A Dumb Way to Run a Class

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Sunday about 7 p.m. is a good time to give up.

After two full days of sawing, planing, hammering and gluing parts together, the 14 students in this Six-board Chest class at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking laid down their tools. They swept up their shavings. They quietly loaded their chests into their cars.

Some classes end with exultation. Other with exhaustion. This one ended (I hope) with a little of both.

The pace of the class was particularly brutal. I was determined to cram in 400 years of history on the form of the “boarded chest” into the class time. And I wanted us to start with long boards that we had to knock down to size (by hand) and glue up into panels using jointer planes and spring joints.

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Oh, and one more thing: There was no predetermined design for the chest we were going to build.

That was a good thing and a bad thing. Bad: Everyone had to think through his design and how it related to his material. This made every step forward a bit of a slog with 14 different answers to 14 questions.

Good: No two chests were the same. Not even close.

In fact, the chest that I built was not even the chest I set out to build when the class commenced on Saturday morning. Instead, I followed the needs of the material and ended up with a chest I am quite happy with. I’ll finish it up when I return home and post photos here on the blog. It’s stripped down, simple and appealing – to me at least.

As the students left – all a bit too weary –  I could see that I had pushed things a little too far this time. It probably should have been a three-day class. And we should have used pre-cut stock. And worked to a predetermined design.

And… maybe not. I love to be dead tired when I have earned it.

— Christopher Schwarz

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About Chris Schwarz

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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13 Responses to A Dumb Way to Run a Class

  1. I have always been curious about these classes, but they seem intimidating for a beginner and there hardly seem to be any in the south. I will one day work up the nerve to travel to the north east and get worn out with the rest of you guys!

  2. rudemechanic says:

    as an architect I’m really pleased to see you running your classes this way.
    Ask anyone who teaches, but design is a really hard process to teach, and its really nice to see what looks like a really solid effort at teaching design as part of teaching hand tool skills.
    Great work!

  3. Exhausting…But worth it. I now have a chest that I built, but that many people will think is an antique from the 19th (or even 18th) century, especially because of the “jacked” bottom and back.

  4. I learned many skills during this class from both Chris and Carl Bilderback. Many were small, helpful tips, too numerous to mention. One technique I learned truly astonished me: how to make a rip cut for a joint with a panel saw that precisely followed the layout lines across two boards clamped together, that were perfectly square and required no cleanup or tweaking whatsoever. Prior to learning this technique, I thought it was impossible to make a 16 inch long rip cut without having to clean it up with a plane or chisel before using it in a joint. Perhaps someday I will be fully trained as an amateur menuiser!

  5. As a student I did not feel you pushed to far at all. The skills that I picked up along the way were exactly what I signed up for. Although I didn’t finish my chest in the two days, I left the class with all my digits intact and a ton of knowledge. Thanks Chris for a great class. Any chance you can email me some quick instructions for installing my snipe hinges. My wife still wants a finished chest. :)

  6. jackplain says:

    I would take the class again to reinforce the skills I learned and learn new skills that I need to know. Sure, it was a lot of work however I will go with what Colin Powell says about hard work, “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”

  7. countercosta1952 says:

    The class was worth every resource I put in. Money and sweat! I was challenged; sometimes I met it and others not. My wife has taken posession of the work and is quite pleased. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I’ve posted the same comment on another blog site.

    Chris, still waiting to hear from the wood screw folks.
    Kevin

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