Woodworking classes among the clouds

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Review by DHS posted 06-27-2012 06:24 AM 6157 views 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Woodworking classes among the clouds Woodworking classes among the clouds Woodworking classes among the clouds Click the pictures to enlarge them

Attending a class at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking is a big investment. Classes are not cheap, hotels in Port Townsend are pricey in the summer, and unless you live on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, getting there will take some time and maybe a ferry ride. But, I am so glad I made that investment. I really enjoyed the two classes I took there. Port Townsend is a lovely little town with terrific sights, shops, and restaurants. During the time I took my classes it was mostly shrouded in low clouds that gave the place an otherworldly feel. Surrounded on three sides by water, I spotted sea lions, porpoise, jumping salmon, and lots of waterfowl. The school itself is located in Fort Worden State park, a former WWI artillery installation. For housing, the school set me up in a century-old non-commissioned officer’s house. But, enough about the city – what about the woodworking school?

The school is located in an old powerhouse. One room is filled with woodworking benches. Another room houses woodworking machines. The program has a remarkable supply of high-quality hand tools. You don’t have to bring a single tool unless you would like to use your own. The three primary instructors are Jim Tolpin, Tim Lawson, and John Marckworth. Tolpin has been the lead instructor for the two courses I’ve taken there. Jim Tolpin has written about a dozen woodworking books and is an excellent teacher. The school also draws well-known woodworking instructors from around the country such as Chris Schwarz, Garrett Hack, and others.

First class: Hand plane essentials.
My wife gave me this class as a Christmas present. I had started collecting vintage hand planes and she wisely decided that if I was going to make an investment in old tools I should know how to use them. The class combined lectures from Jim and a few lectures from Tim Lawson, the PTSW director, and hands-on activities. We spent the morning of the first day learning about bench planes, their setup and use, and the afternoon tuning hand planes we brought to the class and grinding and honing plane irons. The next day we learned the various methods of using planes and applied this knowledge to a classic problem for hand planes – dimensioning lumber by hand to create a board of predetermined size with three sets of parallel sides and square corners.

I loved this class. Jim Tolpin combines a scholarly interest in the history and art of woodworking with excellent hand tool skills that he passes on to his students. Perhaps the most important lessons I learned were ways to make hand planing easier. For example, I realized I had been spending way too much time sharpening my irons when Jim showed us how to create scary sharp blades by honing wisely for just a minute or two. After taking this course, my hand planes became my favorite tools in the shop.

Second class: Hand saw essentials.
I gave this class to myself as a birthday gift. In preparation for this class I started collecting vintage hand saws, built a saw sharpening vise (you can see it here), and started practicing saw sharpening. As before, sharpening was not as hard as I thought it was, once I learned some of the tricks from Jim. However, hand sawing with precision was much more difficult than I had thought. The level of precision required to hand saw joints is really high and it takes lots of practice to acheive it. This class was organized in a manner similar to the hand plane class. We listened to lectures, restored and sharpened the saws we brought to class, and worked on a project that used a number of different sawing skills. For our project we made a saw bench (you can see it here). Hand saws are not yet my favorite tool. However, the 110-year old back saw that I brought to the class is now wicked sharp and cuts as well or better than the modern carcass saws available at the school. And, I’ve got a plan for improving my sawing skills, “A dovetail a day keeps the router away.”

[September 2012 update: I stated in the paragraph above that hand saws are not yet my favorite tool. Well, to my surprise three months after taking that hand-saw class I’ve grown to like them – a lot! I find myself taking advantage of any chance to saw by hand. I suppose it took some practice before I became comfortable with hand saws but these days I’m a hand-sawing fool. Thanks PTSW! – DHS]

These were the most basic courses the school offers; nevertheless I learned a lot in each of them. I’m now ready to take some more advanced courses on joinery and furniture building. Let’s see… perhaps the next class can be an anniversary gift … “Hey Honey, do we have any anniversary plans?”

-- Dave S., Bellingham, WA

View DHS's profile


139 posts in 3992 days

7 comments so far

View madts's profile


1941 posts in 3108 days

#1 posted 06-27-2012 06:06 PM

Nice write-up.

-- Thor and Odin are still the greatest of Gods.

View NormG's profile


6506 posts in 3772 days

#2 posted 06-28-2012 01:55 AM

Sounds like it was very much worth the journey

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View murch's profile


1380 posts in 3392 days

#3 posted 06-28-2012 10:07 AM

Glad you enjoyed it. If you go again pls do another blog. That was interesting.

-- A family man has photos in his wallet where his money used to be.

View baldeaglebaby's profile


35 posts in 3771 days

#4 posted 06-29-2012 04:01 AM

I have been there several times but never taken any classes. It is a great place to go. I look forward to going to a class sometime. Thanks for the review.

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3422 days

#5 posted 06-29-2012 06:37 PM

I am heading to Seattle in October, I would love to figure out a way to take some sort of class while I was there…this might be a bit out of the way but I will have to see if there might be a way to make it happen and please the Mrs in the process.

Thanks for the food for thought.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View doordude's profile


1085 posts in 3751 days

#6 posted 06-29-2012 10:58 PM

inquiring minds want to know how much a class for hand plane essentials would be?
DHS; aren’t you glad your wife, had the where with all to pay for those classes! lluucckkyy

View DHS's profile


139 posts in 3992 days

#7 posted 06-29-2012 11:36 PM

Doordude would like to know how much the hand plane essentials class costs. It is $240 plus $15 for materials (so $255). You can check out the classes on the schools web site here: Click on 2012 Woodworking Schedule to view upcoming courses. Each course has a description and the price for each course is listed at the bottom of the course description page.

-- Dave S., Bellingham, WA

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