Thursday, May 27, 2010

Starting a Woodworking Club

A few people have written me asking for advice on starting a woodworking club. While I don't have a magic formula, I do belong to three clubs—the Susquehanna Area Woodworkers of PA (SAW-PA, website coming soon), the Susquehanna Trails Woodworking Guild (STWG), and the Women's Woodworking Club of Harrisburg (WWC).

Please offer your own advice/ideas regarding what works well for your club so that others can benefit.

Some questions from Michael H.: How is it structured? How often do you meet? What do your meetings look like? What kind of things have you found to be successful?

SAW-PA: I'm a founding member of this one. We meet once a month for about two hours, start the meeting with business and upcoming events, followed by show-and-tell, then our main topic. We have a president, vice president, treasurer, and planning team, which meet on occasion to brainstorm ideas for future meetings/events. Many of our topics are presented by members, but we have paid speakers a couple times a year. There are formal by-laws, which are commonly ignored. We take Saturday field trips a few times a year to workshops, ww businesses, and lumberyards, usually followed by a meal at a restaurant. Dues are $25/year. Usually about 20 in attendance at meetings.

What works for this group: friendly, laid-back atmosphere, small meeting room (cozy). Field trips give us an opportunity to chat/bond outside of meetings.

STWG: I don't know as much about this club, but it meets once a month for about 2 hours and is structured in a similar fashion to SAW-PA, regarding order of meetings and officers. They often have outside, paid speakers and a larger member base which can afford them. They get involved in some community events and shows where they have an informational booth to promote the club. The meeting room is very large, so it seems more formal, but it provides lots of room for demos and show-and-tell tables. This group has a 50/50 raffle each meeting and a video and book library which (I think) is free for members. Dues are $25/year. Usually about 30 in attendance for meetings.

What works for this group: more money and more connections/resources for outside speakers, website, more perks for members.

WWC: This one is totally different from the "boys" clubs. Eight or so women meet once a month for about an hour and a half to discuss projects. About half our meetings include something hands-on, and sometimes we meet at a member's shop to build something. There is no structure; everyone has ownership. We usually sit around a table or circle, and there is an inordinate amount of jocularity and raucous laughter. On a rare occasion we have an outside speaker, preferring instead to rely on each other as teachers. There are no dues and no perks. But there is lots of bonding.

What work for this group: casual "structure", lots of opportunity for camaraderie, ease of operation.

Your turn!


mwh said...

Thank you for your response to my inquiry. I'm going to forward this post to people interested on my end. I look forward to the input of others as well.


Woodbloke said...

Kari - there seem to be very few woodworker's clubs on this side of the 'Big Wet' There are plenty of turning clubs to explore the spiny side of life, but if you're a 'flat-earther' it's a bit dire!

Seems that there's an outbreak of unrestrained jocularity when you gels get together...the male mind boggles at the topics under discussion.

Thank God for the wonders of t'internet - Rob

EMBO said...

I'm impressed that there are actually enough female woodworkers in the Harrisburg area to have a club! I'm a bit jealous. :) Very cool.

Dyami said...

Nice post, Kari.

I think I may have to re-investigate my local club. If I remember right they meet too often for me to make it but certainly seems like I should do my best to join.

Meeting with other woodworkers in person . . . there's a novel idea.

Anonymous said...

We tried here, but couldn't find a place with enough electrical outlets.

I know. I'm bad. But I'll be easy to find at the Woodworking n American Convention. I'll be the only person in the "Go Power" team.

Hey, they asked.

Kari Hultman said...

Michael, thanks for posing the questions!

Emily, they're around; they're just more covert about it. ; )

Dyami, it's nice to have a local connection with other woodworkers. The tours and lunches are my favorite. It gives you more time to get to know one another.

Michael, the boys' clubs here do mostly presentations, not much demos or hands-on, so we don't use outlets very often. We meet at the local Woodcraft Store and the other club meets at a museum (which is cool).

Kari Hultman said...

Rob, I love the differences between the boys and girls clubs. Cracks me up. The guys like to sit and listen to a presentation, while the girls much prefer to interact and participate. :o)

Unknown said...

My club has about 50 members, half of whom show up for any meeting. We also have a largely ignored formal structure on paper. We have a presentation and show&tell at each meeting. Presentations can be talk, demo, or hands-on: speaker's choice. How to get a club going: find two people willing to do the work. I write the newsletter, schedule speakers, and always bring something for S&T. Those jobs fell to me because no one else would do them.

Vic Hubbard said...

All I've found in my area is a couple turning clubs. I'm thinking turning must be very addictive. That's why I've stayed away from buying a lathe. I really want to get good at making furniture, not just pens, and vessels.

Al Navas said...

Sorry I am late to this, Kari.

Our local Woodworkers Guild has an older membership, right around 60-62 years old on average. However, we have a LOT of experienced woodworkers. I was President for two years, while Sandy was Secretary. She had the hard part, which is almost always one of the tough ones: Preparing the Monthly Newsletter with enough meat to make it interesting.

A key to a good woodworking club is the Newsletter. It not only communicates the upcoming meetings, but also becomes the history of the group, for all future officers and Members to read if they wish 0 and also to build upon the successes and/or failures (if any) of undertakings in the past.

Normally we start the meetings with a business portion, followed by a short break with goodies to drink and eat, then either a demonstration or a hands-on workshop. Duration: Up to 1 hour for each half of the meeting.

We also arrange for tours of "stuff" of interest. For example, we visited the shop and offices and August Home (think Woodsmith and ShopNotes, and WoodNet), and most recently the club visited the carriage maker in Horton, Kansas.

Another key to the success of the club is its PEOPLE, and meeting the interests of the membership. As a result, each year a group gets together to plan the following year, based on feedback obtained from the membership. You need people who have a CAN-DO attitude, and the rest comes easily.

One of the largest clubs in the region is the Kansas City Woodworkers Guild; another is the Kansas City Woodturners Guild. They each have several hundred members, and are extremely successful at attracting new membership. I will be glad to provide contact names and details.

If anyone is interested in more details, feel free to write. I will try to address more specific things.


Ethan said...


Sorry my response is even later than Al's...

The St. Louis Woodworkers Guild has about 120 or so members. I take the monthly attendance, so I happen to know we end up with an average of 60 or so members and guests at each meeting. Although the median age of our members is currently somewhere around 55-60, we've been working hard to focus on bringing new, younger members into the folds. If you don't make that a new-member priority, then eventually your guild will cease to exist!

The yearly dues are $25. We meet the third Thursday of each month at the St. Louis Woodcraft store every month of the year except December. This isn't a terribly bad arrangement, as far as it being a central location in St. Louis and having a proper woodworking atmosphere. I believe it also does something to support a local business, as most members don't leave without buying a little something here and there before or after the meeting.

Our monthly presentations are rarely paid, though we will occasionally reimburse for gas or expenses. Half the time they are given by members and half the time they are guest speakers who are either local to the area or happen to be on their way through. Past guests have included Boris Khechoyan (a master carver who lives in St. Louis) and Spike Carlson (author of A Splintered History of Wood). At the June meeting, we'll be joined by Rich Petty, one of the owners of Greener Lumber, the company recently highlighted by you (Kari) in an issue of Popular Woodworking magazine. (Jealous?)

The Thursday prior to the monthly meeting we have our board/officer planning meeting. I'm technically neither, but since I write the guild's newsletter, I attend and apparently have voting privileges.

I do not feel this is a bad thing, to have a younger member attending these meetings. I push for ideas that they might not otherwise try.

For example... every March we try to bring in someone for a weekend seminar. This seminar usually costs about $125 or so and draws upwards of 40 members into attendance. We've had people like Frank Klausz, Marc Adams, and Jeff Jewitt give us some amazing instruction and information on various aspects of woodworking. But after seven years of weekend seminars, sitting on a hard metal chair for most of 16 hours, I wanted to try something different.

So this past March we had Frank Klausz come back, but to do a hands-on weekend class making a dovetailed box. The cost of the class was significantly higher (about $300 or so) and the number of attendees was limited to 16. The class DID sell out (though two of the attendees were from out of state) and everyone who attended had a wonderful time, so hopefully we'll try something like that again in the near future.

Unfortunately, we've really out-grown our meeting facilities. It was appropriate for meetings up to about 40 members, but we tend to be pretty cramped at this point. Finding a new facility has proven difficult, though we are currently looking at a few options.

Recent copies of our newsletter can be found on the website ( The newsletter was revamped about a year or so ago when I took it over along side another member who designs websites for a living. It is now published in a PDF format and emailed to most members, which saves us a significant amount of postage costs every month.

The website is currently being redone, as well. Hopefully we'll have that roughed out by the next few weeks and the new site will be up and running in the next two months. I think bringing both of these aspects of the guild up to "modern" technology standards are also going to be important for keeping and drawing in younger members.

If anyone wants to know more specific information about anything related to the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild (except why we don't have an apostrophe in the word "Woodworkers"), just email me!

Kari Hultman said...

Thank you everyone for your advice and information about your clubs. Excellent information. I believe I'll take it with me to our next planning team meeting. ; )