Damion served in the Royal Australian Air Force for 20 years and saw operational service in East Timor, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan. It was during deployment to Sudan that his interest in woodworking was born and what started as a hobby rapidly developed into a devotion. Although he uses machinery to break larger stock, Damion favours hand tools for shaping and joining wood.
Damion designs and makes furniture and smaller items to order, and conducts evening classes in fine woodworking techniques from his workshop in Darra, Brisbane.
Q: How did you get into woodworking?
A: I was in the Air Force and deployed to a tiny village in what is now South Sudan as a military observer for the United Nations. One of my roles there was to assist in the disarmament and reintegration into society of the former civil war soldiers. An element of the employment program for these soldiers was furniture making. They were given the most rudimentary of tool sets — a handsaw, chisel, claw hammer and tool belt — and access to stocks of timber from local plantations. They would sit in groups, on the side of the road, and make beds, tables, benches etc for local villages. This sparked something in me and I returned home from the deployment determined to learn woodworking.
Q: Who are your woodworking heroes/gods/gurus?
A: Anyone that succeeds and retains passion for the craft. On a personal level I feel privileged to have been trained and mentored to varying levels by such people as Richard Vaughan, Robert Howard, Garrett Hack, Adrian Ferrazzutti, Tim Rousseau and Yuri Kobayashi and consider it an honour to count them as friends.
Q: What do you mainly make?
A: I favour Asian and Scandinavian styles and my contemporary furniture designs reflect elements of these. Small off-cuts are used to make batches of jewellery and trinket boxes. They are a lot of fun, minimise waste and are great for building and practising basic skills. They also fill in time between commission work.
Q: Your thoughts on traditional vs ‘new’ and digital?
A: It all depends on where you happened to enter the process doesn’t it? I mean, everything was ‘new’ at some stage. I guess I lean towards the traditional and hand tools feature strongly in my work processes. For me satisfaction is as much in the journey as in the end result. For example, if I’m not under intense time pressure, I enjoy taking the time to make a frame and panel assembly with tongue and groove and rebate planes etc rather than at the machines.
Where time is critical however, sometimes you can’t beat a production run at the machines. In the end, I like to make things that I’m proud to say that I made. Whatever tools happen to be used along the way is of a lesser significance.
Q: What are you pet woodworking hates?
A: Losing precious stock to the relieving of internal stresses when milling components. I recently made a blanket chest in black walnut. I’d had the timber in my basement workshop for 18 months when I started working on the project. When ripping components, it would re-crook to the extent that I eventually had to start with 100mm wide S2S timber. Rip 6mm off, re-joint the now crooked edge again, rip another 6mm off etc in order to end up with 75mm wide frame components. To me that is too much waste, ecological, time and financial.
Q: What is your desert island hand tool/machine/timber/woodie book?
A: Tool — Lie-Nielsen fishtail chisel. It has a spot in my tool cabinet but almost never resides there as it basically only leaves my bench to go to the sharpening station. Machine — my N4400 Hammer bandsaw. Timber — lace sheoak. Whenever I see it for sale I buy it, regardless of whether I have a need for it. Alluring appearance and lovely to work. Book — Understanding Wood by Ron Hoadley. I’ve read it cover-to-cover three times and still learn something new each time. This should be one of the first books a serious woody should buy.
Q: The best thing you’ve ever made?
A: I still love the desktop document box that I made in Tasmanian blackwood that has a veneered Australian Flag as the centrepiece of the lid. I chose this piece for two reasons — firstly because I am very proud of the design, workmanship and finished product and secondly because I made it when I was in the USA for three years and missing my family, friends and work back in Australia.
Q: Your best excuse for not getting something quite right?
A: Thinking about other tasks/processes to come whilst I’m still working in the present, be it the next workshop process, what time I need to pick the kids up or what I’m going to cook for dinner that night.
Q: Your most often-made mistake?
A: Attempting glue-ups that are too complex rather than breaking it down to sub-assemblies.
Q: Your biggest woodworking disaster!!?
A: See answer above. I was working on a sideboard that I was assembling with around 60 domino loose tenons. I didn’t get the sequencing just right and the glue ended up tacking before I could bring the assembly fully home. Much stress and dead-blow mallet blows ensued until it finally came together. Whilst not technically a disaster (as it finally worked), it was hopefully the closest I ever come to a true disaster.
Q: The thing I would most like to change about wood is…
A: Price and availability
Q: The thing I would most like to change about woodworkers is…
A: Using inexperience as an excuse to not try something new. Have a go, stretch yourself. I try to incorporate something that I haven’t done before into most of my projects in order to continually grow and push myself.
Q: The thing I would most like to change about my own woodworking is…
A: I need to spend more time in the intial stages of design i.e. sketching, scale models, prototypes etc. Somethimes I get so excited about trying or starting something new that I jump straight in too early and design as I make on the fly.
Q: My final word on woodwork is…
A: The more I learn, the more I realise I have yet to learn. And I’m loving the journey.