In 1978, I had never even been to the country. I was born & raised in the suburbs. When I was little, we had to come in when the streetlights came on…so what was I doing reading a book called “Country Woodcraft” by Drew Langsner? Unknowingly, I was re-directing my just-dropped-out-of-art-school life.
Drew’s updated version of this book is now available through Lost Art Press, and what a brilliant move to update it rather than just reprint it. Now we get the culmination of 40 years’ worth of workshops held at Drew & Louise’s Country Workshops. I wrote a bit of an introduction to go with this book and in it I mentioned how often you’d hear the words “life-changing” regarding students’ reactions to their experiences there. Fits me to a tee. I’ve written many times over the years about my experiences there; and the impact Drew & Louise have had on my life and career. The book was the seed of that, along with Jennie Alexander’s Make a Chair from a Tree (the 3rd edition of which is in the works at LAP, don’t worry.)
First off, the new one won’t fall apart – I have 2 broken paperbacks of the 1978 book. For the spoon-crazies – this is where America first heard of Wille Sundqvist and carving spoons with axes and knives. 9 pages in the old book, 43 pages now, something like that. Similar story with the “half-log bowls” as they are called in the new edition. And on & on – I’ve just got it this week, and am looking forward to reading both the old and new parts again & again.
And my connection to Drew & Louise is only part of this heap-o’-praise. I’m completely biased, having worked with Lost Art Press now for quite a few years. They have done their usual great job – read Chris’ blurb about the book, including how LAP & Drew both agreed to keep the price of the book accessible for beginners & students – did you ever hear a publisher/author say that? Get it here
I’ve been finishing up some stuff in the shop, pegging the slats in this hickory ladderback chair this afternoon. It’s nearly impossible for me to work on projects like this one & not think of my friend Drew Langsner. I sound like a broken record over the years, but Drew and his wife Louise changed my life.
Many others too I’m sure. 2020 has not been a good year for anyone, or if it has, they had best keep quiet about it. For Drew, it featured a long medical hassle that he’d just come through when two weeks ago as a coda he had emergency bypass surgery. I spoke to him the other day, and he was happy to be home after his time in the hospital. He had great praise for the staff at the Mission Hospital in Asheville, N.C. – and was relating to me all the new challenges; (“if your butt goes down, your feet come up” is the new mantra). Finding a flat place to walk around their farm is the trick now…
If you’re not familiar with Drew’s work; it’s a long story, but from about 1977 onward for 40 years, he & Louise ran a hand-tool woodworking school on their place in western North Carolina. Starting with just a few week-long classes in the summer, eventually they added workshops year-round. Chair-making, basketry, timber framing, spoon & bowl carving, Japanese woodworking tools, and on & on. If you carve spoons in slojd/sloyd style in America – it’s because of them, whether you know it or not. I’ve written about their place a number of times over the years – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=country+workshops
He’s written several books, the first one I saw was Country Woodcraft back in 1978. Lost Art Press is working on the new edition of that book, slated to come out this year. I’ll be sure to post a notice when it’s available. Back at Greenwood Fest #2 in 2017, we were lucky enough to be able to host Drew & Louise as a way of honoring their enduring contribution to our craft. This is a group photo from our Greenwood Fest of folks who had been to Country Workshops at some point over the years…
It was a highlight for me to be able to include them that way in that event, after all they’ve done for me. They gave a talk there about the 40-year history of their school Country Workshops. It was great to view those old, and not-so-old, photos, but few have Drew in them…someone sent me this one of Drew from that visit in Plymouth in 2017.
So, now Drew is hanging around the house recuperating from heart surgery. I know he reads this blog, so if you’d like to leave a comment for him here, I’ll be sure he sees them. Even better though – if you’d like to send a card or a note in the US mail – they’ll make their way out to the mailbox at some point…that address is Drew Langsner 775 Black Pine Ridge Rd Marshall, N.C. 28753
All right, let’s send some healing best wishes down to that mountain…
But tonight I’m writing because over the years I’ve had many people say they’d like to go there, but it’s a long drive (approx 20 hours for me; Massachusetts to North Carolina) – but in 2015 Drew is coming to New England to teach a course in making the chair pictured above. He’ll be at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks in Warren, Maine in late September. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/workshop/USA/73
If you’ve been wanting to meet Drew and take a class from him, here is a VERY rare chance to do so – I don’t think he’s ever taught in New England before. The chair is one of my favorites, rock-solid and very comfortable. I first met Drew in 1980, when he was hosting a class by Alexander in ladderback chairmaking. Drew’s been teaching chairmaking for almost that long…
Maybe Maine is a long drive for you too, but so what. Jump on it if you are inclined. Don’t wait for next year… It’s a small class for Lie-Nielsen’s program, and their facility is just a great place to take classes. Excellent venue, and great, helpful staff. I highly, highly recommend it.
I know I’m lucky to have the hewing hatchets I do…I got mine from Alexander, and the legend is that Drew Langsner and Jennie (then-John) Alexander got them as partial payment for demos/lectures at Woodcraft back in 1979/80. I found this while down at Bob Van Dyke’s place this week:
– a 1971 Woodcraft Catalog, that listed the limited quantity axe heads they were then offering. Says the first 100 orders will be filled, but 9 years later, they still had leftovers? $12 must have been too steep a price…
My blog is not noted for its variety. I keep saying the same things over & over again. Drawboring. Green wood. Carved oak. Hand tools. My kids. Today’s bird. (Great Horned owlet, thanks for showing it to me, Marie. Look at the feet on this creature!)
The book first came out in 1987, by which time I was a “repeat offender” at Country Workshops; i.e. I took classes there regularly. I remember a couple of years making 2 trips down there per year. (900 miles each way). I devoured the book when it was new. I still keep the hardcover edition in the shop, and still refer to it from time to time.
Spoons, they’re here. I learned to make them from this book and its predecessor, Country Woodcraft, before meeting Jogge & Wille Sundqvist at CW. You can make a spoon right from the book, I just re-read the chapter a week ago. Drew outlined the book by devoting each chapter to a technique, Hewing, Riving, Shaving and so on. Each chapter then has a project that highlights that particular technique. At one time or another, I have made most everything in this book. Just the other day, I was talking with my wife about making the firewood carriers again. I used to make lots of them. The seeds of my joinery work are in there too – Drew profiled several woodworkers in one section, including Alexander. Mention is made of the beginnings of JA’s study of 17th-century joinery.
If you don’t have this book, now’s your chance to get it direct from the horse’s mouth. Drew sells them from Country Workshops, $35 plus $7.50 shipping & handling. www.countryworkshops.org
Of course, I am biased – I’ve known Drew since I stumbled down there in 1980 as the greenest 22-yr old you can imagine. So read what Chris Schwarz said in his post “10 books that changed the way I think” – Drew got 2 of the 10…
“Green Woodworking” by Drew Langsner. This book is like visiting a foreign country, a delightful foreign country. Even if you have been woodworking for decades, this book offers surprises and insights on every page. It will make you more intimate with your material.
“The Chairmaker’s Workshop” by Drew Langsner. While John Brown’s book made me want to build chairs, Langsner’s gave me the information I needed to actually do it. Though I build chairs differently now, I could not have gotten started without this book.
If you are tired of hearing me write about Country Workshops, go read another blog right now…last week I heard from Drew Langsner and we were writing back & forth about a few things. He mentioned that 2013 might really be the last summer of guest instructors’ classes at Country Workshops. I knew it was coming; but it’s still a big deal to me…this is where I learned woodworking and so much more. I first traveled to Drew & Louise’s place in 1980, and have been a regular there off and on ever since.
Drew says he will keep teaching his 4-person classes in chairmaking and spoon & bowl carving, and the tool store will keep running. But the full-blown, summer, large group experiences will probably come to an end. Imagine having between 8 & 12 people, sometimes more, coming to your home 5 or 6 weeks each summer, SINCE 1978! And feeding them, 3x a day…like you wouldn’t believe.
So – if you haven’t been – make some arrangements, shift your schedule, gas up the car. If you have been, time to come back for the semi-last hurrah. Come and take my class. If you folks don’t sign up, I don’t get to go. Or take any of the others. Carl Swensson will knock you out completely in making Swiss cooperage. Carl is one of the best, but little-known, woodworkers in the country. Osamu Shoji will be coming from Japan, for a class in Making a Folding Byobu Room Divider… see the website for all the details. Sign up for the newsletter from Country Workshops…it’s full of good stuff. http://countryworkshops.org/
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.
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.