By Natalie Mourton
According to both Nic James and Laura Mays, their time as students in The Fine Woodworking Program of the College of the Redwoods remains one of their fondest memories. Each has also found that their experience and knowledge gained in the program continues to influence their workmanship today. Beech Tree Woodworks employee and fellow program graduate Jason Roberts agrees.
“It was just a fun experience to get a chance to learn about (woodworking) and take the time to learn you wouldn’t normally. The best part about school was all the people there, the students. I’ve got a lot of friends I still talk to from all over. My best mate was from Japan, the guy next to me was from Turkey…I have a lot of close friends still from there.”
There are 23 workbenches in the school and the atmosphere of the program is one of collaboration and discussion among the students themselves–as much as, and perhaps more, than with their teachers. The variety of skill levels and mixture of second and first year students provides an opportunity to learn from each other. Mays cites this along with the intensity of the program as key elements to each student’s success and achievement of a higher skill level. Students spend eight-to-nine hours a day in the workshop, six days a week. Although Sundays are optional, many find themselves continuing to work and refine their skills seven days a week. When not in the workshop, students continue to spend much of their free time together as well, hiking in the Redwoods and and experiencing the beauty of the Northern California coast.
For James, the greatest benefit of attending the school was the interactive and collaborative nature of the program, along with the close-friendships formed.
“I had such a good experience with all of them, many are still my friends. I’ve traveled Europe with two of them. I visit friends in California and Boulder. They taught me as much as the instructors did, if not more.”
Subconsciously, James has recreated the interactive atmosphere of the College of the Redwoods’ woodworking program at Beech Tree Woodworks. His business employs four woodworkers with a varied background and unique skills, in addition to James himself. Beech Tree maintains the same kind of sharing and collaborative atmosphere he found engaging while in school. The variety amongst his workers allows them to bring their experiences outside of Beech Tree in and creates an opportunity to learn and collaborate with each other.
Roberts describes the standards at Beech Tree Woodworks as the same high-standards strived for in The Fine Woodworking Program. Each woodworker continues to build on their success and acquire new skills. In his home shop, Roberts continues to practice the same techniques he learned at College of the Redwoods whenever he needs veneers for a project.
“At home, I don’t believe in commercial veneers, so I like to re-saw my own. It’s just a much higher-quality end product.”
In addition to working full-time as the program’s director, Mays and her partner and fellow program graduate, Rebecca Yaffe, have a home shop and business as well, called YaffeMays. When not at the school or raising their young daughter, she tries to find time to spend in their shop. Mays’ attitude and approach in her woodwork reflect what she learned from Krenov and the Fine Woodworking Program he created. She prefers to make chairs, and although Krenov did not make chairs, she has found she still applies his principles in her technique.
And it is these principles–a sense of craftsmanship and tradition, a respect, a sense of sensitivity to one’s material, and attention to detail–that she hopes every student will gain while in the program and take with them, just as James and Roberts did, as they find their own niche in the woodworking world.