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troublemag | September 27, 2016

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Wood & Tradition: Joined at the Hip

Wood & Tradition: Joined at the Hip

Gordon Dowell
 

Sitting on a shaving horse (aka The Pleasure Pony) and armed with a razor-sharp drawknife, Lachie Park is using the centuries-old method of green woodworking known as ‘bodging’ to produce two hundred wooden pegs. He is adamant that his pegs should be made from the ‘traditional’ English Oak (Quercus robur).

Lachie has managed to source his wood from a place close to home, using a tree garnered originally from Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, which he discovered lying in a Daylesford timber yard. The skill and knowledge to make the pegs, however, was learned many miles away while he was studying in The Scottish Borders in 2010.

Lachie’s two hundred pegs are the essential component used to bind a traditional post and beam barn, a feature of which is the complete absence of modern metallic fasteners. Lachie is using the English building method of scribe rule construction for his barn, which now dominates the skyline in his home town of Newstead in central Victoria.

The scribe rule tradition reached its zenith in the 16th and 17th centuries, through the provenance of log cabin construction. The pegs are tapped into the holes through both mortice and tenon, thus bringing the joint together. This process is known as ‘drawboring’. Lachie described the advantages of this method of building as: “… trees can be felled and framed up in one day, while the pegs allow the construction to be taken apart if required”.

Though the mind does boggle – considering the weight and size of this thing – at the thought of Lachie’s deconstructed barn becoming a ‘pop up’ in another location, it is an intriguing idea. These are not piddling sticks of lumber. The green timber posts are recently harvested Murray Pine (Callitris glaucaphylla) from Injune in Queensland measuring 250mm square, and the beams not much smaller. At 12 x 5 metres in area, 5.7 metres high, and weighing 10 tonnes minus the cladding, this is indeed a very solid framework.

 

Photo by Gordon Dowell


 

Photo by Geoff Park


 

Photo by Geoff Park


 

It was after sitting in a cold and lonely shed in Ontario, Canada, late last year while churning out three hundred breadboards, Lachie decided it was more than time to ‘live the dream’ of fulfilling his career as a fine furniture maker and return to Australia. The dream had its genesis at Highview College in Maryborough, where Lachie studied Design & Technology. A successful two-year Diploma of Arts in Furniture Design at RMIT followed. To consolidate his learning Lachie then moved to Nelson in New Zealand to study at the Centre for Fine Woodworking, a move facilitated by a grant from the Ian Potter Cultural Trust. The centre has become his spiritual woodworking home, to which he returns regularly, both to improve his skills and to teach.

Back at home Lachie required his own dedicated studio/workshop, and the post and beam barn currently being built in the Park’s backyard is his solution. When completed and clad in timber weatherboards it will house the machinery, tools and wood supplies Lachie has gathered over recent years, and provide him with an ideal, bespoke workspace.

Despite his growing expertise, getting to this stage of construction required Lachie to learn yet more traditional skills. A recent four-week residency under the tutorage of Steve Stoodley from Timber Frames of Australia (timberframes.com.au) in the small town of Uraidla in the Adelaide Hills, this time ‘riding’ the saw horse(s) to craft the structural components of his new barn, gifted both the knowledge and materials for his build.

Lachie philosophises into the future and likes to think, “… this barn will become a hub of wood construction activities in the Newstead community.” He recalls the late Dickie Blackman, a master craftsman in traditional furniture making who lived opposite the Parks when Lach was growing up. Dickie was also a bodger … and a teacher, and would be very pleased indeed with Lachie’s adoption of this particular method of building.

Lachie has been overwhelmed by the community support and goodwill that has “… kept the spirit high” during the build. That support includes help from his neighbours, friends and family, as well as his New Zealand woodworking cobbers, Adam Webb and Ian ‘Dizzie’ Gillespie, who arrived in time to help with raising the barn framework.

A fine furniture maker he may be, but the impressive dimensions of his barn have not daunted Lachie. The exactitude and precision required for his craft have been applied to the barn with the same aptitude. You only had to be there as it was erected – barely a ‘whisker’ needing to be pared from a tenon, here and there – to be convinced by such an art as this.

 

Photo by Geoff Park


 

Photo by Geoff Park


 

Photo by Geoff Park


 

Gordon Dowell lives in Newstead and, amongst other entries listed on his business card, works as an oral historian and cane and paper artist. He has written histories of the YMCA in Victoria and the Energy Breakthrough Programme held annually at Maryborough. Gordon is a regular contributor to the Newstead ECHO – newsteadecho.org/