Truly a beginner
Liz Grant was one of the 12 students on the Beginning Cabinet Making course in early December, fulfilling a long-held desire to work with wood.
They say it is never too late, but we all know ... sometimes it is. So when, early in 2010, I made up my mind that in December I would do the two-week course at the Centre, was it going to turn out to be a middle-age exercise in folly, or the exciting beginning of a long-held desire?
The answer is - I'm impatient to do a second course! Just browsing the website, or if you already know the work of furniture makers John Shaw, David Haig and Thorkild Hansen, you can immediately see that 'fine woodworking' is truly what the Centre is about. So for someone who had done almost no woodworking at all, I wondered if I had reached a little too high. Absolutely not. That was thanks to a number of things: the skill and patience of all those who tutored us; the really well-set-up facilities; and the kaupapa of the Centre, which John articulated at the start - this was not a race or a competition; it was about learning at your own pace.
Having said all that, the course was challenging. Day one I got to know one end of a plane from another (and learn from slightly painful experience that I should keep my fingers well away from the grindstone when sharpening the blade) but on day three I was still struggling to find the rhythm of using it; I was trying to hold in my head how to measure and mark up correctly; my chiselling on the practice joints was far from pretty; and I was yet to find a way to saw without fighting the wood. So by lunchtime on day three, a little despair had entered my soul. But sitting on the porch enjoying the Nelson sunshine I reminded myself of John's words - it's about learning at your own pace. And this was only day three...
And by the end of the two weeks I had made a small table that I feel good about. I have learnt so much and absolutely reinforced how much I like to work with wood. Why did I leave it so long? Those of us on the course reflected a huge variety of age and experience but furniture making presented challenges for us all. We were in it together, it was good fun, and enormously satisfying. Now all I need is my own workshop...
Performance & Pleasures
Letter from Peter Cozens
I was indeed extremely fortunate to carry out the 2011 CFW dovetailing course. I spent the first week trying hard to grasp the principles of the techniques involved. At first the challenge looked far too complicated for me to comprehend. I need not have worried. Thorkild and John‘s patience is almost infinite and I am extremely grateful to them for explaining the mysteries of these joints to me and so much more besides.
The key to successful dovetailing is in the marking out and following the tutors‘ tried and tested methods. Lo and behold, it works – no need to try and out–think these guys – they know it all. Furthermore they also know how to turn unplanned "design features" and errant blunders and misadventures into wholesome outcomes.
My project was to make a cabinet–maker‘s bench that sported dovetails in its construction. These dovetail joints are not out of sight as in a chest of drawers – they are on display all the time. Some of the joints were large – this means greater accuracy with marking out and chisel work – you cannot hide poor practice as these intersections of wood reveal all imperfections – well almost!
The support and tuition from Thorkild and John throughout the whole process was sublime. I have been fortunate to have been on all sorts of courses of instruction in my 65 years but never ever have I enjoyed such meticulous and encouraging tuition in any endeavour.
Each day at the Centre is one of significant advances in learning. The good humour of all people at the school adds to the enjoyment and brings out the best in one‘s creative talents. I look forward to the days when I return for more courses to improve my woodworking abilities and to enjoy the company of others as we all strive to become more accomplished wood gnomes.
So now I have a splendid guitar, built with my own hands...
From Tim Blackmore, who attended the acoustic guitar making course in 2012
Ninety nine times out of a hundred a handmade guitar will sound better than a factory built one. This is largely to do with warranties; a factory guitar has to be over-built and over–finished in order to survive the warranty period, thereby compromising sound quality. So, if you‘re eyeing up a Martin, just pause a moment, there is a much, much better way...
With proper tuition it is entirely possible for you to build a guitar that will put that Martin to shame. Over three weeks I and three other neophytes joined luthier Rob Bentley at The Centre for Fine Woodworking and had a thoroughly enjoyable time building our own steel string acoustic guitars, which were largely based on a Taylor Grand Concert. I wouldn’t claim that it was easy, in fact it was challenging, but I, for one, wouldn‘t want it any other way; we all learned so much on the course. Rob is an excellent tutor, always there with just the right bit of advice and able to demonstrate or talk you through any aspect of the process with ease.
So now I have a splendid guitar, built with my own hands, that gives me pride of ownership and joy of playing like no other could. To these ears (and others – I don‘t think they‘re just being kind) it sounds better than most factory guitars I‘ve played and I couldn‘t be happier. Do yourself a favour and book yourself a place on the course – It‘ll cost you less than the factory guitar and you’ll have a fantastic time into the bargain.