Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Woodworking Classes

The topic was "Sam Maloof style rockers" at last night's woodworking club meeting. Two people presented: one who had visited Sam's shop twice and had built one of his rocker's a decade ago, and another who had just returned from taking a class at Marc Adam's School of Woodworking.

Much time was spent discussing the joinery that is required for building these rockers. The rockers themselves are constructed with laminated strips of hardwood which are glued together and bent to position using a form. The arms are doweled to the legs and the legs are doweled to the rockers. The back spokes are rough-cut at the bandsaw and then finished with rasps and spokeshaves. The seat is built with 5 boards which are doweled together and shaped with 16 grit sandpaper. The legs are attached to the seat with tongue and groove joinery and can be glued, screwed and pegged or merely glued. The crest rail is joined with dowels or biscuits. The fluid lines that create the graceful shapes are both hard and soft edged, adding the distinctive look characteristic of Maloof rockers.

After the meeting, my friend who had just taken the rocker class filled me in on the daily activities, the famous woodworkers he had met, the 10-14 hour days, the camaraderie, the extreme focus, the great lunches prepared by Marc's wife, and Marc's generous and high energy nature.

Only recently has my friend started taking classes. For years he thought "What can they teach me that I can't learn in a book?" I think many of us believe the same or have trouble justifying the expense of classes and materials cost. That, combined with travel expenses and room & board, and the price really adds up.

I took my first woodworking class with David Finck about 8 years ago on handcut dovetails where each of us made a sliding lid box. I learned techniques from David that I had never read in books and magazines. It was obvious that working alongside and being taught directly by a master woodworker was the best experience a novice woodworker (at least for me) could have.

But there was more to it than that. Being around other woodworkers during intense, exhausting days creates a bond with fellow students and generates an atmosphere that I had never experienced before. You're hunched over your work in fierce concentration and often no one is talking—the sound of working wood is all you hear. You're encapsulated in a little world that's bound so tight, you forget about everything else—work, obligations, responsibility. It's heaven.

A class I took a few years ago on making a panel raiser plane was 4 grueling days of woodworking. On the last day as we were packing up, the men initiated a long, drawn out "take-care-it-was-great-to-meet you-hope-to-see-you-again hugfest." I couldn't believe it.

My friend can't wait to enroll in another class and I just signed up for one at Olde Mill Cabinet Shoppe. He brought back memories of woodworking class Nirvana and reminded me of an experience that's easily worth every penny.

20 comments:

Keith Cruickshank said...
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Keith Cruickshank said...

Hi Kari:

Your blog is new to me. I stumbled upon it when googling around and discovered that you are in PA. On the matter of woodworking classes, I'm largely self taught too, but I can certainly appreciate the benefits of studying with the masters. BTW, Very nice site and I'm delighted that you so ably represent the growing number of talented women who are interested in the craft.

As an aside - I was on the road last week filming at Hearne Hardwood and was wondering what part of the state you are in? Keith (www.woodtreks.com)

The Village Carpenter said...

Hi Keith, I'm a big fan of Hearne Hardwoods and will look forward to seeing your video. Your site is very professional.

I'm in Lemoyne, across the river from Harrisburg.

Woodbloke said...

Kari - the Maloof rockers are indeed very elegant pieces. Having seen a DVD of the man at work in his 'shop I can't say the same of his workshop practices with power tools and machinery...the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up at some of the antics he was getting up to and others this side of the pond who've seen the same DVD agree. His cavalier attitude to using a circular saw, bandsaw and router could in no way be construed as 'safe working practice'...I'm surprised he's lasted so long and managed to keep all his digits - Rob

The Village Carpenter said...

Rob, I heard about his woodworking practices last night at the meeting. Holding a piece of wood in mid air while you rout it and cutting a piece of wood on the bandsaw without letting it touch the table surface....definitely scary!

BTW, I got ahold of F&C/August and read your article--loved it!

Vic Hubbard said...

Kari,

I couldn't agree more that a class or classes with a master will raise your own work to a new level. I look forward to the day I can get to one of the schools here in the Northwest.
I got Maloof's DVD a couple months ago, and yes it's amazing what procedures he does with absolute confidence. I wonder if he would've been the master he is if he hadn't had the confidence to work the way he did. I look forward to the day I feel skilled enough to take on a chair or rocker.

Bill Stankus said...

General comment:

Sam knows exactly what he's doing... and he never said his practices are meant for others. Nor has he ever said, “Do as I do.”

He does not have a "cavalier attitude" - what he does is what he’s found to be best practice for his unique designs.

Don’t ask him, or other artist to comply to preconceptions of how things should be done.

I’ve seen and heard many proclaim their expertise. Sam, on the other hand, lives his life, developed his designs and delivered the goods. The World then found him.

Camaraderie has its place, as does instruction, but to be an artist and master craftsman group-think is not necessary.

steamdonkey said...

Kari, you must belong to one of the best woodworking clubs out there, and I couldn't agree more about the value of taking classes with other woodworkers. Your site is a great inspiration.

Jaime said...

The classes you described sound great.
I recently made myself an end table and it turned out quite well but I feel that I have much more to learn when it comes to woodworking.
The local college in my area offers woodworking classes for women but sadly each class is much more then I can presently afford at the time. Well over $200 (CAD) per class.
I guess I will just have to find myself a rich, generous husband.Grin.

Jaime said...
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The Village Carpenter said...

Steamdonkey, there are definitely some talented fellows in the club. We were floored by the finished rocker; it was just gorgeous.

Jaime, no matter how much you learn in woodworking, you can always learn more (and that's a GOOD thing!).
Best of luck with your quest for a rich & generous hubby. ; )

Woodbloke said...

Bill Wrote:"Sam knows exactly what he's doing... and he never said his practices are meant for others. Nor has he ever said, “Do as I do.”

He does not have a "cavalier attitude" - what he does is what he’s found to be best practice for his unique designs.

Don’t ask him, or other artist to comply to preconceptions of how things should be done.

I’ve seen and heard many proclaim their expertise. Sam, on the other hand, lives his life, developed his designs and delivered the goods. The World then found him.

Camaraderie has its place, as does instruction, but to be an artist and master craftsman group-think is not necessary."

Agreed, SM is a unique craftsman (as are we all) and we all do things our own way (how many different systems of sharpening and honing are out there?) but for someone of his stature to publish a DVD showing such blatantly atrocious workshop practices that others...and here's the rub, less experienced workers might want to emulate is just plain irresponsible, whichever way you slice it!

Kari - glad you found F&C and liked the article - Rob

Shazza said...

That's a beautiful chair!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY KARI!

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday wood workin' woman!
Just remember who started you off with your first ruler ( which you hurled at your brother) and started a great hobby and career.

Luv, Mom

Anonymous said...
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The Village Carpenter said...

Thanks Shazza!

Mom——it was a pen, not a ruler, and as I recall I missed my target. ; )

Brad Spencer said...

Kari, It's great to read your friends experiences at MASW. I feel very fortunate to live just 50 minutes from the school. I am taking a chair class there next month with Michael Fortune & I can't wait! As I've said many times, where else would people take a week off from work, work 10 to 14 hour days, then be bummed on Friday when it's all over? I feel Marc's school has taken my skill level to places I would have never reached on my own. I have also met some amazing instructors which I consider friends.
Kari, Thanks for all you do to promote the craft!

The Village Carpenter said...

Brad, you are a lucky man to live so close to the MASW. If I would just hit the lottery, I would become a full-time woodworking student. : )
Enjoy your class with Michael Fortune!

Regis said...

Kari, you make a very good point here. Classes are invaluable. I recently wrote an article for our Guild's June Newsletter (http://www.guildoforegonwoodworkers.com/Newsletters.aspx) with hopes of bringing other woodworkers into the classroom. Books are a great source, but a hands on class is 100 times better.

The Village Carpenter said...

Regis, thanks for the link. Sounds like you improved your handtool skills from taking that class. I'm with you on sawing to the line. I do that with dovetails and it goes so much faster when you trust your layout marks. Great job on the blanket chest!