6-day 'Practical woodworking' course

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Review by Charliefreak posted 06-12-2018 05:29 PM 2061 views 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
6-day 'Practical woodworking' course 6-day 'Practical woodworking' course 6-day 'Practical woodworking' course Click the pictures to enlarge them

I just finished the 6-day “Practical woodworking” course offered by JD Lohr School of Woodworking, located in Schwenksville, PA (about an hour from Philadelphia), and I wanted to share my thoughts on this exceptionally well-designed and delivered course.

The course is designed to introduce the basic principles of furniture making, from rough lumber through to a finished piece of furniture. The process is scaffolded with a hall table project, but this is more of a means to an end. The meat of the course is in the comprehensive demonstrations of techniques and processes, and thorough explanations of the many different ways in which each step can be achieved.

I won’t go into the details of the syllabus, but there is plenty of info here: Course overview

Instead, I will give, in no particular order, a few of the reasons why I enjoyed this course so much:
  • Flexibility of approach – each step was introduced through a class / demonstration which walked through many different ways in which a process could be achieved. Hand tool methods are discussed, though the course is primarily machine based, and we were shown how jigs can be designed and developed to achieve accurate, repeatable results. At no point was any one approach touted as being the only valid method, and the instructors were happy to allow students to employ a variety of different techniques to achieve their goal.
  • Collaborative, can-do attitude – the instructors were incredibly friendly, funny, warm and welcoming, and fostered a collaborative attitude amongst the students. I wanted to try a slightly different design on my table legs, and expected to be told that it wasn’t achievable within the available time – instead, the instructor grabbed some plywood and walked me through creating a jig and trying out my design on a spare table leg. I got to implement the design I had in mind and also used a couple of new tools, and experienced the process of designing and refining a simple jig. The instructors encouraged us to work collaboratively with each other, and as someone who has experienced woodworking as a largely solo pursuit, it was very rewarding to get to play in a group!
  • Efficiencies and professional workflows – the course is taught by working furniture makers, and seeing their workflows and processes was fantastic. Simple techniques like consistent approaches to marking and numbering parts are demonstrated, and simple practical (and professional) solutions for e.g. sharpening and finishing are discussed. As a working studio which needs to make furniture profitably, it was invaluable to see where money should be spent (e.g. sawblades) and where it might be saved (e.g. 4000 grit waterstones). The focus was always on getting things done efficiently, economically and repeatably, but to the highest standards, and tools and materials were discussed and approached with value in mind.
  • Mistake / defect management – all of our rough lumber bundles were deliberately selected to have problematic boards, so we could experience the process of working around common defects and selecting appropriate material for each part of the project. Throughout the teaching, common mistakes (and solutions and fixes) were discussed and demonstrated.
  • Shop and machinery – the location was beautiful and the shop had plenty of room, plenty of light, good music playing, and plenty of nicely tuned tools. I was particularly impressed with the fact that there were a variety of machines and tools at different levels to experiment with. It’s no use learning on production-standard equipment only to go home and not be able to replicate results – the instructors encouraged us to try different machines, and it was enlightening for me to compare a 6 inch Grizzly jointer with a 10” helical head Oliver jointer in a hands-on way. Discovering that I was just as happy with the results I got from the Stanley planes as the Lie-Nielsen’s might end up saving me the course fee on its own – it’s the sort of thing you just can’t tell from watching Youtube videos! There was never any suggestion that certain machines or tools in the shop were off-limits for student use (or if there were they were well-hidden!) By the end of the week I felt like I was making a table in my own dream woodshop.
  • Quality of teaching – the instructors were able to share an astonishing amount of information and experience in the short time we had available, with literally not a wasted moment on the course. All of my not-very-intelligent questions were answered with exceptional good grace and processes and methods were set in context and justified. The staff-to-student ratio is exceptional – there were usually 4 instructors on hand in the shop with 11 students – and during lab time I never once found myself in a situation where someone wasn’t on hand to answer a question, help with an unfamiliar technique, or advise on a suitable approach. During any one-on-one instruction, I noted that the instructors rarely or never actually carried out a process themselves on my workpiece, instead demonstrating on a spare, or explaining the technique and allowing me to try it. I felt that every part of my finished piece had been made by me.
  • A ‘fine-furniture’ attitude – throughout their demonstrations, the instructors modelled the care and attention to detail that is necessary to create fine furniture – having made hundreds of hall tables, it would have been easy to rush through the process of examining figure, checking for defects, aligning grain, and fitting joints… instead these processes were given the time and energy necessary to achieve a good outcome. This inspired more care in my own work, and also reassured me that when instructors told me something was ‘good enough’, I could trust that this was indeed the case. Seeing the calm and careful way in which instructors move around the shop inspired an attitudinal shift in my own approach to woodworking – less frantic, more fun!
  • Safety – one of my motivations for attending this course was to find safe methods for using tools in the shop. Safety was foremost in every class and demonstration, and I never once saw an instructor or staff member using a machine any differently from the way they instructed us to.

I would classify myself as a beginner with no training / instruction and a bit of background knowledge, and I felt like the course was dense and fast-paced, but just about manageable. I imagine that the more experienced woodworkers on the course took away different things than I did, but there is so much info and expertise on offer that there is plenty for the student at most levels.

I would have thought that the only people this course would not appeal to would be those who are happy with their current methods and workflows for the processes demonstrated, and are not looking to learn new approaches and techniques. But then if this is the case, you’re probably not shopping for a woodworking course!

In short, exceptional value for money ($1185 at time of writing), and something that has inspired me and transformed my approach and goals in woodworking.

View Charliefreak's profile


19 posts in 969 days

4 comments so far

View EarlS's profile


3736 posts in 3123 days

#1 posted 06-13-2018 01:18 AM

Sounds like another great class. Hopefully you will post your project from the class.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View Hopdevil's profile


223 posts in 3861 days

#2 posted 06-17-2018 04:43 AM

I attended this class way back in 2012 ;-) then did the advanced class several years later. Loved it and learned so much from both classes. Glad you had a good time!

-- Buzz ---- Of all the things I have ever lost, I miss my mind the most.

View BB1's profile


1643 posts in 1623 days

#3 posted 06-25-2018 01:13 AM

Thanks for posting…this sounds like a great opportunity. I looked at the link and sure wish the school was closer to where I live!

View csi's profile


5 posts in 1955 days

#4 posted 07-14-2018 08:27 PM

Great job on the JD Lohr course review. I attended the Practical Woodworking and Advanced Joinery courses. I use stuff I learned in the Practical Woodworking course every time I step into my shop. We had a wide range of skill levels in the PW course. They made everyone feel at home. Great shop in a fantastic rural setting. I highly recommend the courses.

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