Meet the AWR LIVE Speakers: Kerryn Carter

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AWR L!VE is an exciting half day conference event for pro and aspiring pro woodworkers which will take place in Sydney, August 21, 2017. Leading up to this event we will introduce each of the speakers who will take part. For more information and earlybird ticketing see here

Kerryn Carter is the founder of Toolschool, a kids woodwork school, based in Sydney. She is a brand ambassador for Ryobi Power Tools with an Instagram following of over 40,000. Kerryn is also an accountant and a practising lawyer in NSW and an engaging speaker. Below you can read the profile on her which we ran in issue 92 of Australian Wood Review magazine.


Full Circle

Words and photos: Linda Nathan, Wood Review Editor

When Kerryn Carter was maybe five years old she would trail along after her father as he went off to the magical place under the house he called his workshop. In contrast, her brother ran around the backyard and showed no interest. ‘If I had have been born a boy (my father) probably would have let me have the saw in my hand rather than watching him’, she said. Kerryn’s father, John Dixon, was a boilermaker by trade for BHP in Newcastle who went on to teach metal and woodworking in secondary schools. He said, ‘you get yourself trained in something and we’ll do woodworking on the side’. All that happened, but not straight away.

At 17, Kerryn went to the US and ran as a track and field athlete for The University of Arizona, graduated as an accountant and then got real jobs, first in San Francisco, then in a diamond mine in the Arctic Circle (yes, it’s true). Back in Australia, Kerryn got another degree, this time in law, worked in Malaysia for two years, came back home, got married, worked in a top tier law firm (mergers and acquisitions) and then stepped away from the corporate world after having two sons.


Kerryn's carport doubles as a machine shop.

Basically though, she said, ‘I was biding my time until my father would take me on as a woodworker. It wasn’t until I had had a whole career before he would teach me everything’. Finally John relented when the two started renovating her house. ‘We
did the interior. Before I knew about joinery he taught me all the basics of finishing.’ Tragically though, Kerryn’s father passed away not long after.

Shortly after Kerryn started woodworking classes with Stuart Faulkner* and it was he who years later suggested to her the idea of starting classes for kids. For a lawyer and accountant setting up and running a small business really was child’s play and the methodology of teaching also came naturally to someone with a lifelong interest. The classes have proved very popular and there are now waiting lists to join.


Small parts and fittings may be sourced from Spotlight and other retailers, but having a 3D printer has made it much easier to come up with the components needed for some of her projects.

Coming up with creative designs for things that young people really do want to make is Kerryn’s gift. ‘I thoroughly enjoy coming up with silly stuff that kids seem to like.’ As a ‘steampunker’ creating theatrical looking objects is an interest and ‘kids gravitate towards things that look mechanical’.

At an early age the end result can be more important than learning the ins and outs of joinery. There will be time for learning how to cut dovetails but first you have to fire an interest in doing so. While learning the basics of sawing, drilling and shaping, it’s having an interest in the object being made that is the carrot on the end of the stick.

‘With kids’ woodwork it’s all about the detail’, said Kerryn, explaining why showing children how to make her steampunked watch project is not about creating a functional timepiece. ‘It’s not about drawing on a watch face and putting some hands on. It’s not even really about a watch that works. It’s about making it look so cool that kids just can’t resist – they want one – my son wears his to school.’


The retro Star Wars inspired Hans Solo galactical blaster project was a big hit.

If you were between six and twelve years old would you rather make a pencil box or a ‘Hans Solo galactical blaster’? A spice rack? Or a toy car, a fishing rod or a ‘bagbot’? No surprise that younger people might want to make exciting things that are full of fun and invite imaginative play.

At the start Kerryn sourced all the literature she could find on teaching kids and found that most of it was written 20 or 30 years ago. So she developed her own methods and program and designed a number of projects that she now plans to eventually publish as a resource for other teachers. ‘The previous generation of kids’ woodwork teachers didn’t have access to things like this that gave kids the extra spark to make things.’

Classes are limited to five students at a time and run on weekends. The ten children that started with Kerryn still return on a weekly basis to keep having fun while learning and making things that often teach more than just handskills. For example, for one project, heart-shaped ‘courage boxes’ became containers for private messages and personal statements of bravery in an examination of concepts of bullying and self belief.


Kerryn’s restoration hardware finished workbench cum storage unit was built over a two-week period with the help of an Instagram mate who lives in the USA. The names of once well known tool manufacturers on the trays on top are shared with different class groups.

The fact it may take a few weeks to complete a project is another life lesson. ‘I explain to them that life isn’t instant like Minecraft. Even though they can see the final product they never fail to ask me when will it be finished. As long as I remind them
of the timeframe and we stay on task they can accept that it will take time’, Kerryn said.

But are they really learning woodwork? ‘Absolutely. Without a doubt. I’m not a craft centre. It’s all based on the major tools that I go through with them. The Japanese pull saw is basically the foundation of my classes’, she said. ‘It’s such a great tool in terms of body mechanics.

When you use a Japanese saw the cutting motion is in the pulling and with your body moving backwards you’re able to use your leg as the brake. When you use the Western push saw it’s your front arm that stops your body from rolling forward and is always going to be very close to the blade, and it’s at that point where you’re most likely to lose control and touch the blade.’
After the pull saw, the surform plane is next in order of importance in the hand tool skills Kerryn teaches. Saws cut straight, but the surform can shape curves. Hand drills are used after the fundamentals of what a drill bit does and how it cuts are explained.


Campaign furniture is one of Kerryn’s interest. This chest was a recent personal project.

For each tool a safety demonstration is given to the group and thereafter those who need more instruction receive it.
‘When I started (teaching) someone said to me, “how do you know that kids are going to know how to use a saw”. My answer is that they are fast learners when they use things that cut. Everything’s real, they just don’t use power tools. Kids are capable once they understand what they’re supposed to be doing and what the safety rules are. They can all free saw down a straight line.’

Classes take place in the workshop out back of Kerryn’s house in Sydney. In cold weather underbench heating keeps things cosy, while in warmer weather workbenches can be moved outside under shelter. One hour classes run mainly on Saturdays with 15 minutes in between. Waiting lists and the fact that it can be hard to get kids to leave at the end are proof of their enjoyment.
It’s ironic that Kerryn’s unfulfilled childhood interest now finds her inspiring a passion for woodworking in others that some may think are too young to develop the required skills.

Contact Kerryn Carter via

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