About The Warren, the shared wood workshop

We talk to Tim Boyd, the founder of community-focused business, The Warren.

Interview Sara Black
Photography Tiori Daken Spooner

Tell us what you do and why you do it.

Two years ago I founded The Warren, a shared wood workshop on Cross Street in central Auckland, because I had begun to worry about the demise of hand skills in New Zealand. Two generations ago most households had a workshop, people repaired things when they broke, kids built go-karts and treehouses and skills were passed on. It makes me sad that we are losing our ‘number 8 wire’ psyche, and I want to do my part to make sure future generations are competent and confident in using their minds and hands to innovate and make.

Life for you, before The Warren, was a career in plumbing. What propelled you to shift into a community-minded role? 

It actually started before I trained as a plumber. I was living in Edinburgh in the mid-2000s, and I stumbled onto an arts collective in Edinburgh called The Forest Café. It was a moment of finding home and it left a deep impression on me. Through the vegetarian café, where I worked as a kitchen manager, The Forest funded artists, musicians, and all manner of wonderful weirdos to show case their work. They threw wild parties and hosted many community events: ultimately it was about making human connections.

Why are handmade products important in the modern age? And how best to encourage a seemingly electronics-obsessed generation to learn a craft? 

Handmade represents a lot of what we are missing in our lives. Hand-crafted objects take time to produce, and the process demands being present and focusing on the task at hand. It is a great balance for people who spend a lot of time at a computer or looking at their phone. On a side note, we are drowning in a swamp of products designed to fail, to be sent to landfills.

What more can I say, than, come in and try a course. I’ve lost track of the number of people who’ve left the workshop beaming and saying how much they’ve enjoyed using their hands, and their brain, in a new way.

What are your thoughts on sustainability, a circular economy and what do you see changing within the next decade? 

We need to change the way we do things, for the survival of humanity. We must break our models of linear product manufacture, where products are designed to end up in the landfill to ensure we buy the latest model, which will also end up in the landfill. Circular economies fix these problems by making products designed to last longer, create less waste in production, and if they do fail, can be repaired, upcycled or fully recycled, avoiding the landfill entirely. What I would like to see in the next decade is a return to more local manufacturing of household items, that work within a circular economy.

We have a small store (online and in the front of the workshop) which sells tools and merch for The Warren, along with a growing number of handmade products using reclaimed timber that totally demonstrate the circular economy model.

The Warren’s ethos is steeped in diversity and inclusivity. For someone who may be a little hesitant to partake, what can they expect? 

They can expect to have fun, learn to use tools and machines safely and not be judged when mistakes happen. I’m a big believer in overcoming the fear of making a mistake, getting stuck in and seeing what happens. People who come in for a class go home feeling more confident to tackle jobs around the home or start new projects.

People often take classes with a friend, which can be a great way to feel a bit more comfortable if you are nervous, and is also a great way to spend time together, making something side by side.

You hold induction classes to teach the correct ways in which to operate woodworking machines such as the band saw, disc sanders and drill presses. What type of projects could be created using these tools? 

The induction provides a window into the headspace that woodworking can bring to your life. Our workshop health and safety procedures are explained, you get a tour of the workshop, and complete a small project, like a simple spatula or chopping board. During this project, we spend some time getting to know each user, and learn how they respond to being around tools and machines, which helps us to determine what level of supervision they require to ensure their safety.

The Warren runs DIY and woodwork classes. Who are the folk hosting these activities and what skills can one learn? 

Our classes are run by a range of tutors, including me. John Shaw, who established the Centre for Fine Woodwork in Nelson teaches a huge range of fine woodworking classes throughout the year, ranging from cabinets and shelves through to steam bending and vacuum formed three legged stools. Josephine Jelicich, who studied at the Centre for Fine Woodwork, teaches the art of box-making, with some new classes scheduled for 2021. Recently Courtney Petley moved her studio to The Warren, and regularly teaches spoon carving which is super popular. She also has more courses in the works. Wanda Gillespie is an artist and accomplished wood carver who runs a six-week relief carving course that is proving to be a hit. She has a new three-dimensional wood carving (of native birds) series scheduled for early next year.

We also run a lot of one off classes by other talented makers and creators, in woodworking skills but also leather care and repair, and Christmas wreath making.

Has the pandemic affected The Warren and did you implement any changes that you kept post-lockdown? 

It created a headache rescheduling courses, but overall, it’s been net positive for us. Firstly, our community was incredibly supportive of us and very understanding during the period when class dates were a moveable feast. We have definitely learnt to stay flexible and have gotten changes down to a fine art. Also, I think people had a reckoning over lockdown, coming out of it with more enthusiasm for doing things with their hands. We have been overwhelmed with the demand for classes.

What’s next on the cards for The Warren?

I’d love to host more tutors in a wider range of crafts: stay tuned for metalwork, more leather classes, upholstery and any other craft we can find a tutor for. I’m also working to create videos that cover safe work procedures for tools and machines, as there is a gap for locally produced resources.

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