From the outside looking in Stuart Bywater’s workshop in Crockford St, Northgate, Qld is a hive of happy and productive activity. Ten students are immersed in day two of their four day hollow wooden board making intensive. They move around their workbenches, fitting and fettling pre-cut ribs into the as-yet only skeleton constructions. Help is on hand from Stuart and the team of Michael, David and Daniele who will guide them through the process and challenges.
As the shavings peel off, it’s hard to believe that many of these people have had no woodworking experience. An exception is Andrew, a wood machinist, who is ‘cheating’, jokes Chris, a radiologist and occasional weekend wood warrior. Victoria is one those who became a woodworker only two days prior, although she is actually a surfer, unlike some of the others.
Some, like Angus, have woodworking experience but feel his board will more likely be used by his kids. Making a board is however a way to elevate wood skills, learning to work with curves and shaping components to fit and look pleasing. To judge by the atmosphere here today, it’s also a lot of fun.
Stuart Bywater initially trained at the Wood Workshop at the ANU School of Art and for the last 30 years has specialised in furniture design, making and restoration. Fourteen years ago he began giving woodwork classes and these have gained in popularity to the point that there’s a class going on four nights of the week taught by either Stuart or his ‘right hand man’ David.
A surfing devotee since the age of 13 or 14, Stuart first made a board for himself about five years ago. Before long others wanted to make a board, and so long hollow board making was added to the courses offered at Bywater Design. Nowadays Stuart offers surfboard making courses four times a year, but be advised you do need to book well ahead!
Wooden boards have steadily gained in popularity over the years and are seen as a more environmental choice over the fibreglass kind due to their more organic nature and bio-degradability. Balsa wood has been a familiar choice, however Stuart supplies pre-cut plantation grown pawlonia components for his students to work with. ‘Balsa soaks up water like a sponge and doesn’t seal as well as paulownia’, said Stuart.
There are various types, sizes and styles of boards that students may choose to make, and customisation is also possible with the addition of detailing such as inlay, inscriptions or pin stripes in Western red cedar or cambia. Coloured resin finishes are a new option as well, though these are carried out by the team post-workshop.
Both Stuart and Daniele Bywater stress that no prior experience is necessary. ‘Before coming to the course, students are given a booklet which goes through the whole process’, Daniele explained. ‘That way they have an idea of what they’ll be doing. We also encourage people to take their time and enjoy the process – it’s not a race and there is help on hand’.
It seems the courses are enjoyable for all concerned. ‘It’s not often you see ten people walk away after only four days with something they’ve never dreamed they could make, smiling and really stoked’, Stuart said.
For more information on Stuart Bywater’s woodworking classes visit bywaterdesign.com.au or phone (07) 3256 9000.