Studio Visit: Margaret River Region's Dedicated Woodworkers

In early 2018, Ben Edwards was almost ready to give up on his dream and walk away from his five-acre Karridale bush block. He had spent the past three years setting up a bespoke woodworking business from his home in the Boranup forest, but things hadn’t worked out the way he imagined. Now the bank was knocking on his backdoor, and if they didn’t get to his property, then the white ants and weeds surely would.

But he didn’t give up. He couldn’t. The power of his dream was too strong to quit. Instead, he spun his compass back north and set off out into the bush for a couple of years, returning to work skippering boats. He saved his bucks and sought direction and purpose, and found the mainstay and love of a woman along the way.

In April 2020, after a rollercoaster ride travelling around Australia together, Ben and Dani returned to Karridale to begin their business, Caves Timbers in earnest. Their journey hasn’t been easy. Like many artists of the Margaret River Region, they have sacrificed a modern, conventional life to live on the edge of society in order to remain true to their art and their dreams.

The majestic Boranup Karri Forest.

Ben’s journey to woodworking was instigated by a camping and fishing trip with a mate in the Boranup Karri forest that he now lives and works in.  At that time, he was living in Exmouth was ready for a change.  He discovered the Margaret River Region as the change he needed.

“I just wanted some trees,” he says.

“I camped in Boranup forest one night with a good mate, and we went on a bit of a fishing trip at Hamelin Bay, and that’s what kicked it off for me. The boat ramp and the forest and Boranup beach.  After I moved down, I suppose the timber stuff just came with it.”

When he moved down, Ben never planned to start a woodworking business. It just came to him in the way that life sometimes throws little things at you, and tells you where you’re supposed to be going.

Studio Visit: Margaret River Region's Dedicated Woodworkers
Ben Edwards, Cave Timbers.

“I’ve always loved woodworking.  My grandad was right into woodworking, I loved it since I was a little kid but never really connected with it too much. Then this place popped up. I had wanted to buy down here.  Somewhere quieter than Margaret River.  And yeah, the bloke I bought the house from had a heap of timber, and I started making little bits and pieces for the house, and little chopping boards and frames and stuff for family and friends, and it just grew from there.”

This new pursuit felt right to Ben, but he was young – 25-years-old – and his dream was novel and vague.  He had gone from a high-paying job in Exmouth to earning almost nothing, and his property needed an enormous amount of work before he could even get started.  Soon, financial pressures began to mount.

“There was a lot to do just to get started.  The property needed a good clean up, the shed was falling apart, I needed to get a garden going so I could live off that and survive without too much money. That way of life just made more sense.

“I think woodworking, or any sort of art really, it’s pretty hard to make a living from it.  Every artist has their journey.  It’s not easy.  I nearly gave up. There were some pretty tough times.”

Some of the stunning pieces made at Caves Timber.

After taking some time to reset, Ben met Dani.  They had planned to travel around Australia together, but fate – namely a rolled car and the covid pandemic – brought them back to Karridale.

Dani helped Ben to organise his life and their property, and they set about building their business together.  They started small, building picture frames and chopping boards and selling those – along with Dani’s photography prints, at market stalls. Soon things began to grow.

With more money Ben bought more equipment and got the property set up. Soon he was harvesting and milling all of his own timber, and building furniture and kitchens.

In early 2022 they acquired their own gallery and displayed their work for the first time at the Margaret River Region Open Studios event.

Margaret River Region Open Studioos
Every year in September, Margaret River Region Open Studios hosts over 160 local artists over 16 days.

Ben often draws inspiration from the forest surrounding him.  He mills much of his own timber, often fallen trees gifted to him from local farmers that would otherwise be destined for the burn pile. He works with a lot of native timbers – marri, karri, jarrah, wandoo, banksia, and she-oak – and is motivated by the desire to give something a new life and preserve the story of that particular piece of timber.

“I like the whole process. Even if I buy timber, I like to know where it’s come from.  I like to know who cut it down, if it was meant to be cut down, why it was cut down.  I mill a lot of my own timber too, and love seeing a tree turn into art.”

“You rip into a bit of timber and it’s like you’re giving something a new life.  You get a piece of timber that’s been sitting in the dirt for 20 years, and to someone it looks like a rotten piece of junk and you can turn it into something that ends up in someone’s home. That’s art I guess. It’s amazing, and I suppose it’s giving something that new life that keeps me going.”

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