A bunch of drained (however glad, I feel!) instrument chest makers at the Pine Croft School of Woodworking final fall.

I bought on-the-job-training to be a instructor lengthy earlier than I picked up a dovetail noticed. I used to be a graduate pupil in English literature, which in my program meant I used to be required to show first-year writing (what we known as “freshman comp” at the time). It was largely a thankless job. Almost each undergraduate in the college needed to take at the least two quarters of composition, and I’d wager that in any given class, 80% of these college students resented having to. (The 20% made it worthwhile, although.) I did my greatest to make courses enjoyable, however “Grammar Jeopardy!” is a tough promote.

I used to be additionally fortunate sufficient to in a while educate some 200-level courses in literature (together with in my very own space of examine, early trendy drama). Those have been elective programs, so at the least the college students had chosen to be there. My favourite moments – and you might see it on pupil faces – have been when Shakespeare and his contemporaries started to make sense to them, and it immediately turned not a chore, however enjoyable. (Or at the least a enjoyable chore.)

Teaching woodworking, nevertheless, is the most enjoyable. Ninety-nine p.c* of the college students I educate are ecstatic to be in a category, and to be taught; and there’s that very same sudden gentle in the eyes when a aircraft behaves completely or an operation is sensible to a pupil for the first time.

A group of students in a Highland Woodworking class displaying their handmade Shaker trays.
Shaker tray class at Highland Woodworking.

While the material is totally different, my method to instructing hasn’t modified that a lot since I first stood in entrance of the classroom in 1997 (the prep, nevertheless, is significantly extra bodily taxing). So right here’s somewhat little bit of what I’ve discovered in 25 years of instructing – and take it with a shaker filled with salt. Just as there are alternative ways of studying, there are alternative ways of instructing. This is what works for me.

Take issues slowly – small bites.

Too a lot data without delay is as unhealthy as no data. Example: for dovetail structure, the very first thing we do is organize the wooden “properly” – that’s, if doable put the inside the tree out (heart-side out), and make marriage marks. I present this, then ship college students again to the bench to do it.  I at all times have individuals who wish to race forward to what’s subsequent. Some of them are new, and merely overeager. They typically, on the rush to maneuver ahead, forget the process proper in entrance of them: that which have to be completed correctly for the subsequent step to succeed. Or, there’s a pupil or two who already is aware of what to do, and doesn’t wish to wait round for others to catch up. But we don’t transfer on to marking baselines till everybody has the marriage marks established. It sounds kinda boring – particularly for the early steps. I at all times remind myself that it’s solely boring to those that’ve already completed it 100 occasions.

A work in progress displaying marriage marks, joint layout, rabbets, pilot holes and clearance holes.
Six discrete classes: marriage marks; joint structure; slicing rabbets; checking rabbets for 90°; all about nails; pilot holes vs. clearance holes; correct hammering. This was from a category at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks.

When I’ve college students who’re considerably extra skilled than the remainder of the class, I give them further work (if they need it; it’s a reward – not punishment!) to sluggish them down, in order that they don’t get too far forward. Example: In a joinery class the place most individuals have been choosing up saws and chisels for the first time, I had one man who was a longtime hand-tool woodworker. He got here to keep a pal firm. So whereas everybody else was slicing through-dovetails, I had him reduce his first hounds-tooth joints. (And darned in the event that they weren’t glorious.)

Repeat your self.

Say the identical factor at the least a number of occasions in entrance of everybody whereas displaying an operation, then stroll round as college students are working and say it once more to every of them as needed. Some issues – laying out dovetails with dividers, for instance – could be awfully complicated till an individual has completed it themselves a number of occasions.

Don’t do the work for them.

It could be tempting when somebody is struggling to select up a aircraft or noticed or chisel and assist. Don’t do it … until you see the scenario is about to turn out to be altogether unsalvageable. And nonetheless don’t do it with out asking. That stated, if somebody is combating a instrument, say a clean aircraft, I’ll hand them my no. 4, then test their aircraft setup. Often, battle is because of a fixable drawback (like not shopping for a brand new smoothing aircraft from Harbor Freight).

Students making English tool chests at the Florida School of Woodworking.
Making English instrument chests at the Florida School of Woodworking.

(Almost) at all times heat up earlier than a demo.

I don’t heat up earlier than speaking about marriage marks – but when I’m going to select up my dovetail noticed, you could be positive I’ve already made a dozen cuts simply to loosen up – and if doable, gone by means of the whole operation if it’s a difficult one. Going by means of an operation at all times jogs my memory of one thing I’d have missed had I gone at it chilly in entrance of an viewers.

Woodworking students accompanied by a black shop cat.
If you’ll be able to’t see everybody without delay, be sure you have a su-purr-visor.

Never do demos utilizing pupil instruments.

Unless you set it up your self.

Don’t give false reward.

False reward will merely reinforce a foul behavior or poor final result. If you say “good job,” you must imply it. But you’ll be able to nearly at all times discover one thing particular in a pupil’s work – regardless of how small – to reward. (Then assist them enhance at the not-good stuff.)

Watch out for frustration.

More than as soon as, I’ve had a pupil throw down instruments and storm out – and that in flip distracts everybody else. Try to acknowledge a annoyed pupil earlier than that occurs, then get them to take a stroll round the block, or watch a kitten video. A second of calm and resetting earlier than diving again in.

Never flip your again on a chisel.

If an accident goes to occur in a hand-tool class, it will doubtless be with a chisel. I worry instructing in rooms the place I can’t see everybody at the identical time. I want to have the ability to see to confiscate all chisels pointed at the consumer’s physique. (And I suppose at different individuals’s our bodies…however that hasn’t occurred, thank goodness!)

Woodworking students celebrating together with some bourbon whiskey.

Make it enjoyable.

Most individuals in a woodworking class for amateurs are there as a result of they suppose woodworking is or may be enjoyable. Reinforce that in no matter approach is sensible for you. For me, that’s bourbon after class, and maybe a category go to to the native cat cafe.

Two students at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking displaying their Shaker boxes.
Two remaining classes from this image, from the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. 1. Take good photos and keep all of them (I want I had higher photographs of this younger man and his accomplished work) and 2) embrace the indisputable fact that some college students will probably be higher than you – in reality, hope for it. This younger man was slicing excellent dovetails and extraordinary mortise-and-tenon joints by the finish of the week. I anticipate by now he’s constructing Roentgen reproductions or the like.

* That 1% who didn’t wish to be there? I had a father-son pair in a category who confirmed up with the worst conceivable instruments and the worst conceivable attitudes. I feel their household therapist put them as much as it.

Sawing homework

Practice makes excellent when it involves sawing exact strains.

‘Work slower; it’s quicker’

For each hour you save dashing a venture, you’ll in all probability spend 4 hours redoing the elements you’re ashamed of.

A cherry serving tray with hand-cut dovetail joinery

Skills class or venture class?

Even although studying new abilities is the meat of a newbie class, Megan Fitzpatrick finds it’s the venture that makes it appetizing.


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