During the last 10 years, my students have gotten younger and younger each year. When I started teaching, most students were retired and well-off. These days, most of my students are younger than me – including many in their late teens and 20s.
Many of them make great sacrifices when it comes to taking classes in handwork. Most can barely afford the tuition. Many have young families to support. And a fair number are scraping by with poor tools.
I remember what that was like. I took my first woodworking class when I was 24, and the only way I could swing it was because the class was at a publicly funded university.
For 2015, I am teaching two classes – one in the United States and one in England – that are aimed at helping young adults get started in handwork. I have worked with two schools – the Marc Adams School of Woodworking and the New English Workshop – to produce a special (almost crazy) class for new woodworkers. I have slashed my teaching rate to almost nothing; and the schools have slashed the tuition. So these classes will be a small fraction of a normal one-week class. We are also arranging for accommodations that will be free or almost free – camping in some cases. And we are going to attempt to cook communally as a class to save money.
But the money and the “stinky hippie” part of the class is only a small part of the story. This will be a class that will begin when you register and commit to the week. We’re going to work with all of the students before class begins to help them build a basic tool kit made up of high-quality vintage tools that we will tune up during the class. After tuning up the tools, we’ll learn to use them to process stock (we are attempting to get the wood donated), and then we will build a simple and stout tool chest.
I call it the Tool Chest for New Anarchists. It will be nailed together much like a six-board chest, but is based on historical examples that have survived more than 200 years.
So when the class ends, you will have a chest that is full of sharp tools that you know how to use to make all the basic woodworking joints.
And you will likely need a shower. Or at least a delousing.
The class in England will be July 13-20, 2015. The Marc Adams class will be Sept. 28-Oct. 2, 2015. I’m telling you this now so you can get your ducks in a row. Ask for time off. Prepare an opportune disease. Or whatever it takes to allow you to attend. Registration for the class in England is already open and costs £95.00 for the whole week (go here for details and to register). I don’t have final details on the cost for the Marc Adams class yet.
I’ve posted the day-by-day activities below.
Note: You can be any age to take these classes, but be prepared for long days, odd smells and puerile behavior (mostly by me).
— Christopher Schwarz
Registration and Building your Tool Kit.
Once you are registered and have committed to the class, we’ll help you build an inexpensive tool kit before you arrive. Some of the tools will be vintage (we’ll help you find them). Some will be from the home center. All of them will be good enough to last you a lifetime without upgrading.
Day 1: Tool Restoration and Sharpening
We’ll fix up the vintage tools in your kit and sharpen everything using inexpensive sharpening media. By the end of the day your tools will be ready to work.
Day 2. Wood and Handwork
You need to know wood intimately in order to work it with hand tools. This day will be a crash course in understanding wood from a joiner’s perspective – stuff you will never find in books. At the end of the day we’ll use that knowledge to begin processing the rough stock for a tool chest.
Day 3. Basic Joints
We’ll begin building a tool chest using rabbets, dados and nails – when properly made these chests can last 200 years. You’ll learn about fasteners and how to use them properly. How to understand and use glue – it’s a complex topic. And you’ll learn to use a smoothing plane so you’ll never have to buy sandpaper if you don’t want to.
Day 4. Details and Finishes
We’ll add details to the tool chest using curves, bevels and mouldings – all made with simple hand tools. You’ll learn to install hinges and locks. And to apply a simple oil-varnish blend finish that we’ll make on-site. This beautiful finish requires no spray equipment or expensive brushes. Just a rag, a Mason jar and a paper bag.
Day 5. Advanced Joinery
We’ll begin cutting dovetails so you can have sliding tills in your chest. And we’ll cut a mortise-and-tenon joint to make you a wooden try square. At the end of the day, you’ll load up your razor-sharp tools into your finished tool chest and head back home ready to build almost any piece of basic casework.