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Artistry in wood

Five members posing next to a canoe

NEW Woodworkers Guild celebrates 40th annual show

By Janelle Fisher

City Pages Editor

For the past four decades, the Northeastern Wisconsin Woodworkers Guild has built up a community of local woodworkers, offering education, fellowship, resources and a love of the craft.

Now with more than 100 members, woodworkers find their way to the Guild in a variety of ways.

For some members of the Guild, like Randall Hendrick and Jim Michiels, it was current members that got them interested in joining.

“I retired 15 years ago and I got into woodworking a year after I retired,” Hendricks said. “A few years after that, one of the guys I used to work with belonged to the Guild and he asked me to come a couple times and I enjoyed what I saw. It was great to talk to other people who had similar ideas and interests that I had.”

“I was asked to come to a meeting and that was the end of it,” Guild member Stan Fisher said. “I joined and I like watching what everyone else does and how they do it. I’ve picked up a lot of ideas.”

“For me, it was being exposed to other disciplines in woodworking,” Guild member Gerald Jensen said. “I said, ‘I’ve been doing some wood turning, but I want to know about other stuff.’ I’ve gotten some insight into cabinet building, furniture building, canoe building, all kinds of other disciplines that relate to woodworking that are just other areas of interest. I may not ever do those things, but I’d like to know more about them and the Guild provides that.”

It’s not only the exposure to new ideas or techniques that attract members to the Guild though, as the group also offers resources to aid in projects members might already be working on.

Wooden creations

“I retired, bought a wood lathe and struggled for a while,” Guild member Pete Schuh said. “The guy at the woodworkers depot said, ‘Well, the Woodworkers Guild has a library where you can watch videos on woodturning and things like that.’ So I joined the guild.”

The Guild is open to woodworkers with all levels of experience ranging from amateurs just starting out to professionals.

“I didn’t do any woodworking at all, until I started thinking about retiring,” Jensen said. “And then it dawned on me that I probably ought to have something to do after I’ve retired. I was about 58 or so when I took my first woodworking class and shortly after that I got introduced to the lathe and I’ve been woodturning ever since.”

For other members, woodworking was something they had dabbled in previously, but picked up seriously more recently.

“I made a cradle and play boxes and stuff like that, but with my work I never got into it,” Hendricks said. “I always knew I was going to have some kind of a shop so I had built that prior to my retirement, and once I got into it, about a year after [retirement], that’s when I bought all my equipment and I just went from there.”

Some members recall their fondness for woodworking beginning all the way back in middle school.

“It was eighth grade industrial arts,” Michiels said. “Then I got busy raising a family and when I retired, I built the shop and got back into woodworking and weaving baskets.”

“Freshman year of high school started it all,” Fisher said. “We used every machine that they had there… I built my first canoe before that — I think I was in seventh grade and I made it out of plywood and some other stuff and yeah, it was pretty tippy, but we used it. I really got into woodworking when I had grandchildren and could make them things — rocking chairs, rocking horses, cradles, everything.”

Members of the NEW Woodworkers Guild craft a vast assortment of things out of wood, from baskets to bowls to toys to ornaments to projects as big as bookshelves and even boats.

Each year, members have the opportunity to display their work at the Guild’s annual Artistry in Wood Show and Sale, scheduled to be held this year on Nov. 11 and 12 at Denmark High School.

Wooden creations

While the purpose of the show is to give Guild members an opportunity to share their work with the community, and maybe even sell something, there is value in just getting to talk to people about their work and getting to see what others have been making.

“It’s the interaction with the people that attend the show,” Jensen said. “It’s always fun to talk to them and find out what their interests are.”

Hendricks echoed that sentiment, noting, “That’s the best part of the show — just talking with people.”

“You can spend five hours talking and you might not sell much, but you’re spending five hours talking about how it’s done and why you tried it and all of that,” Schuh said. “That’s the fun part.”

“My favorite part is looking at what everybody else makes,” Michiels said. “Everybody has different talents and different skills. It’s amazing, the talent and skill and what you can do with a piece of wood.”

“The talents that some people have, there’s no way even in another life I could do some of those things,” Fisher said. “But talking to the people, that’s my favorite thing.”

To people who are interested in getting into woodworking, Jensen said the best advice he had would be to start early.

“What would have been really helpful to me is if I would have been allowed to take shop classes or something when I was in high school,” Jensen said. “One of the really sad things now is the number of schools that have discontinued any shop or industrial arts programs. We need to get back with that because we need people that can work with their hands and develop the disciplines that are necessary to woodworking.”

“It just takes so long to fine tune your skills,” Hendricks said. “I think people should start woodworking as early as possible.”

Wooden creations

Michiels said that surrounding yourself with others who are involved in woodworking, such as by joining the Woodworkers Guild, can also be incredibly helpful for new woodworkers to get started.

“It’s hard to learn on your own,” Michiels said. “You can read, you can watch videos, but surround yourself with good people and experienced people. The advice they give you is worth tons of time.”

And the best way to get inspired to start? Try attending one of the Woodworkers Guild’s shows.

“Just go to a show,” Schuh said. “Look and see what you like — as you walk by, you might see carvings, you might see scroll sawing, you might see a wood lathe. Wait for something to catch your eye and say ‘Geeze, I’d like to do that.’ Start there, and you can always expand as you go out, but you’ve got to have an interest in something to start.”

Once a project has piqued your interest, the last hurdle is actually getting started.

“I’ve got a doctor friend and he’s just amazed at the boats I build,” Fisher said. “He’s never built anything out of wood in his life and he’d like to start… but he’s afraid to start… That’s most people’s problem — they’re afraid to do it or that they might make a mistake, but that’s how you learn.”

Joining the Woodworkers Guild helps connect woodworkers to others who have had similar experiences — easing that fear of starting by providing a wealth of resources for starting a new project or troubleshooting when mistakes happen.

Being surrounded by other woodworkers, members get an opportunity to learn lots of different ways to approach the same project.

“I like being in the Guild because I see what somebody makes and I can picture in my mind just how I would go about doing it,” Fisher said.

“If we all made the same thing, there would be six different ways of making it,” Schuh said. “You put your own little touch to it and you learn from everybody that you talk to.”

Not only do Guild members build experience, but they build connections with each other.

“I’ve developed relationships with other woodworkers,” Jensen said. “Periodically we get together in each other’s shops and talk about things and projects we’re working on and kind of feed off [each other] a little bit and it’s a good way to learn.”

“I like to talk to people and ask them questions,” Hendricks said. “I got three quarters of what I do and different items [I make] because people showed me how to do it, whether that’s a cutting board or a bandsaw box… That’s all from Guild members who I talked to and who are doing similar things.”

If you’re picking up a new project, there’s bound to be a bit of learning involved and maybe even some mistakes, but being in the Guild means members have the opportunity to minimize those mistakes by learning from each other.

“I think everybody that does woodworking makes mistakes,” Michiels said. “The thing about the guild is you can listen to people and listen to their stories… You listen to people, you talk to people, you learn and you limit your mistakes. You still make them, but you learn how to recover from them and make less.”

To learn more about the Woodworkers Guild, the annual show or how to join, visit newwg.org.

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