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Customer Profile - Peter Geddes

by Carol Russell

 

A woodworking student in later life, Peter Geddes is an old dog who has learnt as lot of new tricks. He shows us that with enough conviction and the right guidance, you can re-invent yourself. Peter is a semi-retired veterinary surgeon from Brisbane, having grown up in Sydney. His father was an accomplished woodworker and at a very early age Peter developed a love and appreciation of fine craftsmanship

I remember Peter from several years ago when I used to visit my friend Roy Schack in his first workshop in Woolloongabba. He took lessons there on Sunday mornings with Roy, a graduate of Sturt School for Wood under Tom Harrington.

One thing that struck me then and that I'm reminded of now is that Peter not only has a passion for woodwork, he has an intensity that goes beyond what I have observed  in many enthusiasts: a desire to fully understand and extract every morsel of knowledge available. This manifests itself in his meticulous joinery.

Peter's parents retired to Bowral and this gave him the opportunity - with his father - to attend the annual Sturt graduate exhibitions. He marveled at the work on display and wondered how he would ever get from where he was then to being able to produce furniture of that standard. Peter told me he used to dream of taking a year off and attending the highly regarded woodworking course, but the logistics of running a busy practice and having a family made it impractical.

 
Hans Vegner valet chair
by Peter Geddes
 

The seed was sown. One day when he was at 'Wood N You', (a workshop where you can buy timber, hire machine time and workspaces in Brisbane) the owner mentioned that Roy Schack may be looking for students. Peters ears pricked up - this was the opportunity he was looking for.

So began 3 enjoyable years of tuition. Peter found Roy an exceptional craftsman and teacher with an innate feel for design and joinery.

As Roy's first student, Peter benefited from one on one tuition. Roy would watch virtually every stroke to ensure the correct technique was being learnt. Peter makes the point that it is better in the early stages to concentrate on learning good handtool skills rather than being focused on making a piece of furniture. "Learn to plane, chisel and saw with ease and accuracy. Good handskills provide a firm foundation for tackling more complex projects. After all, this is the way apprentices of old learnt their trade." He has produced many breadboards and mallets and his wife, at times, began to wonder if he would ever produce something a little more significant. Judging by the quality of the work he is doing now, this disciplined approach to joinery has paid off.

On top of seeking expert tuition, Peter also stresses the importance of putting in the time between lessons to practice and read widely. There has never been a time when so much information has been available in books and DVDs. You can access the techniques of some of the worlds finest craftspeople, Peter lists as his favourites James Krenov, Tage Frid, David Charlesworth, Allan Peters and Ian Kirby.

By his own admission, Peter is not a designer. He loves to begin with a good design that features interesting joinery and has a particular love of the Scandinavian style, including Danish designers Hans Wegner and Tage Frid. Like many of us he shares an admiration for the work and writing of James Krenov.

 
  Tage Frid Three Legged-Stool
by Peter Geddes

When asked about his favorite tools Peter recites a quote from James Krenov: "I think of the plane as being the cabinetmakers violin; the instrument that sets the tone of the music in an orchestra."

Prior to tuition he rarely, if ever, used a handplane. Now he rarely works without them. The English Preston that he struggled unsuccessfully with as a child in his father's workshop is his favorite. He has now learnt to tune, sharpen and use it properly.

In the future, Peter Geddes plans to do more commissions and possibly some tutoring, but most importantly to continue to learn. Only last year he spent some time making the quintessential European workbench with Mastercraftsman Frank Weisner, a person he greatly admires.