Time, tide, and timber: the Kiwi woodworker inspired by Aotearoa’s surf spots

Rob Stanyon of Wooden Kiwi describes himself as a hobby woodworker, but the growing range of wood products springing from his Waihopo workshop suggests he may need a new descriptor! Making surf-themed clocks and handy accessories for the beach and bach from kiln-dried pine, laminated plywood and sustainably sourced timbers, Rob finds a real joy in taking a plain-looking piece of wood and transforming it into something funky and functional.


 
What do you make?
I tend to make small, functional pieces which can be easily transported to markets or shipped to the customer, rather than large wooden furniture items, although I do wish to build a few of those for family as time permits. My most popular items at this time are the laser cut tide clocks, which feature areas of popular coastlines and harbours, predominantly around New Zealand.

How did you get into your craft?
I’ve always had a keen interest in art, craft and building things. As a kid I sketched cartoons and crafted miniature scene-scapes from whatever materials I could find. I enjoyed woodworking class at school, although we didn’t seem to build a lot! I recall a lot of sanding more than anything else but it didn’t put me off the desire to explore possibilities with wood. There’s something about the grain, colour and natural beauty of wood which appeals and it can be worked in so many ways to reveal it at its best.

I began making surfboard clocks after we returned from a family holiday in Australia, having seen similar handmade clocks there but unable to find them here in NZ. Having raised a family I found I had some spare time and a need to make something with the limited tools I had. I learned a lot about cutting and shaping wood, which led to a creative release that became Wooden Kiwi. With the product range growing, I still have many notes and sketches of wooden products I want to make.


 

 
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
Being a hobby woodworker without any training, I basically learn as I go, and I learn a lot from my mistakes. I don’t give in easily but prefer to solve problems as they arise and I find that the challenges, once overcome, can be so rewarding. I still have so much to learn, especially around woodworking joints and woodturning, but I’ll get to those in my stride.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I love working with all types of wood but especially New Zealand native timbers like kauri and rimu, as the grain reveal while applying the finish is amazing, like opening a surprise package. Every piece of timber has its own unique characteristics and some of the potential is often seen when I begin planing at the early stages of a project. My planer and scrollsaw would have to be my favourite tools in the woodshop.

Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces
For a surfboard clock, I always begin with timber selection to minimise wastage while avoiding any unsightly defects which would detract from the finished product. Sure, some defects add to the beauty of wood, but it really depends what you’re making. I rip stock down using my tablesaw and bandsaw, then run it through the planer/thicknesser to remove saw marks and achieve the desired thickness of the surfboard. I mark out the basic shape using a template and cut the blank out with my scrollsaw, then begin shaping the board and sanding it smooth with my belt and orbital sanders. I select a fin (from a supply that I’ve cut in advance) and glue that into place before applying the finish preferred by the customer, which ranges from clearcoat to woodstain with natural or painted pinstriping and, if required, I design and apply a custom decal which typically range from beach names to club or family names, but the possibilities are endless. A final protective coating is applied before fitting the clock mechanism.


 

 

 

 
What inspires you?
All types of art, crafts, handmade products, latest trends, nature or simply while making or sketching something. It’s interesting, and often strange, where the inspiration comes from.

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
From a young age, I’ve always tried to do my best and to please others. I think it’s something passed onto me by my mum, along with a little OCD and a touch of self-criticism. I can’t just say “that’s good enough” if it’s going to a customer, friend or family member, it has to meet my standard. I can’t pass something to others if I’m not happy with it myself.

“There’s something extra special about an item that has been carefully and lovingly created. The package contains not just a gift but the maker’s aroha.”

Describe your creative process:
Any idea is immediately noted or sketched, I always have notes in my pocket – always! Probably a little of that OCD again, but I worry that if I don’t write something down, I’ll surely forget it. From there I scribble, sketch and research – whether it be tools, techniques, similar products or trends. At that point it’s constantly in the back of my mind until I’ve worked out what it should look like and how I’ll make it. In many cases it’s “parked” there until I get a moment to make a prototype. I then rely on my wife, son and daughter for their opinions, which I value and may result in further alterations or a complete change of direction. It probably sounds chaotic, because it is!


 

 

 
Describe your workspace:
My woodshop is where the most mess is supposed to be contained, but as any design files are digitally produced in the office and final finishing and packaging is done on the dining table and/or lounge room, various types and stages of mess seem to follow me into those areas too. But I’m getting better at confining all my stuff as much as possible and cleaning up after myself as I complete orders.

Five words that describe your mind:
Inquisitive, thoughtful, caring, chaotic and crazy.

Your favourite feedback from a customer:
“Rob, thank you so much for the speedy delivery. The clock has utterly blown me away. What an amazing, beautiful piece. Thank you, thank you, thank you!” – Jessie


 

 

 
What are you currently listening to?
Angus & Julia Stone.

Recommend an album:
Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix.

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
DC and Marvel Comic Books were what made the most impression on me. As a kid I loved the idea of heroes with super powers fighting against evil villains. I suppose it shaped me a little, I still believe in the “good fight” for truth and justice.

Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
Superman. He’s the ultimate super hero in my opinion.

If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
A friend in the US recently told me my rapper name would be Ki-Wizzle, so I’m going with that as my superhero name too. My super powers would include super strength, the ability to fly at super speed (for visiting my oversees woodworking friends and attending wood shows) and, of course, super-fast sanding!

“There’s something about the grain, colour and natural beauty of wood which appeals and it can be worked in so many ways to reveal it at its best.”

What are you reading now?
Give Your Heart to the Hawks: A Tribute to the Mountain Men by Win Blevins.

A favourite quote:
I have two favourites: “Experience is that marvellous thing that enables you to recognise a mistake when you make it again” (Franklin P.Jones) and “If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t really trying” (Coleman Hawking).

Tell us about your pets:
Bounce is an old but very energetic Fox Terrier and Middy (Midnight) is an old black cat with attitude.

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Remain organised from the start, especially around keeping track of orders and matching payments from customers. I’ve learned to do this along the way, as I’m naturally disorganised. Also be realistic about what you commit to within specific timeframes.

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I purchased a pair of wooden earrings from a maker in the US as part of my wife’s birthday present. They’re simple yet elegant dropper-style and I knew they would be the perfect gift for her. I prefer to purchase handmade gifts over the mass produced ones, there’s something extra special about an item that has been carefully and lovingly created. The package contains not just a gift but the maker’s aroha.


 

 
What’s in store for the rest of 2018?
My product range is about to grow to include some exciting new products that I’ve been wanting to make and I’m hoping to have some of those ready for the General Collective Market in August. I’ve also recently purchased an old jointer / edge planer, so I hope to spend some time getting it set up and running, as that will help me to make some of the new products on my list.

Prize draw and special offer!
Rob has not one but two awesome prizes, each going to a lucky Felt reader this fortnight. That’s right, two readers are going to win one of Rob’s very clever and useful double-style Beach Buddies – the ultimate way to keep your drink safe and free up your hands when picnicking on the beach. Read on for more details…


 

 
Put one of these Beach Buddies in the ground and your hands will be free to dish out food, tend to the fishing rod, slap on sunscreen and construct your best ever sandcastle! Handmade using durable NZ plywood and brass hinges, this handy drink saver folds flat for easy storage in your beach bag or picnic basket and is designed to hold a wine glass or standard beer bottle with ease.

If you would like to be in to win one of the two Beach Buddies that are up for grabs, let us know in the comments section what you enjoyed reading about Rob’s story and his awesome woodwork creations. The draw closes at 5pm on Monday 25 June and is open to New Zealand residents only.

But that’s not all! Rob’s also offering a 10% discount on all items in his Felt shop until the end of the month – just enter the code 10PERCENTOFF in the voucher code field at step 4 of checkout. Great stuff – thanks Rob!

To receive this great discount make sure to make your purchase before Sunday 1 July.

8 thoughts on “Time, tide, and timber: the Kiwi woodworker inspired by Aotearoa’s surf spots

  1. I loved reading about the care and attention put in to each piece and seeing the face behind the business. I bought my father in law a tide clock for Christmas and it sits pride of place in their Bach at Whangarei heads. The craftmanship is incredible!

  2. I loved reading more about you Aron. You are truly an amazing maker with the biggest heart around, and I’m so grateful to have crossed your paths. I’m so proud of all you’ve accomplished buddy! #igbffs

  3. I enjoyed knowing more about your process, & grinned seeing you are listening to Angus & Julia – I saw them at the last Fleetwood Mac concert & they are fantastic.

  4. Tide clocks! How have I never heard of these before? How cool! Loving the design that goes into these, both the maps and the surfboards. I need to tell a couple of surfer friends about these.

  5. I love how such beauty comes from a chaotic beginning. I love the idea of your pockets being filled with notes, yet the finished product does not hint at that chaos. I love your tide clocks!

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