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  • Customer Profile - Ric Fallu

Customer Profile - Ric Fallu

Woodworking takes all different forms. For Ric Fallu, a Carba-Tec customer from Victoria, it is the ability to combine his love of the underwater world and fishing with a passion for woodworking that inspires him. In retirement, Ric has set himself a challenge to build in wood a series of classic speargun designs normally crafted in plastic and metal. This has proven to be a real test of ingenuity and skill. Along the way he has found companionship with fellow woodworkers and rediscovered a love of woodwork that has been with him for most of his life.

My name is Ric Fallu and I build wooden spearguns. When I was four or five years old I discovered a wood rasp in the family garage and used it to shape wooden tent pegs. I nailed on a couple of pieces of board and voila! I had a toy airplane. I still have that wood rasp. A few years later I had my first experience of wearing a mask and snorkel in the sea. It was then I became hooked on the underwater world.

In the early 1960s my education involved weekly visits to Carnegie school, where I was taught woodwork by Mr. Scott-Young. As well as basic skills, Mr. Scott-Young taught me the importance of precision and keeping a neat workplace. Both lessons have stayed with me lifelong. I later encountered the book Handbook for Skindivers by Ben Cropp, which contained instructions on how to make a wooden speargun. I bought the book and made the gun, and that was the beginning of a long journey.

In the early 1970s, I was glazing-in a veranda and borrowed a handplane from my father. It was blunt and I didn't have any instructions on how to sharpen it. I sat down and looked at the angles, and it was like a light globe going off in my head. The appropriate angles became obvious. I sharpened the blade on an oilstone and it worked (albeit not brilliantly). I still have that plane.

The years passed. Family issues and career development took precedence and I parted company with most of the hair on my head. I didn't have the spare time to progress with my woodwork but when I was working in Darwin in the 1990s I enjoyed the tropical delights of skin-diving and spearfishing in Darwin Harbour (murky water, with crocodiles). One encounter with a large fish resulted in a broken speargun. As there is not a great demand for diving gear in Darwin (murky water, with crocodiles), I couldn't get a replacement speargun so I decided to build one. I started then and haven't stopped since. Not long after that I discovered Carba-Tec and found a source of fine woodworking tools that weren't readily available elsewhere. Not only are these tools functional, they are things of beauty in their own right.

I finally retired from work to take up a life of indolence. I had to do something with my time, so this is how I began working my way through building the classic styles/designs of spearguns. Many of the designs were developed as a consequence of advances in plastic and metal technologies, so it's a real challenge nutting out how to duplicate the designs in wood.

These are real working spearguns, built to take fish and withstand the hurly burly of freediving and spearfishing. I might be getting old on the outside but there is still a 19 year old on the inside that delights in the thrill of the chase.
I learned the basics of woodwork back in the 1960s, but my skill level needed improvement. My joints were less than precise, and the glue-lines were too thick and variable. I joined the Wonthaggi Woodcrafters where I benefitted from the fellowship and skills of the other members. I also did a stint with the Melbourne School of Fine Woodworking.

My joints are now much better (the wooden ones that is - I wish I could say the same about the ones on my skeleton). Mr. Scott-Young would have approved.

I don't have much of a workshop, I use my garage at my coastal Victorian house and the garage at my partner's house in Melbourne. I do most of my work on a table on the front veranda. It's solid and weighty, and the top is soft pine that won't mark or dent my work-pieces. I have a power drill, a power planer, a hand held router, and of course - like just about every other household in Australia - I have a Triton saw bench, but I prefer to use hand tools wherever I can (the neighbours approve too). The local kids tell me I use the same tools used in Lord of the Rings. They think it's great.

Spearguns have several key components. The stock is the backbone of the gun, and it has to be dead straight. My normal practice is to glue-up stocks from paired laminates (paired to balance stresses and ensure the stock timber doesn't move). Once the laminates have been ripped and left to readjust to their new shape, I flatten and smooth them with my #6 Veritas plane. I glue and clamp them to a straight form, and nowadays the glue-lines are gratifyingly slim and even.

I square glued-up stocks using the same plane, but I use a high angle Lie Nielson block plane for more detailed shaping. Epoxy is hard stuff and it takes a toll on plane blades. They need frequent sharpening, so I now use a Veritas guide and waterstones. It's faster and more accurate than the techniques I used in my youth and it puts a better edge on the blades too.

As far as timber goes, some people will tell you that there are three timbers suitable for spearguns: Teak, Teak and Teak. I don't entirely agree. Timbers with a maritime tradition, such as Teak and Huon Pine, have a great wow factor and are lovely to work with, but the right stick of more common timbers can be just as functional and just as decorative, especially if they are appropriately sealed.

I use Tasmanian Oak, Douglas Fir, and even Radiata Pine. The key requirement for speargun stocks is that the timber must be formed straight and stay straight - even if its water content varies - so this requires straight grain. Timber in handles and end-pieces can have a more interesting figure. Density affects buoyancy, and that needs to be taken into account.

Speargun handles are designed to be ergonomically matched to the human hand. First, I cut them out with a coping saw, and then I shape them using the same wood rasp I used more than half a century ago. I do finer work with a Microplane, and then go on to sanding.

I undertake commissions from time to time, but they are not really a commercial activity, especially not if you take time into account. It's the challenge that interests me.