We are in the middle of prepping hundreds of parts for a July 11-15 stick chair class in partnership with The Chairmaker’s Toolbox, and I am setting aside my aversion to plastic for this one moment.
As Megan Fitzpatrick and I prepare the parts – straightening the grain, octagonalizing the bits and sometimes tapering them, I sort through them. I group the parts by color and grain. And I wrap each bundle of parts into packets with a minimal amount of stretch-wrap plastic.
There are packets of legs, short sticks, long sticks and stretchers. When all the stock prep is over, I’ll group all the packets into 10 chair kits that are matched for color and grain.
It takes a lot of extra work, but I do this for two reasons. One, it makes for better chairs. Two, even the nicest people in the world become total dork-holes when it comes to picking parts willy-nilly from a big communal pile of parts during a woodworking class.
Inevitably, one or two people end up with all the exceptional boards. And the slow students, who need all the help they can get, end up with the dregs.
To combat this problem, I started picking and grouping wood for students years ago to avoid this “Lord of the Firs” approach to distributing parts. And I have stuck to this philosophy to this day.
Why am I telling you this? If you ever find yourself facing a pile of parts in a classroom, please be kind. Don’t be a hoggy-dog and take all the best parts for yourself. Someone is watching. And they are judging you.
If you are taking a woodworking class this summer, here’s a little tip that might make you feel better about your performance during the class.
If you follow a lot of instructors, schools on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (like I do), you’ll see a lot of posts that exclaim, “These students are KILLING it.” Or “These students are amazing! Hardworking! Insanely Talented! Oblong!”
I’ve taken enough classes and taught enough classes to tell you that this piffle is either:
- Unconditional positive regard (that is undeserved).
- Marketing for the school/instructor.
Woodworking in a classroom environment is both tense and fun. In my experience, everyone struggles a bit – that’s what happens when you learn stuff. There are always failures in a class – a mis-cut, a broken part, a brain fart.
If you struggle in woodworking classes (I sure do, both as a student and an instructor), then you are perfectly normal. All those social media posts are just the gauzy, filtered unreality that clogs our phones and likely contributes to a lot of self-esteem problems.
Bottom line: If you make it through a class without locking yourself in the bathroom while sobbing, throwing your tools against the wall, or making a through-mortise in your hand, then you have succeeded. (All these things have happened in classes.)
But I will say in all honesty that every student in my classes has indeed KILLED IT (as long as “it” is a tree).
— Christopher Schwarz