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Introducing: Neue Freizeitwerkstatt (NFZW)

Do you need a table that fits into a tight spot in your apartment? Have you always wanted a garden box for your balcony? Or maybe a bed for your child shaped like a fire engine? Now you can build your own at Neue Freizeitwerkstatt.

Recently I was lucky enough to visit Neue Freizeitwerkstatt (NFZW), a woodworking studio and Verein (a not-for-profit club) in St. Alban, where you can learn to build your own furniture under the supervision of trained professionals and volunteers.

Started in the 1930s, this workshop was originally used to train unemployed people in woodworking skills. In the 50s and 60s it slowly transitioned to allow the public to use the machines for their own projects. In the early 90s the workshop fell out of fashion as people turned to more cheaply-made industrial furniture, but was reorganized in 1996 as a Verein. Now it is a place where people (even those with no experience) can come together to learn a new skill and create something special. Working with the volunteers you can design and build your own furniture, from start to finish, turning your ideas into reality.

Some may ask, why build a piece of furniture that you can so easily buy? Well, as former cabinet maker and volunteer Stefan Blülle explains, "Many people want a piece of furniture they can not buy." Sometimes this means a piece that fits to specific measurements or something that is completely unique. As Stefan explains, "If you want to create something nobody else has, you can come here. Many things made here are absolutely unique. People have an idea, they want to realize their idea and they can say they made it."

There is a great deal of satisfaction in having designed and made something yourself and as I toured the facility I met Maureen Suter (a member as well as board member) who was in the process of making an Adirondack chair.

She made one last year and was now making two more. As she explained, "The first one took hours, but everyone helped and gave ideas, because you know we're not carpenters and that's the beauty of the whole thing, you don't have to be a carpenter to come here...and eventually you can do it yourself. "

This do-it-yourself attitude is really what makes this place special, but the beauty of it is that you are not doing it alone. The volunteers guide you through the process and teach you how to use the equipment (though some of the machines are reserved for trained professionals) until you finish something that you can call your own.

How does it work?

It's as simple as becoming a member, figuring out what you want to make, drawing up a design and making it.

Step 1: Become a member. For only 80 CHF a year you can join (NFZW), which gives you access to the work space, the equipment and the expertise of the helpful volunteers that work there.

Step 2: Drop in. Simply show up during the opening hours and sign in. You are then charged 3.50 CHF per hour to participate. If you need any work done with heavy machinery this is done by the staff and you are charged 60 CHF per hour.

Step 3: Decide what you want to make. From chairs to beds and even instruments, the options are limitless! No experience is necessary and you can learn to build something completely from scratch. Good starter projects are cutting boards, tables, stools and even beds. Even if you don't know what you want to make, the volunteers can help you brainstorm some ideas.

Step 4: Come up with a design. The volunteers (many English speaking) are here to help you and will walk you through the process. The main point is that you will be doing most of the work yourself and the volunteers will take into account your skill level and experience, when together, you formulate the design. During this process, you take notes and draw a diagram with the steps that you bring with you each time you work on your project. This also helps because you may not always be working with the same volunteer.

Step 5: You source your supplies. Once you have your design you will need some materials. NFZW has a stock of wood for smaller projects, but for larger projects you will either have to order wood through them (they only do large orders so you may have to wait) or purchase some yourself from a hardware store.

Step 6: Step by step you complete the project. Volunteers guide you along the way and teach you how to use the tools and saws (although some equipment for safety reasons is for staff only). People have a tendency to underestimate the amount of time a project takes, so it is important to be diligent and keep at it. Unfinished projects are not kept indefinitely. After 3 months NFZW will phone you to see if you still want it and periodically they must throw out abandoned projects.

Step 7: You bring home your new project. You now have the bragging rights to proudly declare that the super cool table in your kitchen was made with your own hands. You have built something that is unique, well-made and built to last. As Stefan explains, "We help people so at the end they walk out proudly with their own furniture."

There is something very satisfying about that.


The volunteers at NFZW are both professionals and non-professionals. If you are interested in volunteering you can contact them to discuss what skills you have and the time you can contribute.

Neue Freizeitwerkstatt

Opening hours Monday 17:00 - 21:00 Tuesday 9:00 - 13:00 and 17:00-21:00 Thursday 14:00 - 21:00 Friday 18:00 - 21:00 Saturday 10:00 - 16:00

Eptingerstrasse 20, 4052 Basel

061 313 5884

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