Stephen Pelley, head of the carpentry program at Vancouver Island University, led a seminar on woodworking safety in the school’s carpentry workshop on Nov. 25. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

Nanaimo’s Mid-Island Woodworkers’ Guild now offering workshop classes

Guild president hopes to one day open a local woodworking co-operative

Tony Dobson had always been interested in woodworking. He had family members involved in the craft and a few years ago he decided to try his hand at it as well.

“In my life I’ve always kind of followed hobbies that were fascinating to me and woodworking was one that I’d always thought, ‘There’s a beauty there,’” he said.

“And the smell, the look, the feel, everything about wood was fascinating to me.”

But when the Nanaimo resident started researching beginner classes in woodworking, he was upset to learn that the only places on Vancouver Island offering courses were Camosun College in Victoria and North Island College campuses in Comox and Port Alberni.

“There was everywhere around us but Nanaimo, and that was hugely frustrating for me,” he said.

Other courses were prohibitively expensive, like one two-year program he found on the mainland costing around $25,000.

“That’s just way, way beyond anything I expected. I just want to learn about woodworking, I don’t want to become a master craftsman or anything,” he said.

Despite the inconvenience, Dobson ended up enrolling at Camosun, commuting to and from Victoria twice a week for three months.

In 2015 Dobson formed the Mid-Island Woodworkers’ Guild (MIWG), partially as a way to meet and learn from more local woodworkers.

“At that time I was completely useless at wood I had no background in it whatsoever, so as part of that ‘How to I get to become a woodworker and creating my own woodworking space?’ I had to find other people who were involved in woodworking,” he said.

Now, as president of the guild and with the organization’s support, he’s been working to make woodworking classes available to people in Nanaimo.

“To fill the gap, the guild decided … that we start offering mini-courses in woodworking and that might in fact resolve the issue all around,” he said.

The first such seminar focussed on woodworking safety. It was led by Stephen Pelley, head of the carpentry program at Vancouver Island University, in the school’s carpentry workshop on Nov. 25. The next workshop, “First Aid for a Woodworking Shop,” takes place at VIU on Jan. 20.

The only requirement of participants is that they become MIWG members for insurance purposes. He said further classes will cover a variety of woodworking topics and skill levels and will likely take place in guild members’ workshops.

With around 50 members in the MIWG, Dobson said, “We have all kinds of expertise within the guild to teach these courses.”

Dobson said his ultimate goal for the guild is to create a woodworking co-operative that would provide members with access to quality equipment for a monthly fee. He said making the hobby accessible is important to attracting new members.

“I would like to reach out to young people, and the way to do that is to create a work space where they can go [and] they don’t have to spend $15,000, $20,000 on tools,” he said.

The MIWG meets the second Wednesday of each month at Meeting Room A at Nanaimo District Secondary School at 6:30 p.m.

WHAT’S ON … “First Aid for a Woodworking Shop” conducted by Eric Brand takes place at VIU Building 165 Room 104 on Saturday, Jan. 20 from 9 a.m. until noon. $20 registration, must be a guild member to participate.

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