I first came to cabinetmaking as an eager teenager in the 1940s in Germany. I had no clue that this career path would lead me halfway across the globe to regional Queensland, nor that one client’s request for a handmade bookbinding press would eventually lead me to shipping such items as far and wide as Africa, America, Europe and Hong Kong, as they are today.
At the age of 14, I was apprenticed under highly skilled Master Schirrmacher in Berlin, and much of my early work involved post-war restoration work. Master Schirrmacher was tough, but he taught me a lot. And after almost 70 years on the job, my passion for fine woodwork has only increased.
Whilst my old master was a little bit cranky at times, he instilled in me the value of his trade. I gained an appreciation for tradition and a respect for old-fashioned discipline; something that has held me in good stead over the years.
In 1952 I journeyed to Australia, one of about 600 young men from Germany, answering a call to work for the Victorian Railways. While this new job wasn’t exactly woodcraft, I found ways to keep my skills alive – making furniture from odds and ends of salvaged timber wherever I went. I would also make gifts for friends and wherever I lived I would make my own furniture.
Eventually, in 1960 I got back into cabinetmaking full time. Then, in 1980 one of my customers asked me to build a home bookbinding press. I’d never made one before, but I said yes anyway; and this led me into a niche I had not envisaged.
My handcrafted presses, and other bookbinding tools, are now sought after by artisan bookbinders around the globe. It is very satisfying work as the pieces I make spend a lifetime in the homes or studios of my clients.
To me it is a passion, not work, so even in my 80s I still enjoy eight-hour days in my home based workshop in Toowoomba. My working days are punctuated with a 10am tea break with my wife Joan, along with her home-baked treats. I believe my work keeps me young; I love it. I’ll never retire – why would I? Every job I do is a bit different, so it always keeps me interested. I’m always trying to find new ways of doing things, better ways to do things. It’s just how I am and I believe it shows in the quality of my craft.