Woodworking classes at Marc Adams School of Woodworking are supposed to be a challenge. That applies to the instructor as well as the students. One of the challenges this year was the passing of Zane Powell who kept students safe, made me look competent and always met challenges with a smile and good humor. Zane lost his fight with cancer less than a week before class and will always be missed. Part of Zane’s mission was to pass on what he knew to the people who worked with and for him, and part of his legacy is the excellent work of all the staff.
We had a full house for this class, sixteen students willing to leave their comfort zones and tackle a complex project. In this chair are a bunch of mortise and tenon joints and each connection involves some head scratching. There are straight through joints where the front and back rails join the legs, angled through joints where the lower side rails attach, blind straight tenons at the top rail of the side assemblies and angled blind tenons where the vertical slats meet the angled lower rail. Then there are more through tenons that pierce the arms; the mortise for the front leg goes straight through, but the mortise at the back is angled.
In the back assembly, the curved rails connect to the posts with tenons that exit the curve at an angle. Before we got to the joinery we cut thick veneer to cover the ugly parts of the laminated legs, made a form to stack laminate the curved back rails and milled lots of parts. For me the goal of the class is to engage the problem-solving portion of my students brains and get them to look for the easiest way to get the next task completed in the shortest amount of time with the least risk.
Making good furniture is mostly problem-solving and a good portion of that ability is to define the problem and weigh the options. Sometimes a slick machine setup makes sense and sometimes that slick machine setup involves more time, effort and skill than just picking up a saw and cutting to a line. In my classes (and in my work) there isn’t any commitment to using either machinery or hand tools in favor of the other. Tools are tools and a large part of my training way back when was developing the judgment necessary to make a good choice. I make an effort to explain the available options and my reasoning about the choices I make to the students. Sometimes I set up two ways to do something and let them pick their method.
So our week ended with making choices about what was left to do to complete the chairs, what could be accomplished later on in the quiet comfort of our own shops, and what would be better to get done while at the school to take advantage of the available tools, equipment and expertise. My goal going in was for the students to leave equipped to make a Morris chair, even if they were leaving with a pile of parts. In addition to the bits and pieces they left with the experience of performing tasks they didn’t think they could do beforehand. They also left with my email address, just in case.
One final note: One of the realities of the American Health care system is that a cancer diagnosis, even for an individual with insurance, can be devastating financially. There is a fundraiser on GoFundMe to help Zane Powell’s widow and family.