Long Island woodworkers show works of art and charity at 21st annual exhibition

By Nick Spennato and Brittany Bernstein

Wood shavings line the floor and conversation is drowned out by the whirring of saws inside the barn. Outside is a different story, as Justin Matranga works on his latest piece, a set of garden hurdles, the only sound around is of the brace and bit he uses to drill holes in the posts. In the past few years, Justin decided to stop working with power tools, and now does all his work, from splitting lumber into useable pieces to putting those pieces together, with hand tools.

While his style is unique, his attendance at the Long Island Woodworkers 21st annual exhibition this Sunday was not, as members gathered to show the public both their craft and the contributions they’ve made to charities like Toys for Tots.

“This is our prom, as one of our members so eloquently put it,” Mike Daum, LI Woodworkers president, said. “This is the time when we all get together and share our work and learn from each other.”

Founded in 1990, Long Island Woodworkers was originally made up of ten woodworkers in the back of a lumberyard who felt they needed a space to share techniques and resources. Since then, the group has grown steadily, and now sits comfortably between 150 and 200 members, Daum said.

Now, every year, dozens of those members are hard at work making puzzles, racecars and other toys out of wood to donate to Toys for Tots. Last year alone the Long Island Woodworkers produced 1500 wooden toys made from either donated materials or material purchased themselves, Mike Luciano, LI Woodworkers treasurer, said.

“I don’t really do larger projects, I don’t have the patience for it,” Steve Eckers, a 15 year member who helps make toys each year, said. “But I can build small stuff, and in a very short amount of time I can make a lot of toys and a lot of people happy.”

Sunday’s exhibition had a table where members were making these toys live, affixing wooden wheels to wooden cars and offering finished pieces to parents.

Some woodworkers don’t have a shop that’s conducive to making toys en masse. Frank Napoli, who took home a blue ribbon for a hand carved skull that dispenses tickets to hell, got into wood carving because he lacked the space for larger tools. He donates instead, helping buy materials for other woodworkers to use.

“It’s a good organization. You’re not dealing with someone making half a million dollars a year, it’s all going toward the children,” Napoli said.

The Long Island Woodworkers also contribute to Long Island’s Mather Hospital and the Morgan Center, a preschool for children with cancer, by donating completed pieces to be sold at auction, donating practical pieces like rocking chairs for the kids, or simple cash donations, Luciano said.

“I liken it to the old fashioned Amish barn makers. If there’s something to be done for a cause the Long Island Woodworkers will step up,” Daum said.