Last Week of Apprenticeship Term Two


Whoa. Term Two of the M&T Apprenticeship Program has really flown by. Let me first congratulate the apprentices on all they’ve accomplished over the past eight weeks and welcome them to alumni status. The first term alumni anxiously await their participation as we build a community comprised of woodworkers from all over the U.S. and beyond.

Image Courtesy: Matt Mathews

Even before this term had begun, it was apparent that folks had been lining up – ready with wooden planes and vintage saws to restore and use. It’s so inspiring to watch women and men from all walks of life sharing their interest and desire to learn hand-tool woodworking as it was done a couple hundred years ago (and continues to be done) with only a relatively small kit and without machinery. I’ve enjoyed being part of their first steps in the craft hopefully leading to a lifetime of making. 

The group got off to a fast start taking Week 1: Sharpening head on. The week was highlighted by reports of folks ditching their sharpening jigs after discovering just how learnable free-hand sharpening can be. One student got so excited that sharpening finally clicked for him that he shaved all the hair off of his left hand. Oops. There were also a number of “Eureka!” moments when folks put cambers on their irons for the first time and watched the thickness of their boards shrink. And Maya, disregarding a freshly cut finger after sharpening her irons for the first time ever, watched her frustrations melt away with the first few paper-thin shavings from her practice board.

Bob pulled through Week 2: Stock Preparation alive and well, thankful for what he learned from the adventure, which he hilariously dubbed, “Week 2: Stock Enslavement.” Yes, we know it’s a lot of work. Joshua aptly noted that this week is a more useful form of Cross-Fit, so no need for anyone to hit the gym. But I think another student, Mike, summed it up best: “This was a lot of work. A lot of shavings. A lot of sweat. A bunch of swearing. A lot of talking myself back off the ledge. But in the end, I am proud of the results.” 

Image Courtesy: Artem Yankov

Weeks 3-6 of the Apprenticeship teach five joints and afford lots of time to practice. And boy did they practice. Seth was so motivated after making his first ever mortise-and-tenon joint, that he declared his readiness to “make some tables!” Deborah admitted that she’d previously struggled with cutting and getting a good fit on a tenon, but this time, having a well-thought-out process to follow resulted in a better joint. Artem felt similarly, noting that having Joshua’s book Joined open on his bench made for easy reference when learning these joints – this was a common report from the program.

Image Courtesy: Thomas Kolleck

And there must have been a pick-up-truck-sized load of dovetail joints produced in Weeks 4 and 5. As the Apprentices shared their completed dovetail homework, it was amazing to see such successes across the board, especially since so many of these folks were making dovetails for the very first time. It was tangible proof of just how effective this program is, which I’d have to say is a large part of why it’s such a pleasure to be part of it: it’s accessible, inexpensive, and really effective. If you’re mindful in following the multi-formatted tutorials (videos and readings) and apply yourself to do the work, you’ll have excellent results. Thomas is just one example of enthusiasm in cutting dovetails. He put eight tails on a 10" board. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, Cass’ 24" Salvador Dali drunken dovetail tower earned the “most artistic” award!

By Week 6, everyone’s got a few important woodworking joints under their belts and the Journeyman Challenge projects really start flowing in: staked benches, dovetail boxes and drawers, tables, and more. There were some really nice projects executed throughout the term, all useful items. After learning two more joints in Week 6: Rabbets & Dadoes, the Apprentices have been armed with the skills they need to “build for ever.” Ken’s bookcase was a hit, as were Herb’s elegant dovetail box and Cory’s staked bench built from lumber rescued from a construction site dumpster.

Image Courtesy: Deborah Pessoa

And, of course, no apprenticeship based on pre-industrial furniture making practices could be complete without a thorough introduction to green woodworking. Michael Updegraff (I recently heard he has a nickname, but I’m hesitant to share that unconfirmed scoop) in Week 7: Green Woodworking takes the Apprentices into the forest for lessons in felling, riving, processing, and carving green wood. This is the time in the program when Apprentices start posting their videos of “Timber!” (or “Wheeee!”) moments, and this class did not disappoint. Matt overfulfilled his duties and chopped down two trees despite an outdoor temperature of 25 degrees F. He felled both in about 10 minutes, far less time, he reasoned, than it would have taken to gather his safety gear and chainsaw. Valid point. And once the trees were down, the coursework forum was overrun by wonderful carved foxes: from Cory’s skulk of Chernobyl foxes to several naturally colored ‘red’ (ahem) foxes. A lot of boards were processed from trees of all sorts of species including oak, ash, maple, beech, pine, which many of the Apprentices already have plans for. Dakota processed a premium poplar board, the likes of which you see in the big box stores for $100/bd ft. It was a fun week .

The term concludes this week with (appropriately) the ins and outs of finishing with milk paint and shellac. I second Joshua and Mike’s expressed hope that the graduates take advantage of the Alumni Forum to stay connected with fellow apprentices, meet alumni from other terms, share each other’s journeys, participate in Alumni Challenges, and meet up someday at a gathering to bring these new friendships, grounded in our shared interest in craft, to the next level. 

If this kind of program sounds up your alley, make yourself a note that registration for the next term of the Apprenticeship Program opens next Friday, February 4th. That term runs from March 7th to April 29th. Can’t wait to see you there.

-Joaquim Camillo, TA for the M&T Apprenticeship Program


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