During the first three weeks of the Nine-month Comprehensive, students hone their skills with hand tools like chisels, planes, and marking gauges. After a bit of practice, they design and build a bench with dovetails and mortise and tenon joinery. From such a simple brief, the current Nine-month students have created a remarkably diverse array of work, providing us a small sample of the creativity to come this year.
For many furniture makers, a chair is the perfect vehicle for exploring the relationship between form and function. A chair requires ergonomic comfort and must be engineered to bear weight and movement. It necessitates a deep knowledge of joinery and the limits of wood as a medium. It has a rich and expansive design history, and is thus open to infinite manifestations of style and character. This dichotomy between what a chair needs to do and what it could be makes it the most challenging piece of furniture to create. It is also the most fun.
A very unique course is in session over in the workshop building. Mastering Veneered Boxes is a two-week workshop focused on exploring intricate pattern on simple form, taught by Adrian Ferrazzutti and Aaron Fedarko. Students have been carefully composing studies in geometry, repetition, and color with stripes of shop-sawn veneer. Before cutting into the real thing, however, they popped over to the office to photocopy the actual wood itself, in order to experiment with patterns on paper instead of using up precious material. Now they are moving on to the challenging techniques of cutting and joining veneer; luckily, though, they have two true experts on hand to guide them.
The end of the summer Twelve-week Furniture Intensive is always a little bittersweet. The sun sets a little earlier, nights are a little cooler, and we have to say goodbye to an incredibly hard-working and creative group of students. It's so exciting, though, to see what those students have created in their time here at school, and to hear what they have planned for the future. Some will return to their pre-woodworking lives, but with a new-found passion and deep knowledge of their hobby; others will take the plunge and open their own shops, making furniture full-time; and some will continue their education in woodworking in a number of ways, including our Nine-month Comprehensive.
As the Twelve-week Intensive enters its final four weeks, students are working tirelessly to get their case pieces together, while simultaneously beginning the design process for their curvature projects. One of the biggest challenges at this stage is resisting the temptation to rush. The pressure of too much work in too little time builds, and the excitement of learning the new processes for bending wood starts to mount, but you have this one set of dovetails on your case piece that just won't fit. These are the defining moments for emerging woodworkers. Having the focus to sharpen chisels, delicately pare the shoulder of a tenon, and gingerly test the fit of a joint when you are so close to being done and itching to start something new, is crucial to good craftsmanship.
Walking through the Nine-month classroom I am reminded that there are many different ways to approach a design brief. In the last 5 weeks each student designed and built a furniture piece with curved elements. Collectively they have created a fine body of work which includes a lawyer’s standing desk, coffee and side tables, hall and sofa tables, a wall cabinet, and a gentleman’s valet. In addition to steam and laminate bending, students explored other curve-forming techniques like coopering and kerf cutting. I’m sure there is a mix of relief, satisfaction, and accomplishment when the wood bends without breaking, when the vacuum press closes before the glue sets, or when there is minimal spring back when the clamps come off the form.
The last four weeks of the Twelve-week Intensive are dedicated to curvature. With freedom from the confines of the straight line, students' design vocabulary become practically unlimited. However, with the gift of openness comes the dilemma of choice. Consequently, this final project requires a great deal of experimentation and editing. Curves add both conceptual and aesthetic complexity, and as such, students learn to be both proactive and reactive in their process.
Craig Stevens is the guest instructor for the final four weeks