A homemade coffin lies as yet unused, propped against a woodturning bench. Next to it, a row of little dolls’ houses, trucks, cradles and toy trains are lined up ready for action, awaiting excited little hands to bring them to life.
And nearby, some about-to-be inhabited wooden nesting boxes for birds displaced by NorthConnex building works, are ready for their new feathered occupants.
In the cavernous space that has produced these wonderful handmade pieces, the sounds of drills, chisels, hammers and saws can be heard piercing the silence as a team of wood-obsessives gets to work on their latest project.
This is the Hornsby Men’s’ Shed, though the name is a bit of an oxymoron, for the Shed sees girls and women coming through its Thornleigh doors too.
While members may create their own items like the coffin, they’re also thinking of others – last year donating over 300 lovingly crafted toys made there to disadvantaged kids via Wesley Mission and the Salvos, as well as specialised furniture like adjustable tables for children with cerebral palsy, and equipment for hospital and rehab centres.
Set up in 2001 when the West Pennant Hills branch of hardware chain Mitre 10 put out feelers to its Hills District customers to see who was a keen woodworker, instantly 44 people stuck their chisels up.
Today around 160 members aged between 14 and 91 pay an annual $100 fee to come along to the 340 square metre space in Sefton Road, for framing, pyrography (making pictures in the wood using a flame), carving and woodturning workshops. Or for crafting their personal projects or making beautiful wooden toys which are on-sold to raise money for charity or funds to run the place.
“It’s a caring and creative environment where men, women, boys and girls of high school age or older, can develop their interest in working with wood,” says Shed President Ian Raper.
“What’s attractive to newcomers is that there’s no need for previous woodworking experience – everything is learned in the shed.
“We have a fully equipped workshop with supervisors and projects to help get new members started. Our friendly, helpful members love to share their extensive knowledge and experience.”
Which is why you’ll find both male and female high school and uni students turning up to have a go, under the watchful eye of older members who’ve come from all walks of life from fishmongers to nurses to bankers.
And far from it being a haphazard affair, it’s run by a committee of ten who show a degree of expertise not out of place in a corporate environment. Financial, safety, toy production, equipment, maintenance, membership and other matters are taken very seriously and reviewed regularly, with responsibilities allocated. There’s even a defibrillator ticked away, just in case.
One of the Shed’s eight women, Louise Pollock, who’s confronted her own mortality, fashioned her very own coffin out of humble pine here. And when the time comes, she plans to line it simply with newspapers.
“Making it in the workshop made some people go white with horror. But I’m a reverend and I have accepted death even though I’m a healthy 62 year-old. I know where I’m going and have come to terms with my mortality. So I consulted the relevant authorities, got the spec for my size and shape, and made it in seven days. I’ve even written my name on the lid!”
So good is the result that Louise has been bombarded with requests from friends to do the same for them, requests that have been politely declined. “It cost me $60, compared to the thousands some people spend on theirs. It’s currently in my bedroom and I’ve grown quite used to waking up and seeing it there,” she laughs.
Shed-made wooden nesting boxes of all sizes have been placed around Pennant Hills, including along Yarrara Road, accommodating birds of all sizes including a wooden mansion for a powerful owl, measuring a stately 1.2m tall and 60cm wide.
But how do the birds know which is theirs? “We write their names on them,” jokes Ian, making the birds in Pennant Hills smarter than most.
Yet it’s so much more than just a place to make things: it provides a place for people to socialise, use their brains and keep the creative juices flowing.
Then there are the healing powers of communities like this: the guys plagued with deep depression who’ve found support and friendship here; the guy who rarely spoke for 12 months but is now a key member, and another who tried to take his own life.
“He was in such a bad way, but after time spent at the Shed is now applying to do an apprenticeship in carpentry,” smiles Philip Hirshbein, founding president. “And we have three seniors coming here regularly who have Parkinson’s. Coming here helps them to stop thinking about their lot and do something positive for themselves and for others.”
An ordinary shed doing extraordinary things.
If you’d like to join or come along and have a turn, go to: www.orangelimewebdesign.com.au/hornsbymensshed