Friendships and Skills to Last

Photo: Xueguang Lyu

Congratulations and thank you to the Mortise & Tenon Apprenticeship Program Spring Term graduates! Congratulations on persevering and meeting the challenges of the 8-week online course, learning to use hand tools to prepare stock and cut the joinery used in practically all pre-industrial (and contemporary) furniture. Thank you for such excellent participation in completing the weekly assignments, engaging in the forums, and presenting questions for Joshua and Mike to address in Office Hours. Building upon the first four weeks of the program where we learned to sharpen all our tools, prepare stock, cut mortise and tenon joints, and through dovetails, we went to on learn half-blind dovetails and rabbets and dadoes, tree felling, splitting, riving, and carving green wood, and mixing and applying shellac and milk paint. Wait, back up. Nails, too. We learned new things about using glue and nails. The “Quote of the Week” in Week 6 has to go to Mark: “Driving those nails in was cathartic!” In a nutshell, they’ve now learned the skills they need to make just about any piece of furniture they set their minds to. 

Photo: Xueguang Lyu

This was a great cohort. Just as in the first half of this term, the work performed by these Apprentices was impressive, not only in quantity, but in quality. Homework assignments were taken seriously, and the proof is in the results. There was a lot of shared camaraderie, which is always helpful to keep folks engaged when other parts of life tug at us. Joe started something we’ll look to continue in future classes: “Share Your Space.” Several folks followed and gave us short video tours of their happy places. It was nice to see and feel the vibes not only of the generously spaced, well-equipped workshops, but also the small, smartly organized and highly functional work areas students have set up in their one-car garages and back rooms. After all, this is hand-tool woodworking at its finest, with minimal tools and maximum skill development, all at a flexible pace. Jesse’s tree felling video, “The Fall of Fraxinus,” during Week 7 Green Woodworking was an epic production (by “Journeyman Productions”) made for Hollywood. It was a perfect felling, with a beautifully executed hinge. Let’s also remember that the word “boom” means “tree” in Dutch (Thanks, Paul!). We had some firsts this time around – Christine was having fun painting her foxes. And Brendan’s was the first bowling pin mallet we’d seen – who knew bowling pins are solid maple under that plastic coating! Then there was Joe measuring his shavings production in Week 2 Stock Prep with a 50-gallon storage container, which was hilarious. 

Photo: Nathan McElligott
I hope all the graduates take these freshly learned and honed skills and continue making. It’s obvious that many folks are raring to go. For instance, Joseph is already studying with a maker’s eye the details of Jonathan Fisher’s c.1800 furniture as replicated by Joshua in Hands Employed Aright. Those who participated in the Journeyman Challenge, and that was quite a few, are already enjoying and sharing 100% handmade furniture created during the program. It would take another blog post to mention all the lovely pieces these Apprentices pumped out, so I’ll just pick straws and name some: there were some really top-notch staked benches, like Paul’s piano bench, Joe’s live-edge walnut bench, and Bruce’s staked bench/shave horse; bookshelves, like Nathan’s, modeled after a Japanese Shinto shrine, Robert’s small benchtop shelf, and Joseph’s bookcase for his daughter’s room; and tables, like DJ’s artist work table for his wife,  Nicholas’ attractively finished table made mostly from a reclaimed church pew, and Alain’s gorgeous spruce and fir table. All the builds are very inspiring, showing us what’s possible with the right focus on hand tool skills development. There’s also a lot of excitement about building our own wooden planes when this term ends, and some have even started theirs, following the launch of M&T Issue 12 containing Joshua’s detailed instructions on making a fore plane from scratch. 

Photo: DJ Edmonson

To all the graduates I say, gift your creations, share your journeys, cultivate craft among family and friends, and spread the word on just how accessible and addicting hand-tool woodworking is. We look forward to seeing you (literally, shhh!) in the Alumni ranks where we’ll be “Joined in Work,” building furniture and friendships to last. 

-Joaquim Camillo, Apprenticeship TA


P.S. If you have been waiting to sign up for this program, make a note that we are opening registration for the summer term next Friday, May 6th. It’s a first come, first served deal. Be ready.


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