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All Hands On Deck

Last Saturday Jeff and I wrapped up our first class as Co-Instructors at my shop here in Ozark, MO.

I admire the students for all their hard work during the class. I'm thankful they chose to spend the week with Jeff and me.

And, of course, I'll be forever grateful to Jeff for offering to share his expert knowledge with me as I get the Berea Ladderback Project off the ground.

The next class, in July, is sold out. But there's still one spot left in the September class. That one runs from the 17th through the 23rd.

Currently, the plan is for me to teach the September class solo. And last week I saw that keeping up with four students, even for a pair of instructors, was quite a challenge. So, to ensure I'm proving the best class experience possible, I've decided to limit the class size in September to two students.

Jeff and I will re-evaluate after our class in July. If it goes well, or Jeff decides to come back, I may add one or two spots.

So you should get on the waiting list if you miss your chance to book the last spot.


'Many Hands'

In last week's newsletter I discussed how the limited time frame of in-person classes creates a forcing function that pushes people to finish.

A reader, Jeremy, offered this thoughtful response...

"In an in-person class you can have all hands on deck to help someone move, online you don't have this 'many hands' approach."

It got me thinking about last week's class.

The experience levels of our students ranged from

"I've never even picked up a hand tool."


"I've made several chairs."

Regardless of everyone's skill level, Jeff and I both agree on the importance of starting each demonstration from first principles. This keeps us from glossing over an important aspect of each step in the process based on assumed knowledge. Everyone is safer and there are far fewer mistakes.

Our students let us know this is the right approach when we hear things like:

"I never knew that!"


"Oh, that's why you do it that way!"

So I don't think the more advanced students lost anything by having beginners in the class.

What about the less experienced students? They have a flood of information to take in, process, and output as physical work. Even if they grasp the concepts quickly, it's completely natural for them to take more time with each step.

I was happy to see, it didn't hold them back.

It was remarkable to watch them transform as the week progressed. Tentative and fearful cuts gave way to confident swipes of the drawknife. Their abilities grew exponentially in the brief span of days between shaping their practice legs and making the final parts.

But everyone's improving at the same time. So the new students always seem to be bringing up the rear. It has to be frustrating for them.

At a few places in the class, more than one student was gracious enough to let Jeff or me help them finish shaping a part.

I know they would have been able to complete it on their own. They had the skills. They only lacked the repetitions.

And we had a schedule to keep.

So maybe what seems like an advantage for in-person classes isn't that at all. At least not for everyone.

Those new students have, without a doubt, earned the title of "Chairmaker".

But would they agree?

Did we take something away from them simply because we needed them to work on a schedule we had set?

These are the questions I seek to answer as I develop my remote classes. And I'll be discussing them with the students from last week's class.

I'd love to hear what you think. You can reply to this message directly. Or you can leave the conversation open to other readers by hitting the comment link below.


This week's video is just under 2 minutes long.

It deals with a concept I had a little trouble explaining, at least at first, to last week's students. So the video provides a brief explanation from Jeff.

Shaping parts, by hand, from a rectangular block to a cylinder, comes down to the quality of your octagons.

Each of the eight facets should be:

Equal width - If they are inconsistent widths, the final shape will bulge toward the narrower facets and fall flat around the wider ones.

Straight from end to end (unless you're going for a taper)- If the facets vary in width down the length of the cylinder, you'll have random high and low spots in the final shape.

Flat across their width - Your facets may appear to be equal in width. But if they aren't flat, it's just like leaving them narrower than the facets on either side. You'll end up with bulging ridges along the length of your part. You can check this by putting a straight edge across each facet. It should touch across the full width from one arris to the other.

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1 Comment

Jun 03, 2023

I remember helping both of my kids build their 8th grade art projects (music stand & arcade cabinet) I spent a ton of time on them (elf style finishing the reps while they slept), but so did they, going WAY beyond the class requirements. Early on in making stuff, I‘m not sure it matters if you have help. It’s about catching the bug and beginning to see results. Sometimes it’s mental and physical stamina slowing them down. Later, there is flow and a sense of pride for some in doing it “all by myself” with increasing levels (jig, hand tools, felling trees) but beginners I think benefit from “finishing” in a class.

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