Review of Instruction offered at Lonnie Bird's School of Fine Woodworking

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Review by BenR posted 08-20-2013 12:27 AM 9277 views 0 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch
Review of Instruction offered at Lonnie Bird's School of Fine Woodworking Review of Instruction offered at Lonnie Bird's School of Fine Woodworking Review of Instruction offered at Lonnie Bird's School of Fine Woodworking Click the pictures to enlarge them

Several years ago, I became interested in woodworking. I liked the idea of working with my hands and having something beautiful to give as a gift or pass down to the next generation. Since I didn’t have the slightest idea how to begin, I thought I would take a class. I found Lonnie’s school, and it was only about a 6-7 hour drive for me, I signed up for the Woodworking Essentials class. We made a shaker table, and I was hooked. Since then, I have taken three other classes at the school. Lonnie’s classes are in Dandridge TN on his property. Most of the work taught is by hand, save an occasional bandsaw or router cut. Beginning in the first class, we were introduced to sharpening tools, cutting dovetails by hand, planning off machine marks, mortising by machine, and how wood moves. In other classes, I have learned line and berry inlay with hand tools, tombstone frame and panel door making, fitting mouldings, fitting a drawer, fitting a door to the case, installation of locks and hinges, and more.
I find Lonnie’s instruction to be top notch, as well as his skills. In addition to explaining how to do something, Lonnie shows how to do it. It’s the picture is worth a thousand words thing. His method of teaching is just to jump in and get started as he will help you along. Lonnie has an easy going style, and it is easy to catch his enthusiasm about woodworking. He has every confidence that he can teach you (even me) how to make beautiful furniture.
Each class is six days of instruction from 8am to 5pm, with a Subway lunch provided. You can bring your own wood rough cut, or buy it from his associate Jason Bennett and have it waiting on you when you get to the school. Usually there are eight or nine students per class. Everyone has his/her own bench. Lonnie comes around and checks on each student individually a couple of times a day. You are free to ask questions at all times. The cost is about $ 1200.00 per class, plus wood. You bring your own hand tools. I believe it is money well spent. I find it frustrating and slow to learn on my own. But, as “they” say, the proof is in the pudding. Check out my projects to see the line and berry spice box and keepsake box I made in his classes (I also made a hanging corner cabinet, which I haven’t finished). He really can teach you to woodwork. All in all, it is a nice privilege to take a week just to woodwork in rural Tennessee. Highly recommended.

-- Ben in Va

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341 posts in 3428 days

14 comments so far

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#1 posted 08-20-2013 02:46 AM

that’s some nice work. it does help to take classes to learn a particular technique, which shortens the learning curve by months on your own.
don’t you think so? I mean taking a class from a pro…
keep it up

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75 posts in 2637 days

#2 posted 08-20-2013 12:45 PM

I am planning on taking the essentials class this fall. Nice to hear from a repeat student. That says a lot about the benefits you feel you derived from his classes. The keepsake box you made is beautiful. Hopefully, I can get to that level some day.

-- Bill...Richmond Hill, GA--"83% of all statistics are made up."

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17039 posts in 4134 days

#3 posted 08-22-2013 06:01 PM

Sounds great. You must be an excellent pupil judging by your work.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View AC2013's profile


8 posts in 2550 days

#4 posted 08-23-2013 05:04 PM

As they say, it is great to learn something new every day. Lonnie’s classes really seem to hit that mark with amazing quality end products. Great work to you Lyn.

-- AC2013, Pepperell, MA USA,

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128 posts in 3827 days

#5 posted 08-28-2013 08:08 PM

My experience was not good at Lonnie Bird’s. He had some good things to offer, but they were negated by not so gracious comments about other woodworkers in his class. He also had sort of a weird manner in that if he didnt like the questions, he simply ignored them. I clearly dont have all the skill he had, but I am not dumb and resented the way he did that. I talked with him after the class and also phoned him later and let him know his performance was a B grade at best. His response was that well a B isnt so bad. Well, it was for me and my advice would be to go somewhere else.

-- Stevo

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128 posts in 3827 days

#6 posted 08-28-2013 09:16 PM

My experience was not good at Lonnie Bird’s. He had some good things to offer, but they were negated by not so gracious comments about other woodworkers in his class. He also had sort of a weird manner in that if he didnt like the questions, he simply ignored them. I clearly dont have all the skill he had, but I am not dumb and resented the way he did that. I talked with him after the class and also phoned him later and let him know his performance was a B grade at best. His response was that well a B isnt so bad. Well, it was for me and my advice would be to go somewhere else.

-- Stevo

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128 posts in 3827 days

#7 posted 08-28-2013 09:16 PM

sorry, didnt mean to post twice.

-- Stevo

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#8 posted 01-23-2014 05:11 PM

I have been interested and involved in woodworking for 35 years. The first 20 years was what I would call trial and error woodworking. I’d find plans in magazines and books and follow the printed directions with mixed results. Most of my projects were done using machines only, as per the instructions. Hand work was limited to assembly and finishing. Hand planing, hand cut dovetails, carving and the like were way beyond me knowledge. About 15 years ago, I decided to get serious and quit allowing so much of my work to end up in the wood stove because of errors. I started taking wood working classes from several instructors in the eastern U.S. All were excellent craftsmen but their teaching methods varied. I noticed that most would never be critical of students work or technique, even in a constructive way. That’s what I preferred. I wanted someone to push me to strive for the best of my abilities and not make me feel satisfied with something that could have been done better. With woodworking, each step of the process determines the quality of the next step. If your drawer opening isn’t square, a squarely made drawer won’t fit. After 12 years of continuous classes at Lonnie Bird’s school, I can say that his instruction is tops. At times I have been satisfied with a single task completed on a project. He wasn’t and asked me to do it over. Regretfully, many times this has happened because of my lack of personal expectations. But after DOING IT RIGHT I was happy I was pushed to improve the quality and improve my skill level. I’m paying to learn and not just get by. As my son who is a professional pilot says, “Fairly close on take offs and landings isn’t survivable. Only repeated “right on the mark” take offs and landings are. I know my hobby isn’t as critical as passengers in a multi million dollar aircraft, but learning to push my expectations in woodworking has carried over to other aspects of my life. I left the “Bell Curve” grading system in high school. In woodworking, I want my personal grade to be earned as a result of my newly learned skills. Lonnie Bird has help me do that.

-- Rex, Bellefonte, PA

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1 post in 2146 days

#9 posted 09-18-2014 09:11 PM

I too took Lonnie’s Woodworking Essentials class last spring and found it helpful. Lonnie is not without his strong opinions, both on furniture styles and other woodworkers (as Stevo mentions above), but he would be the first to admit it. The class was expensive and involved a lot of travel for me, but I did learn some new tricks.

For a complete review of the class (if you are interested in taking it) take a look at the page on my site that I posted afterward (warts & all):

-- jimd

View dmullinsdms's profile


1 post in 1780 days

#10 posted 09-19-2015 02:16 PM

My experience was not positive. I took the woodworking fundamental class and found Lonnie’s approach to be arrogant and scripted. His teaching style is “I’m a master. I’ll show you once, then you do it. At some point, I may come by your station and critique you, but don’t ask me to show you again.”

Most questions were met with disdain (“I already showed you”) or reference to a future class (“you’ll want to sign up for another class if you want to know how to do that”) or book (“buy my new book, and it will show you how to do that”).

Sometime on the first afternoon, he went around to each student (I think there were 9 of us) for a little introductory chat. He asked about my interests and I said “woodworking is a nice diversion from my professional responsibilities.” He said, “so, you must not really be interested,” and walked away. Given the constant references and pressure to sign up for subsequent courses, it really seemed that he had no interest in a “hobby woodworker” like me (i.e., someone who wouldn’t be likely to sign up for a lot of additional courses). So, the class entitled “woodworking fundamentals” is really designed as a week-long advertisement for Lonnie’s subsequent classes and product endorsements. The novice woodworker would not come away with any appreciable skills from this course.

Two illustrative anecdotes on Lonnie’s attitude:

First, at the end of one of the classes, Lonnie mentioned that he had a new book coming out soon, and he tasked us to all go on Amazon and leave 5-star reviews (even though none of us has seen the book). The next day, he made several snarky comments to the class that he’d looked at Amazon that morning and was disappointed that nobody had uploaded reviews for the book. He said, “I was planning something special for the class, but I’ve reconsidered whether you guys deserve it.” (Later, it was revealed that the “something special” was to be taken inside his house [which is connected to the workshop/school] to see a clock he had built.)

Second, before the class began, he sent a tool list. As someone new to the craft, I purchased all new tools. For some of the tools, there were several different options (i.e., “buy a bench plane from Company A or Company B”). When I arrived, he looked over my tools and commented “why didn’t you bring the tools I suggested?” I told him that I had everything on the list, and that all of my tools were among his recommendations. He said, “oh, I have to list several options, so I don’t offend any of the toolmakers by leaving them off the list, but you should have known not to buy ‘that’ plane,” (even though it was one of the listed suggestions).” In other words, he only wanted us to buy tools from vendors that he works with, and somehow we were supposed to know that. Having brought the “wrong” tools seemed to, again, mark me as someone who was not worthy of his attention in the remainder of the course. Over the course of the 5 day class, I had about 15-20 minutes of one-on-one instruction time with Lonnie.

After the course, I followed up with emails to express my concerns about several issues. A few days later, Lonnie phoned, but his tone was accusatory and abrasive as he tried to defend and justify his approaches and blame me for any problems. He finally said, “well, I can’t please everyone” and hung up.

Overall, I found the experience to be poorly informative. I ended up with a rudimentary side table and a nice collection of tools, but not enough training to efficiently or effectively use them without taking more classes. The arrogance of the instructor was sufficiently off-putting that I would not be tempted to take additional courses in this school.

View a1Jim's profile


118079 posts in 4377 days

#11 posted 09-19-2015 02:45 PM

Super review Mark ,it looks like you have learned your lessons well based on your very nice projects, since you’re in VA you might want to check out Charles Neil’s classes too.

If you’re in the area you might investigate Charles classes also.


View davebkenn's profile


2 posts in 1507 days

#12 posted 06-18-2016 09:17 PM

i completed the Woodworking Essentials class in June 2016 and found it very helpful. While the classes seem expensive at first glance (roughly $1000), it is for 40 hours of instruction, so it breaks down to $25/hr which is roughly same the price of woodworking classes in Atlanta by much less accomplished instructors. I found Lonnie to be very patient and helpful. We had 9 students in the class with varying degrees of experience and I felt like Lonnie adjusted his comments and teaching style for everyone’s benefit. No one’s work was criticized even when mistakes were pointed out. Lonnie prefaced each critique with, “we are all friends here” or “this is an easy mistake to make” and everyone in the class realized that we are all making mistakes and learning so no one was critical of anyone’s work. Lonnie also pointed out several folks who did really nice jobs in certain areas. I agree with one of the other posts that there was a bit of a sales pitch at the end of the week to sign up for additional classes or buy dvd’s, but that didn’t really bother me. I would recommend this class to anyone at the beginner/intermediate level. i will likely take additional classes in the future. I feel like i learned more in a week than I’ve learned in the past couple of years reading articles online and taking a couple of local classes. Learning from a pro makes big difference.

View Woodoc's profile


63 posts in 2157 days

#13 posted 07-12-2017 04:42 AM

I have taken four or five classes at Lonnie’s. I highly recommend Lonnie’s school. I have found Lonnie’s passion for period furniture to be infectious. And, I love going to Dandridge and learning with other woodworkers. I come home from each class with a whole new skill set that may have taken me years to learn on my own.

Recently, Lonnie was teaching me to carve a period fan to embellish a drawer front on a desk Im building. I just couldn’t seem to get the right curve on the small segments that make up the fan. Lonnie came around and tried to show me several times, but, I just couldn’t get it. Thankfully, he was patient and took the time to sit back and watch me work. Finally, he said, “You know, Steve. I think it might help you to draw some arcs across each segment to help you see the curve you are looking for.” He went to his tool cabinet and pulled out some circle templates and helped me pick just the right amount of arc to draw. It was a brilliant suggestion and a solution I don’t think I would have ever thought of myself because these arcs were not a part of the layout. I was amazed at the difference it made.

As for “Woodworking Essentials,” the week I took that class was the week I became serious furniture maker. You will leave that class able to hand cut dovetails and piston fit a drawer. You will know how to sharpen a chisel and tune a hand plane. You will understand what causes tear out and how to hold a chisel to cut with real precision. And, while you are learning all this you will be building a table that will be ready for finish when you head home. I thought it was great!

In my own profession I have been dealing with people on a daily basis for many years. Sometimes, even though I really care deeply about them, I really tic people off. Sometimes they just completely misunderstand what I am trying to say. Other times I am more blunt than I should be. I have decided that you should always try to treat people nicely and with respect but, there will always be times when you fail to make them happy. And there are those who will probably be better off going somewhere else. The vast majority of those that take Woodworking Essentials with Lonnie are very glad they did.

-- Doc "Not all who wander are lost." --J. R.R. Tolkien

View TechDad's profile


1 post in 924 days

#14 posted 01-23-2018 10:26 AM

I attended Mr. Bird’s Woodworking Essentials class in Dandridge, Tennessee. Unfortunately, I share the views posted by some of the fellows above. I won’t be going back.

First, the positives: there is no question Mr. Bird is an exceptionally skilled woodworker. Perhaps he is a virtuoso. I wish I had half of his talent, experience or knowledge. His teaching facility is ideal and the resources available there are first rate. Instruction and materials reasonably priced. I am a moderately experienced woodworker and I learned a couple of new tricks and techniques.

Second, the negatives: Mr. Bird is oddly condescending and arrogant. Frankly, I was shocked at his demeanor toward some in the class; fee-paying students earnestly attempting to learn from him. Perhaps it is the “quirkiness” of a virtuoso…Highly-accomplished people possessed of extraordinary talent sometimes display such arrogance. Perhaps Mr. Bird is one such fellow. (To be fair, I am certain that in my own profession, I have inadvertently rubbed people the wrong way.) Nevertheless, I thought his attitude, demeanor and some of his remarks to several in the class were insulting and gratuitous… Not at all what I would have anticipated in that environment.

As talented as Mr. Bird is, I simply cannot recommend his school.

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