The 3 Best Woodworking Classes

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People take woodworking classes for a lot of deeply personal and disturbingly wack-doodle reasons. I’ve had students take a class because they want to change their whole life, and others who paid the same money simply to escape their life for two days.

For most of my life, I couldn’t afford to take woodworking classes, and then I found myself in the odd position of teaching them.

As a result I have a skewed take. On the one hand, hands-on classes are perhaps the best way to learn. On the other hand, I can’t believe how much they cost students. (In fact, they are still difficult for me to afford.)

This dichotomy got me thinking. If I could take only two woodworking classes, what would they be? I struggled with the question until I allowed myself three woodworking classes.

Sharpening 101

If you take only one woodworking class, I think it should be a sharpening course. Sharpening is the gateway skill to learning handwork, carving, turning and many other corners of the craft. And, with a good teacher, it isn’t hard to learn.

Find a teacher who doesn’t sell sharpening equipment (those classes can be a mini Amway convention. If you see a fog machine when you first enter the bench room, run for your life). Find someone who sharpens more than just chisels – edge tools come in all shapes. And try to find out how gizmo-heavy the class is. Sharpening is not about the equipment. It’s about understanding its principles and executing them with the stuff you own (or can afford).

Build a Workbench

A good workbench makes everything easier. But building one can take a year of your life – a year that could be spent making furniture instead. So instead, take a one-week class where you build a workbench using the heavy-duty machinery that makes it a breeze. You probably don’t need a shaper to make furniture, but a shaper sure makes building a bench easier. Take advantage of the school’s equipment and expertise.

Even if you are a hand-tool purist, I recommend you hold your nose and do the deed so you can get on with the good part – designing and making furniture.

Chairmaking or Whatever

Years ago I tried to teach myself chairmaking with books alone and failed. I know that it’s possible to make a chair without taking a class, but chairmaking classes (like sharpening classes) short-circuit the process in a radical fashion. I took my first chair class in 2003 and have taken several more since, even though they are difficult to afford.

If you hate the idea of building chairs (and some people do), then pick a single skill that represents your highest goal – marquetry, bowl-turning, French polishing or whatever – and find someone who knows the magic tricks. There are indeed magic tricks to most woodworking processes, and the good instructors are willing to share them (bad instructors are happy to watch you struggle).

But most of all, make sure you don’t also buy a time-share condominium as part of that package of sharpening stones and flattening plates being hawked by your sharpening teacher. And don’t enroll in the “Waterstone of the Month Club,” either.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Crucible Scrapers & Curves Available in the U.K.

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I am happy to announce that our Crucible curved card scrapers and design curves are available for sale in the U.K. (and Europe) through Classic Hand Tools. You can order a scraper here and curves here.

Thanks to the crew at Classic Hand Tools for stocking these tools.

We get a lot of questions about when we’ll begin distributing our lump hammer outside the USA. We’re still fulfilling demand here in the States and are still ramping up production until we get to where we have a surplus. I hope we will be there by early 2020.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Lost Art Press is Open This Weekend

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The Lost Art Press storefront will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and we welcome your questions, gripes and general company.

The special 2 p.m. lecture on Saturday will be on my favorite stick chairs from all over the world. I’ll also have a couple of my recent chairs on display plus a real honest-to-goodness antique Welsh stick chair for you to inspect.

If you are looking for other fun activities in Cincinnati this weekend, we recommend BLINK, an amazing and free artistic light festival scattered all over downtown that will spill into Covington this year. We’ve been watching the preparations all week, and this evening Lucy and I saw a dress rehearsal on the Roebling Bridge. It should be pretty amazing.

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The Lost Art Press storefront is located in the heart of Covington’s Main Strasse Historic District, steps away from great food, drink and entertainment. Our address is 837 Willard St., Covington, KY 41011.

Families, pets and grumpy spouses are always welcome, too!

— Christopher Schwarz

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Hand-forged Adze from Matty Sears

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When I first learned to saddle seats in 2003, it was with a gutter adze. I stood on the chair seat and swung the tool between my legs. I never developed a knack for the gutter adze, unlike the scorp (sometimes called an inshave), which has always felt at home in my hands.

After working with Chris Williams, however, I was determined to give the adze another chance. Chris learned to saddle seats from John Brown using a small adze. And instead of standing on the chair seat, JB propped it up in front of him at the workbench.

The first success I had was with a Dictum adze. After getting it razor sharp, I could hack out a seat fairly well, just like John Brown showed in “Welsh Stick Chairs.”

Then Chris told me about an adze made by one of John Brown’s sons, blacksmith and woodworker Matty Sears. It was based on an interesting African tool. The handle was hafted to the head in an ingenious manner. The more you used the adze, the tighter the handle became. But you could easily pop the handle off to make sharpening the interior bevel easier.

Matty had made the adze for his father, who used it on chairs he built after the publication of “Welsh Stick Chairs.”

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A copy of the first adze Matty saw using this design. It belonged to a sculptor friend of JB (John Cleal) who had lived in Southern Africa. Matty borrowed it, made this one and then with encouragement and input from JB, worked it into the tool it is today. Photo courtesy of Matty Sears.

Chris had one, and after using his I decided it was a significant upgrade from my Dictum adze.

As with any striking tool (a hammer or a hatchet, for example), it’s not just about the quality of the steel or the comfort of the handle. It’s about the balance of the tool, which can make it easy to control or make it unwieldy. This is where Matty’s adze excels. The balance is exquisite. And after saddling only a couple chair seats, I found it incredibly easy to place my strikes right where I wanted them. Plus, the weight of the head removes a sizable chip of oak without a lot of upper body strength.

So, instead of swinging the adze with my arms, I merely lift it up and use my thumbs to steer the edge right where I want it, letting the tool’s weight do most of the work (you do have to put some umph behind it). I’ve now made four chairs with Matty’s adze, and I’m a convert.

The tool came beautifully sharpened, and the hand-forged head keeps a wicked edge. All you have to do is maintain that edge, which I do with fine sandpaper wrapped around a dowel, plus a strop. Separating the head from the handle is easy, and that indeed makes sharpening safer and easier. Its primary bevel is on the inside, but there is a shallow bevel on the outside as well. The edge geometry works well, and is easy to maintain.

It is, like the best axes I’ve used, an incredibly elegant tool, even though its job is coarse work.

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One of Matty’s earlier adzes after making the blade curved. Photo courtesy of Matty Sears.

Like all handmade things, it costs more than mass-manufactured tools. The adze is $400 plus shipping. The bottom line is that, like all my favorite tools, I look forward to using it. Holding it. Wielding it. Even sharpening it. It is a thing of beauty and is also (as a bonus) a direct link to John Brown, one of my woodworking heroes.

The best way to contact Matty about making an adze for you is by sending him a message through his Instagram account, mattysearsworks. Note: You can send Instagram messages  through a mobile device, not a desktop machine.

— Christopher Schwarz

Full disclosure: I paid full price for my adze. Matty also receives some royalties from Lost Art Press from sales of “Welsh Stick Chairs,” but that is the entirety of our business relationship.

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Adjusting Traditional Butt Hinges

Last winter I wrote an article for Popular Woodworking about adjusting traditional butt hinges—the kind you use with inset doors, mortising one leaf into the door and the other into the side (or face frame) of a sideboard, kitchen cabinet or armoire. I pitched the article to editor Andrew Zoellner because many people are bedeviled by butt hinges’ apparent lack of adjustability; there I was, in the midst of fitting 20 doors in a kitchen, nudging them up, down, in, out, and side-to-side to get slender, even margins. It seemed the perfect time to write something about this largely neglected subject in the interest of helping others.

I submitted the manuscript and photos before my husband and I left for two weeks in England. Everything was on track for publication. Then, over morning coffee with a friend in London, we learned that F+W, the magazine’s publisher, had filed for bankruptcy. (Thanks for shouldering the burden of acting as messenger, St.John.)

The bankruptcy news was a blow on multiple fronts. I thought the article would never see the light of day. So I’m especially happy to report that it’s scheduled for the November issue of Popular Woodworking, now published by Active Interest Media; it should go on sale October 8.

This article is especially close to my heart because aside from a few tricks I’ve figured out for myself, what I know about this topic (and many unrelated techniques) came from working with people in the trades. You’re not likely to recognize their names from magazines, YouTube, or Instagram. They’re guys (all men, in this case) who do the work they’re hired to do and take pride in doing it to a high standard but don’t necessarily talk or write about what they do. Thanks:

Kent Perelman (R.I.P.)

Jay Denny

Kenneth Kinney (R.I.P.)

Ben Sturbaum

John Cantwell

Dick Stumpner

and Daniel O’Grady

—all listed in the order in which we met. Thanks also to Mr. Williams, one of my teachers in the City & Guilds furniture making program at the Isle of Ely College in 1979 and 1980.–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

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New Core77 Column: The Sidewalk is Your Design Homework

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Those of you who have read my peckings for a while know my deep interest in architecture. And if you’ve read any of George Walker and Jim Tolpin’s books on design, you know that (most) furniture design springs from architecture.

How can architecture help you in the workshop? That is what my latest column at Core77 is about. Walking around an old neighborhood with your eyes open can help you get a feel for design – good, bad, right and wrong. In many ways, a neighborhood walk can teach you more than a visit to a museum, where the furniture is mostly high-style and well-preserved.

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I get pretty passionate about this stuff and am half-tempted to take my furniture students out on an evening walk through Covington’s many historical neighborhoods. But that would be weird, I think.

The column, “Your Design Homework is on the Sidewalk,” can be read here and is completely free.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Dovetail Marking System

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This is an excerpt from “The Solution at Hand” by Robert Wearing.

There are many types of dovetail markers and as many methods of using them, but I like to think that this marker, A, and its method is pre-eminent.

The plate is made from a piece of 20 gauge brass, steel or alloy 5-1/2″ x 3″ (140 mm x 75 mm). This should be sawn and not cut with snips as these may permanently distort it. Drill the four 5 mm (3/16″) and three 3/32″ (1 mm) corner holes, then sufficient smaller holes to get in a hacksaw blade to cut out the dovetail angle and the two slots. File to shape with great care, rounding the external corners and softening the edges. From an accurate centre line, file the two nicks as shown in B. The bar is a piece of brass channel 3/8″ x 3/8″ x 1/16″ (10 mm x 10 mm x 1.5 mm) and it has one threaded hole and a slot. The hole is threaded 2BA. A sliding block is fitted below the slot and this, too, is threaded 2BA. The bar is secured to the plate, preferably with a pair of 2BA electrical terminals or with wing nuts and washers, C.


Prepare the components and gauge to thickness on the piece which is to contain the tails, D. Choose a suitable bevel-edged chisel that is only slightly smaller than the chosen size of pin, E. Place the gauge on the work and adjust the bar to give a width on the gauge line only slightly more than the chisel size, F. True up the bar with the edge of the gauge, either by a try square or against the edge of the wood. For angled dovetails use a sliding bevel on the angle already on the wood.


The two outside or half pins must be a little larger than half size, so, with a pencil, mark down the two outside centre lines to achieve this effect. About 1/8″ (3 mm) is usual for medium-sized dovetails. The distance between these two lines is divided equally in the standard way to give the centre lines of all the pins, G. Alternatively a rapid calculator can be made to fix centre lines by drawing equispaced converging lines on a piece of plywood as in H. The horizontal lines are parallel, and the end of the piece of wood is offered up to the required number of converging lines and kept parallel to the horizontals. The centre lines are then easily picked off, J.


The gauge is now placed on the wood with the nick over each centre line in turn for the pins to be marked, ideally with a fine ballpoint pen, K. Shellac brushed on gives the surface a “bite” on which to mark. On the end grain the square marking is done with a marking awl, which provides a small groove into which the chisel can be put decisively should there be any error in sawing. Beginners can run a thick pencil into it. Two pencil lines will be formed, and one line should be removed with the saw, L. The two pieces are held together for the marking of the second piece, O. A pair of holding brackets, M, is useful for this process; one will do for small work. The two pieces are held to the bracket with light G cramps.


A dovetail marking knife is essential for fine dovetails but is useful for all sizes, N. It is made from a piece of tool steel 4″-5″ (100 mm-125 mm) long by 1/2″ x 1/16″ (12 mm x 1.5 mm); a piece from a power hacksaw blade is very suitable. Both the little bevels are on the same side, giving a left-hand and a right-hand knife. In use, O, the flat side is held hard against the dovetail, and this tool will get into the most inaccessible corner where the marking awl or pencil never got in the past.


The holding bracket, M, has a further use when the front or rear corner is to be mitred to take a groove, rebate or moulding. The mitre is often, though not necessarily, at 45°. But if the pieces to be joined are not equal thicknesses, the angle cannot be 45°. What is important, however, is that the sum of the two angles should be 90°.


The remaining six diagrams, P-U, show how, when the pieces are held at 90°, both angles can be marked from the same edge, using a sliding bevel.

Meghan Bates

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