016

Reflecting on the Joy of Wood journey through 2015.

We seem to be motoring rapidly into 2016 already, so I don't want to miss this opportunity to reflect on the 2015 year. As I write this, I am away on holidays, 200 miles from home. So amid the canoeing and other summer activities with grand kids and other family members, I have grabbed a few rare quiet moments to write this post.

The dilemmas of Social Media and the time it consumes.

There have been many less posts this past year on this blog than previous years.
I lay the blame squarely at my own feet for putting time and energy into posting on both Instagram and the Joy of Wood's Facebook page. With limited computer time, getting involved with both of these platforms has reduced the time available for the blog. However I have found that the FB page has become a useful local communication tool and Instagram has become a great source of inspiration - seeing what others around the world are creating with wood. The other great source of inspiration is Pinterest which has also suffered from neglect through 2015, as I have posted very little myself - though I have often looked at others' work there. Tough choices for a time-poor Woodworker!

More time needed to carve spoons!
Let's have a look at the spread of activities we have engaged in during the 2015 year:

Taking the Joy of Wood to Primary Schools.

We did a range of woodworking incursions in a number of schools once again in 2015, which are always a lot of work but a heap of fun to do. Some of the highlights would be the pre-Fathers Day workshops at Subiaco Primary and Swan Valley Anglican Community School, where kids have their Dads come and help them while they make their Dads a present for Fathers Day!

Kids and Dads doing it together - making Fathers Day gifts.
We also worked with Year 6 students at Gidgegannup Primary School to make a Sound Garden out of recycled objects.
The Metal Marimba - part of the Sound Garden.
There were an array of other schools we worked in, but interestingly since the last few successive years of government Education Budget cut-backs, the bulk of our schools work has been reduced mostly to Kindergarten and Pre-Primary classes, where there still seems to be some discretionary funding.

Phil explaining to a class where wood comes from at the start of a session.

There was a lucky Dad out there who received this...
It is always such a delight to see the way these 4 - 6 year old kids quickly get the hang of using hammers, nails and saws - which is facilitated by us as we provide appropriate sized benches and hand tools, plus the coaching and instruction appropriate to their age and stage. The rest is up to their creativity and enthusiasm, which always abounds! Wonderful stuff, from which the kids benefit so much.  
A delightful dinosaur creation. All the young fella's own work!

We also do workshops with groups of Home Schoolers at the Heritage Woodcraft Centre.
These kids each made a beaut stool from recycled packing crates.

Taking the Joy of Wood to Festivals.

Offering woodworking experiences in public festival environments has been an important part of our activities for some years now. Mostly aimed at kids of all ages, we also have many adults and whole families who spend time with us making stuff.
It always draws a crowd - the sound of all those hammers pounding.
We will commonly have 25-32 hammers out on the benches, plus around 4 - 8 saws at the Sawing Station, which translates into hundreds of people participating during the day. We go through a lot of wood - almost all of which are pieces of assorted softwoods derived from packing crates, off-cuts, and other wood rescued from the waste stream. It is all part of the strong environmental message behind what we do and how we do it.
Great seeing families enjoying making stuff together. 
It's all hand tools, nothing electric, so it is not unusual for people to wander into our tent or area, and exclaim with more than a hint of emotion: "This is just like my Grandad's workshop, where I used to make things with him when I was a child". It's great when you see three generations together all making things at the one bench, too.
Light running out does not deter the enthusiastic crowd. Hilton Harvest Twilight Fair. 
The Festival work is a great way of helping people know what we do - as well as being, for the Festival Organisers, a considerable asset to their Event.    
Concentration on the face of Jasper, a four year old.

Sharing the Joy of Wood through public Demonstrations.

In 2015,  I had the pleasure of doing Green Woodworking Demonstrations for Timbecon at the Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth Wood Shows. A great opportunity to check out the Wood Shows on the other side of Australia, it also gave me a chance to meet some other green woodworkers around the country, and some spoon carvers too. Great to network like that.
My setup in Sydney, the first morning, before the hordes arrived.
Spoon carving demo, with Mora knives, on behalf of Timbecon.
(Picture by Australian Wood Review)
 I really enjoyed doing the demos at the Wood Shows. It's a great way to meet lots of interesting people and offer instruction and guidance to the many people who engage with me. As well as spoon carving, I demonstrated the bodging process, from log to stool, using froe and beetle, axes, draw knife and shaving horse, pole lathe and other hand tools.

On my Double Spring Pole lathe, at the Perth Wood Show.
I also started to do public demonstrations in some festivals with my trusty Double Spring Pole Lathe, based on the mid 18th century German machine made popular by the legendary Roy Underhill of the USA. This delightful foot operated machine always draws a crowd when in use, and I like to invite members of the public to have a go.

For me this is all part of the environmental/sustainability message, encouraging people to better utilise prunings from parks and gardens and the trees we are loosing daily from our Urban Forest in Perth due to "Urban Infill" and the insatiable desire to have bigger houses on smaller blocks.

A nice load of Olive wood, which was later made into so many beautiful things.
Pre-industrial woodworking skills and techniques are so delightfully simple and primal. It is amazing what you can make with an axe, knives, a draw knife and shaving horse. It is so sad to all those trees just getting chipped up. What a waste of a resource. Lets sequester some of that carbon in the form of green wood furniture and woodcraft! The public demonstrations provide a medium to help communicate some of these values, skills, techniques, possibilities and opportunities.

A lovely stool - one of many things made from this Cape Lilac Tree.

Sharing the Joy of Wood through public Workshops.

Since early 2009 I have been running public workshops in using traditional woodworking hand tools and techniques. Over the years the number and variety of workshops and projects has been steadily increasing. In 2015, this increased considerably due to the commencement of my little experiment I call the Heritage Woodcraft Centre - my dedicated teaching space made possible through an arrangement with Timbecon, in Canning Vale.

The first of many Spoon Carving workshops held at the Heritage Woodcraft Centre.
For many years I have used the lovely space at Earthwise in Subiaco, also at City Farm in East Perth, then more recently the Vic Park Arts Centre, and an assortment of other locations I have hired to run workshops in. Of course, my aging body is delighted to not have to lug tonnes of gear in and out of these venues all the time. Bonus! I now have benches which remain set up. All I need to do is pack the tools away, sweep and vacuum the floor, and not pull apart and move the very heavy benches in and out of the ute and trailer. I like it.... Of course, there are still some public workshops I run in other places, but the exhausting need to move so much gear around is no longer the norm.

Kids and parents making things together,
in workshops we ran at the Canning River Environmental Education centre. 

Andy tests out the folding shaving horse he made at a Shaving Horse workshop.

The variety of workshops I offer continues to increase, though there are some favourites, like spoon carving (both green wood and seasoned wood techniques). I plan in 2016 to offer a wider array of workshops and projects as I get the Heritage Woodcraft Centre more set up. It is a work in progress.
Andrea with the beautiful Lund Stool she made on a Green Wood Stool making workshop.
More nice Lund Stools from another green wood stool making workshop.
All green wood Spoon Carving starts with some axe work.

Sharing the Joy of Wood through One-on-One Tuition.

This has been a delightful unexpected benefit from having a dedicated teaching space. Thursdays have emerged as private tuition day, when I have some regular long-term participants and other one-off participants. This includes the evenings as well.
Palletcraft. Nathan made this planter box with trellis behind, from packing crates.
Nathan making an open tool box from recycled material.
I love Thursdays, as I really enjoy this work where there less time pressure, and great opportunities to work with people in very targeted ways. We make what they want, while I do the teaching, coaching and encouragement. I hope to add a second day of private tuition during this coming year if the demand is there. It's a fantastic way for people to build some skills in the area they really want to, on the projects of their choice. 
A couple of great custom Saw Horses made buy the morning guys. Beautiful.

The morning guys doing set-out boards to scale as they design their Bar Stools.
If you are interested in tuition, please contact me. There is an hourly rate for the tuition, but you can bring a friend within that rate if you wish, effectively making it two for the price of one. Our focus is on traditional hand tool woodworking skills and techniques - from the foundational skills to the very advanced skills. Therefore we can make just about anything!

Experiencing the Joy of Wood through my work as a Cabinetmaker/Joiner.

I often feel I am the luckiest bloke alive, as I do restoration/renovation/repair work on lovely old houses, build furniture and joinery for discerning customers, and engage in community projects with my woodworking skills and experience. What a delight it is to work with wood every day:  To feel the pleasures of that interaction between wood, mind, body and hand tools; to convert rough looking or old timber into dimensioned material and products of great beauty; and to make a contribution towards a more sustainable existence by recycling timber which would otherwise have gone into land fill.

Building a beautiful jarrah mantelpiece for Anna's home.

Job done. It's a pleasure to do work like this.

In early 2015, I finished working on Anna's house after a 3 year journey moving from one task/project to the next. Built in the Art Deco Era in the mid 1930's, the original house was enlarged and an additional storey added. What a privilege, to get to do so much on one lovely home over that 3 year period - including the staircase, kitchen, other cabinets, doors, windows, floors, fireplace, pergola, a big ceiling area upstairs, and much more.
One section of Anna's lovely kitchen, made from WA Blackbutt.
Funnily enough, there are a couple more things to do on that house now in early 2016. Many blog posts were written about work on the house over that 3 year period - and so many more I could write if I could find the time!

Hall Table, made entirely from old jarrah floorboards.

Every part of the two drawers were also made from the old floorboards. 
An array of other interesting jobs came along during the year, including a Hall Table for a new house made entirely from some jarrah floorboards from the old house which was demolished. Then there was a couple of signs I carved for a cottage in Fremantle, etc.
One of the two carved jarrah signs.
In the latter part of the year, I started working on another old house. This time a very interesting architect designed place built in 1930, which is an interesting mix of Arts & Crafts style and a bit of of what I call "quasi-Tudor"(?) on the inside. Two storey with a very steep pitched roof - I imagine it a bit like a classic dolls house.
View of the rear of the house, sporting new tiles on the roof.
Extensive renovation/restoration in progress.

Despite this house being very run down, I am pleased to say the new owners decided to renovate and restore rather than demolish this iconic building. A great decision! So I move into 2016 still working on this lovely and very interesting house. What an honour to get to be so much a part of this fantastic project!  There are many challenges and problems to solve in these old buildings, so I reckon they help to keep me sharp.

Laying and hand nailing down 2nd hand jarrah flooring in the expanded kitchen.
Bathroom window upstairs. I hung the sashes,
made and fitted the linings, sill and architraves - as per the original style.

Closing thoughts.

I rarely do the workshops and school gigs on my own. I am lucky to have a pool of wonderful people who assisted me on many programs. So I would like to acknowledge and thank Phil, Megan, Shani, Ryan, Anna & Cam for the contribution they have made during 2015. Thanks, Gang! It is a pleasure working with you all.

The connection between people and trees, wood and civilisations, goes back throughout human history to very ancient times. Humanity has a innate connection with wood as a natural material.

The Magic of Making is undergoing a huge resurgence of interest in the western world, as modern people realise we have become enslaved to our screens and high tech interfaces which actually separate us from some basic primal needs and pleasures, and disconnect us from others despite the plethora of social media options. People are coming together to learn traditional skills, like knitting crocheting, cooking, and woodworking - in ways which foster communication and interaction. As we come together to create objects and art pieces both functional and aesthetic, we are building community and helping to heal some of the ills of the modern world.   

Traditional Hand Tool Woodworking continues to provide fundamental joy and delightful sensual experiences for so many people of all ages through The Joy of Wood activities across a range of forums.
For those of you who have participated in the last 12 months, thankyou for your support. For those who have not yet engaged in an experience with The Joy of Wood, I invite you to join with us and have a taste of the simple delights on offer. However, be warned - your life may never be the same again!   

All the best for 2016,
Greg Miller.

You can't help but love using a draw knife.
While they have been I use for over 1000 years, this fancy version was patented in the USA in 1895.
I love using it!


  1. Hi Greg.
    I love your work and your ethos. I'm also terribly happy to have stumbled (finally) across an Australian green woodworker. I'm in Sydney so hopefully I'll get the chance to see at the Sydney Wood Show if I can make it this year. Thank you once again Mr Miller it is a pleasure to read your blog.

    1. Gidday, Sam.
      Thankyou. It was a delight to meet a handful of other green woodworkers at the Wood Shows in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne last year. Shame I didn't meet you too! Maybe this year...

  2. "I often feel I am the luckiest bloke alive, as I do restoration/renovation/repair work on lovely old houses, build furniture and joinery for discerning customers, and engage in community projects with my woodworking skills and experience." - that's beautiful mate! Your joy in working is always so evident. Working with you has been a privilege.