Stuff We Like: The Southwest School of Woodworking

Last night, I finished my woodworking class: 27 hours in Fundamentals of Woodworking 1 at the Southwest School of Woodworking.

Why I Took the Class

As I wrote earlier, I enrolled in the class because I needed help understanding which tools I should acquire and which tools I could safely ignore. What kind of clamps? Which type of plane? Chisels?

What I Gained

I'm glad I went to the Southwestern School of Woodworking for four reasons:

  1. The class allowed me to use the tools I will need to buy. I now realize from experience: I need a good set of chisels and I really need a high-quality square.
  2. I have a much better sense of where and how to buy my tools. I understand now that going to Home Depot to buy a set of chisels is a terrible idea. I need to look at a specialized company, such as Veritas Tools.
  3. My teachers gave me tips about how to use the tools. You think sawing through a piece of wood to make a tenon is easy? Try it. There's a lot that can go wrong. The teachers were able to break the action into bite-size pieces and to coach me along as I started to saw.
  4. Finally, and most generally, I walked away from the class thinking, "I can do this." I need to invest money in tools, and time in practice, but I have confidence that I can work with wood, shaping it into things that would be at least functional and semi-cool looking. I didn't have that confidence before, and I owe it to the Southwest School of Woodworking.

A Word in Praise of My Teacher

The man who taught my class was David Fleming (he has his own site here).

David was my kind of teacher: he has a mastery of his subject, and he has the sense to know how much of that subject a novice needs to know. He was very good at communicating just the right amount of information — enough to keep me interested, but not so much that I became bewildered or discouraged.

He was also laudably patient: answer every question and never making me feel like a dumb-dumb (e..g, when I confused camber and camphor).

Would I Go Back to the Southwest School of Woodworking?

Yes. It is a cool place. The director, Raúl H. Ramírez, has built a school that allows beginners curious about the craft of woodworking to learn from masters who love the craft and know it.

The school is serious about it's work, but it has a laid-back vibe and easy-going, friendly-to-beginners atmosphere that I found hospitable. I'm glad that it exists in Phoenix. I'm looking forward to going back.