There is something to be said for making something with your hands, for crafting something that will last.
Speaking for myself, I’m a writer, so my only real product is opinions destined to get torn apart on social media every day. But when I get the chance, I enjoy a spot of woodworking. The mindfulness of the work, the attention to detail, and the resulting object (I’m more at the “spice rack” rather than “canopy bed” end of the skill spectrum) is deeply rewarding. Having said that, an interstate move followed by two years of pandemic measures means my tools have sat in storage for some time now, but luckily, I can get the same experience vicariously thanks to the new competitive reality series, Good with Wood.
The premise is simple: nine aspiring carpenters tackle various projects and skill tests each week, with one competitor being eliminated each episode until there’s one left standing. It all happens in a remote workshop in pastoral Wales, under the watchful eye of host Mel Giedroyc (formerly of The Great British Bake Off, with which Good with Wood shares some DNA) and woodworking maestros Helen Welch, founder of The London School Of Furniture, and architect and timber advocate Alex Di Rijke.
Our competitors are a mixed bag of engaging and enthusiastic wood wranglers, including amiable apprentice cabinetmaker Radha; fellow apprentice Charlie, who lives in a van in order to afford her coursework; designer Misti, whose imaginative concepts sometimes test her lack of practical skills, and more. You’ll have your favourites, of course, but while Good with Wood is a competitive series, the real joy of the show is in the process: watching these people conceive a project, gather their materials, solve problems, overcome obstacles, and craft something beautiful.
In the very first episode the gang are tasked with creating their “dream bed”, given two days of workshop time to cobble together some truly impressive bedroom furniture. The concepts on display range from a boat-bed that swings as though it were carried by gentle waves, not one but two Japanese-inspired pieces, a pond-bed surrounded by carved wooden bullrushes, and more. Not every design pays off – the distance between paper plan and physical object can be huge – but the imagination on display is impressive.
Later, their carving skills are tested as they’re asked to make designs for woodblock printing, an ancient method of reproducing images and text that predates movable type by roughly 1200 years. Perhaps that seems a far cry from whacking together some bookshelves, but that’s the thing about woodworking: it’s a broad church. Wood is our oldest and arguably most ubiquitous building material, and we’ve been working with it since quite literally the dawn of civilisation. One of the charms of Good with Wood is how it connects us with such old traditions and techniques in a testament to human ingenuity and artistry.
Which means you don’t need sawdust under your fingernails to appreciate Good with Wood, just as you don’t need to be a pastry chef to enjoy The Great British Bake Off, or a blacksmith to dig fellow SBS reality series Forged in Fire. Watching the competitors put these well-practised skills to use is a deeply cathartic experience even if you don’t know a mitre box from a spirit level. And who knows? You might find yourself itching to get good with wood yourself.
See new series Good with Wood on SBS at 7.30pm Fridays from 7 January. Episodes are available at SBS On Demand after they air: