Woodworking Women in Whitehorse
Author: Stacy Allen
Photography : Eugene Hyland
AFTER walking up the stairs of the nondescript brick building that houses the Melbourne School of Fine Woodworking it is the pleasant smell of wood shavings that first hits my senses.
Once inside it is the light streaming through the large north-facing windows that strikes me and after walking through the first room containing rather intimidating-looking machinery, I reach the workshop.
It is an ordered room, with shelves of neatly stacked wood, planes, marking gauges and knives, hammers, chisels, squares and rulers.
A variety of clamps hang in one corner and there are drawers filled with screws and nails.
Triple J drifts out of the radio and members of the group are so focused on their projects that conversation is kept to a minimum.
The atmosphere in the room is more reminiscent of a yoga studio.
Tutor Elliot Gorham drifts around the room patiently helping members of the group with their projects.
Elliot, who makes his own furniture at his Noddy Boffin business downstairs, said anyone could join the group and no previous experience was necessary.
Kym Fabris, who is also the Box Hill school’s administrator, said she found woodworking very relaxing.
“Planing is like meditating,” Kym said.
The Mitcham resident shows me her first project – a marking gauge – with her face beaming with pride.
“I can’t believe I made this, it’s just amazing,” she said.
“I had no idea how much I’d enjoy it.”
“I almost feel like I can make anything now.” Jo Coppin, a 30-year-old flight attendant, tells me it was her father’s love of woodwork that sparked her interest.
The Ringwood East resident arranges her work days around the tutor group and after completing a side table is now working on a coffee table made from US oak and jarrah.
“We’re creating something that we get to take home and be proud of,” Jo said.
“It’s a relaxed environment, Elliot’s a great teacher and I just really enjoy it.”
Retired Blackburn woman Heather Barnes tells me that woodworking was something she always planned to do in her retirement and she loved the smell and feel of the timber.
“I just love timber furniture,” Heather said.
She said another useful and enjoyable part of the tutor group had been a trip to a Vermont timber yard, where they chose wood for their project.
“Otherwise I wouldn’t have had a clue how to start. I came back feeling much more confident.”
She is working intently on a side table, using New Guinea rosewood and said she one day hoped to make a hall table.
Heather agreed the process was very therapeutic.
“You’re so busy thinking about what you’re doing you’re not thinking about anything else in your life,” she said.
Elliot said woodworking could be both therapeutic and frustrating.
“You can’t do woodwork without feeling frustrated, if you don’t feel frustration you’re not trying hard enough,” Elliot said.
“It’s all about that feeling of pride when you finish it.”
Mid-morning one of the benches in the room is converted to a tea table and members sit around on stools chatting, sipping tea and coffee and enjoying Elliot’s chocolate brownies.
After sharing morning tea with the group I attempt the relatively simple task of planing a piece of wood.
My aim is to replicate the tight, cigar-like wood curls produced by Elliot and I follow his tips on how to stand and correctly hold the tool, but after several tries manage only a loose, slightly fluffy curl.
It feels like a small achievement, though, and I tuck a couple of wood curls in my bag as a souvenir.