Austin Heitzman Clover Tables
Members of the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers range from hobbyists to professional fine woodworkers like Austin Heitzman, whose Clover tables are seen here.

The days when Oregon was a timber capital are long gone, but our love of wood hasn’t wavered. While few of us get paid to chop down trees, there are a lot of us who love to work with wood. Some of those folks are members of the Oregon Guild of Woodworkers, a volunteer educational organization “building better woodworkers.”

You may not have heard of them. They’re not particularly young or hip (a statement with which I think they’d agree), but they have a long-standing reverence and passion for wood that might only compare to a seven-year-old’s love of Star Wars or Spiderman.

Now, after 35 years, they have a home. It's in Multnomah Village, a part of Portland that's arguably most like an old-fashioned small town – appropriate considering that a guild is a type of educational, communal, professional-and-amateur organization begun in medieval Europe.

The 400-plus member Oregon Guild recently moved into the shop belonging to fine woodworker Patrick O’Neill’s Greenline, just off the Multnomah Village main street. In the new location and with the new top of the line facilities (they used to rent space by the hour at various high school woodshops), the Guild will be able to amp up its offerings.

Guild President Gig Lewis says they’ll hold classes on weekdays and weeknights as well as weekends, plus expand the already broad range of classes and scope of pro bono woodworking projects they do for local non-profits. Right now volunteers are building several dressers for a residence program run by Open House Ministries in Vancouver. The tall, simple pieces are solid birch (donated to the Guild last year); the joints are pristine, elegant dovetails.

Such projects are a win-win for the Guild. Not only are volunteers giving back to those in the community who are in need, they’re expanding their fine woodworking skills by learning from (and teaching) each other. Lewis favors hands-on learning over book learning when it comes to the art of fine woodworking. With someone by your side, they can say “You gotta get your elbow in more, and that kinda thing.”

Learning the art of fine woodworking is clearly an endless (but rewarding, and possibly addictive) process. Lewis explains, “There’s a big difference between carpentry and fine woodworking.” He’s retired now, but says that “as a general contractor, 1/8-inch was tight; in fine woodworking, you measure down to ½ millimeter.” 

Join the Guild – literally, or just drop in for its Open House Saturday, September 21, 2013. They'll be holding an auction of members' work.

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