They say necessity is the mother of invention. But for Robert Towler, necessity has been the driver of a lifelong passion to craft custom furniture and world drums using both Australian native and exotic timbers.
“I have always made furniture. Growing up on a farm in the Upper Hunter you often needed things that you couldn’t afford so you made them. It was the same with furniture. I like beautiful quality furniture but couldn’t afford it, so I learnt to make it,” he said.
“Making interesting things that look good has always been the thing that inspires me. Timber has a natural warmth to it, and I enjoy working with it. The right timbers help give that one-of-a-kind piece that can only be handmade. It will be something that you like to look at, touch, use, show off and admire.”
Robert’s interest in woodworking collided with the world music scene around ten years ago after he purchased a couple of timber instruments. Now his skills are sought out by a range of drummers, and his work has found its way into homes around the world.
“About ten years ago I bought a didgeridoo in the Northern Territory. A little while later I bought an African djembe. The idea of making something out of wood that was musical started to appeal to me. I think I made a Peruvian Cajon because it was a coffee table that could be used as a drum,” he said.
“Then I met Afro Moses, the Ghanaian musician who had moved to Newcastle. He started teaching me how to play African instruments, and I would repair and later build his instruments.
“I liked using my woodworking skill to help other people fix and improve instruments. Now many of the African musicians come to me to make their drums and other instruments, and instruments that I have made are now in Europe, Asia and back in Africa.”
You can check out some of Robert’s handcrafted drums at this month’s Handmade in the Hunter Markets, which will be held at Kevin Sobels Wines in Pokolbin from 9am to 3pm on March 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30. For more information about the markets visit
Top: Robert Towler in the workshop finishing a cabinet.
Right Top: Customers playing African Djembe Drums and Tongue Drums at a Market stall.
Right Bottom: Four Tongue Drums various styles and acoustic timbers