Tricks of the trade: reviving handmade tools

Tricks of the trade: reviving handmade tools

Lachlan Park is a fine woodworker from central Victoria who features in our current exhibition, The Apprenticeship. Striving to create the highest quality woodwork, Lachlan handcrafts objects from large bespoke furniture pieces down to the hand tools he uses to make his products. For Lachlan making furniture using tools he has handcrafted himself is central to his practice; he believes doing so adds the soul and personality that is unique to his work. The the same time, Lachlan honours the traditional practices of using traditional-style hand tools in woodworking that are now overshadowed by power operated machinery.

The Apprenticeship curators, Richard Stride and Aaron Barton, recently caught up with Lachlan to discuss how he became a fine woodworker and the importance of using handcrafted tools in his work.


 

How long have you been doing this work, and what drew you to it initially?

 I began woodworking about 10 years ago but more seriously for the last 6 years. An enthusiastic school teacher and a chair-maker who let me hangout in his workshop were the initial factors which gave me a thirst for woodworking.

 

Image courtesy of the artist.

Image courtesy of the artist.

 

What has been your favourite project or product and why?

More often than not the furniture I make is designed and crafted specifically for the client involved. I enjoy this relationship and believe it is important in assuring the client receives a piece of woodwork which not only satisfies their needs and desires but is unique to their personality.

Fine cabinetry and chair making excites me the most, but more specifically I have a soft spot for wall hung cabinets. While sometimes their function may be limited I think there is something particularly charming about them.

 

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What does a normal work day look like for you?

A normal day for me could vary between scrambling up a hill somewhere with a chainsaw mill over my shoulder or simply sitting at the bench with chisels and a hammer. Both very enjoyable but often the weather and seasons dictate the more desirable option.

 

”In August 2015 I began building a post & beam frame using traditional timber framing methods. The frame which is built from large section Native White Cypress will form the crux of a new workshop. Each timber is mortise and tenoned together and then pinned with a hand shaped peg made from English Oak”. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

How was woodworking traditionally learnt in the past, and does this path still exist?

I guess my craft comes from a bygone era when cabinet making shops were a thriving entity; places where sharpening one’s chisels were a daily exercise and skills and techniques were past down from wise old ‘woodies’.

These days, short of finding one of those old woodies to learn from, the most accessible route to an education in fine woodworking seems to be through Universities offering design orientated courses or privately run woodwork/craft schools offering fine woodworking courses.

 

Image courtesy of the artist.

Image courtesy of the artist.

 

What pressures do you think have led to the traditional pathway of gaining woodworking skills becoming problematic today?

Significant changes to the industry have led to an adoption of more and more automated machinery, and while solid wood was once ‘king’ now manufactured sheet materials rule. This has resulted in a loss of hand skills and the need for them in the industry is somewhat obsolete.  In the past the cabinet maker was taught to set a hand plane or tune a bandsaw, but he now is taught to operate a CNC Machine or Edgebander.

 

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Final fitting of a mortice and tenon joint on one of four cross frame beams. Tools are a 1 1/2 framing chisel and a raw hide mallet. Image courtesy of the artist.

Hand saws made by Lachlan. Image courtesy of the artist.

Hand saws made by Lachlan. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

How did you learn the techniques and theory behind your craft?

Originally, I trained as a furniture designer at RMIT School of design where I graduated with a Diploma of Arts in Furniture Design in 2008. In 2009 I had the wonderful opportunity to study furniture making full time at The Centre for Fine Woodworking in Nelson, New Zealand. There, under the tutelage of internationally renowned furniture maker John Shaw, I learnt the fundamental skills required to be a fine woodworker. In reflection I see this time as pivotal in my growth as a woodworker. I will be forever grateful to the Ian Potter Cultural Trust for their support via an Arts Grant which allowed me to complete the full-time course in Nelson.

Hand made hammers. Image courtesy of the artist.

Hand made hammers. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

Have you established your woodworking as a viable living? How challenging do you think it is for others to achieve this today?

I am in the early stages of pursuing my craft as a viable living. At the present I am optimistic about the future and the possibilities, but I know very well the fickle game that is making and selling fine woodwork and am not naïve to the challengers. First and foremost, woodwork is a passion and keeping it as so is my main priority.

 

Have you had any mentors?

I have benefited greatly from the mentorship of many woodworkers and craftspeople over the years but more specifically I will be forever thankful for meeting John Shaw (New Zealand) and Eoin Cox (Scotland).

 

Side table by Lachlan. Image courtesy of the artist.

Side table by Lachlan. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

Are there any speciality tools required for woodworking, and if so has it been challenging to find and learn to use them?

I feel it is a right of passage for a woodworker to make their own hand tools. Using fine hand tools not only adds detail and soul to one’s work but makes the process of realising those possibilities a tremendously joyful experience. I make wooden hand planes in the style of legendary American Woodworker, James Krenov. I learnt to make dovetail saws from Sydney-based furniture designer, Ben Percy.

 

Selection of hand tools made by Lachlan. Image courtesy of the artist.

Selection of hand tools made by Lachlan. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

What do you think an apprenticeship for your craft/trade might look like that gives makers the skills they need to establish themselves today?

In my idealist world, subsidised woodwork/craft schools would not only exist but flourish. These would be places which offered students an environment where assessment was prioritised but rather their dedication to the craft was nurtured and considered more important.

 

Are the products you make also produced on a large scale by mass-production, and if so what has that meant for the design and quality of the products?

To a certain degree they are, but my work is always led by the particular piece of timber being used and thus is unique to the situation. Whilst much contemporary design could be somewhat closely replicated by machine, I am still convinced of the subtly and care which is only achievable by the maker’s hand. When a machine can work in an organic nature making spur-of-the-moment decisions based on intuition, I’ll give up!

 

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Wood sourced by Lachlan for his furniture and tools. Image courtesy of the artist.

Image courtesy of the artist.

Wood sourced by Lachlan for his furniture and tools. Image courtesy of the artist. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

How has today’s marketplace, with abundant mass-production, affected what you make and how you make it?

While sometimes the challenge of competing with mass-produced furniture and their price tags can be confronting, I feel that consumers are becoming far more discerning and knowledgeable and therefore seeking more hand-crafted work. I do not think craftspeople should try to compete with mass-produced products but rather strive to constantly improve our level of skill level and knowledge base to differentiate ourselves from the machine.

 

As a contemporary craftsperson, how are you making this craft relevant and shaping it for the future?

I have a strong belief in human instinct and the need in us all to make things with our hands. I feel it can offer us both balance to our ever busier lives and provide us with a connection to our natural environment, community and place.


 

See Lachlan’s work on display in The Apprenticeship from 19 April to 25 June 2016.


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