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  • Customer Profile: Roy Schack - Woodworker and Teacher

Customer Profile: Roy Schack - Woodworker and Teacher

It’s easy to think, when you wade through the mountains of homeware and furniture products available across the country, that craftsmanship is something of a myth. A quaint concept belonging to a bygone era.

However, Australia has a vibrant culture of professional woodworkers who produce exceptional quality studio furniture pieces. Many of them have opened their workshops to people wanting something more than a DIY level of woodworking skill. These people are looking to achieve excellence and learn traditional woodworking skills.

Roy Schack is a fine woodworker who lives and works in Samford Valley near Brisbane. He runs The Brisbane School of Fine Woodwork where he guides his students through all aspects of woodworking from the correct use of hand tools and machinery to understanding timber, construction and design.

Standing in his workshop located in a beautiful rural setting, I can’t imagine a more suitable environment to learn fine woodworking. Roy encourages his students to feel at home here and whilst they are attending classes, this becomes their workshop too. The students are from all walks of life and age groups and at least half are women. This is a gentle environment conducive to learning and creativity, a respite from the busy noisy lives that many of us lead.
Roy Schack wasn’t always a woodworker. A desire for a career change from merchant banking in 1993 led him to undertake a course in Town Planning. Whilst working on an assignment in the Mitchell Library in Sydney, he wandered into an exhibition of fine woodwork by the members of the Woodworkers’ Association of New South Wales. The ‘For Tomorrow’ exhibition proved somewhat of a revelation. “I realised that some people do this for a living”, he had always thought of woodwork as a hobby. It was an epiphany of sorts: he knew for the first time in his life what he wanted to do. Four months later, he was a student at the Sturt School for Wood.

Roy studied under the late Tom Harrington, a person who had been an enormous influence on his work. Tom’s approach was to “keep it simple” and concentrate on the quality of the design and construction and not the “wow factor”. This advice struck a real chord and underpins Roy’s approach to both his own work and his teaching.

For many of us, woodworking can be an impenetrable jungle of complicated mishaps and hours spent bringing our projects back from the brink of disaster. Roy tries to navigate around all of this noise. He distils his knowledge and relates it’s essence to students without them feeling bogged down or overloaded.

He says that an important element for him when teaching is that the student is able to trust in his ability to be able to help them find solutions to the problems they encounter. “It’s one thing to get an idea across, but to teach the students enough so they can start to teach themselves is another thing”.

In his own work, it’s obvious he has a real affinity for the process, the material and the tools. The timber he uses in his furniture maintains the purity of its natural state. It never feels far from the tree. Roy has produced many fine studio furniture pieces that have featured in various Australian and international exhibitions. He is a member of the ‘MADE’ group, a diverse collection of makers and designers in Queensland who are committed to raising the profile of studio furniture makers. Each year in Brisbane, the group stages an exhibition showcasing its work.

Born in Denmark and raised in Australia, Roy’s work pays tribute to his Danish heritage as well as his love of Japanese design. He travels regularly to Denmark and Japan and maintains strong ties to both places. It’s notable that two countries so far apart can share a commonality in their design ethos.

He explains that his first memory of furniture is from when he was about seven. He was under his parents’ ‘Parker’ coffee table and remembers chewing one of the legs. He recalls the bitter taste and acrid smell of the teak. Ironically many of those Parker designs of the 70’s owe a great deal to the classic Danish designs.

Although Roy took woodworking classes at high school, it proved to be an unfulfilling experience. He enjoyed it and showed promise, but after three years he never saw a project completed. This was largely due to the attitude of his fellow students who showed little care and respect for the work of others. He gave it up as a lost cause in his last year and moved on to other things, never realising that it would return to him in the future but be presented in a very different kind of way.

Wandering around Roy’s workshop, you can see it’s well equipped with machinery, but the hand tools are the items that hold pride of place. An array of Japanese chisels and pull saws can always be found hanging in abundance in his tool cupboard, they are meticulously honed and ready for action. There are no ornaments here each item must earn its keep.

The discipline and perseverance required to get the most from these beautiful tools is something that Roy instils in his students. He cites the point where his students really “get it” and are able to “Transfer an action through the fingertips to the tool and produce perfect shavings” as one of teaching’s most rewarding moments. He has a strong belief that a sound ability in basic hand skills such as sawing, chiselling and hand planing are fundamental to achieving a high level of expertise in woodworking.

Much of his time is spent teaching these days, but Roy treasures the time alone in the workshop when he is working on his own project. He loves the solitude of the actual making and describes an almost meditative state in the space between thoughts where the sounds of the tools talk to him. It’s this time that inspires him and keeps him fresh and innovative. The fact that he is able to find himself in this state of mind after so many years tells him that his choice of career change was the right one.

Roy Schack works with some of his students in his Samford workshop
Shown below is some of Roy's finished work.
Photographer: Florian Groehn
Workpieces by Roy Schack