NIKKI BIRRELL meets a self-taught craftsman whose projects go where his curiosity takes him.
IN THIS WORLD there are talkers and then there are doers. David Parker is definitely the latter. About five years ago, as a self-employed music producer, he became aware that his work and social life all revolved around one thing and it didn’t sit comfortably. “I was worried I was becoming very boring and decided I needed some hobbies. So, I got into baking, I started making cider at the start of the apple season every year, I learned how to make guitar pedals, I knitted a scarf,” he says. Which kind of sums up the attitude of this 31-yearold. Got an itch to scratch? Scratch it. And if you don’t know how, learn.
The story of how he came to create beautifully finished wooden spoons, bottle openers, bread peels and chopping boards – sold through his Oratia Valley Workshop in West Auckland, on social media and at markets – actually started with a guitar. More specifically, teaching himself how to make one.
David had been touring with a musician who played lap steel and who was just getting into woodwork. “Every op-shop we stopped at he was looking at vintage hand tools. It got me thinking that I really wanted a lap steel guitar and all the woodwork talk reminded me that I’d seen an article online about building a very simple one.”
When he got home he borrowed gear from his builder brother and enlisted his help with a few of the “scary” bits. The result was a success. “Before long I was making a second for a friend and then ordering parts for my first electric guitar.”
This morphed into more woodwork projects, including a canoe. You read that correctly. Yes, David built his own canoe. He’d seen a video of it and decided he needed to try it himself. “That project taught me so much about using chisels and hand planes. And I’ve since found a love for canoeing,” he says. The wooden paddles of this canoe had laminations of different strips of wood. “I thought, I’d really like to make a couple of cutting boards that look like that. And I’d also started to enjoy making wooden spoons – good gifts for friends. Pretty quickly people wanted to buy them.”
So he started the Oratia Valley Workshop Instagram account for the woodwork he was selling. Since then, he’s had commissions from local businesses and chefs, including a solid walnut knife block for Ruby White of Miss Changy, a giant pizza-making board for Avenue Pizza in Tauranga, a coffee scoop for Tohorā Coffee Co in Russell, and a bread peel and pastry cabinet for Dan Cruden’s The Real Bread Project in Helensville.
Influenced by American woodworkers and guitar makers, David leans towards woods such as ash, walnut and cherry, but he has a small stash of reclaimed kauri and rimu to work with too. The most important thing for him is that his creations function as best as they can, and, he says, “I’m also really conscious of trying to make the best use of wood; I barely throw any wood away, all of my cutting board scraps get saved for bottle openers or other projects.”
David works during the day at a musical instrument wholesaler and while he says he has considered making woodworking a full-time gig, “I came to the realisation that I don’t really like operating as a factory. There are only so many cutting boards and spoons and bottle openers I can make in a week and keep enjoying it and really that’s what I want. I love the thought of people using the things I’ve made every day.”
His YouTube channel is another outlet. His “Wooden Bike Build” trio of videos (again, yes, David made his own bike) have had some 400,000 views in total. But as for the future, “Who knows? I might just quit my job and move to the middle of nowhere to start making chef’s knives.” We’re putting in our order now because with this talented self-starter, you know they’ll only be the best. @oratiavalleyworkshop
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