Friday, February 1, 2013

Back at it!

Good afternoon from Lohr's School of Woodworking! I apologize for my absence but, I hope that a lengthy new post about the most recent class at the shop will encourage you to look past my neglect.

First, as a Florida girl, I must begin this post with a photo and accompanying exclamation, "It snowed!" Not much but, there were snowflakes and they made the ground white and that's all I can really ask for. While the shop looked regal (if an inanimate object can own that adjective) from the outside, I was pleased to light the fire stove inside and dive into another Practical Woodworking class, this time from the perspective of an employee/teacher.

Those of you that have read my blog since the start will know that I started my apprenticeship at Lohr's School of Woodworking about two months ago and my 'training' was to take the week-long Practical Woodworking course that is offered here at the shop. Refer to my earlier posts for detailed accounts of the lessons and skills I learned during that week. On Friday last week, we started in on another class. This time, I am writing to you through the eyes of a teacher/instructor/novice woodworker.

As all Practical Woodworking courses begin here at the Lohr woodshop, the class takes a tour of the house/showroom. I have seen the furniture and interior of this house for months now and it still leaves me in awe. All the pieces are just so stunning that they can't be done justice in photographs. As per usual, the live edge dining table is a fan favorite because it is so uniquely beautiful. But, every piece of furniture, as well as the house itself, was build by the man himself and it's work that will never be matched any other. He takes the time to explain how each piece is constructed and why. Whether or not you are a new-comer to the woodworking world or just here to tack on some additional knowledge to a field you already know, his explanations are logical and clear enough that the design and building blocks of these pieces begin to make sense. No worries though, even if the terms he uses sound like a foreign language on the morning of day 1, that will quickly change throughout the course.

Here is some detail of the live edge dining table I wanted to share with readers. As you can see, he used bones to hold together fragmenting pieces of the live edge; you can find these bones in a number of Lohr pieces as he uses them to repair natural splits and checks in a beautifully simple-looking way. He and Rob will tell you that filling those negative spaces with the clear substance you see here was more than a slight pain in the side. But, honestly, what I would do to sit down at a dining room table and admire this detail next to my plate every night.

And then, class was in session. As a certified math teacher, I have observed a few fellow teachers in my day in order to learn new techniques and admire a seasoned teacher's organization and strategies. Jeff spent a fair number of years teaching high school wood shop so as I observe the class I just took last month, I notice a whole new world of teacher techniques and information being used to educate a room full of varying skill levels. I must commend Jeff on his ability to teach a course to 11 students with entirely different woodworking backgrounds by covering every detail between the way trees begin their lives right up until we are faced with the stacks of their parts at the lumber mill. Day 1 is always incredibly tiring just because of the sheer amount of [new] information the students receive but, no where else are you going to get this kind of expertise eagerly passed on to you by a master. A large wooden sign hung high in the shop reads, "All things will be revealed" and, boy, is it the truth.
At the end of the first day, the students got their three boards. Here Kristen poses with her rough cut FAS oak boards. Through the eyes of a teacher/woodworker here, I now smile at this point in the first day because I know how terrifyingly intimidating looking at these rough boards can be. I was there so recently. I didn't even know where to begin. But, have no fear students of the present and future, we are here to ease your worries. We allow students to take their new plethora of wood knowledge to sight the boards, study their grain patterns, and consider their lengths/widths/heights. There are 4 to 5 instructors eager to help you decide which boards are best for each part of your soon-to-be table. I can promise you will sleep soundly the night to follow day 1 knowing that you just expanded your mental hard drive threefold and the following day you get to use some power tools to go to town on the boards you now call your own.

Day 2 means learning to use table saws, jointers, planers, and radial arm saws. We know that using power tools is exciting, terrifying, comfortable, confusing, and second nature depending on the student. I'd say that on day 1 of the course, I was experiencing the first, second, and fourth emotions in a big way. Because woodworking is still a new world for me, I was always ready to ease the nerves of the newcomers while Rob, Jeff, and Suzanne were ready to do the same while also giving the go-ahead to the more experienced students.

Here, Mike and Catherine are conquering the table saw and the jointer respectively. The shop is full of tools so students can work simultaneously on different tasks. Each day, they are taught several lessons/demonstrations that they will be responsible for completing before the end of the day. Students share the massive shop to tackle each task of the day one at a time a their own pace.

The beauty of this course is that, for the most part, it can be done at the individuals chosen pace. Certain tasks need to be completed by the close of each day but, it is designed so that each student can take each task at their own speed with the close assistance of one of us if desired. As I mentioned, there is a lesson/demonstration to preface each task and a teacher ready to walk you through it when it comes time for you to jump into the hands-on. You will almost always walk into a room of busy workers on any day of class. Because of that, as a student, you are always surrounded by peers and teachers ready to figure things out with you. Students definitely get their monies worth of hands-on experience. Here is Mindy, a fellow woodworking newcomer, ripping her legs from her rough board. The hand placement and the need to keep her eye on the fence were demonstrated in the lesson beforehand and now she is nailing it on her own!

Amongst the power tool-ing in day 2, students are also given their chance to get their hands sticky with glue. Here Rob is giving the formal lesson on how to glue up table legs. Joie the shop dog doesn't seem too interested in the glue lesson but, everyone else gets to see a pro tackle a task they will be left to tackle themselves shorty. We have a glue table that is fully equipped for clamping and gluing of any sort. Although I have heard these lessons before and performed these tasks on my own several times over in the past couple months, I find myself listening intently regardless. It's so hard not to pay close attention to these masters of the craft. Because they are so comfortable and knowledgeable, my brain is telling me to absorb everything I can so that I can make it seem so easy and effortless when I am left to teach it in the coming classes.
After the glue on the legs have dried, students are quickly on to jointing and planing the legs down to be perfectly square. This task is not the easiest of those you will learn here during the course but, it is one that is of great importance. This is one lesson I can probably never see too many times. Throughout the course students learn the importance of labeling and marking the pieces as you move along in order to keep track of measurements, orientation, placement, etc. Labeling with chalk is a necessity when it comes to squaring anything on the jointer/planer/table saw. And, as you can see here, Ron and Brian exhibit how crucial teamwork can be in the course. I can assure you that you will walk away from the shop at the end of the week with a few new friends and an incredible amount of new information along with a hall table and probably the need for a nap.

Day 3 begins student's new appreciation for jigs. I have dubbed this shop as a place of jig geniuses because their incredible logic and problem-solving give birth to jigs that I can't even begin to fathom yet. Here Rob is demonstrating for the class how to use the sled jig for the plunge router used to level out one side of a large piece of wood, in this case the table top. Some pieces of wood will be too big to fit through the planer without ripping it into pieces and gluing it back together. Naturally, Rob and Jeff have created a solution in the form of this jig.
The end of day 3 brings us to the mortise jig. What a feat of problem-solving engineering this creation is. And, this was my first go at teaching woodworking. Jeff gives students the breakdown of how the jig works and anything/everything about the mortises. With the help of the plunge router, some pre-drawn squiggles, a wedge, and the fancy jig, I was left to walk students through cutting mortises into their table legs. 44 legs, 88 mortises, and 11 students later, I am ready and eager to teach as many lessons as they will trust me with!

I shall cease my wordiness and bid you all a fine evening. Expect regular entries in the future. After this course ends, I will fill the working weeks with small bits of woodworking tips, my slowly strengthening vocab, photos, student profiles, and soon enough, the steps towards my own original creations! Happy Friday!

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