The Howard County Woodworkers Guild offers members a fully stocked workshop, opportunities to buy discounted supplies and professional advice from seasoned woodworkers. But members most appreciate an unexpected fringe benefit.
"I joined this woodworking group looking for information and help on projects," said Wade Headley of Ellicott City. "I found something better -- friendship. This is a group of guys who would do anything for me."
The guild, Howard County's first woodworking organization, was formed in 1990 by the late John Maitland, a Columbia resident. It has more than 130 members.
Guild meetings are held the first Saturday of every month in the main room of the Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia, and on some Wednesday mornings. In exchange for the meeting space, experienced guild members staff the senior center's woodshop, which is open to all senior citizens from 9 a.m. to noon weekdays.
Members also donate proceeds from their spring craft show to the Bain Center.
Bud Nuessle, one of the organization's primary coordinators, is able to point out guild contributions around the center. He lists a TV cart, shelving, desk organizers and mounting brackets for quilts as all made by guild members. He said the group also performs minor repairs on furniture belonging to the senior center and items brought in by county residents.
"It's very difficult to find people to make small repairs at a decent price," Nuessle said. "We can do it, usually for free, unless we have to purchase wood or supplies to fix the problem."
"They're totally an asset. Anything you need fixed, they'll do it," said Arleen Dinneen, director of the Bain Center, recalling an instance where Nuessle and others created doll stands for an art show. The woodworkers created 40 foldable doll stands for less than half the price that Dinneen would have paid in stores, she said.
Community involvement is a primary goal of the guild. Members volunteer at the Howard County Fair by staffing the woodworking section of the Home Arts building. Many also enter exhibits to showcase their work.
Every holiday season, the guild cooperates with the Marines' Toys for Tots program. Nuessle estimates the group has contributed 200 to 300 handmade toys to the drive.
Despite their experience with intricate projects, woodworking experience is not a prerequisite for guild membership.
Mark Donker of Columbia has been coming to meetings for four years, yet he has never completed a woodworking project.
"I'm not a woodworker at all. I just fell into this group. I'm here for the fellowship," Donker said.
Eoin O'Colman of Ellicott City is planning to create miniature picture frames from a hardwood toilet seat cover. While the 13-year guild member appreciates the opportunity to use the tools provided in Bain's woodshop, he jokes that he attends meetings for other reasons.
"The coffee and donuts are more important than woodworking," O'Colman said.
He added: "It's like a group of friends here. If you have a problem of any nature, someone here has the answer."
O'Colman is in the company of retired servicemen, doctors, engineers, computer technicians and others.
William Shryock has made a career of woodworking. The Ellicott City resident majored in woodworking and cabinet making at a vocational high school in Baltimore before working as a wood pattern maker in the Navy. He has been a guild member since the second meeting, and is proud to have created the guild's logo.
Health problems and a wheelchair have made it difficult for Shryock to work on projects in his garage workshop, but he attends guild meetings to learn new techniques and to offer guidance to others.
Nuessle estimates that about half the people who visit the woodshop have workshops at home. Many of them have been forced to downsize when they moveinto apartments, condominiums or assisted-living facilities.
"We have everything you could need," he said. "People can bring in tools to share or sell."
Of the guild, he added: "Only 10 percent of the conversations are about wood. It's more of a social group of people who have some interest in woodworking."
"We're very proud of the workshop," said Dinneen. "The guild members are a very important part of the Bain Center."