Basic Woodworking: A two-week Introduction to Furniture Making

Written by Heide Martin on .

This month our 26th Workshop Season came to a close, and with it the season of potluck picnics, croquet matches, and Monday night faculty presentations. As we think ahead to next year’s schedule, we look forward to welcoming the instructors and students who will join us from all corners of the globe. The workshop roster is always fresh and changing, bringing both new and returning students to campus year after year. Yet, over the history of the school, there is one curriculum that has been offered annually without fail – Peter Korn’s two-week Basic Woodworking course.

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BasicWW blog3Photo by Mark Juliana.

Basic Woodworking is sometimes thought of as the “little engine that drives the school.” First taught by Peter to a class of six students in 1993, it has been offered five times a year ever since. Some 1,500 students have taken this foundational class over the last twenty-five years. The accompanying textbook, Woodworking Basics: Mastering the Essentials of Craftsmanship (Taunton Press, 2003) is a top-seller that has been published in English, Chinese, and Korean.

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Peter has been joined by innumerable co-instructors over the years; many CFC instructors began their tenure by teaching in his classroom. For each course, Peter and the co-instructor are also joined by a workshop assistant. With class size now limited to 12, each participant receives extensive individual guidance throughout.

BasicWW blog7Instructor Mark Juliana working hands-on with a student. Photo by Claire Scully.

BasicWW blog8Instructor Mary Ellen Hitt demonstrating bandsaw technique.

BasicWW blog9Instructor Craig Satterlee assisting with a glue-up. Photo by Tony Taranto.

BasicWW blog10Instructor Yuri Kobayashi with a student.

BasicWW blog11Assistant Claire Scully helping a student with sharpening. Photo by Mark Juliana.

BasicWW blog12Assistant Ted Newman with a student.

The foundational Basic Woodworking course welcomes students from all backgrounds and skill levels. While many are total beginners, some come with woodworking experience that they hope to refine. Scholarship student Matthew Hedgepath Smith reflects that, “Peter’s Basic Woodworking class solidified previous experience, reinvigorated a love for hand tools, and introduced me to sharpening, joinery, and design techniques that are now invaluable to my furniture making practice. I hope to make beautiful and meaningful furniture of the highest caliber and, with this solid foundation, I feel confident in exploring new and varied work.”

BasicWW blog14A student checks his dovetails. Photo by Claire Scully.

BasicWW blog15A class of students shows off their completed benches. Photo by William Rosenblatt.

BasicWW blog17Mistakes happen! A good sense of humor is essential to the woodworker’s tool kit.

BasicWW blog16Two students working together on a scale model.

Even for those who come with little-to-no hands-on woodworking skills, the course can lay the foundation for a career. Furniture maker Emily Deutchman, who came to the class with a background in fine art, feels that, “My experience in the two-week Basic Woodworking course set the stage for my present career in woodworking.” She adds, “Discovering furniture making under the tutelage of Peter Korn showed me how craft is creative, skillful, and technical, while problem solving with boundaries and purpose.”

BasicWW blog19A student drafts her project. Photo by Claire Scully.

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Basic Woodworking is a thorough introduction to furniture making, with a focus on traditional hand skills. The curriculum is shaped around a project – a simple hardwood bench that requires students to mill wood four-square and hand cut mortise-and-tenon and dovetail joints. A sample bench is provided, and students are encouraged to design their own interpretations. Through the design of an individualized project, students have the valuable experience of developing full-scale design drawings and making cut lists.

BasicWW blog24The model bench project, built in cherry by Peter Korn. Photo by Mark Juliana.

BasicWW blog25The model bench project, built in cherry by Peter Korn. Photo by Mark Juliana.

BasicWW blog26Mortise and tenon detail; the model bench project, built in cherry by Peter Korn. Photo by Mark Juliana.

BasicWW blog27Peter Korn lecturing on design and drafting.

BasicWW blog28Sample benches completed by students.BasicWW blog29Student project by Robert Wolfkill. Photo by Mark Juliana.

In Basic Woodworking, the bench project is a springboard for lectures and demonstrations on skills such as lumber selection, milling, joinery, scraping, sanding, assembly, and finishing. Students receive extensive instruction in the sharpening, tuning, and use of planes, chisels, and other hand tools, as well as the safe use of power tools such as the table saw, jointer, planer, and bandsaw.

BasicWW blog31Joinery samples in the classroom.

BasicWW blog32Demonstration of chisel technique, with an eye for precise work. Photo by Tony Taranto.

BasicWW blog33Demonstration of how to flatten a board with a scrub plane. Photo by Mark Juliana.

BasicWW blog34Checking progress. Photo by Mark Juliana.

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BasicWW blog37Peter Korn helping a student with chisel sharpening. Photo by Claire Scully.

BasicWW blog38A student tuning up a card scraper. Photo by Tony Taranto.

BasicWW blog39Instructor Mary Ellen Hitt helping a student with a dry fit.

BasicWW blog40Instructor Michaela Stone helps a student check their joinery.

BasicWW blog41Instructor Yuri Kobayashi helping a student fine-tune their dovetails.

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At the end of two weeks, students who are prepared to glue together their projects receive hands-on assistance from instructors and workshop assistants in managing this high-pressure task. Those who do not reach the glue-up phase often participate in the glue-ups of their fellow students as preparation for tackling this job when they return home.

BasicWW blogtall2Peter Korn assisting a student prepare a glue-up. Photo by Mark Juliana.

BasicWW blog46Peter Korn lecturing on glue-up technique and protocol.

BasicWW blog47Instructor Brian Persico helps a student with a glue-up.

BasicWW blog48Instructor Michaela Stone assists a student with a glue-up.

Basic Woodworking has, over the years, introduced many students to the ethos of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship – teaching creative excellence. The two-week curriculum is the foundation of our longer Furniture Intensive and Nine-month Comprehensive courses, where it prepares students to tackle more complex projects in casework, curvature, and chair design. Peter’s approach to woodworking calls for a balance between traditional hand skills and effective machine use. “Craftsmanship,” says Peter, “is more than a set of skills; through the process of creating an object, we transform ourselves.”

BasicWW blog51First-ever workshop class picture sitting on the shop steps at West Meadow Road. 1993.

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