August-September 2010 E-NEWSLETTER

One of CW's friendly shop cats.

Summer-Fall Calendar Update

We still have a few openings in the summer workshops and fall tutorials.

September 6-11: Swedish Sloyd Craft (Jögge Sundqvist) - 2 openings
September 27-October 1: Carving Bowls and Spoons - The Scandinavian tradition - Full
October 19-29: Japanese Craft Tour – Gifu Prefecture

December 6-10: Carving Bowls and Spoons - The Scandinavian tradition - 1 opening

Winter 2011 Tutorials with Drew Langsner

Registrations are now being accepted for Winter 2011 Tutorials. These courses are limited to 4 students. The tuition includes project materials, meals and a private room. Specialized tools are provided for all of these courses. Drew Langsner is the instructor. Registration can be by phone (828 656 2280) or e-mail. The tutorial deposit is $350, with the balance due 4 weeks before each course begins. Further details are at:

January 10-14: Ladderback Chairmaking
January 24-28: Rustic Windsor Chairmaking - 2 openings
February 7-11: Carving Bowls and Spoons
February 21-25: Ladderback Chairmaking
March 7-11: Rustic Windsor Chairmaking - 1 opening
March 21-25: Make a Hearth Chair - 2 openings
April 4-8: Make a Corner Cabinet with Wooden Hardware


By Drew Langsner

For over 30 years we have arranged for Guest Instructors to teach special courses during our summer season. Summer 2010 was exceptional. Carl Swenson taught a course in Swiss-inspired coopering, featuring traditional interlocked wooden hooping. Osamu Shoji travelled from Takayama, Japan to teach his first course at Country Workshops, making an andon -- a wood framed lantern with washi (handmade paper) shading.
Both classes were 6 full days in length, but happily there was minimal after supper work required. By Saturday our hard-working class participants were completing their challenging projects. Both Carl Swensson and Osamu Shoji have told us that they are willing to return to Country Workshops next year. We will announce our 2011 summer schedule in the September newsletter.

COOPERING: The Swiss Tradition

Swiss style coopering.
Carl explains the outside curvature.
Band clamps used for the glue-up.
Carl Swensson has been teaching Japanese woodworking at Country Workshops since 1983. But anyone who knows Carl is aware that his woodworking interests extend broad and deep. Carl has been investigating traditional coopering from the Swiss Alps for over 10 years. During the past year Carl has concentrated on developing techniques that make it possible for students to successfully complete an open-ended staved vessel with very challenging wooden hooping.
Carl limbers a hot hoop blank.
Carl was originally exposed Swiss coopering when he began to study some examples that I have kept from my apprenticeship with kufermeister Ruedi Kohler in 1972. Joining a random number of staves into a watertight cylinder is challenging, but successfully making the interlocked wooden hooping is the master trick. In 1988 I traveled to rural Switzerland with Rick Mastelli to record a video which shows how the 87-year-old cooper applied his craft. The resulting 46-minute video --  Swiss Coopering -- is available from the Country Workshops Store.  I also wrote a cover story on Swiss Coopering for “Fine Woodworking” that appeared in the May/June 1983 issue.
Carl found that as he looked into this craft, he would discover layer upon layer of woodworking mysteries. Ruedi Kohler knew exactly what he was doing, but very little in making a coopered bucket turns out to be easy or obvious. For instance, stave width is random. Each stave has 2 mitered sides. When a group of staves is joined together the joints must be tight, and the resulting diameter has to be very close to the original intention. The hooping presents other problems. The wooden hoops are under tension (and therefore vulnerable to failure) especially at the locks where half of the width is carved away for the joinery. Furthermore, Carl Swensson was determined to do this coopering to the high standard that Ruedi Kohler achieved.
Carl’s approach to learning the craft was quite different than the apprenticeship that Ruedi Kohler did back in 1920. Carl had no teacher, just the video, my FW article, and some examples of Ruedi’s work to study. Systematic observation and experimentation was his teacher. The coopering process was broken down into discreet increments, studied, and gradually mastered.
The class project was making a schussel, a coopered bowl that traditional had many uses on an alpine dairy farm. For his class, Carl did some extra work, preparing models and other aids. This resulted in some departures
Intern Tim Manney with finished schussel.
from the traditional approach, but it allowed the students in the course to complete each step with very good results. Perhaps the most impressive part of the course was Carl’s demonstration of what he has learned about bending wood for the hoops. Steaming, followed by limbering with a bending strap, was the key to success here. Carl found that limbering in both directions is far better than just limbering in the direction of the locked hoop. Given proper technique, and accurately made hoops, pre-limbering can actually result in success without the use of heat during the final bend when the tricky inter-lock is connected. Each student in the class was able to complete this without serious mishaps.
Material for the staves was air-dried, locally harvested eastern white pine. A year before the course Carl and I went to our local sawmill and looked through a stack of 8/4 rough lumber, picking out pieces that were quarter sawed. The hooping material was flat sawed birch and maple, purchased by Carl in Baltimore.
We look forward to offering coopering with Carl Swensson once again. Please contact us if this is a particular interest. This is a specialized course and we would like to know who is interested before putting the class our calendar.

MAKE AN ANDON LANTERN: Lighting in Japan Before Electrification

Osamu Shoji with andon mockups.
I first met Osamu Shoji during our Japanese traditional craft tour in 2004. Our tour included the small city of Takayama in the Japanese Alps, an area known for its woodworking traditions. Shoji-san hosted our group at his woodworking school, Shinrin-Takumi Jyuku, and he took us to meet a local maker of washi . This is handmade paper -- for shoji screens, art work and other purposes -- that is generally made from the inner bark of young mulberry trees.
When Country Workshops had another Japanese craft tour in 2008 I was asked to teach a course in ladderback chairmaking for the new Japanese Green Woodworking Association. I was very surprised to learn that Osamu Shoji had signed up for the course. During the last day Shoji-san volunteered that he would be interested in teaching a course in Japanese woodworking at Country Workshops. Of course I accepted.
Shoji discusses joinery details.
Marlin Mathiesen assembles
his andon frame.
Shoji's andon with washi shading.
Amber Koller was our beginner.
In planning the course the first question was ‘what will the students make?’ I suggested a wood framed lamp, thinking about ceiling lighting that I have seen in the ryokans (traditional inns) that our tours make use of. From there, Shoji (as he likes being called) suggested that the students make an old fashioned type of oil lamp known as an andon. These are no longer commonly used, but they present various possibilities of design and complexity. Shoji e-mailed a few pencil sketches which were reproduced in our 2010 catalog along with a photo of 2 antique andons.
Shoji also surprised me when he agreed to be our tour guide and translator for the Takayama half of this year’s craft tour in Gifu Prefecture. Masashi Kutsuwa will be our guide in the lowland half of the tour. Our staff also includes Erina Horuchi, one of Shoji’s ex-students. Tour details are at
As time for the course approached we e-mailed back and forth to discuss questions about materials, tools, and the daily schedule. We decided to use basswood (also called linden) for the frames. This species is readily available in clear, straight-grained stock and it works nicely with hand tools. Shoji volunteered to bring a selection of different types of washi for the shading.
Shoji checks a plane bottom.
A few weeks before the course Shoji shipped 2 boxes to us. One box contained his traditional carpenter’s toolbox and his personal tools. The other box contained 4 very nicely made mockups, showing different basic styles of andon construction. Shoji brought the washi rolled in a tube in his luggage.
The course was a blend of several elements: tool preparation, Japanese design, construction of the lamps, and applying the washi. This was a full class and the skill level of the students ranged from one beginning woodworker to one professional who has a long-term interest in Japanese woodworking. Fortunately it was a very compatible mix, but this did present challenges in teaching and class organization.
Tuning Japanese tools was perhaps half of the course. Shoji presented some very detailed demonstrations. At times the beginners were temporarily lost while the more experienced students found the information extremely informative. Shoji told us that he was teaching us what took him 35 years to learn.
Construction of the andon frames is simple in appearance, but challenging to do well. The basswood stock was prepped before the course by Tim Manney, our summer intern. There are numerous very small mortise and tenon joints in an andon frame. This means lots of chisel work and hand sawing. The frames were given their final surface with some light but careful planning. 
After the frames were assembled the class members looked through the washi collection to pick out their shading. This included plain white paper along with an assortment of sheets with imbedded random strands of plant fiber, and some subtly colored sheets with computer generated geometric cut out patterning.
Shoji also brought a very small porcelain base electric light from Japan so that we could see the effect once lighting is in place. We will be looking for similar lighting fixtures that are available in the U.S. for our next course in making an andon with Osamu Shoji. Please contact us if you are interested in taking this special class.

Miwako Iwasaki and Osamu Shoji applying the washi shading. Andon class photo.

Student-made andons.


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Address: 990 Black Pine Ridge Rd.; Marshall, North Carolina 28753