Into the Apprenticeship Program!

Photo courtesy David C.

Now that we’re running the Mortise & Tenon Apprenticeship Program once per year, each term is a pretty big deal. This time, we have more students than ever before working their way through the eight-week program, and it has been a blast. Joshua and I are always blown away by the thoughtful observations, humility, and camaraderie that are showcased when our students get to work.

Photo courtesy Michael G.

The Apprenticeship Program is now in its 5th term, a milestone hard to imagine when it first launched a few years ago. We’d been seriously missing in-person classes but at the same time recognized the shortcomings of those kinds of singular events. In short, you save up for a year, drop a bunch of cash for a slot in a class and a bunch more for lodging, food, and travel expenses (not to mention missed time at work), then go to use unfamiliar tools in someone else’s shop to learn novel techniques in a firehose of five days. After a whirlwind experience, you bring what you learned home to your basement workshop and try to translate it to your own shop practice. It doesn’t always work out. And what if you have more questions? What if your tools aren’t cutting as well as the ones you used at the school? How do you fix it?

Our goal was to combine the best of both worlds. Student connections, detailed instruction, plenty of practice, and the chance to use your own tools in your own space. We spent several months developing the course content, figuring out how on earth to implement the thing, then went live with it. We’re very pleased with how it’s worked out. (And the students seem to enjoy it too!)

                                                                                Photo courtesy Carly W.

Right now, we’re going into our second week of dovetails. The scary mystique of the joint has worn off, and everyone is starting to lay out and cut longer joints and half-blind dovetails. Practice is the key to mastery – mistakes are a necessary part of the process. Once you’ve cut the wrong side of the line or chopped past the baseline a few times, you’re far less likely to do it again. The flexibility of this course means that students can, if they want, take their practice joints and make boxes out of them, or tables, or even pipe boxes, for extra credit. It’s called the “Journeyman Challenge,” and quite a few are taking the challenge this time around.

Photo courtesy Ben I.

Photo courtesy Dave M.

In a couple weeks, we’ll be diving into what might be my favorite part of the course – Greenwood Week. Students are sourcing a small tree that they will be cutting down with an axe and saw, bucking, riving, and dimensioning the stock into materials for further projects (as well as a few other fun tasks). It is always an exciting time, with videos of successful tree fellings going up on the forum regularly. It’s hard to exaggerate just how awesome all this is.

                                                                              Photo courtesy Carly W.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out There, you can sign up for the email list to be the first to know when next year’s term registration opens. It’s sure to be a good time.



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