Today I visited Warwickshire College and the first ever New English Workshop Summer School, where 18 worthy souls are building 'the Anarchist's tool chest' under the expert guidance of Christopher Schwarz.
Despite 30 degree temperatures, the team spirit and general camaraderie of all involved was overwhelming; people are waiting at the door to get cracking in the morning and have to be reminded to stop and eat!
The tool chest is a wonderful project, nothing incredibly complicated, so any one element is straightforward to grasp and master. However, it is the way that those individual processes build upon each other that is so important. It teaches you how to develop your working rhythm, working steadily and hard, but taking enough time that you don't make mistakes. Concentrating on the task at hand, but maintaining an overview of the build - it is a complete process.
I was lucky enough to get a chance to get my hands dirty, helping out with shooting some boards to length and cutting a few dovetails. It was interesting to get a feel for what it is like to work in a crowded bench shop - hot, loud, but hugely rewarding.
Chris's reputation as a teacher is is well deserved, he has a habit of explaining something perfectly in nine words that most people would struggle to get across in ninety.
This example from Paul Mayon's blog:
"Chris uses the three terms, Baby Bird, Locomotive and Hovercraft to describe how you should be sawing: hold the handle as you would a baby bird; strong enough to not let it get away, gentle enough not to crush the bird. You move the saw just as a steam locomotive’s wheels are driven and finally, when beginning the cut you hold the weight off the toe of the saw by using the lower horn to lift the toe (when starting a cut). All of this leads, ultimately to better controlled cuts for our dovetails."
The concept of New English Workshop is to bring together the best that the craft of traditional furniture making has to offer and give people an opportunity to dive in boots first and give it a really good try. The 2014 courses sold out in a heartbeat, but there are some seriously fantastic courses planned for summer 2015.
If you want to get a place on one, visit newenglishworkshop.co.uk, sign up for more information and start saving. Once the 2015 courses are announced they will will be snapped up, so you'll need to be prepared.