Mary May - School of Traditional Woodcarving (Online) (Rating: 4)


This review is on the online woodcarving school taught by Mary May.

When you click on the link above it will take you to her school's home page where you can watch a 5 minute video of her explaining her online school and a sample of one of her school videos.

A weekly pass is a one time $5 payment, a monthly subscription is $10 per month and a yearly subscription is $110.

With a subscription you have access to all the videos that are currently uploaded to the site. As I write this on October the 4th, 2012 there are 27 lessons. Some of those lessons have been broken up into segments though. For example, she has broken up a series on carving ball-and-claw feet into five chapters, each from either 7-25 minutes long. So there are actually currently 42 videos. Of those 42 videos the length ranges from 2-30 minutes long, the majority being between 10-20 minutes. In total there is currently over 17 hours of video!

The site is nicely organized and has each video named and listed under topically categories. Some category titles are:

Beginning Carving Projects
Sharpening Gouges
Acanthus Leaves
Architectural Decorations
Period Furniture Details

First Impressions

My first thought when going through her lessons was the close up camera angles. The camera is focused on the work and allows you to see precisely how the tool interacts with the wood and it's grain. Although her verbal instructions clarify what she is doing, the video speaks for itself in a way no one can explain. By watching the gouges slice through the wood in close view with the fine shavings peeling beneath the sharp edge you can really observe how the tool works the wood. At times when the grain is fighting against her rather than working with her you can see the wood begin to tear and the techniques she uses to tame it and produce a smooth surface.

The only negative comment I could make on the video footage itself is the video quality and lighting. Most of the time the lighting is fine and because the camera is so close to the work the clarity is good as well. But if you are expecting 1080p HD you may be disappointed. This is the only reason I did not give the review a full 5 stars.

The Teacher

Mary May has been teaching traditional woodcarving for over 15 years and was trained by master carvers from around the world. She has taught at schools like Marc Adam's School of Woodworking, Roy Underhill's The Woodwright School and Kelley Mehler's School of Woodworking. Her joyful and humble personality make just listening to her enjoyable and her passion for carving shows in her carvings and teaching. Throughout the videos she explains what she is doing and why, as well as what tool she is using. Having watched all the videos she has currently available there is no doubt in my mind as to her effectiveness as a teacher. She makes even the most detailed carvings look easy and manageable. But the true mark of a good teacher is whether or not she can inspire her students to love learning. I can say it sure didn't take long for me to get out into the shop and start carving after watching a few videos.

The Curriculum

The focus of her work is traditional carving, whether it be furniture carving, moldings or architectural. She even has one lesson on carving a 3-D hand. The majority of the lessons are on relief carving which is most commonly used on furniture, like shell carvings, acanthus leaf variations and flower carvings. She also has a five part series on carving the awesome ball-and-claw foot which intimidates most furniture builders.

If some of those projects seem too advanced she has some lessons for beginning carvers to help them understand the basics.

And for those that don't even know what a carving gouge is she has a few lessons on what a basic set should comprise of and how to sharpen a variety of gouges. In fact, if you are new to woodcarving then go to the category titled Beginning Carving Projects where she has all her lessons on carving gouges, sharpening, and a few basic carving projects listed.

She is also open to receiving ideas from viewers on what topics and projects she should work on next.

The only negative comment I could make on the curriculum is the frequency of new lessons. A new lesson may take up to a month to come out, although the lesson can be up to an hour long. But with a current 17 hours of video there is lots to keep you busy and make the $10 a month worth the money.

Appreciated Details

Every project has a tool list and pictures and/or templates available as a PDF download. Some lessons even have step by step instructions that you can download and print to take in the shop with you.

During each video she usually verbally says what tool she is currently using, but just to make sure the viewer knows, the tool is listed on screen whenever she switches.

For all those carvers that have a limited selection of gouges she shows how to use basic tools to get the same results a specialized gouge is designed to accomplish. Although she will use her backbent, frontbent and spoon gouges to show where those tools can be used.

Overall Comments

My overall opinion of Mary May's School of Traditional Woodcarving is a big two thumbs up. The site is organized and easy to use, the subscriptions are priced well, the footage is filmed carefully and Mary May's personality is wonderful. I would recommend to anyone interested in woodcarving to give her online school a try and see how it benefits you and your work.