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Woodwork is for 'dummies'...

“Adult education is a wonderful thing!”

  • Alvy Singer, Annie Hall


“Adult education is junk!” 

  • Also Alvy Singer, Annie Hall


I remember when I was fourteen years old growing up in New Zealand (NZ), I loved woodwork class. And though I was reasonably OK at it, I also had good marks in the more academic subjects. So, when it came time to choose subjects for fifth form, I was taken aside by my career counsellor and told in no uncertain terms that woodwork was for ‘dummies’. I duly dropped it and took only sciences and a couple of liberal arts for the putative light relief.


After high school I had no idea what to do. I had no formal practical qualifications and was not wanting to pursue science, so I decided to major in philosophy. This of course was a career dead-end, the universities in NZ had long since been gutted by neoliberal reform so I found myself overqualified (on paper) and working for the local council scraping by while trying to support a young family. 

My workshop in Melbourne.

Thank heavens for my guitar. A constant friend. A voice to say the things that are hard to say. Something to hold close in the hard times. And my guitar was also a thing that needed constant upkeep and repair! I got pretty good at maintaining my guitars, my friends’ guitars, and my friends’ friends’ guitars…


Then I had a nervous breakdown. The psychiatrist at the mental hospital told me that I had OCD. I had been bottling it up like a good kiwi male, gritting my teeth and trying to cope with the symptoms by myself. Yet it had taken its toll. By my mid-thirties I was at rock bottom. However down there I found something, like Moses or perhaps a young Joseph Smith, the realisation of what I wanted to do with my life, with my therapy, and my salvation. I wanted to build guitars.  Hallelujah!

I focus on acoustic guitars.

Thanks to my high school careers counsellor I hadn’t done any woodwork since fourth form. I had no tools and no idea. There were no guitar-building schools in NZ, and the sole luthier in our town refused to take me on as an unpaid apprentice. So, I got a book from the library and researched various online resources. I scrimped and saved for cheap tools from Bunnings, and I made a guitar in the shed after work over many many months. It was a bad guitar, but I had made it myself. 

Fast forward. I have lived the last twelve years in the certain knowledge that guitar-building and more generally woodwork is ‘my thing’. I have also realised that I need to be learning something to feel that my life is meaningful, and I know I’m in the vast majority of people in that regard. We all need to move forward. We need to feel that each day is further along than the day before. 


Not every guitar makes it through quality control.

Why am I writing all this?


Because schools and studios like Wood Play aren’t just there to teach us how to carve wood or whatever. Its much, much more than that. They give our lives meaning. They connect us with like-minded folk. And they help us feel that tomorrow will be further along than yesterday was. They get us out of our comfort zone and stop us from growing into our couches like fungi. 


So go ahead. Join a workshop. It could be macrame, shibari, origami, raku, reiki, batik or even woodwork - whatever floats your boat. The point is, to quote Alvy Singer one more time - "We’re like sharks. We must constantly move forward, or we die."


NB: this is also a great line to use when breaking up with your girlfriend.

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