For most of the course, we’ll be heavily focused on developing your skills using hand tools. As a developing woodworker, there is no substitute for putting in the hours of direct hands-on practice it takes to gain an intuitive understanding of wood. The early part of this course focuses on working with hand tools as we believe they bring you closer to wood as a material.  You can rip a board on a table saw with out much thought to the wood itself, but you will understand much more about grain if you rip a board with a hand saw.  As the course progresses, machine processes are introduced as a pragmatic aid in expediting projects.

On completion of this certificate program, you will exhibit up to 15 finished pieces in the gallery, present a written paper or presentation on your work and participate in a critique of your work. You will graduate with a set of self-made tools, fixtures, and storage units (not to mention the skills required to build them) that will serve and last you the rest of your life. You’ll be amply prepared to continue your woodworking education into specific trades such as architectural woodworking (finish work); custom door and window construction; solid-wood furniture and cabinetry; and boatbuilding. Over the course, we invite guest lecturers from the community to share their experience of becoming vocational woodworkers in these trades.

Topics this Semester will Include

Week 1: The Nature of Wood

  • Understanding how wood works: effects of working with and across the grain; of density and other fundamental characteristics.
  • How and why wood moves.
  • Selecting and dealing with figures.
  • Selecting and conditioning wood for various applications.

Weeks 2 and 3: Wood as a Design medium 

  • Introduction to designing wooden structures of beauty and integrity–from pre-industrial (geometry-based) to machine-oriented strategies.
  • Structural considerations of grain orientation
  • Selection, orientation and sizing of joints.
  • Strategies to accommodate wood movement
  • Choosing traditional glue and fasteners

Week 4: Material preparation

  • Sawing components to width and length with handsaws at a sawbench.
  • Construction and use of a bench hook and shooting board (for precision cutting and trimming at the workbench.
  • Surfacing and edging work with scrub and foreplanes
  • Truing faces and edges with try, jack and block planes.
  • Dimensioning with stationary machine tools. (Operation of the table saw, jointer, planer and band saw for material preparation will be covered in this course–though their use is optional on a per-student basis.)

Weeks 5 and 6: Design and Layout

  • Introduction to the design, construction, and use of the straightedge; try-square; marking gauge and winding sticks. Creation of story sticks, templates, components, and cutlists.
  • The layout of components on stock (for both efficiency and aesthetic considerations)

Weeks 7, 8, and 9: Joinery

  • Mortise and tenon joints
  • Layout and construction of frame and panel structures.
  • Making mortises with mortise chisels.
  • Making and conditioning riven pegs for draw-bored tenon joints.
  • Cutting out tenons with back saws.
  • Design and layout of rabbets, dadoes, and grooves
  • Shaping and fitting faces and shoulders of joints with firmer and paring chisels
  • Creating dadoes with a saw and chisel (also dado and router plane)
  • Design and layout of dovetails (through, blind, and multiple)
  • Installing fasteners and hardware.

Week 10: Smoothing and Finishing

  • Use of smoothing planes for final surfacing of components.
  • Use of “card” scrapers
  • Use of rasps, files and floats
  • Choosing and applying traditional finishes like shellac and Tung oil.
  • Safe practices for handling finishing rags.

Week 11: Handling Tools

  • Safety with Hand and Power Tool
  • Efficient and effective sharpening and maintenance strategies are taught and practiced for all the hand tools used in this course.
  • Caring for and restoring hand tools

Week 12: Exhibition


Course Duration and Hours – 12 weeks

Class hours are 9:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday with an hour break for lunch.  Students should expect to come in at 8:30 to practice and prepare for the day.
The workshop is fully available to students during class time Monday through Friday. After the first four weeks of the class, the workshop is available after hours and on weekends.

The School is fully equipped with sets of high-quality hand tools for each workbench. You do not need to bring tools to this course.

We recommend not buying tools prior to the class but suggest that you use the school’s tools and let that experience guide your purchasing decisions.

This class is open to novice woodworkers and to more experienced woodworkers who would like to broaden (or simplify) their approach to woodworking. What do we mean by novice? We think it means you are a person who has decided to commit to learning new skills; growing a passion for the craft of working with wood; and have a strong sense of the limitations of your own knowledge.

We prefer that you have some experience of woodworking before taking this class. If you have no woodworking experience – we’d like you to produce evidence of strong practical skills, problem-solving ability, and experience with handwork (we can do this in a phone call). We’re looking for the right attitude.

The Projects
The projects in this course follow a natural progression of skills, techniques, and tools. Some of the early student-made tools are, in fact, used to help make the next tool or bench fixture in the series. You are supported in the building of these projects with step-by-step outlines, knock-down examples, and continuing, one-on-one consultations with the faculty. Periodic evaluations of your progress with a specific faculty-mentor help keep you on track.

The description below is an outline of how the course will proceed.  We intentionally maintain a level of flexibility in our curriculum to adapt and respond to the needs of each group of students depending on aptitude.  Each project has a basic standard of completion as well as design opportunities for elaboration and exploration of more advanced techniques.   Our instructors will guide you through projects as are best suited for your ability level.

As time allows, classes may also get the opportunity to practice coopering, tool restoration, turning on a lathe, steam bending, carving, or toolmaking.

Shaping Legs with a Drawknife and Shave Horse
These layout tools and fixtures, mostly in hardwood, were traditionally made by the:

  • Straightedge
  • Winding sticks
  • Edge-planing stop
  • Bench hook/shoot board
  • Try-Square

Optional additional projects in this set: You may optionally also build a layout square; panel gauge; wood-bodied hand plane; and a chisel mallet from kits available for purchase from the school.

Recommended Reading

The New Traditional Woodworker  by Jim Tolpin

This is an introduction to handtools (and the projects in the class) that shares Jim’s thinking about the mindset needed to be a hand tool woodworker.  We will send you a copy when we confirm the class. If nothing else we recommend reading this book before the class.

The Anarchist’s Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz. This is is a provocative reflection on the minimal set of hand tools needed to make almost anything out of wood. It is also a paean to the ingenuity of traditional craftsmen and for the preservation of the hand tool.