All things woody

Woodwork is a passion of Ben Bruce's

Woodwork is a passion of Ben Bruce's

"Six months is a bit young to be riding motorbikes and horses don’t you think,” I tut-tutted to my niece Jane on the phone.

“Oh no,” she says, “George just loves them. He handles the horse really well and is now mastering the motorbike with a little help from his dad.”

Expecting to find young George in gumboots in the backyard when I visited, I was surprised to be led into the lounge. There he was, grinning from ear-to-ear, riding his horse with great gusto.

“OK, so where’s the motorbike then?” I asked, the penny beginning to drop.

“In his bedroom — he likes to sleep with it nearby,” says Jane.

The horse and motorbike were made by George’s dad Ben Bruce, a talented young furniture maker who has recently branched out into creating beautiful large-scale wooden toys in response to requests from friends. It didn’t take much to persuade Ben, whose fascination with wood began when he was a small child.

“When I was a kid, I was always in the garage playing with scraps of wood that dad had lying around. I found it easier to cut and shape wood than metal and over time, I developed a love for it. “The first toys I made were for a school project when I was 14. I made a bi-plane out of pine and a train with five carriages out of scraps of rimu and pine.

“I recently began making more and more toys in response to friends who said there was a lack of good-quality wooden toys to buy. “I’ve made a few cars, trucks and buses out of rimu, rocking horses from rimu and a mixture of walnut and teak and motorbikes to go on a rocking base out of red alder, teak, pine dowel and mahogany.”

The designs are quite detailed. The plans for the rocking horse came from an old wood-worker who retired many years ago, and after trying in vain to find plans for the motorbike online, Ben made up the design himself. There’s about 25 hours of work involved in making each of these large-scale toys.

Working with wood is not just a hobby for Ben — it’s his full-time job. He did a furniture-making apprenticeship with Ken Wills in Timaru and is now one of the three-member team at Mr Jones Furniture and Restoration.

“We mainly create traditional-style timber furniture but we make contemporary styles too. We also do reproductions of antiques, retro, Modernist, Scandinavian . . . any style you can think of. We predominantly use recycled rimu and American white oak but can also source most timbers including macrocarpa, teak, ash, elm, beech, matai and kauri.”

Not surprisingly, everything is woody in the Bruce household from the kitchen bench, tables, chairs, chests, bed-ends, sideboard and entertainment cabinet to candle holders, cellphone covers and even Ben and Jane’s wedding invitation. Working with wood is Ben’s passion.

“I just love it. I spend my spare time in my garage making toys or working on my teardrop caravan, a 1940s-50s style I came across when researching small caravans. The teardrop has a bed in the main cabin and a kitchen inside a lift-up rear hatch. Back then, most were made from wood with an aluminium covering . . . but me being me, I decided I’d leave the aluminium off and stick with the woody look.”

"Six months is a bit young to be riding motorbikes and horses don’t you think,” I tut-tutted to my niece Jane on the phone.

“Oh no,” she says, “George just loves them. He handles the horse really well and is now mastering the motorbike with a little help from his dad.”

Expecting to find young George in gumboots in the backyard when I visited, I was surprised to be led into the lounge. There he was, grinning from ear-to-ear, riding his horse with great gusto.

“OK, so where’s the motorbike then?” I asked, the penny beginning to drop.

“In his bedroom — he likes to sleep with it nearby,” says Jane.

The horse and motorbike were made by George’s dad Ben Bruce, a talented young furniture maker who has recently branched out into creating beautiful large-scale wooden toys in response to requests from friends. It didn’t take much to persuade Ben, whose fascination with wood began when he was a small child.

“When I was a kid, I was always in the garage playing with scraps of wood that dad had lying around. I found it easier to cut and shape wood than metal and over time, I developed a love for it. “The first toys I made were for a school project when I was 14. I made a bi-plane out of pine and a train with five carriages out of scraps of rimu and pine.

“I recently began making more and more toys in response to friends who said there was a lack of good-quality wooden toys to buy. “I’ve made a few cars, trucks and buses out of rimu, rocking horses from rimu and a mixture of walnut and teak and motorbikes to go on a rocking base out of red alder, teak, pine dowel and mahogany.”

The designs are quite detailed. The plans for the rocking horse came from an old wood-worker who retired many years ago, and after trying in vain to find plans for the motorbike online, Ben made up the design himself. There’s about 25 hours of work involved in making each of these large-scale toys.

Working with wood is not just a hobby for Ben — it’s his full-time job. He did a furniture-making apprenticeship with Ken Wills in Timaru and is now one of the three-member team at Mr Jones Furniture and Restoration.

“We mainly create traditional-style timber furniture but we make contemporary styles too. We also do reproductions of antiques, retro, Modernist, Scandinavian . . . any style you can think of. We predominantly use recycled rimu and American white oak but can also source most timbers including macrocarpa, teak, ash, elm, beech, matai and kauri.”

Not surprisingly, everything is woody in the Bruce household from the kitchen bench, tables, chairs, chests, bed-ends, sideboard and entertainment cabinet to candle holders, cellphone covers and even Ben and Jane’s wedding invitation. Working with wood is Ben’s passion.

“I just love it. I spend my spare time in my garage making toys or working on my teardrop caravan, a 1940s-50s style I came across when researching small caravans. The teardrop has a bed in the main cabin and a kitchen inside a lift-up rear hatch. Back then, most were made from wood with an aluminium covering . . . but me being me, I decided I’d leave the aluminium off and stick with the woody look.”

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