The Works of Kerry Strongman

Please note – all photographs used in this article were taken with permission of Kerry Strongman, and the works themselves are copyright.

It isn’t often you have an opportunity to meet and discuss woodworking with a Maori Shaman, but while visiting New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, I got to do just that, in a small town called Te Hana.

As you drive north on State Highway 1, you pass through a number of NZ towns, some larger, some smaller.  They all have a similar look and feel (and for those who grew up in NZ, very familiar, green hills, gentle winding roads (or not, if you are only used to the Australian dragstrip of the Hume! (and by that I mean long and straight, not fast))

After passing through Wellsford (and making sure you stop at “Jester’s” – their pies are unreal.  Especially the Miss Muffet- a chunky chicken pie with Camembert cheese and cranberry sauce.  Not available in Jester’s in Australia (and only then in WA), but it is unbeatable), you come across a small settlement, and on the main straight you see a mounted chopper motorbike.

Have a closer look though


It won’t be going anywhere in a hurry, being made out of timber.  But even then, this timber has been around a while already – 25000-45000 years, and is swamp Kauri.


Swamp Kauri is not the species, it is a description of how it has been found.  The ancient Kauri forests that grew in New Zealand (and there are still trees today) lived for upwards of 2000 years.  They were (and are) the giants of the forest, and are similar to the giant Sequoia trees in California.  They don’t have the same girth or height, but as the trunks don’t taper anywhere near as much as the Sequoia, they consist of a lot more actual timber.  Some trees from 25000-45000 years ago at the end of the last ice age were encapsulated in peat, and were buried in swamps, and there they stayed.  Protected by the anaerobic conditions in the swamp, it develops deep, shimmering streaks of iridescence and amazing chatoyancy.

As a master carver, Kerry Strongman makes incredible use of this stunningly beautiful timber, with carvings that are awesome in their own right, and magical when combined with the beauty of swamp kauri.

But Kerry doesn’t always stop there, and the use of clear and amber coloured resin in voids, often embedded with objects such as shells, minerals and kauri gum is a regular theme in his work.

The designs typically use the traditional forms of Maori carving – the Tanwha, the Koru, the Hei matau (fish hook), the Hei-tiki.

Another aspect of Kerry’s work is scale.  Sure, you can have a carved piece of his (or his students’) that is small and worn as a necklace,


but the pieces that really blow you away are the ones made 6′, 8′ even 12′ tall.  You do need deep pockets for one of those stunning pieces (or a corporate credit card!).  These are known as “Jewelery for Giants” to coin Kerry’s catchphrase.


Strongman-2 Strongman-3

One of the first pieces you see when entering the showroom is this fish hook (I assume) of Maui (the legend is this warrior from Hawaiiki – the mythical ancestral homeland of the Maori, cast his line into the waters and when he and his brothers heaved upon the line, they caught Te Ika a Maui (the fish of Maui), these days known as the North Island of New Zealand.  The South Island is known as Te Waka a Maui (the waka (canoe or watercraft) of Maui), and Stewart Island as Te Punga a Maui (Maui’s anchor) which held the waka as Maui caught the giant fish.)

Not only encrusted with kauri gum, it still has the rope attached at the top end.

In the third photo is Kerry himself.  Around his neck is another of his carvings, although I sadly don’t have a close up of it, it is a ornate carving in mammoth ivory (or bone?).  250 million year old mammoth!

The rest of Kerry’s showroom is filled with elaborate carvings.

I was fortunate enough to also be given a full tour of the workshops and storage areas – an area many times larger than the showroom filled with works in progress, works yet to commence (raw materials) and everything in between.  We are also both toolophiles, so were able to have a great chat about the tools used in the process of carving these works, and Kerry does not restrict himself to just using the traditional tools either.

Strongman-19 Strongman-20 Strongman-22


It is hard to do the work justice here, so if you ever happen to be in the vicinity of Te Hana (or any of the corporate offices around the world featuring his work), take some time to have a good look.  You can also check out the website at


Not only was Kerry very generous with his time giving me a full tour, (and my daughter now has some stunning necklaces), Kerry has offered me a pallet of timber for me to ship over to my workshop.  Can you imagine a pallet of timber from someone who really understands and appreciates the true quality of timber?!  And if some was the magical swamp kauri…..well….!  This is just a small example that I got years ago, just to give you an idea of what we are talking about.

There is no fate

At least not till next year, as the school fete has come to an end.  After 8 or so hours, a bit weary, but it was fun.

Quite an interesting learning curve – got a lot right enough, but there is always more than can be refined, if I ever intend to do this again!  I do have one other planned fete coming up in November, but that is about it.

Fun seeing the kids’ reactions.

The display stand with the black cloth covering it, is the Centipede XL which I just got back after lending it at the start of the year.  It is perfect for this sort of thing.  I made a top from 6 panels of MDF which were cable-tied together to create one overall top.  This allows me to take the top off and fold it up for storage/transportation.  I made it from 3mm MDF as that is what I had to hand, but 6mm or 9mm MDF would have been better.  As the MDF only has a few holes drilled right at the extremities for the cable ties, I can still then use the pieces on the CNC machine :)  It worked very well – easy to transport, easy to set up, and stable.  (Does that make it a stable table?).  In comparison the vacuum-formed tables are reasonably easy to transport (they weight quite a bit more but have much less surface area) and quicker to set up (if you factor in attaching the top).

That gets me thinking – I could come up with a segmented top for the Centipede, which engages with the holes in the leg caps.  That would remove the need for cable ties and make a really rigid (crossbraced) system.  Make a good way to use it as a workbench as well.  Alternately, I could recess out the area where the top of the leg touches the top, so the whole top piece can still be stored perfectly flat.  I’ll work on that, and let you know what I come up with!

Sales were ok, not unreasonable, not as high as I would have expected.  I did a quick gender comparison – ie assuming some models would appeal to one gender more than the other (and those that would appeal more to both).  It is a really rough tool – for example, I chose a swan to be oriented towards girls, and a cobra to be something that would appeal more to boys, and a turtle to be neutrally biased.  That might infuriate some people, but the reality is that if you got a bunch of primary school students and gave them the choice (with no observers, or chance that classmates etc would ever know the choice made), that certain toys would be selected disproportionally higher for one gender over the other.

The analysis is very loose – I did not record the gender of who was making the purchases, or who they were purchasing for, so already there is a lot of interpretation built into these stats.

Toy Variety

Girls liked a lot less variety than boys in the toys chosen.

Of the total variety of girl-oriented toys, sales were concentrated around 41% of the range available.
Of the neutral toys, 53% of the variety available were purchased.
For boys, 75% of the range had at least one sale made.

Kits vs Preassembled models

This data is not very relevant, as the models were only able to be collected at the end of the day, whereas kits taken straight away.  Additionally, there was only one of each type assembled, and between 0 and 10 kits available.

Girls’ purchases were 71% kits
Neutral purchases were 53% kits
Boys’ purchases were 78% kits

Total Sales

Of all the purchases available:

Total sales of girls-oriented models: 20%
Total sales of neutral-oriented models: 23%
Total sales of boy-oriented models: 56%

As very few types sold out completely, this data was not heavily influenced by particular models becoming unavailable.

Other interesting observations – quite a few people looking (kids and adults) – “Wow, these are really cool”, then after checking the price “Wow, these are really cheap” (the vast majority being around the $5-$7.50 mark).  However even after uttering both those comments, the person looking around would then wander off.  Interesting that something that is regarded as “cool and affordable” still does not necessarily result in a sale.

I would have sold more if there was no restrictions on whether the person could buy and take the pre-assembled model, so having two or three of the most popular kits pre-assembled would be beneficial.

It may also be better if there was less variety of kits available, and so people could select the ones they want for purchase, rather than having to ask for them.  While this makes perfect sense (and is how we shop most of the time), it is a lot harder to do this in a market-like scenario with limited space.  Especially with bulky products that have a degree of fragility to them.  Again, if I was doing this on a regular basis, I would be able to justify the additional investment in the multiple storage containers needed to keep everything sorted.  For a one (or two) off, that is less practical.

All in all though, it was a fun evolution, and I’d do it again.


Episode 118 Lancaster cut video

A quick video of the Lancaster Bomber being cut out.  I don’t want to think how long it took this video to actually get done – so many delays, so few windows of opportunity to work on it!  I decided to cut my losses and just put together what I had, rather than stress too much about really refining it.

Plans from

Uses the 45705 V-Groove 60º x 1/2″ Dia. x 1/4″ Shank Router Bit and the 46200 Solid Carbide Spiral Plunge 1/8″ Dia x 1/2″ Cut Height x 1/4″ ShankDown-Cut, both from

For better or worse, here ’tis.

What I have been working on

For my next article in The Shed magazine, I have been designing and building this water wheel

water wheel-1 copyThe whole thing is about 1100mm high, and it can kick along at a fair rate of knots, even just with a hose as the water supply.

I’ve designed it to use either water weight (quantity, slow moving), as well as water velocity (smaller quantity, flowing at speed).

It has a square drive on one side of the shaft, so it can be used to do real work, and at some stage I’ll add some traditional gears to do just that.

water wheel-1-2No glue used in this project – it is all coach bolts.  About 170 or so in all.

Busy work

Haven’t posted anything for a while – longer than I realised it seems!  Not that I haven’t been working in the shed, but sometimes I just need to get my head down and power through to make some progress.

The latest work that I have been doing is for the next issue of The Shed magazine – those deadline come around so quickly!

For a bit of a sneak peek, I am working on a water wheel – will end up being a garden feature, but I am trying to make it with some thought behind the design, and not just a basic layout.  You may well ask, just how many ways can you actually make a water wheel, and the more I think about it, and the more research I do on the topic, the more surprised I become about the breadth of the topic.

I found a particularly interesting reference, quite the authority on the topic.  It is The Engineer’s and Mechanic’s Encyclopædia: Comprehending Practical Illustrations of the Machinery and Processes Employed in Every Description of Manufacuture of the British Empire, Volumes 1-2

by Luke Herbert, and the title is quite the mouthful!  Interesting to find a book that has such a strong understanding of the science of water wheels.  Of course, that it was written in 1836 might have something to do with it!  I found some of the relevant text online so was able to glean what I could from that, and I have the book on order from Amazon – looking forward to seeing what other gems it contains!

I’ve been playing around with fin design, with this as an early model

File 8-09-2015 09 48 33This was with a fin angle of 22.5o.  I’ve since refined the angle to 30o, and the result is a lot better, with the inner circle now having a much greater diameter.

I am designing it as an overshot water wheel, so the turning moment of the water is important – the further away from the point of rotation that the water is maintained, the greater turning force it exerts due to gravity.  In any respect, it is quite a fun evolution!

I’ve also been making a number of models on the CNC while all this has been going on, in preparation for an upcoming school fête fundraiser.

So as I said, I might have been a bit quiet on here, but that doesn’t mean that it has been so in the shed! Bags and bags of sawdust coming out (especially now I have the new collector, and the cyclone separator makes removing the full bags a breeze).


I don’t think there is any craft or vehicle that captured my imagination more as a child than the Voyager spacecraft.  Launched in 1977, the two identical probes were sent on a journey that to date has taken them 1.97×1010 km away from Earth, past the gas giants of the solar system and then way beyond.


There is a lot of information about them on Wikipedia these days, so if interested you can read up more there.

What I was excited about recently, is that the Voyager probe is one of the models on the website.  So I made it.

Over 200 individual parts, cut from 3mm MDF, using the 45190 1/16″ router bit from (which is still going strong).  Cut on the TorqueCNC.

It took me 2 nights to assemble the model, and a lot of hot glue (which I have been finding to be an excellent way to assemble these models).

I had my friend Kara Rasmanis take a couple of photos of the model, suspended in front of a green screen, and she has then inserted in some royalty-free backgrounds, for a truly stunning result showcasing the model from the front, and back.

Even made from 3mm MDF, it is 900mm across.

FromSpace AboveEarth

For a model, cut from MDF, that is awesome!  Currently sits in my office – when I can part with it, it will be off to my daughter’s school science classroom.

Solent Mk4

With its roots firmly entwined in a WWII aircraft (the Short Sunderland) that combated German U Boats and was in combat in the Korean war, the Short Solent was operated as a civilian carrier in Australasia, the UK and the USA in the late 40’s and 50’s.

This model, from has been, without question, the most complicated build that I have assembled so far.  224 individual parts may not be the most of any model (not that I have been counting), but the assembly took a couple of nights.  And plenty of glue.  The hot glue gun is proving particularly useful for these models.

Made from 3mm MDF, using the #45190, 1/16th straight router bit from on the TorqueCNC.

SolentPhoto by Kara Rasmanis


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