Members of the Alabama Woodworkers Guild focus their projects on community service.
Four years ago, Don Wilson was looking for a change in direction. He had retired from his career as a sales executive for Johnson & Johnson and he wanted to spend his future serving the community. That’s when his friend John Wilkes encouraged him to join him in the toy group as a member of the Alabama Woodworkers Guild.
“I didn’t know anything about woodmaking. I never thought that was something I would do,” Wilson says. “But I was looking to do something in community service, and I had friends with kids I wanted to make toys for.”
The Alabama Woodworkers Guild makes 11,000-15,000 toys a year, with around 5,000 going to Children’s Hospital therapy and rehab projects.
“These are children who need help with dexterity,” he says. “We make airplanes and helicopters with moving parts that they can use to help get their mobility back.”
The AWG also supplies toys to 22 Shriners hospitals worldwide, along with SafeHouse, a shelter for abused women and children.
Established in 1983, the AWG, now located at its Woodworking Education Center at 10544 Hwy 17 in Maylene, has become a powerhouse for the state as a one-stop shop not only to take woodworking classes, but also for promoting the art of woodworking through community service, arts and crafts shows at venues such as Hoover Public Library and North Shelby Library, and through fellowship with other members.
Wilson, who is now president of the guild, is working on enhancing and spreading knowledge about the organization’s mission.
“We have three strengths. We have a skilled class, we have our own woodshop, and we teach,” he says.
Just last year, Wilson says, the AWG taught 15 classes at the center, an unused schoolhouse building leased by Habitat for humanity in 2008. Aside from the popular toy making class, the AWG teaches everything from guitar making, making hand tools and woodturning. Classes are open to all guild members in good standing.
“We taught 50 people how to turn wood this past year,” he says. “They learn to make everything from bowls to jewelry boxes. We also teach cabinet making, which is always a big hit.”
Fees vary according to the course, but Wilson says instructors do not take money for teaching.
“We’re a nonprofit, so the money goes directly to our revenue stream,” he says. “It’s one thing to be skilled, but to be able to go out and teach all of this to other people is amazing.”
The AWG has been known for helping make period pieces for plays at the American Village, where they repaired a replica of George Washington’s cane, as well as making furniture for Greater Birmingham Ministries. Wilson says all of the wood is donated by Habitat for Humanity.
“We have a great relationship with Habitat for Humanity,” Wilson says. “We owe them a lot, especially Charles Moore, who is the president. I can’t thank them enough.”
The AWG now has around 300 members, with an increasing number of women members, and has grown to be the third largest in the country, Wilson says.
“We continue to upgrade. We’re looking at using 3D printing. We’re also looking at how we can establish more satellite groups in Alabama, but right now we’re basically it.”
Membership is $100 per year. More information on the AWG and class offerings can be found at https://wp.awwg.info. The AWG’s annual show, featuring members’ finished projects like furniture, musical instruments, wood carvings and toys were presented at the Hoover Public Library Oct. 7-14. Wilson says it is a great opportunity for people who are interested in the craft to come and learn what the AWG has to offer.
“They can take anybody who was like me and didn’t know anything about woodworking, but I had a servant’s heart, and that’s all it requires,” he says.