The Sunshine School: The Florida School of Woodwork

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I just finished up teaching seven days of classes at the Florida School of Woodwork in Tampa, Fla., an urban school in a rapidly gentrifying area of the city that has an excellent facility and an enthusiastic, knowledgeable and hard-working owner, Kate Swann.

The Florida School of Woodwork is officially about two years old, though Kate ran her professional furniture-making business there for many years along with Carl Johnson.

I’ve always thought that Florida – with 21 million residents – didn’t have its fair share of woodworking schools. Lost Art Press has thousands of customers in the state, and the blog receives significant traffic from the Sunshine State. We also get a lot of questions from beginning woodworkers in Florida who ask: Where should I go for instruction and community?

Now they have an answer.

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The school is located in a renovated motor-winding plant just north of downtown Tampa and near the new and bustling Armature Works and blocks and blocks of renovated Craftsman bungalows.

The front bench room and machine room is illuminated by enormous storefront windows. Each student works at a Benchcrafted workbench and with a wall-mounted kit of hand tools. The machines are well-maintained and safe (SawStops). There’s a nice break room, an overflow machine room at the back and a covered area to eat your lunch back by the local meadery. Oh and the floor of the shop is a sprung wooden floor – it’s great for your back and knees.

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And there’s Kate. Affable and hand-working, Kate spent the seven days making sure the students had everything they needed, built jigs for my class, greeted the curious who stopped by and kept each day running smoothly.

Also impressive is the programming. The classes run the gamut, from a one-day class where you turn your first cup to multi-week advanced seminars with Michael Fortune. Project classes span a wide variety of styles, from period pieces to Arts & Crafts, Mid-century Modern to pieces with a serious artistic bent.

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About half of my 10 students were from Florida, with the rest from states as far as Iowa and Texas. Many out-of-staters brought their families – February in Florida is about as nice as it gets. Also interesting – many of the students were repeat customers, which is remarkable for a young school.

I’ll be returning to the Florida School of Woodwork to teach in 2022 (my 2021 is already overbooked). But don’t wait for me. Check out the complete list of upcoming classes here. Florida finally has the woodworking school it has long deserved.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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15 Responses to The Sunshine School: The Florida School of Woodwork

  1. Dublin says:

    That’s great to hear. As a Florida woodworker I often felt that we just didn’t have access to the materials instructions etc. as the rest of the nation (oh poor us!). I probably never would’ve known about this place had you not written about it. Will definitely be checking it out in the future.
    See you there in 2022! I try to take a February class to teach!

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  2. Todd Henry says:

    Thanks Chris. As a relatively new FL resident It’s good to hear / read about this. I will definitely look at taking a class there (and wish I’d signed up for the toolbox class when I had the chance – next time).

    One thing I’ve found about FL is a dearth of good lumber sources. I’m still trying to find some reasonable options.

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    • hgordon4 says:

      Todd, I don’t know what part of the state you’re in… Here in the greater Tampa area, a few good choices I use are Craftsmen Supply in Ybor City, Hardwood Lumber & Millwork in Lakeland, and Intercity Lumber east of Tampa off I-75.

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  3. @TheRainford says:

    A friend of mine, Jack, recently retired down to the Tampa area and found the school in his travels and while you were teaching. Looks like a great place.
    I still dream of starting my own NBSS-like commune/co-op/school and getting back to teaching more but for now I need to keep working towards that dream as I have a lot of things and life events to get through in the meantime. (finish book, kids school etc) but its on the list. 🙂 I hope all is well in the sunshine state.

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  4. holtdoa says:

    Always good to hear of new woodworking schools, but I could really use a motor winding plant .

    Liked by 2 people

  5. oltexasboy says:

    Chris ; Do you know or have you heard of a woodworking school in Texas. Since Paul Sellers left and went back to England, There doesn’t appear to be a good school in the entire state, other tham Frank Strauss in Waco. I have done a bit of research and have not been able to locate anyone that does handtool classes in my state. I find that hard to believe but there is only 1 woodworkers club in Houston also, and it is geared towards turners not woodworkers as such. I find it astounding that with as many people as I know that do woodwork that this is true. Maybe I am just not looking in the right spot. Any help you or your readers can provide will be greatly appreciated.
    ps I’m too old to drive to Florida
    Thanks

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  6. Bill Richards says:

    Luckily I live in the Tampa Bay area and have the opportunity to take 4 classes at the Florida School of Woodwork. Most of the instructors are contributors to Fine Woodworking Magazine and are great instructors. Kate is a awesome host and there are great shop 🐕.

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  7. Matthew Holbrook says:

    Chis Schwarz”s Welsh Stick chair making class at the Florida School of Woodwork just this past week ( February 17 – 21, 2020 ) was excellent. I am very thankful to have learned of the School and to have participated in Chris’ class. For those new and continuing woodworkers who live in southeast Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Hollywood) the school is a easy 4-Hour Drive up I 75. I highly recommend it.

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    • Richard Deavers says:

      One of the weekend students here. Meeting Chris, of course, was “32 flavors and then some” but as Serendipity would have it meeting Kate was equally wonderful. She’s created a very welcoming atmosphere where woodworkers of all kinds can gather and learn. I can’t wait to see the popularity of this school grow. Keep up the good work Kate and thanks again Chris! (.5 mm)

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  8. Matt Murrell says:

    I also was a student here over the past weekend. I met Chris, which checked an item off the proverbial bucket list. (And, I think I obeyed my wife’s instructions to not be a bumbling fan-boy…)
    As Richard points out, meeting Kate was absolutely wonderful. She is very gracious, pleasant and accommodating. She has created a fun and welcoming atmosphere and teaching facility. Her attention to detail is phenomenal, including raising the shop floor so that one is standing on a forgiving wood floor, instead of concrete. I do not believe I sat for the entire 2-days. I need to also mention her assistant instructor for the weekend, Horace. Horace noticed that one of my personal tools was not setup properly. After his examination, he explained the issue and showed me how to resolve it. As I reside only 1.5 – 2 hours away, attending further classes is a no-brainer, just that “time-work-space-continuum” thing to work out. Thank you Kate! Thank you Horace! And, of course, thank you Chris! (baby box)

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  9. Matt Petersen says:

    Dumb question … what is a ‘sprung floor’ and how does one construct one?

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  10. Tom says:

    Last time I was in Tampa visiting my daughter, I heard about your shop via a local sculptor. How wonderful! My wood working is for puppets I use for stop motion animation. I can’t wait to stop in next time. Bravo!

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