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.


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.

Recycling Timber

I’m a big fan of recycling timber.

Not specifically for that distressed look (although timber that still reflects some of its history is not necessarily a bad thing), nor as a cost-saving measure.

I really hate seeing perfectly good things getting thrown away, and timber has such a longevity, it will often easily outlast its first, second, even third use.  There are plenty of examples of antique furniture showing that timber can last hundreds of years – really is an amazing product when you think about it, and how it is produced.

My own example is some timber that was being thrown away at work, destined for landfill.

timber-6 timber-7

They were old ceilings, made from Tassie Oak and 90x35mm, and around 1800 long.  Whole corridors of them.  They are about 40 years old, and were nailed in groups between 3 and 6, and by looks, all nailed together by hand.  (Not surprising given the age, but the amount of work involved!!)


They were dirty on top, stained by water and time, and a varnish on the bottom and sides.  Many, I suspect, would have discarded it, or turned it into firewood.  But with a little imagination, the quality of the timber can still be seen, and easily extracted.  It is perfectly dry – 40 years inside will do that!  It is exceptionally straight.  After taking them apart, removing any fittings, fixtures and nails, this (and another few stacks like it) are all sitting in my wood store, ready for use.  Or should I say, reuse!

This dirty, dusty, stained, unwanted and unloved timber is finding new homes in my projects.  It is good to work with, and finishes very nicely.  And best of all, is being appreciated for what it is and not propping up landfill.  The fact that some of my projects have the occasional odd hole in a funny place does not cause any issues – it only goes to show the timber has lived a previous life.

Tambour Sun Lounge

Managed to finish off the Tambour Sun Lounge this evening – went together surprisingly quickly in the end.

It is made up of 137 individual, interlocked tambour slats, produced using the Lonnie Bird Tambour Router Bit Set from  I made quite a few more than I needed, as I wasn’t sure how many I’d break testing the load limits, or, when I started the project, just how long a tambour I’d end up requiring.  The slats I have left over can be turned into a small drinks table, and/or a lumbar support.

I’ve now made over 300 tambour slats with this set, and it is still going strong.  This project uses approx 90 meters of slats, so if you work that out – 2 passes with one of the router bits, and one with the other, that is 270m of routing, and about the same distance again on the tablesaw, not to mention multiple passes on the jointer and thicknesser.  All in one day – over a km of timber passed through one machine or another.  I slept well that night!

I made the slats about as thick as I could manage, and still be able to slot them together.  Granted, it would be possible to go even thicker if you were prepared to make the slot on the bottom of the slat wider.  However, I tested this tambour by standing on it, on one foot.  That it survived that torture test (just) demonstrates just how strong they are (and the timber obviously).

So that’s it – job done.  The full step by step writeup will be in the next edition of “The Shed” magazine.  If you haven’t seen it yet (available in Australia and NZ, and I imagine digitally elsewhere), it is worth checking out.


What I’m Working On

A couple of years ago, when I first made a tambour door using the router bits from, I thought (and mentioned) at the time that it could make an interesting chair of sorts.  I had in mind a sun chair.

So that is what I have been making over the last few days, (and the full article when finished will appear in the next edition of The Shed magazine).

Started with a design concept in my head, that sketched out looked like this:



Made a stack of tambour door slats (over 175 in total)


and when all joined together, created a tambour roll, ready to be rolled out over a supporting frame.


Took a full day to make enough slats, and it isn’t much to show for from the original pile of timber.  However, other than a bag of sawdust there was little other wastage.

In a few days I should have the supporting frame finished, then we can all see if it will work how I picture it in my head!  Seems I prefer building things without a plan, or at least without someone else’s plan.  Presents more challenges and puzzles to solve.

I did lay the tambour bed out over an existing sun chair, and it looked good, and was very comfortable (at least as comfortable as it can be without padding!)

I also laid them out on the tablesaw, following the curves I am intending to see how it will look.  Bit hard to see from that camera angle, but it should be good.


Looking forward to seeing the resulting item.


Thomas Chippendale

The second series is on Thomas Chippendale, and the furniture he produced.

Episode 105 Freeform Router Bowl

Using the Amana Tool bowl bits from, I create a freeform double (interlocking) bowl


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