A Pre-industrial Woodworking Immersion


Some woodworking classes are project-based while others focus on building skills. Though we do plan to send each student home with a completed item, the emphasis in our 2019 summer workshop will be development of broad competence. Our goal is to deepen understanding of pre-industrial woodworking through hands-on experimentation in the shop.

This could be compared to language immersion.

Immersion in a foreign country teaches you practical, on-the-ground linguistic skills in a way that technical book learning never can. This is because a large percentage of communication is nonverbal and culture-specific (facial expressions, gestures, postures, tone of voice, etc.), and developing this kind of tacit knowledge is essential for full comprehension. Contrast this with the awkward, rigid speech from many non-native speakers and you’ll often detect traces of a decontextualized education. They’ve got the words, but they lack the fluency.

Mike and I are striving to make this workshop as immersive as possible in the foreign country that is pre-industrial woodworking. Though neither of us are native-speakers ourselves, the voices from the past still resound in the objects they made, the tools they used, and the documentation they left behind. These are what we hope to share with our students.

Though 21st-century machine-based woodworking shares much of the same vocabulary with the past, anyone acquainted with these ancient ways will tell you this is foreign territory. Beyond the obvious difference in tooling, we’ve found the methods and mindset are the most alien.

Too many hand-tool woodworkers today view themselves as machines – weaker and slower machines. They still approach projects from a Sketch-up, four-square-sides, and jig-engineered mentality as if they were designing the workflow of a factory floor. Counter to this Tayloristic approach, though, many woodworkers today have decided that they are not merely biological machines, and they long to work with their own two hands.

We’ve designed this workshop for them.

Learning the efficiencies of pre-industrial craftsmanship not only liberates 21st-century shop practice, but it renews a sense of joy in manual labor. Mike and I have been calling this approach “humane” work in the original sense of “having qualities befitting human beings.” We believe this fascination with the human-powered, human-guided process is the driving force behind today’s hand-tool “renaissance” – and it’s also the driving force behind this summer’s workshop.

So, what project will our students be making this June? Well, that’s up to them.

Though everyone will be working toward a completed item, it might look different for each individual student. We will collaboratively determine beforehand a project best suited to maximize his or her personal growth. Think of this workshop as an “open shop” session. To cater to the individuality of each student’s needs, we are capping the student to teacher ratio at 3:1.

This workshop is, at the end of the day, about people growing in self-confidence, independence, and joyful appreciation of life in the natural world. And, above all, we want this experience to make a lasting impact on lives. Communal bench work, shared meals, and conversations around the campfire are always rich and meaningful blessings, and Mike and I can’t think of any better way to spend a week.

These are the experiences money can’t buy.

- Joshua