December 2009 NEWSLETTER



1979: John Alexander (right) with assistant Geli.

Country Workshops has been offering courses in post-and-rung chair making since 1979, when John Alexander taught his first class here. Back then, John and Drew knew the basics of making a ladderback chair, but we really had no idea of how to teach chair making in a 5-day class format.

Back then, we also didn’t have much of a workshop. In fact, we used part of an old tobacco barn that was close to falling over. Over the years we have developed a shop that we are particularly proud of – equipped with a shaving horse and workbench for every student, a collection of first rate tools (all kept in excellent condition) and even a heated studio where we hold our fall and winter tutorials. Our electric kiln is now using a third generation heating element, which is simply a small ceramic heater. 

During the first 2 years our class project was making post-and-rung stools, which are rectangular in plan view and have no back slats or bent posts. Even then, we used air dry posts and kiln dry rungs at the time of assembly. For the first course  Drew rived out parts ahead of time so that they could begin drying. The kiln operation consisted of an improvised cinder

2009: John Klemaseski works with the potty seat.

block construction heated by a small wood fire. Students monitored the kiln hourly for 2 days. During this time the class rived out and rough shaved generic parts for a future class to be held the following summer.

After 2 years we graduated to teaching a “knitting chair.” This version has a trapezoidal seat plan and extended  (but straight) rear posts that support a single back slat. This is when Drew’s “potty seat” was developed. For those who aren’t initiated, this device is what we stil use for setting up the horizontal boring angles in the posts that will house the rung tenons. The potty seat name comes from the fact that it looks a little like … a kiddy potty seat.

2006: Students shave rear posts.

The next evolutionary step moved the class to the current version of our ladderback chair. The chair now has 2 back slats and very comfortably shaped, steam bent rear posts. To do this in a class situation Drew prepped a full set of pre-bent rear posts about a month before the participants arrived. And as before, the class then made generic parts -- including the bent rear posts -- for future classes.

The final major development for the ladderback class was the addition of weaving the seating, using Shaker tape. Until then, we included a seat weaving demo, but everyone left the class with a frame that would require a woven seat as the final ‘homework’ assignment.

As the chairmaking project evolved, additional shop time was required to make the more complex chairs. We did learn to be more efficient with some of the steps involved. And a switch from old-fashioned brace and bit boring to using hand-held electric drills turned out to be a no-brainer.  But time to include everything that we wanted to teach in a 5-day course became a challenge.  The result was the introduction of after-supper “homework.” No one really minds, but it does make for a very long day in the workshop. Also, there was no longer time to teach tool sharpening, or to discuss some of the finer aspects of making the chair.

2007: Drew demonstrates during a class.

One solution was to increase the summer class from 5 days to 6. This helps, but the days are still very long. There simply isn’t enough time to  include as much in the class as we would really prefer. And we’re all getting older; the old oomph just isn’t there for some of us.

The comprehensive solution that we’ve developed for summer 2010 is a new format for the class. The Deluxe Edition Chair School runs for two weeks, with a weekend break at half-time. With this format we will be able to include a substantial demo on sharpening, more advanced techniques to get particularly good results with our drawknives and spokeshaves, fine points of chair design, the pros and cons of the different shaving horse designs, why we prefer the Country Workshops chairmaker’s froe over others that we know of. And we are hoping -- no evening homework.

Click here for the rest of the story, including details about our summer 2010 Deluxe Edition Chairmaking School and more historic CW photos.

Winter Tutorials
Winter 2010 tutorials are now filling in. These woodworking courses are limited to 4 students. Drew Langsner is the instructor. Tutorial tuition includes materials, a private room, our famous meals prepared by Louise Langsner, and use of specialized tools. Enrollment can be by phone (828 656 2280) or e-mail. The deposit is $350 with the balance due 4 weeks before each session begins. Other details, including our cancellation policy, are on the Country Workshops web site.

January 11-15: Ladderback Chairmaking - Make a “mule ear” side chair. - 2 openings
January 25-30: American Windsor Chairmaking - Make a bow-back side chair.
February 8-12: Carving Bowls and Spoons - The Scandinavian tradition. - Full
February 22-26: Rustic Windsor Chairmaking - Low-back or high-back. - 1 opening
March 8-12: Hearth Chair - This is Drew’s design for an all wood loafing chair. - 1 opening
March 22-26: Carving Bowls and Spoons - The Scandinavian tradition.
- Full

Spring Weekend Workshops
As always, materials, lodging and delicious meals are included in the tuition. Specialty tools are also provided. Like our tutorials, these weekend courses are limited to 4 class participants. The deposit is $150.

April 17-18: Windsor Stool – Drew's design with a Carved Seat and T-stretchers
May 15-16: Willow Basketry – Louise Langsner is the instructor
June 5-6: Bowl Carving – The Scandinavian Tradition with updates

Summer Workshops with Guest Instructors

June 14-25: Ladderback Chairmaking – The Deluxe Edition (with Drew Langsner)
July 12-17: Post-and-Rung Rocking Chair (Tom Donahey)
July 26-31: Coopering – with Wooden Hooping (Carl Swensson)
August 9-14: Japanese Woodworking – Make an Andon Lamp (Osamu Shoji)
August 23-28: Swedish Sloyd Craft (Jögge Sundqvist)
- Full

2010 International Craft Tour
Japan – Focus on Gifu Prefecture
and the Hida Alps
October 19-29, 2010

Turner and urushi (lacquer) artist Hideharu Kobayashi from our 2008 tour.

The 2010 tour will be our 4th visit to Japan. Located  roughly half way between Tokyo and Osaka, Gifu Prefecture is an off-the-main tracks area that is a treasure trove for traditional crafts. Our tour dates in October come at a time when the weather will be moderating and travel is pleasant in this part of Japan.

We are currently arranging visits with master artisans who work with wood and other natural  materials. These include boatbuilding, basketry, ceramics, paper making, tansu cabinetry and samurai sword blade making.  We have arranged for demonstrations at many of our visits, and it will be possible to buy outstanding craft work directly from our hosts.

The guide and translator duties for our tour will be shared by Masashi Kutsuwa and Osamu Shoji. Kutsuwa-san is a woodworking teacher at Gifu Academy of Forest Science and Culture located in Mino. Shoji-san is a founder and head instructor at Shinrin-Takumi Jyuku woodworking school (Web site in Japanese) in Takayama. Shoji-san will also be teaching our Japanese woodworking course in August. Drew Langsner will be the tour host.

The tour fee is $3,650. This includes all land travel during the tour, accommodations (both western and in traditional ryokans), all meals, admissions, honorariums for our various hosts and the services of our professional staff.

To place a reservation, or if you have questions, contact Drew Langsner by phone (828 656 2280). For further information and photos of our 2008 Japan tour, click here

During workshops where we use wet, green wood we like to have water soluble pencils for layout and other markings. At a recent class someone brought a pencil that works especially nicely. The only label on the pencil is “Ellsworth Hall.” The class member who brought it doesn’t remember where this pencil came from. Does anyone out there know anything else? Our Google search came up with no clues.
CW now has a Facebook page, or wall, or whatever it’s called. This is a great place for hooking up with other woodworkers who have come to class or are interested in Country Workshops. It’s also another place where we are posting information on what is going on at our shop, store  and classes. Anyone can view the site. You will need to sign up with Facebook to do a post.


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To contact us by:
E-mail: click here
Web site: click here
Phone: 828 656 2280 (9 AM to 6 PM, eastern time, any day)
Address: 990 Black Pine Ridge Rd.; Marshall, North Carolina 28753