Thursday 8th December 2016
Mr Tom Krueger's current project is hard to miss – due to the fact that it stretches across four parking spaces beside Alpina. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” he says.
“I’m working with a couple of chainsaws and I’m equal parts excited and absolutely terrified.” Follow the smell of freshly cut wood and you’ll see it: an ayous tree from Cameroon, which he and the Alpina boys are turning into a dugout canoe.
Mr Krueger fell in love with woodwork as a child. “A family friend did lots of work in our house,” he remembers. “I helped with projects like framing pictures, making furniture and partitioning walls. I loved the precision and the smell of cut wood. Although tempted by a career in carpentry, he pursued an academic route – and later rediscovered the joys of woodwork at an arts festival in Winchester, England.
“I spotted a stall with a foot-powered pole lathe and a bicycle made entirely from wood,” remembers Mr Krueger, who was teaching in the UK at the time. He then discovered the Cherry Wood Project, near Bath. “I started taking pupils there to learn bodging: using traditional techniques to make furniture parts such as chair legs,” he remembers. “I realised you didn’t have to be a trained carpenter with expensive tools to make things out of wood.”
Mr Krueger has also built an earth oven on the Alpina terrace, a medieval ropemaking machine and a memorial bench to commemorate Aiglon nurse Louise Lewis – and hopes to build a wooden house one day. “I like making things that have a purpose,” he says. “It’s also important to use your hands. I hope this is one of many challenges I can introduce at Aiglon to keep those skills alive. We know how to climb mountains, ski and use Google Docs, but now we also know how to make chairs.”
He hopes the boat will be fully usable come spring, but has yet to decide how powerful an engine it will have (when there is not a full paddling team). “The scariest moment will be when it touches water for the first time. Will it sink or float?”
“If we succeed, it’s going to be a great story to tell,” says Mr Krueger, who hopes to use the completed boat for weekend excursions and summer expeditions.
The conversion of the boat from tree to usable craft has been a talking point for months. “People used to walk by and ask: ‘what are you doing with that massive tree?’ Now they say: ‘hey, look at the boat!’”
Writer: Anne Wollenberg
Photography: Seth Barker