Against the grain: Woodworking is powerful therapy for this Edmonton veteran

Ron Noftall was returning from a movie with his wife when he felt something inside him break.

'I feel so much peace from woodworking'

Ron Noftall was diagnosed with PTSD after two tours in Afghanistan. Now he runs his own woodworking company in Edmonton. (Ron Noftall/Facebook)

Ron Noftall was returning from a movie with his wife when something inside him broke.

Painful memories from two tours in Afghanistan came flooding back.

"I started telling her stories about things that I had never told her about, and it unlocked a beast."

Suddenly, Noftall was a bundle of nerves. For three weeks, sleep evaded him. He felt a seething rage.

His anger became so out of control he stopped driving for nearly a year, fearful of what he might do behind the wheel.

After 27 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, Noftall was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

I wouldn't even be able to leave the house.- Ron Noftall

"If you had seen me three years ago, I wouldn't even be able to leave the house," Noftall said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.  

"Things just got weird."

Noftall sought medical care and underwent exposure therapy.

In the end, woodworking became his greatest comfort.

Something about the smell of the wood, the feel of the grain in his hands calmed his symptoms like nothing else.

He had been woodworking as a hobby for decades but threw himself into the work with a renewed sense of purpose. 

"That level of extreme focus, I'm not thinking about anything else," he said. "It's all about the task that's right in front of me, what my hands are feeling.

"That takes away all the bad thoughts."

Ron Noftall finishing a piece of burl in his southeast Edmonton workshop. The veteran has found solace in working with his hands. (Rod Kurtz/CBC)

Four years later, Noftall has turned his passion into a trade. He now operates his own custom furniture company called Branch Out Woodworking Ltd.

Inside his southeast Edmonton workshop, he handcrafts heirloom quality furniture, working largely on individual commissions.

He chisels and carves raw wood into coffee tables, cabinets and other custom pieces, and restores antiques to their former glory using only old-school techniques.

'Time to give back' 

Business is good and now he wants to share his craft with other veterans. He hopes woodworking will prove therapeutic for others.

"I got into the business and it got busy and I thought, it's time for me to give back a bit," he said.

"I feel so much peace from woodworking and I think other vets could benefit from it."

It's much easier to talk to one of your comrades than a stranger.- Ron Noftall

Noftall hopes to raise $10,000 online to buy the equipment needed to teach woodworking to fellow veterans. If the GoFundMe campaign is successful, Noftall would hold classes this spring inside his workshop for a minimal cost.

While Noftall hopes woodworking gives his students some respite from "rough times," he also anticipates the project will help veterans who have served overseas carve out a new brotherhood at home in Alberta.  

"Being able to hang out with other forces members who are retired or medically discharged, it's nice," Noftall said.

"Everybody understands each other. And if you need to talk, it's much easier to talk to one of your comrades than a stranger."