Taking one step inside North Vancouver’s new Community Woodworking Studio brings about a wondrously satisfying assault on the senses.
The first thing that hits you is the smell of fresh cut wood, a simple and satisfying scent that conjures a primitive sensation of crafting things by hand, of working with the objects nature provides.
As your nose takes in the refreshing scent, your eyes scan the workshop, light flooding in from a bank of full-length west-facing windows letting in the afternoon sun. The thick metal machines sit ready to saw and sand, the small hand tools make pleasing patterns in various nooks and crannies, and four solid-wood workbenches invite participants to carve out a place of their own and get to work.
Soon enough your ears are hit with it too, as power tools whir into motion, automatically activating the studio’s ingenious dust collection system that keeps the air in the small, urban space free of flying particles.
Finally your hands grasp a chunk of wood, and your senses are all in tune to a sensation not often felt in this world of endless commutes and computer screens.
“It’s an authentic experience,” says Jeremy Tomlinson, the highly experienced woodworker and wood turner whose dreams of an urban studio in North Vancouver became a reality when he partnered with the city and the North Vancouver Recreation and Culture Commission. People in urban settings need things that they can grab onto and engage with on a physical level, he says.
“If you look at where people are working and how they’re working in their daily lives … they’re working in an environment where everything in front of them is virtual,” says Tomlinson. “Vancouver in particular has a huge number of people employed in digital arts, computer programming, and anything to do with IT for that matter. I find that a lot of people are gravitating towards woodworking or blacksmithing or something like that because of the lack of ability to ever create something that’s tangible. Most of the time people are working on things that are intangible. The product of their labour is essentially a backup file in the cloud. People enjoy having the ability to engage in a material that everyone seems to love – wood – and engage with people in the activity as well. It’s kind of just a relief from the daily grind for a lot of people.”
Tomlinson’s new North Vancouver project will provide those hands-on opportunities for anyone who wants to sign up. His passion for working with his hands came early when, as a child growing up in South Africa, his father introduced him to tools and woodworking.
“My dad was a bit of an oddball craftsman guy. I don’t know what he was thinking, but when I was six he bought me a workbench,” says Tomlinson with a laugh, adding that sharpening stones were added to the collection when he was nine. “I cut myself a few times, but I learned how to sharpen things.”
Tomlinson and his family moved to Canada and he got into the corporate world, but never lost that love of working with his hands. His passion eventually became his profession as he became a maker and started offering courses at the Roundhouse in Vancouver seven years ago.
A chance conversation with former City of North Vancouver mayor Darrell Mussatto, himself a woodworking fanatic, helped open up doors in Tomlinson’s adopted hometown of North Vancouver for what became the Community Woodworking Studio. Any doubt about the skill of the instructor can be erased by the knowledge that Tomlinson, with the help of a few other handy friends, designed and created the whole studio from scratch. Those big, heavy, multipurpose workbenches – yep, he built those.
Located across the plaza from the John Braithwaite Community Centre, the studio is now open and accepting students in a variety of courses. A six-session Woodworking Basics course offers an introduction to the studio and skills such as the milling of rough lumber using core major power machines.
“You learn how not to cut your fingers off, and how to properly adjust the table saw or adjust the planer or the jointer and not injure yourself or anyone around you,” says Tomlinson.
Completion of the basics course, which includes an option of completing one of several large projects, gives participants access to the shop for drop-in sessions. Once the basics are mastered, courses can branch off in a number of directions, from spoon carving and wood sculpture to tool repair and knife sharpening. The general focus of the studio is on woodworking and furniture making, skills which are applicable and interesting for the apartment and condo dwellers who live in the towers surrounding the studio.
“They don’t have an opportunity for a garage or a barn out back where they can set up their own shop, so as a result their need is most often not a carpentry need but more of fixing furniture, making furniture, making cutting boards or carving spoons or just having fun as an amateur working with wood,” says Tomlinson.