I have a funny job. 8 months out of the year, I answer questions as I work in the shop. You tend to hear some of them over & over again. And again. I’m going to answer some of them here from time to time. Here’s the first one.
How did I get started in this kind of woodworking, hand tools, green wood?
It’s not a simple answer like “I served an apprenticeship” or anything along those lines. When I was younger, I inherited from my father a tablesaw, drill press, router, jointer, lathe, etc. – all electric. All 1950s & early ‘60s vintage. I tried to learn something of how to use them. Fumbled around a bit, until I saw a 1978 issue of Fine Woodworking magazine. In it were two articles that somehow struck me just right. One was an excerpt from Make a Chair from a Tree, by (then) John Alexander. The other was an article by Drew Langsner about cleaving wood from a log. I ordered Alexander’s book and tracked down a copy of Drew’s then-new book Country Woodcraft (Rodale Press, 1978)
That was the beginning of my real woodworking education. Two years later, I went down to Marshall, N.C. for my first-ever visit to Country Workshops, the school run by Drew and his wife Louise. I was not a stellar student that year by any stretch of the imagination. The wood was not the only “green” thing around, let’s leave it at that.
Readers of this blog know the relationship that eventually came about between Alexander & I – its importance I have already written about. But the same is true of Drew’s impact on my career. I see him as the unsung hero of green woodworking…for over 30 years he’s been teaching class after class and studying & exploring numerous aspects of woodcraft.
I went back to Drew & Louise’s place many times between about 1985 and and 1994. My first class there was in a barn shared with the animals. I seem to remember Alexander standing on a hay bale to write on a blackboard. Over the years the facility grew and improved through a strong commitment on the Langsners’ part.
Drew’s Country Woodcraft is a neat book, I dug out my copy last week to look it over. Many things in there I never made; I have no use thus far for a Spike-tooth A-harrow, nor a drag. But this might be the first place I saw a spring pole lathe…and I certainly first saw spoon carving in this book.
The Logbuilder’s Handbook chronicles how they built their log house. I have the book, read it cover-to-cover, but never did any hewing of timbers. I aim to tackle some hewing this winter.
After my first trip in 1980, I shook a few demons for a couple of years before I returned in 1985 to try my hand at timber framing in oak. There I met Daniel O’Hagan from Pennsylvania, who became a great influence on me as well. From then on, I remember waiting each winter for the Country Workshops newsletter/catalog to come in the mail , so I could see what classes were being offered & start making plans for the summer’s trip to N.C.
I went again & again. Timber framing a few times, Windsor chairs with Curtis Buchanan, basketry, spoon carving with both Jogge & Wille Sundqvist, coopering with Drew..
For a while I tried each class they offered just about. Drew went on to write many books and articles, – his Green Woodworking is a great book and the Chairmaker’s Workshop is a very detailed exploration into how Drew makes several styles of chairs that have been the focal point of Country Workshops, starting with Alexander’s first class there in 1979.
I spent the summer of 1988 living and working with Drew & Louise. What an experience. The years kept going by. Making great quality tools available became another focus for Drew and Country Workshops, as they started to import blacksmith-made hatchets, gouges, etc. Similarly, there was a series of woodcraft videos, one on spoons & bowls by Jogge Sundqvist, then Drew’s first woodworking teacher Ruedi Kohler, the Swiss cooper. They did another excellent one about Bengt Lidstrom making hewn bowls in Sweden. All well worth having.
By 1994, I got a job. That was great in some ways, my museum work has been another very exciting chapter in my work, but it also changed my travel inclinations for about 10 years. In that time, my travels were about research, studying oak furniture, lecturing, etc. So no time really for woodworking classes. I kept in touch with Drew & Louise through the mail, then email…always with an eye on what was happening down there.
I finally made it back there when the twins were just toddlers, and have been several times in the past 6 years or so.
A couple of years ago, I was a student in Jogge Sundqvist’s class, and wrote about that here: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/one-of-the-most-exciting-classes-ive-been-to/
It’s great to be back, and I am really looking forward to August 2013 when I will again teach how to rive, plane and carve oak to make a 17th-century box. If you have been to Langsner’s you don’t need me to tell you about it, if you haven’t – here’s your chance. Don’t miss out. Take my class, take a chairmaking class, spoons & bowls, or any of the others. Just get there. Here’s the website http://countryworkshops.org/ sign up for the newsletter, sign up for their catalog/class listings. Get on the mailing list so it comes to your house, just like the old days.
Here’s Drew’s website, http://drewlangsner.com/ you can see the sort of wooden ware he’s interested in making lately. To me, it harks back to his days as a sculpture/art student. And while you’re at it, here once again is the link to Louise’s blog about her cooking & gardening. I know I point to this stuff a lot, but we have some new readers here. So bear with me. http://louiselangsner.wordpress.com/
I really can’t state strongly enough just how important Drew’s work has been to mine. Getting to know Drew and Louise has been one of the best parts of my adult life. I can say without reservation, without them, I would not be where I am today. No bones about it. They literally made me feel a part of their family, and have been so generous over the years. See you in N.C.