Micheal Connor doesn’t do things half-heartedly. “If you want to build a bit of furniture you want to make sure it’s going to be here in 100 years”, he says.
A part-time woodworker, toolmaker and luthier, Micheal is fastidious about getting his designs right, spending time testing out his prototypes and making sure every component meets his high standards. Consequently, some of his projects have taken him a long time.
“It’s the anti-Ikea furniture”, he says proudly.
Micheal and his wife, Sue, live on 7.5 acres in Corndale, and their home boasts the fruits of Micheal’s carpentry skills. The dining tables, dining chairs, sofa, raised flowerbeds, pitched roof of the patio are all carefully designed and made.
Even the outdoor chairs we are sitting in are thoughtfully crafted prototypes, made with hinged backrests which adjust to whether you are sitting straight up eating lunch or leaning back loosening your belt buckle afterwards. I notice there are only two of this kind, though. “One of these days I’ll make some more”, he says, “but I’ve got mine!”
After growing up and attending primary school in Clunes, Micheal worked in Queensland for a time before returning home. This led to doing some chainsaw milling with his brother. “Milling trees grew into an oversized hobby”, Micheal says, and he ended up keeping a lot of the timber.
Then, around the year 2000, after having worked as a self-employed electrician for some time, Micheal suddenly quit his trade to focus on woodworking.
While still working as a sparky, Micheal had started woodworking classes with renowned local cabinetmaker, Geoff Hannah, and built up his skills over several years. The decision to switch to woodworking full time came after he flipped the ride on mower and cut a tendon in his foot.
“I had 6 weeks with my foot up on the table to think about life and the universe”, Micheal says. The approaching end of financial year seemed the perfect time to make the switch, so on June 30 he came home, stripped everything out of his van and stopped taking calls for electrical work.
Micheal has been building ukuleles now for about 5 years, after he first learnt the ropes from Booyong luthier, Les Dorahy.
“He was my guidance to do it the right way, the traditional way”, says Micheal, whose own designs are sold under the name, Localele. Made in varying styles and timbers, Micheal shows off one particularly intricate, honey-coloured uke made with wood from a coastal banksia which he salvaged himself after a storm at Wategos Beach a few years ago.
Apart from his own projects, Micheal also works with his teaching partner, Allen McFarlen. Together they run ukulele-building workshops in Brisbane and Cairns several times a year. “It’s not beyond anyone to build one”, says Micheal, although there are certain techniques that you need to be shown along the way.
To see inside Micheal’s timber shed is to get an appreciation of his love for the material and his immeasurable knowledge of it. Blackwood, maple, silky oak, cedar, rosewood, gidgee, mahogany; he knows pretty much where each plank was milled and even sometimes where the tree was felled.
In the machinery shed it’s the same story. Most of the large, second-hand machines have been bought locally and restored by Micheal, and he talks about their histories like mechanics talk about vintage cars.
Micheal’s arsenal of woodworking skills and techniques is always expanding, and he is also constantly fine-tuning his production methods. Whether it’s perfecting the construction of his tools or, as is the case recently, building his own CNC (computer numerical control) machine from scratch, he thrives on getting it just right.
“He’s a perfectionist”, says Sue, with a knowing smile. And he’s not short on inspiration, either. “I’ve got a lifetime of ideas”, Micheal says.