Tribune Print Share Text

More than a hobby

Woodshop is a productive sanctuary at Brooksby

Created date

August 20th, 2013
Woodworking tools

I call this my little sanctuary, Bill Phelan says, making his way through the three rooms that together form the woodshop at Brooksby, in Peabody, Mass. The power tools are silent and the equipment arranged tidily, but a number of partially finished furniture pieces indicate the shop isn t always so quiet. Chairs, toys, and mailboxes are among the creations that have taken shape in the space, which regularly hums with activity. Located in the Town Centre Clubhouse, the shop is a destination for woodworking and other hobbies. A growing group of about 50 people who live at the Erickson Living community are members of the shop, and at any given time, about 20 are actively engaged in projects. But with wood, hobby, and paint rooms, and collegial members, there is plenty of room for everyone and all skill levels. We ve really got a crowd going. They re like family here, so they work around each other, Bill says. From the skilled cabinet maker to the hobbyist, you can t be afraid to come down here.

Instructive environment

Bill had been living at Brooksby just a few months last year when he was tapped to lead the woodshop, allowing the group s past leader to retire from the role. Despite having had a woodshop in his own house before moving to Brooksby, Bill insists he has much to learn from his fellow members. This is fun. It s a very low-key organization, Bill says. They re actually teaching me. I m like a hammer mechanic. Members meet monthly, during which they watch demonstrations related to the shop s tools. In between meetings, members can come and go as they please. For a small fee ($2/month) to help pay for the shop s equipment, members receive their own key to the woodshop and space in the row of lockers. There s hardly anything that a woodworker would need that isn t here, says Larry Baldwin, who lives at Brooksby and uses the shop for his work caning chairs. Once known professionally as the Chair Doctor, Larry had a successful retirement business repairing woven reed seats and backs of chairs. He is sharing his talent with people living at Brooksby, including Bill. Together, the pair has breathed new life into a couple of chairs they found discarded by the side of a road and a child-sized family heirloom that Bill plans to hand down to his granddaughter. Caning a chair s seat requires about eight hours of work, while the chair s back requires about ten hours, Larry says. It s something to keep me out of mischief, Larry says. We ve had a lot of fun together, he adds of the time spent teaching Bill.

Giving back

Chair caning is just one craft that finds home in the Brooksby woodshop. Members volunteer time to make items for local charitable groups, including wheelchair desks for a Maine-based organization. Group members have built mailboxes for Brooksby s continuing care neighborhood, and Bill led development of scenery for the most recent production by Brooksby s Theatre at the Pond group. The woodworkers plan to make signs for Brooksby s entrance to the Danvers Rail Trail, a recreational walking path popular among people who live at Brooksby and in the greater community. In addition to an expanding resume of creations, the woodshop boasts easier access to space for members with disabilities. Bill built a work table accessible to people in wheelchairs, and a number of the machines have been modified for safe use by people with disabilities, making the space truly open to all. You re not too old to come [to the woodshop], Bill says. In his typical modesty and enthusiasm, he adds: I m here. If I can make it, anyone can make it.