The history of the Manawatu Woodworkers Guild.

By Don Tietjens

Woodturning has become a very popular pastime for many Manawatu people, including me. It all came about thanks to the efforts of Ray Green, who in the early 1980’s tutored in woodturning, firstly at Waituna West and then Palmerston North. Ray had the back of his garage set up with several lathes.  At least five people were taught woodturning every night and on Saturday mornings. He even had women learning during the day while their children were at school. As I recall, the charge was about $20 per lesson.

As a result of attending these classes I met several other people interested in woodturning, including Jim Andrew and Bob Freeth.

When Ray Green decided to move to Queenstown to further his woodturning interest, we decided to see if there was enough interest to set up a woodworking club in Palmerston North.

On Monday, 28 April 1986, a special meeting was organised for people interested in setting up such a club.  This was held at Jim Andrew’s place and attended by Jim Bob and myself

Beforehand, I had made some preliminary inquiries about a venue for a public meeting. The Society of Friends (Quakers) agreed to let us use their College St hall for our initial meeting at no charge. Awatapu College principal John Wall also came on board, offering the college woodworking classrooms as our clubrooms free for six months.

Consequently, a public meeting to gauge public interest in forming a club was held at the Quaker hall on Monday, 26 May 1986 at 7-30pm, chaired by Jim Andrew. My role was to organise publicity for the event. Flyers were placed in every local hardware shop and most public places, including the library and Post office.  John Couchman, who ran a power tool business in the city, agreed to sponsor advertising in the Manawatu Standard on a couple of nights prior to the meeting.
Jim Andrew also wrote to Rob Waanders of the Wellington Woodworkers Guild, seeking information as to how they went about setting up their guild.

The meeting was attended by 58 people. There was unanimous support for establishing the proposed club. An interim organising committee was set up for two months and included Jim Andrew (chair), Don Tietjens (secretary treasurer), Bob Freeth, Bob McCallum, Athol Dean, Ivan Huthnance, John Harris and Rod Holm. A motion was passed to name the club the Woodworkers Guild Manawatu. Donations given at the meeting enabled a Post Office Savings Bank account to be opened with a balance of $91.68.

The first meeting in the Awatapu College woodworking rooms was on Monday, 23 June 1986, with 50 prospective members attending. Subsequent meetings were held on the fourth Monday ofeach month.

Two months later, the guild’s first general meeting was held at the college on July 28, 1986. A committee was elected for the following 12 months:  Jim Andrew (chair), Don Tietjens (secretary), Brian Kirkby (treasurer), Athol Dean, Ivan Huthinance, Bob McCallum, John Harris, John Haakman and Bob Freeth.

The National Association of Woodturners, as it was known at that time, was created shortly after our guild was formed. I remember the organisers calling for representatives from guilds and clubs to attend an inaugural meeting in Wellington. Ivan Huthnance went along as our representative.

In 1987 our guild hosted the well -known American woodturner, Del Stubbs. We had to run his demonstration in two sessions with about 50 people at each, including some from Wanganui and Taranaki. This was closely followed by a visit from Richard Raffan, with the same numbers coming along.
A Sunday visit by the Wellington Guild saw several of their more experienced woodturners giving demonstrations.
The guild also went on a family picnic to Tikakino where the “woodies” visited a woodworking shop.

After the guild had been running for a couple of years, we were invited to participate in a woodturning competition with the Wanganui and Taranaki clubs. For the first two or three years this annual event was held in Wanganui. We competed for the Drew Cup, donated by the Wanganui jewellery firm Drews. Later, the competition was relocated to Palmerston North, expanded and relabelled Open Day, with the original venue being the UCOL woodworking rooms in Centennial Drive.

In the early 1990s, the guild felt it had outgrown the Awatapu College woodworking rooms and shifted across the road to West End School Hall. The space there was ideal, but there were problems with storage and security as it was also a public hall and all our assets had to be stored away elsewhere. Because of this, some of us tried to get members support to purchase or build a hall. We were also accumulating a nest egg of funds, thanks to some very successful craft shows at the Plaza, and felt it could go towards the purchase of our own premises.

But at the time this idea received only Luke warm support, as most members did not want to make that sort of commitment.
We continued at West End School for some seven or eight years, before relocating to the UCOL carpentry shop. The reason was that Hawkes Bay Woodworkers had struck and arrangement with their local polytechnic, enabling members to become students of the polytech and in so doing obtained government funding. We thought it would be useful if we could do likewise.

We approached UCOL board member Malcolm Pettman to see if a similar arrangement could be made for our guild. The chief executive of UCOL did not support the funding idea – but was happy to give us the temporary venue with a view to eventually finding us a permanent home within the UCOL complex. Unfortunately, government funding tightened up and this was not to be.

The guild had to make do with its temporary digs and share a room with UCOL’s carpentry students. We were accommodating but the students were not, with our members sometimes turning up  for a meeting only to find access limited by the construction of a house and other carpentry projects.

Faced with these problems, we felt we should move on and obtain our own premises. The Scouts were approached and said we could immediately move into a vacant Scout hall off Heretaunga Street, which we could rent – with an option to purchase subject to Palmerston North City Council agreement, as it was on leasehold land.

We moved into the hall, but the council would not allow us to buy the property as the land was needed for a

pumping station. So the Scouts offered us the Featherston Street hall we now occupy and the council agreed to the purchase.