It all started six years ago with a new house, trees and my curiosity. I’d just moved from inner city Sydney to suburban Melbourne. My new-to-me suburban house came with a big garage. At the back, under a large window was an old and beaten up workbench and vice. My new “workshop”!
I did woodwork in high school, the only girl in a class of boys and have dabbled ever since. Before my own garage workshop it was mostly sanding and staining pieces of furniture or little projects like making knitting needles. With my own workbench and vice, I could start sawing timber.
I’ve always enjoyed making felt toys for my daughters. With my new workshop I branched (hehehe) out into wooden toys. Luckily for me, the people in this new neighbourhood would leave their pruned branches on the nature strip for collection. Whenever I saw a pile of branches on the road, I’d quickly pull over, turn on the blinker and shout to the kids, “Back in a minute!”. Then I’d load armfuls of wood into the boot to take home and turn into little tables and chairs for their dolls and animals. This new house was also blessed with an open fireplace so whatever didn't get sawn was used as fire wood.
After a while I started to make wooden buttons and pendants. And I began to wonder about the timber I was collecting. What tree was it from? Was it a native or introduced species? Hardwood or softwood? I really wish my high school woodwork classes had included lessons on the different types of timbers as well as excursions into nature to meet the trees and learn how to fell them. I crave a holistic approach to learning and am trying to fill in these gaps in my knowledge the best I can.
Now, I go out into nature, armed with my field guides and try to identify the tress around me. I only gather fallen branches from trees. My preference is for using native species but I’ll work with anything that the trees offer me. I’ve learnt to be choosy about the branches I select and leave the diseased or insect riddled specimens behind.
Six years after my garage workshop I’m in a flat, the workbench and vice long gone. I still manage to do woodwork only now it’s at my kitchen bench with a bench hook instead of a vice. Or more often lately, out in a park somewhere with a branch and my Mora 106 carving knife.
After last year's spoon carving mania and a big break I'm back with knife and wood in hand. Only this time I'm picking random sticks and practicing my knife skills by removing bark and working around knots. I want to sink into the technique of carving and concentrate on the process without the pressure of expectations or outcome. I want to teach myself confidence with my knife and to practice the different strokes you can use for working a knife and wood.
It's a new adventure this - making without a finished product in mind. Want to join me?