From toys to tables, the Ballarat Woodworkers Guild has members making everything in timber

The hum, buzz and whine of electric bench electric tools mixed with the smell of sawdust and PVA fill the air in the machine shop of the Ballarat Woodworkers Guild on a Thursday morning.

Over a dozen people are in the work space, busily attending to lathes, thicknessers, scroll and table saws. They’re making everything from wooden pens to drums, rocking horses to vintage car models. One is hand-shaping new wooden frame pieces for a Model T Ford he’s restoring. Toys are everywhere.

Conversations are brief, conducted with a series of hand semaphores to get above the noise. Attention can’t be drawn too far from the jobs at hand, for inattention can be rewarded with injury.

The Guild was created in 1984 following a notice posted in The Courier seeking people with an interest in woodwork.

Thirty-three years later it has 130-plus members, up 70 per cent on three years ago. The Guild meets three times a week. New president Ross Holst says while many members are active and dedicated woodworkers, other people come for the fellowship of meeting like-minded people.

“They have a cup of tea and biscuit and a chat,” says Mr Holst.

“They may not do much woodwork, but they have an interest.”

The Woodworkers Guild does a great deal of community work, including the preparation of hundreds of small wooden pink ladies for Dragons Abreast; hundreds of bird and possum boxes for bushfire ravaged areas; and many hundreds of wooden toys for the 3BA Christmas Appeal which supports local charities the Salvation Army, Red Cross, St.Vincent de Paul and the Uniting Church.

The members range in age, and there are male and female enthusiasts. One of the latter is Erika Pugh.

Companionship: Erika Pugh enjoys learning from the other members and sharing ideas. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

Companionship: Erika Pugh enjoys learning from the other members and sharing ideas. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

She stands at a lathe, carefully turning out tool handles with a gouge and then marking neat lines into them with a tool resembling a cheese slicer – a piece of serrated wire with two wooden pegs to hold.

She makes the handles to fit old tools she is re-purposing. 

“I’ve always liked woodworking, but I don’t have the space at home, or these tools,” says Ms Pugh.

Close up: Erika Pugh carving a tool handle. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

Close up: Erika Pugh carving a tool handle. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

“And I really enjoy the company here, meeting the people and learning their skills.”

The Guild is preparing for its annual Wood and Craft Show which, says Ross Holst, is entering its 26th or 27th year.

Erika marks her tool handles

This year’s show, held in the Sports and Events Centre at Wendouree on September 23 and 24, has the theme of ‘Fine Woodworking’.

Over 50 expert woodworkers and traders from across Australia will demonstrate their skills, including woodturning, scrollsaw, carving and whittling, furniture making, toy and musical instrument making, pyrography, veneering, box-making, and finishing.

“We’ll have raffles, we’ll have the Kids Corner; we’ll have sales of member’s items they have made throughout the year,” says Mr Holst.

“There’s a great emphasis on hand tools and things like carving. At the present one member is carving a rocking horse.”

That member is Gordon Jones. Mr Jones builds his rocking horses in the traditional way, building them up in layers of templates and then cutting and sanding away any timber he doesn't want.

An elegant skill: Gordon Jones sanding a rocking horse. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

An elegant skill: Gordon Jones sanding a rocking horse. Picture: Lachlan Bence.

He learned to make the horses when he was given one to restore many years ago. Taking it apart to fix the 21 broken components, he realised it was put together in an ingenious way making many pieces of timber look a single carved work, with a hollow in the middle to lighten it.

To smooth any imperfections, Mr Jones gives his horses a coating of gesso, which he says was traditionally composed of animal-hide glue and whiting.

“The modern version I’m using is a water-based glue mixed with baby powder,” says Mr Jones.

The horses are also built in a similar manner for carousels.

Gordon discusses his rocking horses

Sixty years of experience in woodworking for Mr Jones began before he was married, when he decided he would make the furniture for his new home.

“But it wasn’t my career,” he says.

“I was a pen-pusher. It’s always been a hobby, an interest. I read books, talked to older people, older blokes – although I can’t find meany older blokes than me nowadays.”

Other members have their own niche interests. Greg Cook is making beautiful wooden pens, some created out of timber such as bottlebrush, rescued from going to the tip.

“When I cut it to put in the trailer to take to the tip, I said ‘Oh! That’s got a bit of character!’”

Mr Cook says the incredibly fine work boring a hole through the blocks and then turning them down to pen-sized blanks means there is the occasional mishap.

“There will always be mistakes,” he says philosophically. 

“You're not a woodworker unless you make mistakes. The slower the better, the sharper the tool the better.”

Greg making wooden pens

The Ballarat Wood and Craft Show is on next Saturday and Sunday, September 23 and 24 at the Wendouree Sports and Events Centre, corner of Norman and Dowling Streets, Wendouree. Opens to public at 9am on Saturday and 10am on Sunday.

Between 3,500 and 5,000 visitors are expected. The 2017 show features the work of and demonstrations by Brendan Stemp and Newton Williams. 

Entry: $10 per adult, $8 concession. Children under 16 free.