Skills and tools for the mind, soul and body

Having just returned from a trip to North America for the Woodworking in America conference only days before, Greg Miller lays a pile of wooden spoons on the table to show me. He had carved them at a workshop on using ‘green wood’, and keenly told me about his dream to begin teaching others how to do the same, now that he is back home.

Greg’s passion for woodwork is clear, but it’s his approach to the craft that is gaining interest from people the world over.

Having learnt woodworking skills in his youth from his father, like any youngster, Greg didn’t always want to take that same path.

“I learnt a lot from my father,” he said.  “Trouble was I was never going to become a woodworker.”

His first passion was in  youth work, before eventually starting up a cabinet making business in his thirties and once again learning tricks of the trade from his dad.

“I was ready to listen then. I’m really fortunate – it’s lovely to be able to learn from him.

In recent years, Greg has been able to take this experience and apply it to a new career direction, running workshops which merge his two passions.

The idea for Greg’s business, The Joy of Wood, came about when a friend was getting married for the first time in his forties. Not wanting to have a traditional ‘bucks’ night, instead Greg ran a workshop for the groom’s closest friends who discussed the highs and lows of relationships over a day of crafting a jarrah toolbox. The day was a  profound experience and opened up the concept to use woodwork as an icebreaker for kids and adults alike.

With a committment for sustainability, most of his wood comes from demolished houses or packing crates from all over the world – a type of wood which he says is high quality and commonly, and unnecessarily, wasted. Trees, Greg says, are the “lungs of the world.”

“Unfortunately, we’re mesmerised by concrete, steel, aluminium, all of which consume massive amounts of  energy to produce.”

Wood, however, is produced naturally by the sun.

“It’s renewable, recyclable, stores carbon and is low energy to produce,” he said.

Using hand tools is another important aspect to Greg’s approach. Not only are they better for the environment and the mind, he says, they assist in inspiring creativity and conversation.

“Traditional woodworking hand-skills and techniques enable you to do anything,” he said.

“There’s a lot of benefits for your body that come out of using hand tools. And your brain too.

“In the process, when you’re doing all this stuff with hand tools, it gives you a chance to talk to people. You don’t have to use earmuffs, so you can talk, you can communicate. You can talk about things that really matter while you’re doing stuff together. And that’s one of the things I love about it.”

It also connects the user to the history of each tool – the crafting process being so much more than just making stuff, but forming a connection to those who have handed the skill down through the generations. Greg himself has tools which were once used by his grandfather. “When I’m using his tools, I’m part of the stewardship succession of that tool,” he said. “I’m not really the owner; I’m  just the steward at the moment before it gets passed on to be used by the next craftsperson.

Greg says he doesn’t want to play the consumerist game, using cheap new tools which are only designed to last a limited lifetime.

“I don’t go buying new tools,” he said. “I get old tools. If they get damaged I repair them. Modern tools, throwaway tools; they’re really crap.”

While he is a member of Victoria Park and Districts Star Street Uniting Church, running workshops means that Greg often finds he is unable to attend regular worship due to woodworking commitments. The Joy of Wood, however, is more than a job and is a meaningful connection to faith.

Greg explains that often, adults find the old tools and workshop a nostalgic experience, which will lead to conversations about their own childhood.

“There’s a whole ministry in this,” he said. “It’s fascinating because it touches lots of different bits and pieces of people’s lives. “I think there’s lots of scope for  our congregations to be doing community building stuff – not just for themselves, but in the broader community.”

As his focus is so much wider than just the craft itself, Greg has held intergenerational workshops which bring together  grandparents and their grandchildren who create together.

“One of the really important things about that is it opens up opportunities for communication, but there’s also the benefits of having shared an experience together,” he said.

“It’s really about getting people together and learning from one another – which is how things used to work.

“Being creative together is always a positive thing. That’s how you build community.”

Heather Dowling

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