An Auckland maker carving a career out of recycled wood tells Thomas Heaton how she does it
FOR HOURS EACH WEEK, Courtney Petley can be found on her porch. Braving the cold or basking in the sun, she slowly whittles away at wooden shapes with a blade and sandpaper. As hours go by, the shapes emerge.
In that spot, on Auckland’s Upper Queen St, there’s inevitably a cup of something topped with a film of matai, rimu or tōtara sawdust.
“I make a lot of cups of tea and coffee, but I might not drink a lot,” she says, laughing.
Her hands are too busy, slowly shaping wooden knives, spoons, spatulas or scoops for her namesake business, Petley. The utensils vary in shapes and sizes, but the material used is always recycled native timber.
It’s on her stoop that the finer work happens. The spoons’ or scoops’ bowl-like ends are dug out with a hook-shaped knife. They’re sanded smooth using six different grades of sandpaper. Depending on the wood and the product, it takes six or seven hours until the beeswax polish comes out and the product is finished.
For the bigger jobs, like cutting out the rough shapes at the start of the process, Petley makes the most of the Devonport Community Workshop across the harbour on Auckland’s North Shore. She uses the industrial tools there to cut up larger pieces, like tree trunks or long pieces of timber, and does heavier sanding jobs. That is where she might work on her cheese boards or chopping boards too, making the most of the workshop volunteers’ wisdom.
Woodworking could be said to be in the 31-year-old’s blood – her father is a builder and both her grandfathers were too. But she hasn’t been doing it her whole life, having previously worked in fashion for just over nine years. Following a childhood in Wellington’s western suburbs, the then 22-yearold Petley moved to Auckland. She worked for brands like Miss Crabb and Huffer and spent two years in London with menswear brand D.S. Dundee.
Over the past couple of years, Petley has spent her weekends revitalising old furniture as a “therapeutic hobby”. But one day, she decided she needed a spatula. Because she loves to cook and was already working with wood, she decided to make her own. “Then it kind of evolved from there.”
Spoons and butter knives, and plenty of different spatulas, started to take shape.
“I just kind of started. I just did it. I kind of learn by doing. That’s how my style has evolved, just by working away and making.”
Following a three-month holiday through the United States, a little soulsearching and one last job in fashion, she decided to leap into a life of wood.
“[Fashion] wasn’t for me any more and I wanted a new challenge, so I saved up my money and left my job, and started making.”
Since launching her business in March, Petley has sold her products at the monthly Cross Street Market in Auckland’s CBD, while working part time at Vulcan Lane Bagels.
Her first commission was a heap of butter knives for none other than
Cuisine three-hatted restaurant The French Café.
Her style is clean and symmetrical, but unusual. “I’ve got an obsession with geometry and I think that kind of shows in my work. I like clean lines and I like sharp angles.”
A piece might come from wood from a felled tree, an old post in a friend’s backyard or it could have been sent by her father from renovation work in Wellington. “I try to remember where every piece comes from.”
Some lucky donors might receive a spoon or spatula made from their homes, felled trees, posts or fences as a token of thanks. “I think it’s a nice continuation of such a beautiful resource that we are so lucky to have.”
Petley has recently launched an online store, but she’s in no rush to go too big too soon, saying she needs time to refine her collection.
“I’m happy to take it slow. I’m not putting too much pressure on myself; it’s just going to be nice to see where it will go.” petley.store; instagram.com/petley_