“The most humanly intimate of all materials”: working with wood at FAB9

The great architect Frank Lloyd Wright had an affecting perspective on the relationship between human beings and wood.

“Wood is universally beautiful to man. It is the most humanly intimate of all materials.”

Our species has evolved alongside wood and worked it into our lives from the start. Along with stone, clay and animal parts, wood was one of the first materials to be explored and manipulated by early humans, shaping our world as we shaped it.

‘CMYK Chair’ by FAB9 workshop technician Morgan Doty

At FAB9, we’re fascinated with all methods of woodworking — as excited about creating the most traditional of objects as we are about exploring ways to blend the old with the new.

Our dedicated Timber shop, which is full of high-end machines and tools, has been designed to encourage different makers to learn new skills, hone existing techniques, try new things, and share ideas. This is a space where you can be trained in the latest CAD (Computer Aided Design) software, shown how to use a chisel, or learn the art of joinery. A space where furniture makers can fashion shapely tables, architects can make models, lighting designers can realise sculptural fixtures, and jewellers can achieve fine detail in delicate pieces.

CNC routed table by FAB9 workshop technician Jack Halls

The FAB9 Timber shop
If a work space is to be effective, it needs good workflow. Good workflow doesn’t just allow for optimal use of the space and increase overall efficiency — it also boosts the quality of your output by making every part of your process traceable. Traceability is the key to understanding exactly how you achieved an outcome, and for troubleshooting if something goes astray — it’s much easier to pinpoint where an error occurred if you’ve followed a clear series of steps. Then, once it is corrected and the process refined, you can repeat it, and scale it, with far greater ease.

Along with the way we have arranged the layout of the Timber shop, we’ve facilitated optimal workflow between our different woodworking spaces by locating them near each other — the Timber shop is adjacent to the Assembly area, where all our power, pneumatic and hand tools are kept, and the CNC lab.

Architectural graduate, designer, maker and FAB9 workshop technician Morgan Doty knows the importance of workflow.

“Being able to move freely from one piece of equipment to another, from the physical realm to the digital realm and back again, enables you to really take the quality of your work to new heights,” says Morgan. “In my experience, a streamlined process like this helps make you a better designer, maker and thinker.”

FAB9 Timber shop floor plan

Woodworking machines and tools
Every piece of equipment at FAB9 — from the most complex machine, to the simplest hand tool — has been selected with great care. We live by the adage, ‘if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well’, so whenever there’s a choice between types of machines and tools, we consult experts, like John Madden of Wood Dust Australia, to be sure we’re getting the right one for our members.

Woodworker, educator and FAB9 workshop manager Sam Muratore can’t wait to see people using the space.

“The layout is fantastic, and the equipment is of such a high quality. Everything is so professionally presented. But for me, the really great thing will be seeing real human beings operating in here! As an educator, working with people and helping them develop their skills is what gets me out of bed in the morning. So getting to see FAB9 members have an idea, work it into a design and then turn it into a reality — that will be the real buzz.”

Having been the workshop manager at VCA’s School of Art workshop for almost 25 years, Sam decided to come out of semi-retirement to work at FAB9 after a visit to the makerspace. FAB9’s high-end machines, logical layout and emphasis on empowerment through education and community convinced Sam to join the team.

When asked to name the most capable and impressive of the woodworking (and almost-everything-else-working) machines at FAB9, Sam’s answer is resounding.

“The Multicam Trident CNC router, for sure,” he says. “It does just about everything! From engraving, to carving, to sculpting, to milling, its possibilities are as limitless as the user’s imagination.”

CNC routed ‘Flow table’ by Bingquan Zhang

The Sawstop table saw is next on Sam’s list of favourite woodworking machines.

“It’s just capable of so many techniques and processes, able to do almost any kind of cutting,” he says.

And because this table saw is a Sawstop, you won’t ever have to risk your fingers to use it — if the blade comes into contact with anything conductive, like your finger, a special cartridge inside the table stops the mechanism dead. The inventor of Sawstop, Steve Gass, believes in his product so much, he was even willing to put his own finger on the line to prove it.

You’ve got our vote of confidence, Sawstop Steve.

For makers working with solid timber, furniture designer, maker and FAB9 workshop technician Christina Bricknell says that the Timber shop’s Minimax thicknesser — a machine that trims wooden boards to a consistent thickness throughout their length and on either side — will be an asset.

‘Olio chair’ by FAB9 workshop technician Christina Bricknell

“Our thicknesser is huge — its table dimensions are 410mm x 755mm, and the height of its processing area is 240mm. So it’ll be especially good for anyone working on larger projects. It also has a digital dial, which means you can achieve greater accuracy while saving time. Instead of having to adjust your measurements manually, you can enter a desired thickness, and the machine takes care of the rest.”

And when it comes to working on large, wooden projects, Christina has plenty of personal experience to inform her thoughts on ideal pieces of equipment. The Canberra native is a graduate of the prestigious Australian National University Furniture design major, has worked with renowned furniture designer Tom Skeehan, and has herself exhibited in A.G.M by Friends and associates 2018, and Denfair Front & Centre 2018. Most recently, Christina appeared alongside other luminaries such as Adam Goodrum and Adam Cornish to guest speak at HOME.GROWN. // Discovering Australian Design as part of Design Canberra Festival.

Used to make crosscuts and miters (a kind of diagonal cut), the Timber shop’s Festool miter saw (also known as a ‘drop saw’, due to the way its mounted cutting tool moves in a downward motion) is a piece of equipment that Christina thinks will really serve model makers like architects, and others who want to cut smaller, more detailed projects

“This particular model has a nice, smooth docking process — you can change its angle quickly and easily, which makes it ideal for repetitive cutting.”

Architectural concept model by Chris Precht

When it comes to versatility, Christina rates FAB9’s Kreg table router, a machine with a vertically oriented spindle that spins through its table at great speeds to process wood, as one of the most versatile machines in the Timber Shop.

“You can do heaps of different jobs on this model — from creating particular grooves, chamfers (bevelled edges) and decorative details, to using it as a plunge router to make holes on the inside of timber pieces without having to make relief cuts (cuts from the outside of the wood). It’ll be ideal for making things like wooden kitchenware, picture frames, and all sorts of other tools, objects and decorative pieces.”

And this is just a taster of the woodworking equipment available for you to use at FAB9…

Joinery detail of ‘ AOD-TR’ by made by Made by Morgen

Integrating the physical with the digital
We’re all about experimentation and pushing the boundaries. So while we know our members will get very excited when they see the particular machines they’ve been keen to use, we’ll be encouraging everyone to give less familiar pieces of equipment a try, too.

Maybe you’re a skilled woodworker who has no idea how to model using CAD. Or it could be that you’ve only ever created designs digitally, and want to learn the art of crafting an object by hand.

“It goes without saying that computer and digital tools can be extremely useful. But they can also be limiting if you only work in the virtual realm and don’t test your design physically,” says Morgan. “Of course, it It goes both ways. Just as computers can’t always understand what our hands and eyes tell us, sometimes we can’t comprehend a visual or a dimension in our minds like a computer can.”

CNC routed ‘Taller stool’ & ‘Shorter stool’, by Softer studio

Morgan knows a thing or two about integrating the physical with the digital. Her CMYK chair, which used a combination of CNC router to make a mould and traditional woodworking techniques, won two awards at the Melbourne Fringe Festival in 2017 and was exhibited at Salone del Mobile Milano in 2018.

FAB9 is here to enhance the practice of every kind of woodworker, from traditional box-makers to those thinking, well, outside the box. Maybe you’ve always dreamt of combining a wooden piece with something else — something more traditional, like upholstery, which could be achieved with the use of our sewing machine.

Or perhaps your dream wooden project involves a newer technology, like a 3D-printed element, or a digital process. “You could draw up an intricate design on Adobe Illustrator on FAB9’s computers, engrave the design into the surfaces of pieces of timber with the laser cutter, and then use the Festool domino to bring the pieces together,” says Morgan. “Or you could use the CNC router to mill out a void in a piece of solid timber to sit a 3D-printed component inside it.”

“Having programs like Rhino (Rhinoceros — a commercial 3D computer graphics and CAD application software) available at FAB9 can really streamline the design and manufacturing process,” says Christina.“Once you’ve designed your lighting fixture, timber frame, upholstered piece, or whatever you’re making, you’ve got all of your ideas and information in one accessible place. This is a particularly useful thing if you’re collaborating with others, because you can just share the file and all the information you need is there.”

Assegai Pendant light, dining table ‘Fred’ & chair ‘Fela’ by Adam Markowitz

Prize-winning local architect and furniture designer Adam Markowitz is a vocal supporter of holistic approaches to woodworking. In an interview with Australian Wood Review, Adam stressed the importance of woodworkers learning — and valuing — a broader scope of tools and processes.

“I think that CNC (Computer Numerical Control) is totally part of the woodworker’s tool set and needs to be… [but] I think the mistake a lot of schools make is they focus too much on the digital and not enough on the traditional”.

When asked if he thinks new technologies like CNCs and 3D printers will replace human makers one day, Bryan Cush — founder and director of Sawdust Bureau — thinks not.

“I think it’s best to have the two working harmoniously together. There are certain things that CNC machines can do that I could never do! But, in terms of dealing with a live, natural material like timber — that responds differently every time it’s cut — I still think you need a human interface. Plus, leaving human marks on things, like pencil marks and score marks, it shows that a person has made it, and I think that makes it a more valuable object.”

We’ve really woven this idea of human/machine harmony into the way FAB9 operates, making it our priority to host a generous offering of analog, digital, traditional and contemporary tools and machines, with corresponding classes.

Wooden spoons by Carol Russell

Woodworking inductions
To get you ready for using the woodworking machines at FAB9, we have developed as series Timber shop inductions that show you the FAB9 way, and best practices, of operating our machines.

Led by FAB9’s experienced workshop technicians, our inductions will give you a solid foundation to build your skills upon, while ensuring you know the safest ways to use our labs, machines and tools.

The inductions are:

  • Wood prep — where you’ll learn about the jointer, thicknesser, domino, and router table
  • Saws — where you’ll learn about the table saw, miter saw, band saw and scroll saw
  • Power tools, hand tools & finishing — where you’ll learn about the the oscillating belt sander, drill press and an array of drills and hand tools
  • Lathe

The main thing we want to emphasise about woodworking at FAB9?
Experience is everything.

While you might feel trepidation about learning to use an unfamiliar machine or tool, or simply have a preferred way of doing something, there are so many different ways you can arrive at an outcome. FAB9 is all about open-mindedness and giving our members the chance to up-skill in all the ways they possibly can.

Accessibility, comfort, experimentation and personal empowerment through trying, testing, failing, learning and succeeding are critical to us at FAB9. Whether you’re a seasoned professional making a prototype, someone giving woodworking a try for the first time, or anything in between, our Timber shop and our woodworking classes have been carefully devised to support you and your process.

So we say: expand your horizon! Diversify your skill-set! Try a new approach, a new tool, or a new class, and see where it takes you.

Tours are the best way to experience FAB9. FAB9 will be running tours. Book a tour today

Article authored by Genevieve Callaghan from research conducted by Ying Zhang, for FAB9.

What did you think of it? Got anything to add? We’d love to hear from you. Send us your thoughts, questions, facts, frustrations, feelings and / or anything else — hello@fab9.com.au