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Just Plane Fun

Santa Ana's Woodworkers Club has what the typical hobbyist does not: an immense workshop and thousands of dollars spent on the best power tools. At last you can do what they do on TV.

October 14, 2000|STEVE CARNEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For aspiring woodworkers, who envy the skill and covet the tools of Bob Vila, Norm Abram and other master craftsmen, the Woodworkers Club in Santa Ana is the promised land.

Inside the 10,000-square-foot workshop are saws, sanders, presses and planes available, for a membership fee, to all. And if you don't know your way around a 2-by-4, the club offers instructions too.

The shop's bulletin board is shingled with photos of amateurs showing off their handiwork: a garden trellis, a cedar blanket chest, miniature street signs for a preschool, even a 10-speed bicycle frame.

It all comes down to having the right stuff.

"Most guys who do home woodworking struggle with the project because they don't have the right tools," said club owner Ron Higgins, 59, of Tustin. "What ends up happening, they get less-than-desired results and they get frustrated."

Not having $40,000 to spend on equipment is only part of the problem, said instructor Chaz Durham of Costa Mesa. Woodworkers also need enough space and noise-tolerant neighbors.

"The club is open to anyone who's interested in woodworking, it doesn't matter what skill level," said Durham, a 65-year-old retired advertising salesman who has worked with wood since he was a Cub Scout.

The club's 140 members range from teens, who can join its numerous classes as long as they're accompanied by a parent, to senior citizens. The oldest member is 84.

The workshop is needed, Higgins said, because high school wood shops are giving way to computer labs. And while some local colleges offer woodworking classes, they're usually too large to provide one-on-one instruction, as the club does.

Also, courses don't last long enough for students to tackle ambitious projects, while members of the club have unlimited time to turn out mini-masterpieces ranging from a child's race-car bed to reproductions of antique tables.

During an adult education class, Paul Hirsh, 62, started building an overhead cabinet to match a bar in his Santa Ana home. The cabinet, with glass doors and carved detailing, wasn't done before the course was, so he tried to finish it at home.

"I got in over my head a little bit," Hirsh said.

He brought it to the Woodworkers Club, where instructors helped him recover from some of his mistakes and showed him what he needed to finish the project.

"The woodworking facility is just excellent. You don't have to have all this equipment at home, and just as important is the assistance you get," said Hirsh, a retired Boeing engineer.

"I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing a project come together. It's something you can be proud of. There's a lot to be said for doing something with your hands. It takes a lot of patience, but it's worth it. And it's fun, more than anything."

Helen Turin, a dog trainer from Yorba Linda, knew nothing about woodworking when she came to the shop wanting a custom-made clock for a dog herding trophy.

In the process, she took a pen-making class and began turning out ballpoints with barrels of exotic zebrawood, box elder burl and Madagascar mahogany.

"I got hooked," said Turin, 70. "You make beautiful things and people go, 'You made that?'

"And it keeps me off the streets."

For an investment of a few hours of sanding, polishing and staining, and $10 or less in materials, she can make a pen worth five times as much or more.

"If I visit somebody for a weekend, I give them a pen instead of a bottle of burgundy," Turin said.

The Woodworkers Club is at 2100 E. Wilshire Ave., Santa Ana. Dues vary depending on the time and day. An off-peak membership, with access to the shop from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, costs a $125 annual fee plus $30 per month. Unlimited access, which includes nights and weekends, is $199 a year plus $45 per month. A 30-day trial membership is $250. For information, call (714) 648-0800.

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