Update on Term Three of the Apprenticeship Program

The Mortise & Tenon Apprenticeship Program's Spring Term is sailing along and just might finish before spring weather actually arrives. As we pass the halfway point, the Apprentices have mounted numerous personal successes, from free-hand sharpening of their plane irons and chisels to resuscitating antique hand planes to employing these tools of the trade to create traditional handmade joinery worthy of the finest pre-industrial furniture. They're gaining the proper experience in efficient workholding, marking, and layout, body positioning for optimal tool engagement, mindfulness in employing hand tools, reading stock, and resharpening when necessary. The group dynamic is lively and encouraging as everyone tackles and posts their weekly assignments and many get started on Journeyman Challenge projects. Already we've seen lots of plane restorations, and a number of staked benches, spoons, and dovetailed boxes.

Image courtesy: Alain G.

Now is about the time in the program, with mortise and tenon joints and dovetails under their belts, that Apprentices start pumping out bookshelves, drawers, and tables within the course of doing practice joinery. I find a lot of inspiration watching these folks come along, many sharpening and making these joints for the very first time, and they're all doing fantastic work. The program M&T has put together really works well for getting people rolling in handtool woodworking and actually making things.

This term has Apprentices again hailing from all over the U.S. as well as Scandinavia and Europe. Christine, from Norway, introduced herself as a typical middle-aged woodworker – but female – mainly experienced in green woodworking. She's working a job, raising four children, and doing great in the program at the same time. Alain lives in an 1800s historic home in a small town in Switzerland. His wife graciously gave up her living room for Alain to use as a shop for the program. (I bet she'll enjoy that beautiful table he's working on). And we also have Paul from the Netherlands, working from a gorgeous garden shed, who was inspired to study real woodworking after a contractor remodeled his attic with MDF. Yikes!

Image courtesy: Paul B.

The students have really taken advantage of the tri-weekly Office Hours to ask questions. Joshua and Mike's Office Hours videos not only answer all outstanding questions but frequently include tool and work-method demonstrations at the bench, clarifying what the written word misses; and these videos, along with all the multi-format lessons, are available to the students for the duration of the course. Apprentices are also encouraged to share their experiences in response to fellow student questions. The program was developed with this group dynamic in mind – it's a force multiplier in teaching and learning. Some go much further, presenting some really fine research. Xueguang, an AI researcher from China currently studying in Boston, sensed he was missing something when hand sawing 8' of 2" stock with his framesaw. He studied photos and videos of woodworkers worldwide until he uncovered a video of an old Chinese master carpenter demonstrating a very efficient technique, and Xueguang shared all of this research with us. Paul, inspired by M&T's video on sourcing natural stone for tool sharpening, unearthed and shared a staggering amount of information on natural grinding and honing stones Europeans have used to sharpen their tools for hundreds of years. And a short while later, while researching spoon carving for a Journeyman Challenge, Alain uncovered and shared a mind-boggling video of Moroccan craftsmen wielding spoon adzes and hook knives with miraculous speed and accuracy.

Image courtesy: Guy E. 

Four more weeks and these folks will be invited to join the Alumni ranks. Speaking of whom, the Alumni have been sharing some pretty neat work since graduating the program. Brian just built an honest replica of a child's chair from a picture book on early New England furniture, which Mike reviewed during Office Hours last term. Christina showed us a stunning knock-down desk she designed and created with some beautiful curly cherry. John made a nice traditional small table for a fund-raising auction. Ken made a marvelous shaker-style sewing cabinet. Then there's Benjamin's chair-maker's bench. And speaking of chair making, Herb followed the Apprenticeship with a week-long Chris Schwarz chairmaking class and produced a wonderful stick chair. There are other pieces I wish I had room to mention, but let me just say, we've got this Guy out in Halifax, U.K., who's been really inspiring with his inventions and designs ranging from fine art (a wild steam-bent lamp table) to the practical and functional (a completely unique multi-component traveling workstation). Our Alumni forum is a great place to visit, contribute, and see the enthusiastic work our fellow graduates are creating. And there's only one way to get there. Registration for the Apprenticeship Program Summer Term opens May 6th.


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