Centre for Fine Woodworking: A world of wood

Last updated 12:29 04/12/2013
 Tania Bostock

MEN AT WORK: Rory Young, left, Bryan Swadel and Ian Gillespie at the Centre for Fine Woodworking.

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Enter the purpose-built studios at the Centre for Fine Woodworking and beneath the relaxed air there is a sense of urgency as students finish their final pieces for their upcoming exhibition. Judith Ritchie finds out what it is all about.

Three men from different walks of life have spent the past months in close proximity, immersing themselves in all things woodworking.

This week an exhibition at the Refinery Artspace will showcase their work along with three other guest artists.

The Centre for Fine Woodworking 2013 Annual Exhibition brings together the work of Ian Gillespie, Bryan Swadel and Rory Young, with guest artists Nic Bonnette, Pat Oughton and drawings by Centre for Fine Woodworking tutor, Bernie Stokes. Work featured will range from chairs to cabinets, tool boxes, book stands and other specialty pieces, made from a range of woods.

Rory Young is working on finishing one of his six pieces for the exhibition. Young is profoundly deaf, our conversation is communicated to and fro via an interpreter. He is obviously totally passionate about his work and loving his experience at the centre.

Young had previous experience working with wood on a Unitech course, and through work experience, but this is his first time fully immersed. Through the interpreter he says he has loved the friendly environment, much like family, and has enjoyed learning everything, taking away many new skills.

His favourite wood is walnut, the shine of its rich dark grain appealing to him once oiled. Young hopes that he will pick up some work tutoring at the centre next year, teaching other deaf students the art of woodworking.

Bryan Swadel had woodturning experience before starting at the centre, and previously worked full-time as a fisheries investigator for the Ministry of Primary Industries. After taking leave from work, he joined the course at the centre and has had a "full-on" year , learning a huge number of skills. He says it is the sort of experience everyone should have, and is full of compliments regarding the standard of tutors and skills taught.

"It's well worth it, the level of tutoring is world class," he says. "I'm constantly impressed by how the tutors can handle the number of different projects going on at once, with such ease."

"Anyone with a bit of a bent should look into coming to do a course, whether it's a long-term one or a weekend workshop, there's plenty of choices." His favourite wood is european beech combined with jarrah inlay, which he says looks great because of the colour contrast.

He plans to convert his wood turning studio at home into a more woodworking focused space, and keep making pieces while juggling his fulltime job again.

Ian Gillespie came from a background where he says he spent "far too much time sitting in an office and not enough time hands-on." He had always been interested in furniture making but had never done anything practical. Until doing a Centre for Fine Woodworking "taste of woodwork" weekend course, Gillespie had never laid hands on tools, "not a sausage" as he puts it.

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Now he is passionate about all timbers that are sustainable, ash, maple walnut and fallen trees that need milling are his particular loves. He plans to combine work back in Wellington with developing his own woodworking studio, buying tools over time as he can afford it, and keeping on making. He intends to return to the centre sometime next year to build a workbench, as part of fitting out his own studio.

After a flying visit to the Centre for Fine Woodworking studio, it is obvious that beneath the relaxed air, the easy conversation and friendly banter, these men and their tutors work hard and carry a strong sense of mutual respect and connection. Not only that, they have produced work of the highest standard, and leave with the skills to continue the tradition of woodworking into the future.

  • The Centre for Fine Woodworking 2013 Annual Exhibition, Refinery Artspace, 3 Halifax St, Saturday to January 11, 2014.

- Nelson

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