At the North Shore Woodturning Guild, Danielle Wright discovers a piece of the past with a link to the future

At the end of a long lane is a shed, an old Scout hall, surrounded by a little wood.

It's an oasis of country charm in the middle of suburban Glenfield. Pohutukawa and silky oak stumps line the entrance, ready to be chainsawn then carved on the lathes set up inside the Guild Hall.

After years of mass-produced furniture and particleboard, there's a resurgence of natural wooden products and craft entrepreneurs, but the guild, with around 70 members, is focused more on the hobby of woodturning.

The club has events every Tuesday with demonstrations, as well as a show-and-tell element. They make wooden Christmas toys during the year for needy children and, on Thursdays, a group of disadvantaged youths are given lessons - a group of girls in the morning and two groups of boys in the afternoon.


"It's rewarding because these are kids who wag every day of the week, except woodworking day," says the guild's president, Kevin Hodder. "Many of the kids don't have a dad in the picture, so it's also a chance for positive role modelling."

He starts them on simple items, such as shopping bag carriers and paper towel holders, moving up to pens, kaleidoscopes, pepper mills and, lastly, bowls.

"Every time they come, we try to make sure they leave with something they've made, something they can give as a gift - a pen for their aunty or a spinning top for their little brother," says Kevin.

"The value of the item goes up exponentially when it's homemade and we teach them that if you give it away, it has more value than if you keep it, which is true of life, too, I suppose."

Sawdust lines the floor next to lathes, with perfectly made wooden tool holders nearby, as Kevin explains the process to me. I'm told that every tree has a different smell - apparently camphor laurel is very pungent - and that it takes wood a year to dry an inch.

He shows me a bowl that's just been carved and now needs to dry. It feels quite wet and he tells me that if it's cut into inch thicknesses, it will dry much quicker than would a large stump - reducing to one rather than five years of drying time.

I notice Trefor Roberts, the guild's programme organiser, standing very still next to his lathe as he shapes his wood. "The feet must never move," he tells me.

There's also a vintage lathe made in 1876, but Kevin says it's hard work and would need Lance Armstrong - on drugs - to keep it going.

The wood the guild uses is found mainly through word-of-mouth; friends see a tree felled in a storm or know an arborist who tips them off.

"We head out with chainsaws and trailers to pick it up. There's a constant, though erratic, supply," says club member Dave, a builder by trade. "We prefer more exotic woods from larger trees. Pine just doesn't cut the mustard."

A young man stops by with a box of wooden items. Kevin tells me the boy has a business and wants the guild to help by making wooden earplug earrings. It's a lovely bridge from the past to the future and Kevin obviously enjoys the association with young people as much as they do with him.

"Some of the kids on a Thursday are tearaways. They might have been expelled from school, or caught taking drugs, but at woodturning class you would think butter wouldn't melt in their mouths: they follow instructions and they're very polite," says Kevin. "The current education system obviously isn't working for them."

There are no Scouts in the guild's workspace any longer, but it seems the tradition of teaching boys how to be men, is still going strong inside its walls.

Chip off the old block

North Shore Woodturning Guild is at Agincourt Reserve, Agincourt St, Glenfield.
Contact Kevin Hodder on (09) 478 8646.
Individual annual membership is $50.