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  • Frank Wiesner - Bookbinding Tools

Frank Wiesner - Bookbinding Tools

Frank is one of those craftsmen who has paved the way for other furniture-makers and designers in Australia and whether he likes it or not, has become regarded as a national treasure by many. On the walls of his wonderful Toowoomba workshop hangs hundreds of jigs and templates as a testament to a life spent at the workbench.

Frank Wiesner began his career in Berlin just after the war. It was a difficult time but his grandfather managed to secure him an apprenticeship with a master cabinetmaker. There was a strong distinction in Europe between a ‘trade’ and a ‘craft’. To be a craftsman required an apprentice to not only learn to design and make new work, but also to conserve, restore and understand the cultural heritage that had been created by craftsmen before him. A broad range of skills such as design, joinery, woodturning and carving were required. It was an arduous but rewarding time and it set Frank up with the skills that he would build his life around.

Tired of the traumas of postwar Berlin and keen for adventure, a young Frank Wiesner saw a poster on the wall of an employment agency advertising emigration to Australia. He took a great leap into the unknown and left Germany on his own to begin a new life here. He worked for a number of years on properties in rural Australia. Although he was working as a general farmhand, he told me he was never far from his trade. He explains that there were always tools lying around in the sheds and bits of timber. On weekends he would tune up the old tools he found in the shed and make small things to keep his hand in.

After he met and married his wife Joan, they settled in Toowoomba and built their home. Frank set up a joinery shop on the property in 1970. There he could work in the trade he loved, making commissioned cabinets and shop fittings for the local community.

As a member of the Queensland Woodcraft Guild, Frank would attend exhibitions to demonstrate his craft. I remember being a fledgling woodworker at a Brisbane Working With Wood Show and watching him create a Red Cedar bookcase with drawers and doors over the three days of the show. It was amazing to watch him work. He was very kind and generous with his time and I was totally inspired by the way he worked. He still places a high value on handing on knowledge to others and has been instrumental in the careers of many woodworkers.

An article featuring him in Craft Australia, a highly regarded magazine that showcases the finest in Australian craftspeople and artists, created a lot of interest in his work and enquiries began to flood in. Frank had developed a reputation as a very fine craftsman and, along with his good friend Robert Dunlop, was central to the vibrant woodworking community in Queensland.

At the same time, a fascination for cutting wooden threads began to evolve. He was able to develop a series of tools and techniques to cut them efficiently. The threads were ideal for making wooden vises for workbenches, but Frank believed their potential was broader than that. After researching ways that he could make better use of them in his work, he discovered there was an extensive use of wooden threads in traditional bookbinding equipment.

This was an epiphany, here was a craft as equally steeped in tradition and history as cabinetmaking. Bookbinders are dedicated to finding ways of conserving old and creating new bindings for rare books and texts. It’s an art form practiced by a unique group of artisans who are employed in libraries, archives and museums worldwide.