Walk into the Greenville Woodworkers Guild workshop today, and you’ll hear the steady drone of saws and sanders mingled with quiet conversation.
This is the center of the guild’s work and its crown jewel.
Located inside a 24,000-square feet facility off West Butler Road in Mauldin, the workshop holds sophisticated equipment — a 60-inch jointer, a 25-inch planer, sanders the size of wagon wheels — with supervisors on hand to provide expertise and keep the shop open seven days a week.
“We don’t think there’s any shop like it anywhere in the world,” says Aubrey Rogers, a longtime guild member who serves as the group’s accountant.
In his years with the organization, Rogers says the guild has been contacted by dozens of similar associations throughout the country, most of them hoping to duplicate the Greenville Woodworkers Guild’s success.
It’s a far cry from the guild’s early years.
The Greenville Woodworkers Guild was formed in 1981 by organizers who had three goals: to promote woodworking as an art form, to educate members in the craft and to perform charitable works.
“That hasn’t changed,” says Rogers, who joined the guild in 1986.
In those days, guild members would hold meetings in their own home workshops, where 40 people would squeeze into one room to learn how to use a lathe to turn bowls and boxes. One member allowed the guild to meet in his workshop for 10 years, Rogers says.
The guild had about 150 members when it opened its first shop in 2003 in a former soda bottling plant on Poinsett Highway.
“Once the shop was opened and people could work in the shop doing personal projects, and we had a place where we could have classes, the guild started to take off,” Rogers says.
Among the new members was Bill Fuller, who joined the group within a month of moving to Greenville.
“One of our church members found out I was a woodworker and personally picked me up and drove me over there, introduced me and told me what a great thing it was,” Fuller says. “I’ve thanked him ever since.”
A milestone moment happened in 2010 when the guild moved to its current location in Mauldin, in what was formerly a Christmas shop and Newell’s Pools. Within a matter of weeks, people started stopping by. They brought friends and then friends of friends. The trickle became a flood, and membership flourished. In one month alone, the guild gained 40 new members. Today it has more than 700.
Unlike its old space on Poinsett Highway, the new facility allowed the guild to offer its members and the public an expanded range of classes and seminars as well as a library full of woodworking literature and a 300-seat auditorium, where famous woodworkers are invited to demonstrate their skills.
“You get to see the masters at work. There’s no substitute for that,” Rogers says.
And for guild members, the facility’s workshop provides access to an extensive selection of power tools, reduced wood costs and willing mentors.
“I can go in there and see somebody making something that I never saw before, and I can talk to them about it and I can have them help me do it,” Fuller says.
Many of the guild’s members are retired hobbyists who have always had an interest in woodworking or grew up with fathers or grandfathers who were carpenters. Others are novices who need help with specific projects, according to Rogers.
They’ve also been generous with their craft.
Over the years, the guild has made hundreds of toys and furniture for a long list of nonprofits that include the Meyer Center, Safe Harbor and A Child’s Haven. Members recently built and installed a complete set of office cabinets and furniture at the South Carolina Children’s Theatre.
When the guild takes on a project, it typically asks the client to pay for materials. The guild’s annual $150 membership fee (new members pay an additional $200 initiation fee), along with some fundraising efforts, allows the guild to subsidize the project’s other costs.
“We’ve probably had about 60 or 70 charities that we have supported in the Greenville community with our woodworking skills,” Rogers says.
Learn more about the Greenville Woodworkers Guild by visiting greenvillewoodworkers.com.
By the numbers
- The Greenville Woodworkers Guild was formed in 1981.
- Within two or three years, the guild grew from 5 members to 40.
- The guild opened its first shop, located on Poinsett Highway, in 2003.
- The guild quickly outgrew that shop and moved in to a 24,000-square-foot facility in 2010.
- The more than 700 members spend over 10,000 hours on charitable projects each year.
- As many as 70 local nonprofits have benefited from the guild’s woodworking skills since it was founded.