Rosewood Studio – the Final Review

 

After my 6 weeks of Rosewood Studio, I felt I should write one final wrap up post on what I thought of the experience.  My weekly posts gave you a feeling far what was taught, but it didn’t really give my opinions on anything, so here goes…

 

For those not wanting to read anymore, I loved it.  It was awesome.  There, now you can leave.  For those who want more details…

 

Let’s start with the instruction.  I thought Ron Barter (head instructor) was excellent.  He has an incredible knowledge about woodworking and was always keen to answer my questions, no matter how many I came up with (trust me, I had a lot).  Even when the questions strayed off topic, Ron was keen to help out with questions pertaining to other aspects of woodworking, design, and so on.  He still answers my questions by email weeks after having taken the course! I found he was very patient, and his methodical approach really helped to limit my mistakes.  I now try to tell myself to slow down when I am working at in my shop, as I find this helps reduce my errors.  I also loved how he could turn mistakes into opportunities, so if I made a mistake in a cut, he would help find a solution to save the piece instead of simply starting over again.  The old saying about learning from your mistakes comes to mind! My only critique was I found sometimes Ron gave too many instructions at once, and I would forget some of the steps.  This is likely me being forgetful, but after mentioning this to Ron he adapted his teaching and would send me with less instructions at a time.

 

Course work:  The coursework covered a wide variety of woodworking (see my previous posts for details).  It obviously didn’t teach me everything, but what do you expect in 6 weeks?  It was an excellent overview and gave me a firm footing in fine woodworking.  Did it make me an expert furniture maker? No, of course not, it was 6 weeks!  I only wish this course could be offered through a college where this 6 week course could be spread over a semester, with lots of free shop time in order to help practice these new skills over and over.  This isn’t really a critique as I signed up for 6 weeks, but if someone did offer a course like this I think it would be awesome.  Rosewood offers longer programs, but I couldn’t afford the time commitment.

 

Facilities: Incredible.  Two of each major machine, each student gets a tool kit full of Lie Nielsen and Veritas hand tools.  Top notch quality and well maintained.  The fact that Ron does testing for Veritas means that he had one of just about every tool they make (even some ones they don’t sell just yet!).  This really helped me to figure out what tools I would like to purchase to set up my own shop.

 

Admin: Mary Ann is the admin at Rosewood.  She was very friendly and professional and answered my numerous questions in advance of attending Rosewood.  She also seemed to genuinely think I was making nice stuff and doing a good job, which always makes you feel good at the end of the day.

 

So as you can tell, I loved the course and highly recommend it.  Who’s the course directed at you ask?  Well I think just about anyone really.  You get out of it what you put in.  I learnt a ton of basics and foundations to woodworking.  But others could hone their skills just as easily.  Some of the longer courses would certainly prepare you for a career in fine woodworking, although you’d likely need a few years of experience under your belt before making a successful go at it.

 

Hope this helps convince anyone who might have been on the fence about this great wood working school!

Advertisements

Tool of the week

Probably should have called this post “Tool of last week” since I’m a couple of days late…  Anyways, had a hard time deciding on what tool for this week.  I absolutely loved working on the lathe.  I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, but I seemed to figure things out and the progress is so much faster than building say a cabinet!  In the end I chose the vacuum bag.  This is the setup I used to make my curved panel door (made from wiggle board and mahogany veneer).  It’s pretty simple, basically a vacuum cleaner attached to a bag.  As the air is sucked out of the bag it exerts even pressure everywhere, making it very easy to clamp a piece of veneer to a curved surface.  The door was left in the bag for about 3 hours while the glue (regular carpenters glue) cured.  The possibilities with this setup are just about endless, I’d love to buy one but they cost about $1000 for the vacuum and large bag.  Lee Valley sells a small manual version made for skateboards, it’s about a tenth of the cost, so it might be worth some experimenting.

 

Rosewood Studio, Week 6 – Bonus Week!

As week 5 drew to a close I asked Ron what we were doing in week 6.  He replied that normally week 6 is when we wrap up all the uncompleted parts of the various projects we have tackled over the past 5 weeks.  The only problem here is everything was finished.  That’s right, we were so far ahead of schedule that we had a full week of extra time.  Ron suggested I look over the 12 week course and if there were any skills/projects that I’d like to tackle I could do it in my final week.  I’ve always been interested in bending wood, and while I’ve had some experience with steam bending and laminating on a form, I had never done anything with a vacuum bag.  With that in mind, we tackled the “Bow Front Cabinet”.  A small wall hung cabinet with a bow front door.

To the untrained eye, the cabinet looks fairly simple.  It’s not too tall, only has two shelves, has a simple profile routed on top and bottom, and a curved door.  But it’s the curved door that throws everything for a loop.  While the top/bottom and sides are made from solid Mahogany, the front and back are made with plywood covered with Mahogany veneer.  I had to resaw the veneer myself and laminate it onto the plywood in order to hide it’s true makeup.  For the door front, two pieces of wiggle board (bendable plywood) were laminated with a piece of mahogany veneer in the centre.  This was all a very time consuming process (especially slicing the veneer on the bandsaw).  The laminations took a long time as well as each step had to setup for 3 hours in the vacuum bag before we could proceed to the next.

The final bit of trickiness was fitting the door to the cabinet and making sure that there was a small but constant gap around it on all sides.  This took a lot of finicky work with a hand plane but the end result was well worth it.

I managed to finish this project by Friday at lunch, so with an entire afternoon left, I decided to get some more time on the lathe and turn a simple bowl.  I picked a scrap piece of walnut that had incredible figure, but also happened to be full of cracks and checks.  It turned quite well considering the state of the original piece of wood.  I put a few quick coats of shellac on before packing up the car with all my projects and heading home.

Next week I’ll give a quick wrap up on all my thoughts about my time at Rosewood Studio.

Tool of the Week – Hand Plane by Conrad Sauer

This week’s tool isn’t actually one that I used…. It is a hand plane owned by one of my fellow students at Rosewood.  It is a custom made hand plane by Conrad Sauer, and as Ron (my teacher) put it, “it’s worth more than your car”.  Now I don’t own a very expensive car, but to think any hand could be worth more than a roadworthy automobile seems a bit outrageous…

I have to admit that to look at it, it is a thing of beauty, and I’ve been led to believe that it performs admirably, but would it really be that much better than a Lee Valley or Lie Nielsen plane?  Considering they sell for $200-400, there is no way this plane is 10-20 times better.

But buying custom will cost you as you are paying for craftsmanship and attention to detail that simply isn’t available elsewhere.  At least the student uses it regularly and doesn’t just put it up on a shelf to be ogled.

Rosewood Studio, Week 5 – Drawer making

Week 5 of my 6 week study at Rosewood Studio was focused on drawer making.  A whole week to build a drawer?  Well when it’s made of solid wood and fitted to a shaker table, it takes a little longer than simply slapping some metal drawer slides onto an mdf box like ikea does…  Unlike ikea, the drawer front won’t fall off in a year, nor will the bottom sag, and the slightest bit of water won’t turn the entire thing into a pile of wet sawdust….

First part of this week involved fitting some runners for the drawer in my shaker table.  I used walnut simply because it matched the table and I had a bunch of scraps left over, however this part isn’t visible unless you are lying on the ground underneath the table.  Next it was onto the drawer building.

The drawer was made of walnut with a piece of birds eye maple for the front.  The sides are dovetailed (half blind on the front), and the drawer bottom is a few pieces of solid walnut laminated together to form a panel.  The front of the bottom panel is glued with the back edge being left unattached  for seasonal expansion and contraction.

Birds eye maple, while beautiful to look at, can be a bit of a pain to work with.  This particular piece had some cracks and of course very curly grain which made smoothing it very trying, however after many passes with a high angle plane and a card scraper (and some light sanding), it was eventually made smooth.  I spent almost an entire day perfecting this piece of wood, only to ruin it by cutting on the wrong side of the lines for my dovetails.  Thankfully the second attempt went much quicker.

Fitting the drawer was very finicky.  Not only does it need to slide in and out smoothly, but the reveal around the drawer opening has to be identical (9000ths of an inch).  While it was a huge pain to do, I was very pleased with the results and can honestly say I have never owned a piece of furniture that had such a smooth drawer!

The drawer was finished off with a simple walnut pull turned on the lathe.  I really enjoyed the lathe work (all 5 minutes of it… after-all it was only a pull), hopefully I can afford one in the future to add to my shop.  I put several layers of shellac on the drawer front and pull, but left the sides and bottom natural.

Next week is my last at Rosewood!  It’s gone so fast, wish I could stay for another 6!

Tool of the Week – Callipers

Once you start working on fine joinery, you realize very quickly that success and failure is measured in 1000th’s of an inch.  And how do you make such a measurement?  With a pair of callipers.  While accuracy to this degree may seem unnecessary in woodworking, if you are trying to join two pieces of hard wood (like maple) together and you are more than a 1000th’s off, it’s not going to work.  I found that callipers with a dial on it make it easier to read and it saves you trying to count the little scribed lines.  I bought mine at a surplus tool store, no need for one of the million dollar ones from Starret.

Rosewood Studio, Week 4 – Joinery

We studied various types of wood joinery this week.  All were mechanical joints which are held together by their design, although we did glue them as a final step.  The strength that is achievable through some of these joints is truly amazing.

Joints we covered included: dovetail, half blind dove tail, sliding tapered dovetail, mortise and tenon, through tenon, split wedge tenon, fox tail tenon (demo only), bridle joint, dowel joint, and a few others I’m sure I’ve forgotten.  We also made a small raised panel door, similar to what you would see in kitchen cabinets.  The technique used to cut the joints varied from machines (horizontal mortiser, table saw, tenoning jig, router + jig, bandsaw) as well as hand tools (dovetail saw, chisels, hand planes).  Overall I had a fair bit of success with the joints, although I did manage to glue one part of my panel door on backwards.  It looks fine, but the panel is slightly off centre because of the backwards part.

We also spent some time making a shooting board as well as a bench hook.  The bench hook was nothing fancy, however the shooting board (for planing end grain) was made with a removable 45 degree fence so that I could also shoot mitres.  It added a bit of complexity to the build but we had extra time so decided to do it.

As the week wrapped up I also cut the piece of birds eye maple to be used for the drawer front of my shaker table.  It’s a pretty spectacular piece of wood, can’t wait for next week where I get to build my drawer for it!