A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE
SUNCITY WEST WOODWORKING CLUB
Note: In the Library of the Woodworkers Club is a compilation of data by Kenneth E. Runyon that includes a 4 page narrative titled “A Brief History of the Sun City West Working Club (1979-1998.) Much of the following narrative is taken verbatim from that but updated to include 2016 data and practices along with some additional information about this time period. George Wildridge and Gafford Jackson, members since 1991 , contributed much of the new information.
Founded in 1979 under a charter of the SCW Recreation Centers, Provided with space in the R. H. Johnson Recreation Center and equipped with about $20,000 worth of basic tools by DEVCO, Del Webb’s development division, the Club has grown from a small woodworking shop to a major attraction of Sun City West. It has (in 1998) over a thousand members, a Governing Board of ten members elected annually by the membership, of 20 operating committees, more than 6,000 sq. ft. of floor space, and an inventory of floor equipment hand tools and office equipment valued at more than $300,000, and an annual operating budget of over $57,000.
Its purposes, as stated in its bylaws are to “…operate a Woodworking Club and Shop for the benefit and enjoyment of its Members in the furtherance of woodworking skill and to promote fellowship among its Members, all the while emphasizing safety in woodworking and in the operation and use of tools and powered machinery.” In its development, the Woodworking Club has far exceeded these purposes.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, revered 19th century essayist and poet, once wrote, “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” Dr. Emerson almost had it right. For the Woodworking Club, however, two men have cast shadows that make the Club what it is today –Harry Hawkins, its founder and Paul Runyon, its first president.
Harry Hawkins, a transplant from Sun City, inspired the club with a concept of community service and enlisted its early membership in building articles for other SCW organizations and residents. His “formula”? The petitioner paid for the materials required and woodworking club contributed the skills and labor Some of the beneficiaries of this policy are the SCW Sheriff’s Posse, the golf courses, local churches, other craft clubs, the bridge club and the SCW Library. Articles built have included shelving, cabinets, desks, podiums, a frame for a large stained glass window, and computer cabinets.
Nor have its activities been limited to SCW organizations. The Club has built computer tables for a Northwest Valley school district and toys for disadvantaged children. In 1998, continuing a wood shop tradition the club built over 300 Christmas toys which were distributed by the SCW Women’s Club, the Westside Food Bank, the SCW Posse, Interfaith Services, and the Fire Department. The Clubs Special Projects Committee is a legacy of this concept of community and service and each year follows the formula Harry Hawkins established of building articles for local organizations and residents.
Paul Runyon, a retired antique dealer who delighted in making miniature furniture and had an extensive knowledge of wood, brought a concept of professionalism to the Club and an emphasis on detail and the importance of finishing. When a piece of work was brought to Paul for approval, he would take it over to a window where the light was good, rub his fingers across it, look at it carefully and either approve it or suggest it needed a little more work. Paul was a constant source of encouragement to new members and never too busy to help Club members develop their woodworking skills. His legacy is the Quality Control committee, which must approve all products sold through the Village Store, and the annual Craft Fair, as well as advanced training courses for Club members and the felling of helpfulness that pervades the shop.
This is not to say that later club president have made no contributions to the club. The Woodworking Club grew like Topsy and growth brought its share of problems that had to be met. Policy decisions had to be made, an Operations Manual had to be written, Safety Standards established, and Monitor Procedures formalized. A Safety Training course had to be developed for all new members, Advanced Training courses instituted, and Club Monitors had to be trained to watch for and enforce safety violations. As new equipment was acquired, policies, manuals and procedures had to be rewritten and updated.
The history of the Woodworking Club has not been without its problems– some serious and some trivial. Some involving equipment and some involving people. Woodworking is not dangerous when equipment is used properly and reasonable precautions are taken. But, when people are working with saw blades and router bits that rotate at several thousand revolutions per minute, occasional accidents are bound to occur. The Woodworking Club had been fortunate in being able to minimize injuries and it is interesting that most injuries do not occur, as one would think, to beginners, but to experienced woodworkers who know better and get careless or in a hurry. Woodworking is not an activity that can be hurried. perhaps the true criterion for woodworkers is not extraordinary skill in making this of wood, but of retiring from this avocation with all ten of their fingers intact.
But, safe practices do not come easy, people do get in a hurry, they do take shortcuts, they do become over confident. As a consequence, the Woodworking club is extremely conscious of safety. It has been a long time since, as noted in the previous section, when an accident did occur the only recourse the Club had was two dimes glued on the Bulletin Board and a pay telephone 200 yards away. In today’s shop, a telephone is located in the shop — and local calls are free.
In 1991, after a rash of minor accidents, a Safety Committee was appointed to study all the machines and prepare cautionary sighs to be placed on machinery that was particularly dangerous. In 1995 John Green was appointed Chairman of a Safety Committee and did an outstanding job of introducing changes that promote safety. For example, safety glasses must be worn when working on shop machinery; safety guards added; and safety tips added to the newsletter.
No has safety been the shop’s only area of concern. Adequate monitoring of shop activity has been a recurring problem. Initially the problem was solve by designating Tuesdays as “Monitors” day. The only members who could use the shop that day were those who had monitored at least twice during the previous month. But, even with this incentive, problems arose particularly during the summer months when the shop use was at its nadir. In 1989 the shop was close during the month of August because adequate monitoring was not available. Generally, the membership resisted mandatory monitoring until about 1996 when the following mandatory policies were adopted: (1) any member could use the shop no more than once a month without monitoring; (2) members who monitored once every two months had unlimited use of the shop, except for Tuesdays (Monitors’ Day.)
Another monitoring problem which arose and still exists is the reluctance of monitors to tell a shop user that he or she is using a piece of equipment improperly, or to clean up the area after using a particular piece of equipment. The current solutions to this problem is to have one monitor designated as Shop Manager and identified by blue apron. The Shop Manager has the responsibility of supervising the monitors, helping them do their jobs better, dealing with any problems that may arise with an obstreperous member and, if necessary, closing the shop.
Abuse of shop equipment has always been and still is a shop problem. Often, inexperience members fail to ask for help (presumably for fear of embarrassment) and use a piece of equipment improperly, resulting in equipment damage. Or, they drop a drill or router bit and thereby damage it. Not all equipment or tool damage is the fault of the user. Equipment does wear out its do break or chip because of structural weakness and long use. However, when the Executive committee can fix the cause of damage on a member, the Club policy is, “You broke it. You pay for it.”
As the Club membership has grown, commitment to and participation in Club activities had decreased. With over a 800 members, only about ten percent attend meeting is January, February and March, with fewer in the other months. Social activities, such as the annual picnic or the Christmas party, attract less than 15 percent of the membership. This is not surprising because it is a basic tenant of Social Psychology that there is an inverse relationship between the size of a volunteer organization and the percent of members actively participating in the organizational activities — and the Woodworking Club did grow.
It outgrew its original quarter (at R. H. Johnson) and in 1989 the Recreations Centers Governing Board moved it to a 4000 sq. ft. facility adjoining the Metal Shop in the Manual Arts building located in the Kuentz Recreation center where it is currently located. The move was a blessing because, for the first time there was room for a Tool Crib to store and check out hand tools to members, an enlarged Lumber Room that carries an inventory of lumber that members may purchase, and enough room to position the new equipment it had acquired without unsafe crowding of machinery.
But Utopia ended on October 4, 1994. On this fateful day, the Manager of the Kuentz Recreation Center, Fred Ohrazda, while making a routine walk-through inspection of the Metal Shop, noticed that the ceiling was sagging. He called Ron Randels, Maintenance Manager of the Rec Centers, and a quick inspection revealed that one of the roof trusses had pulled apart and threatened to bring the roof down. The next day, both the Metal and Woodworking shops were closed pending a more thorough inspection.
Initially it was thought that the Woodshop would be able to open on Wednesday, Oct. 12. However, a thorough inspection revealed that a number of trusses in both the Metal Shop and the Woodshop were pulling apart. Apparently, the trusses throughout the building lacked the structural integrity to stand the load to which they were being suggested. Nor was that all. On Wednesday, Oct. 10, the entire Kuentz Rec Center was close until an inspection could be made of other structures to see if they were safe. The really bad news came when the Metal and Woodworking Clubs were told that the Manual Arts building would probably be closed until the end of the year and possibly until sometime in 1995. It turned out that “sometime in 1995” really meant September of 1995, so that the Woodshop was close for over 11 months. All of the shop equipment had to be removed and stored while repairs were made. It is during this period that termites devoured most of the Club’s files — a catastrophe that has be referred to as the termites revenge.
Interestingly, during construction the new trusses being installed were deemed to be inadequate ( by some club members, with engineering degrees) to support the equipment that would be added on the roof. This was brought to the attention of the builder who balked at removing those already installed so the members went to the county inspector who required the builder upgrade them. The garage door in the metal shop was closed up with cement block and some I-beams were cut off as part of getting the building ready for the expanded Woodshop
When renovation was completed, the Metal Club was moved to new facilities located on Camino del Sol and the Woodworking Club was permitted to expand into the Metal Shop’s old facilities, providing it with room to move all assembly table to a separate room and to relocate heavy equipment. This was much more complicated that it sounds because a layout had to be prepared for the expansion. Space had to be allocated for machinery for the work tables, for the club Library and for the Lumber Room. All the shop’s equipment had to be taken from storage and machinery had to be installed and readied for use. They acquired unused solid core doors from the Del Webb construction company for tops on the new assembly tables and later discarded bowling alley lanes for more table tops. Once completed the special projects group raised money by building luggage tables. These tables were the kind found in bedrooms where you would put your luggage to unpack. Lots and lots were built according to Gafford Jackson but finally stopped in 2009.Over 80 members contributed 373 workdays, over 2400 hours of their time, to make the Club operational. Frank Andrews, Pete Balbo, Bill Newman, John Green and Gafford Jackson were some of the key individuals during this time.
Prior to the new construction dust was a huge problem in the wood shop. Only a couple of saws had ductwork to draw away the dust and it was collected in a 55 gallon barrel. A new dust collection system was needed and purchased by the Recreation Center board. As a result an addition to the building was needed to house the vacuum system and channels were cut in the cement floor for ductwork that would transfer dust from all areas and equipment in the shop back to the vacuum system. The result of this was to bring the number particulates found in the shop air in compliance with the most stringent OSHA standards . This was substantiated in 2014 by an engineering firm.
The reopening of the woodshop was the upside. On the downside, the year’s closure cost the club over 400 members — its membership dropped from 1,400 to less than 1000. The expenses of moving and acquiring worktable and replacement equipment required that dues be maintained at $20.00 a year and fees for new members at $50.00 —both of which discouraged some lost members from renewing their membership.
But the Woodworking Club is now rebuilding its membership because there is nothing quite like the felling of accomplishment you get from taking a pile of raw materials and turning them into a “something,” a “something that wouldn’t have exist if you hadn’t created it.
As noted earlier, the Woodworking Club is a Community resource. All members of the Recreation Centers are invited to join, provided they are will to take its Safety Training Course, abide by its rules and those of the Recreation Centers, and $25.00 a year for the privilege of using the facilities of one of the finest and best equipped woodworking shops in the United States.
It is also a community within itself that responds to the needs of its members by offering advanced classes to those who are interested in improving their skills. In addition to the Safety Training Course required of all new members, it offers additional classes for its members.
In 1998 Fran Rogers stepped down as Chairman of the Data Processing Committee. Fran and his committee automated our records, started printing badges and kept the computer system operational. Fran personally designed and built the device that opens the inner door of the woodshop when we run our cards through the scanner. Now we have computer screens in the shop that include a monitor to welcome members as they enter, display their credits and explain why their entrance is denied. We have a closed circuit television to monitor all areas of the shop and record daily events, and a large monitor in the assembly room displaying information on current and future events or announcements.
Acquisition of new equipment is taking place constantly to replace worn out machinery, update technology and increase safety. Radial arm saws are a thing of the past. SawStop saws that protect all digits replaced all tabletop saws. A “Jump Saw” that clamps wood down and requires you to move your hands away from the cutting blade has replace the chop saw.
This document was written for placement on our web site and is still under revision. As stated earlier in the note, Kenneth E. Runyons’ Compilation of Data contains exhibits of Equipment Inventory, Shop Layout and Legend, Bylaws and Financial Statements to name a few. Please read that for additional information. Also my apologies for any mistakes, errors and omissions and I welcome any additions or correction you can offer.
- Dean Otto – Badge 4048