I was brought up on a farm in Co Wexford. A little place called Alacmon, it’s near Campile and New Ross. My brothers and nephews are still working on it.
My great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were coopers [wooden barrel makers]. Maybe that’s where the interest in woodturning comes from.
I never got a chance to do woodwork in school. When I left school and went to college I made my first lathe back then, I hadn’t the price to buy one. It was crude enough but it was something just to get me started.
I started off studying engineering in Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) or Waterford Regional Technical College as it was then. After two years there I got a job with Merck Sharpe & Domhe (MSD).
For the next two years I was working for them but I also did an engineering degree in Cork. They facilitated that. I was there for 37 years, based in Clonmel.
I married a girl from near Carrick-on-Suir, so we’re living up here for the last 35 years. It’s a lovely spot, I’m out in the country here.
When I started working I bought a lathe. I had one set of lessons back in the day. They used to do night courses in the vocational school in New Ross. I did that and it was the foundation for what I’ve been doing since.
I got the chance to take an early retirement. The only reason I took the early retirement was that I knew I would have plenty of things to occupy my time. The woodwork, I could concentrate on that. It wasn’t to make a living out of it. It was a social thing, to keep the mind right.
Most days I would be in my workshop. I call it a workshop, but it’s a converted garage. All the machinery I have in the workshop is second-hand stuff that I got for half nothing, really. I just reconditioned it and repaired it.
The lathe that I use every day is a 1955 machine, it’s modernised. The drill is 1962, I got that for €50. I reconditioned it and brought it up to the standard myself - something to be doing that I enjoy doing.
There’s a website called Shop in Ireland. It’s fantastic. It’s mostly Irish made crafts that are on it. I have stuff up there.
I’m a member of the South East Chapter of the Irish Woodturners Guild (IWG). We’re based in Bennettsbridge in Kilkenny. We run a big show every year in Ormonde College in Kilkenny. Ten or 12 of us exhibit our materials there. It’s an exhibition and sale.
The other group I’m involved in for the last 30 years is Waterford Crafts. They were set up 30 or 40 years ago when the two local tanneries in Portlaw and Carrick-on-Suir closed. There were a lot of very skilled leather workers in the area.
Gloria Collins organised this group Waterford Crafts to promote crafts in the area. They run a Christmas craft fair for the month of December every year.
Our local IWG Chapter, the Southeast Woodturners, every year we take part in the IWG’s Chapter Challenge. That competition, it started 15 years ago and it would be our All-Ireland. Our group, we won it six times out of seven.
They give a topic or a theme. Then the group make an item based on that. For example, the steam engine, the theme that year was to make a steam propelled vehicle.
I got the job to lead it, if you like. I drew up the plans. There were seven or eight of us then that collaborated on making it and putting it together. We also did a cement mixer and full-sized bicycle, among other things.
The group own them. They were basically up in people’s attics taking up room and no one ever saw them. We decided we would donate them as a fundraiser for a charity. We put them on public display in St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny.
One of our members was a maintenance man in the hospital. Through him we got the powers that be to put an alcove with glass sliding-doors on it and we donated all our items then to the local hospice group/home care group. There’s a donation box, so they’re constantly getting a few bob from our items.
Myself, I make all sorts of things. I love the unusual requests that come in, like for example darning discs, mushrooms and tailor’s clappers. I had no idea what some of these things are, they’re mostly traditional items used in years gone by.
I make rocking horses and I also made a tractor. When lockdown started I said, ‘I’ll have plenty time now, I won’t be going anywhere.’ So I tried making the tractor. It’s an actual replica of the 1962 Fordson Super Dexta.
You need a plan to get the proportions right. The tractor is a 10th scale, so it’s about a foot long.