Recent News & Articles

  • 11 Aug

    Student Profile: Braden Tucker

    A Profile of Ebanista School Student Braden Tucker

    Are you curious about the typical student at Ebanista? Wondering about the typical experience at the Ebanista School? We’re now in our third session and there isn’t anything typical because our students have a range of experiences and backgrounds. Our class sizes mean that it’s easy to find your fit here, no matter how new or experienced you are.

    Braden is one of the younger students at the Ebanista School, and simultaneously our oldest. He began his studies at the beginning with our Woodworking Essentials class in our first session and has continued with our curriculum every session since. We asked him to tell us a bit about his experience.

    For Braden, it’s probably in his blood. “Both my grandfathers were men who worked with their hands, one a carpenter and one a mechanic,” he said. “They passed down to me their love for building things. And, even better, their tools.”

    Braden explains that when he was looking for a woodworking school, he wanted something that was more than an afternoon workshop. “[Of] all the schools I could find in the Seattle area, [it] left me with the impression that they were not very thorough in all the important aspects of learning the foundations in woodworking.” He was looking for an education with depth and breadth, and his interest and passion for woodworking kept him looking for the right school. At the Ebanista School, Braden found something different. “Jonathan, the main instructor has more than 40 years of experience. Some of the teachers in the other schools I checked out had instructors that were students just a year or two before.”

    Braden joined us in the first session of classes at the Ebanista school in the Fall of 2018, and he has experienced the core curriculum as it has been developing (check out our updated curriculum starting Summer 2019). “I took the beginning class, Woodworking Essentials and it was amazing to see this world starting to open up. But I would have to say, the second level class, Joinery/Small Cabinet class. It becomes more about hand tools and I have begun to develop more trust in my abilities.”

    Learning the techniques of fine woodworking is important, but the point of it all is to build things and every Ebanista class focuses on a project piece. For Braden’s first class, they didn’t just simply built a table but learned and developed their technique as the class progressed with various hands-on projects. ”This last session, we worked on a small cabinet. It has been more complicated and demanding than I would have guessed: we used splined miters on the carcase which I made of cherry. The splines are ebony and they just look so cool. We also made a solid frame-and-panel door and learn to hang it carefully on knife hinges. And, of course there’s the hand-dovetailed drawer. I felt my ideas and personality come out. And there is a much greater reliance on hand tools, planes and chisels and it was amazing to see how they became more and more my friends.”

    Most recently, he just completed our course called Design Studio, and in his own words, “saw a quantum leap in both my confidence and design abilities”. Not only has Braden continually refined and developed his skills with Ebanista classes, he’s currently working on his third commissioned piece with Ebanista. (You can see the progress on Facebook and Instagram!) When the workload and the waiting list gets to be too much for Jonathan, Ebanista School director, and his clients, he often passes those commissions on to his students, and Braden has been the quickest to leap into that fray. As such, he has been gaining invaluable experience into some of the business aspects of running his own woodworking studio. With the skills he’s acquired here, he will become a full-time woodworker by taking a job at a very good quality woodworking firm in Seattle

    More woodworking is in his future, but also being a part of a growing community that makes Ebanista unique as a school. For many students here, the love of learning and creation helps drive their love of woodworking. “The drive to build and create is within all of us. That desire is just the beginning of course, we also need inspiration and the proper skills in order to express it,” shared Braden “The joy of building comes when we develop our skills enough to act without thinking, to get into the zone. To get there requires hours of practice and expert instruction.”

    We would say he is firing on all cylinders and expect that you will all be hearing more from this talented young man in the future. Want to learn about woodworking? Whether you’re interested in pursuing a new hobby or enthusiastic about being a woodworking professional, check out our upcoming courses.

    By Jonathan Cohen Students
  • 14 Jul

    Hand Cut v. Machine Cut Dovetails

    Let’s go at this in a slightly circuitous route, shall we?  Perfection is not necessarily what might, at first glance, be perfection.

    As I tell our design students here at the Ebanista School of Fine Woodworking in Seattle, there is a level beyond just the aesthetics of a piece of furniture. It is not necessarily what a person sees when they look at a piece, but, for me, what they feel. Their visceral response.

    Machine cut dovetails, say, done by the popular router jigs, when carried out to order, should provide the accuracy to strengthen the joint. The original ones, where the tails and pins are of equal size are, frankly, monotonous to look at. I believe there are newer versions of the templates where the woodworker has the ability to space them differently. But, they still don’t look right. They achieve sort of an uber-accuracy which makes even the casual observer shake their head. They are too stiff, too….well…..machine-like. It is much like walking down the street and seeing houses sided in vinyl or even the currently popular Hardiplank, which you will see papered all over nearly every new house these days. It has been embossed to (supposedly) look just real wood. 

    But there’s the rub. It’s a simile, not reality. It is like when my teenage daughter says, “Papi, I am like really hungry”. To me, that would indicate that she actually ISN’T hungry. I am hungry indicates a need for food. I am LIKE hungry is a comparison to hungry, but you’re not actually hungry. It is the same for me and many fine craftsmen with machine cut dovetails. They are supposed to look like hand cut, but they are not. So, why is it so important to me that they be hand cut? Because by doing so, you are leaving the very subtle signature of the craftsman. In much the same way I cannot stand leaving machine marks. You know, those tiny little ripples that belie that the last thing to pass over your work was a whirring machine. That really is standing up and pointing a bony finger at you and screaming, “You did not care enough to silently pass a sharp plane over me and leave a bit of glassy elegance for your client”.

    If you are working in a factory, you are by definition producing “factory made” quality. Factory made means fast and for profit. Where all their ranting and raving about quality is just that: ranting and raving. She doth protesteth too much.  If you do your work in a nice workshop, and you do it in your own way, consider leaving a subtle trace for future observers that lets them know (strike that), FEEL, that someone gave it their all.

    By Steve Hawley Thoughts Tools
  • 07 Jul

    What My Students Are Teaching Me

    Teachers teach. It is not a new concept. That information passes down from a learned person to a learning person has always been the premise. But some may not know just how much the students can teach their teacher. I am discovering that daily.

    The Ebanista School of Fine Woodworking is just completing its first year of welcoming students to the school/shop at the east side of Green Lake in Seattle, Wa. They remind me how ceaselessly invigorating it has been for me to be a furniture maker these more than 40 years. Many of the students have day jobs, and although most come in a little tired from work, they seem to leave class each time buzzing with new energy. Imagine that!  Work that leaves you more juiced than when you started. (And yes I am VERY proud of this, three have already told me that they are going to or have already quit their jobs to do “this” full time)

    I have learned that although some come to Ebanista with the idea that they are “not that good with their hands”, together we have put that misgiving to rest. There are some people who haven’t taught their hands to feel and touch thus far in their lives, but none that cannot learn.

    I am learning after a lifetime of willfully pushing myself forward to constantly be growing and creating, it is more than okay to slow down and listen to my students as I have learned to listen to my wood. 

    In the Design Studio, we are learning together that really good ideas can and often do arise from what seems like a harmless doodle, but is really rooted in deeper creative ideas that are seemingly less understood, but are instinctively gold. 

    And although I have never tired of hearing the sweet “shhiiikkkk” of a sharp plane slicing a gossamer shaving of wood, every single one of our students has felt that same satisfaction the very first time they try that at Ebanista. 

    And lastly, and I take great delight in this, so many processes I have done hundreds or even thousands of times have become so woven into my muscles and become so “natural”, when students ask me to explain them, it is like pulling the curtain from in front of the Wizard of Oz, and I am exposed (hopefully, not for a charlatan), and I have to rediscover why I do things the way I do. 

    I expect to continue learning with each and every student the way I have with each and every project I have completed, and this too is proving immensely satisfying.

    By Steve Hawley Thoughts
  • 23 Jun

    A Rose is a Rose by Any Other Name

    It was true for William Shakespeare, and it is true today. Changing the nomenclature does not alter the essence. I speak here of the idea of apprenticeship.

    I have known a couple of woodworkers over the years who gleefully refer to people helping out in their shops as “apprentices”.  But, just as the vast majority of woodworkers these days who slam out slab tables with live or wane edges do not even know who George Nakashima was, I do not believe that some of these “masters” necessarily understand the concept of apprenticeship. Or worse, maybe they did and they chose to take advantage of it.

    What I have been seeing is a guy who is making a living at woodworking, accepting novices into his shop to do grunt work for no pay. That does not even resemble what an apprenticeship has traditionally meant. For one thing, in an apprenticeship arrangement, if one party is the apprentice, the other is necessarily a master. I believe that is a term that is too easily bantered about. Years ago, when I had been working for more than 20 years, I fell in love with a set of Japanese sharkskin handled chisels. They were very expensive, but that was not my problem. I felt that if I were to purchase them, I was believing myself a master craftsman. But, even after having received several awards, appearing in a number of magazines and having commissions set years in advance, I cringed at the idea of being thought of as a master. Now, after more than forty years building furniture, I still do. So, I would be similarly leery of having an “apprentice” in my shop.

    No, an apprentice does not work for free. That is more like indentured servitude. Historically, apprentices were not paid either. They, or usually their families PAID the master to take the youth under his wing and TEACH him. (Back then, virtually every master and apprentice was a him). The master then welcomed the apprentice not only into his shop, but often also into his home, where he was boarded and fed. The daily hosting aspect of the relationship would be easy to set aside in today’s world. But NOT the real obligation of the master: to proactively teach the apprentice all the skills necessary to one day rise to the level of journeyman, and then, ultimately, one day become a master himself.

    Call an unskilled assistant in your shop a helper or an unpaid assistant, or, I suppose a protege, but “they”, (because, thankfully, we are changing the culture rapidly these days, and it is no longer a foregone conclusion that it will be a male on either end of this relationship), is probably not an apprentice.

    By Jonathan Cohen Thoughts
  • 16 Jun

    What’s in a Name: The Ebanista School of Fine Woodworking

    I spent some years living in Barcelona, Spain, and later married a woman from Mexico, where we lived on and off for many years. In both countries, people occasionally asked me what I did. Linguistic note: English speakers ask what you do, Spanish speakers ask, “A que te dedicas?” To what do you dedicate yourself? And for me, that is particularly appropriate for a woodworker, as this is a field where one has no chance of making it without being dedicated.

    In the beginning, I would answer, “Realizo muebles”. (I make furniture). And they would nod, and say, “Ah, tu eres carpintero”. (Ah, you are a carpenter). When we started carrying our phones around with us in our pockets, they sometimes asked to see a picture of my work, and after fumbling cyber-clumsily with my phone, I would show a photo of one or two of my pieces.

    Often they would take a tiny step back and look at me anew, and say in a more reverential voice, “ Ohhh, pero eres Ebanista, pues”. (Oh!, But you are a Fine Woodworker, then).

    I never have felt that this was something I should decide about myself, but I must be honest with you and confess that I usually stood up a little straighter in those moments.

    Linguistic note II: the French use a similar term, “ebaniste”, and over the last centuries this was an honorific spoken of the very finest craftsman/artisans. The word, in both languages, derives from the name Ebony, the kind of wood only a superlative cabinetmaker would dare use. It seems like a sufficiently high level for our students to aim for.

    Hence, the name of our school.

    By Jonathan Cohen Uncategorized
  • 09 Jun

    Lumberyards

    The two basic sources for lumber are to mill your own (very fun, control over the way you like your wood cut, extremely slow to cut and to wait for it to season, and even if you get the trees for free, a far more expensive way to get wood in your shop) or to head on down to your local lumber yard and let go of your credit card.

    Depending on where you live and the size of the city, you may have several choices. The biggest yards are generally the cheapest, but I rarely use them for a number of reasons. One is that they mostly do not want to sell to smaller shops buying just a few hundred feet and forget about trying to get a stick or two of lumber for a project. They also generally do not display their wood but just stack it up in huge banded bundles- several hundred board feet of wood. and will give you a dirty look if you ask them to drop it down so you can sort through. Never, but never go into one of them and ask for 1” or 2” lumber. They will whip around and go back to playing solitaire on their computers what idiot does not know that sawn hardwood lumber is referred to in quarters of an inch, in these examples 4/4 and 8/4. My two biggest issues with the big yards, however, are that they very rarely carry more than a handful of “popular “ species such as oak, walnut, maple, and cherry. And most of them will not let you sort through the lumber to find what suits you best. That, for me, is the deal breaker, as I consider lumber selection to be one of the most enjoyable and critical aspects of my work.

    At the other end of the food-pyramid-of-wood are the local boutique lumber yards. Many are attached to tool stores, and they often put price stickers on each board. Red flag! This is the most expensive way to buy wood. And while they often have a dizzying array of species, and they encourage you to comb through them, I have yet to see one that has much of any one species at the same time, and that leaves the woodworker to have very little choice in the exact boards they may require for a project.

    Above you will see an example of the best price, but little access or variety accompanied by surly salesmen, or too much selection, high prices, and not always the best quality.

    In between lies perhaps the best of all worlds for small to medium-sized shops. One could even call them the “tweener” lumberyard. Prices better than the boutiques, not always terribly more than the big yards. Much more access to and ability to select exactly what you want. Prices probably not marked on each individual board, but maybe a board footage tally so you can see how much you are buying. And they will talk to you whether you refer to inches or quarters, although you may get a better price if you appear to know more about the business of buying lumber.

    By Jonathan Cohen Uncategorized
  • 02 Jun

    Western Style Planes vs. Japanese Style

    There are several principal differences between the two kinds of planes, Japanese and western used throughout the world. One of the more simplistic is the fact that western style planes are designed to be pushed across the surface of the wood, while the Japanese ones are made to be pulled. While these are the preferred methods, it need not necessarily be so. I enjoy using both kinds of planes, I have many of each, but I generally pull them all. It seems so much more natural to me and effortless.

    Another obvious distinction between the two styles of plane is the materials from which they are made. Western planes can still be found made of wooden bodies, but the most common version has them made of steel or some other metal. The only thing on them that was wooden was the handles, although the cost-efficient ( read: crap)  modern versions of them have annoying plastic handles. Not so with the two most high-level western planes produced today from Lie-Nielsen and Veritas. Very high quality they are, with prices to match. But there is no other piece of a woodworker’s tool cabinet that is more worth spending extra money. The western planes typically also have various knobs and screws and levers for fine adjustment of the iron (or blade). Unless you are buying one of the very high-end planes, all those bells and whistles are fool’s gold and can get in your way as much as help. The adjusting mechanisms either come poorly made out of the box, or wear to a certain sloppiness with time.

    The Japanese planes are disarmingly simple. In appearance. Just a simple block of aged wood, generally red or white oak, with a steel blade, wedged into very carefully cut tapered mortises. Adjustment on these planes is all achieved by the gentle tap of a small hammer. Tap the blade on the top of the iron to lower the blade, tap the back of the wooden plane body to back it up. At first glance, it may seem less accurate to adjust a plane in this manner, but with just a little practice you will find these planes and you will become very good friends.

    But the biggest difference between Japanese planes (and chisels) is the steel blade. Which, when you think of it, is really the most important part of a plane, or any cutting tool for that matter. Japanese plane blades are laminated, with, a very hard steel,  just on the cutting edge, again, where all, the action is. This is then backed by a softer steel that dampens vibration just a bit, and also makes for a less laborious sharpening process. The only western planes that I know of with that high a quality of steel are, again Lie-Nielsen and Veritas. But their blades are of one solid piece of steel and that slows the grinding process considerably. Hardened, quality steel is important for achieving and maintaining really fine cutting edges. Less expensive planes scrimp on this and are, as a result, quite inferior. You will notice that the good western planes have thicker blades than the cheap ones, close to the dimensions of the Japanese ones. This aids greatly in achieving a smoother cut.

    So which style of plane is for you? If you are new at this, try and find a friend or a store that has both kinds. Take a number of strokes with them and see if you don’t start to feel a stronger urge to keep one of them in your hands. My sense is that most westerners will see the western style plane as more recognizable, and perhaps tend to go that direction. There is a long history of craftsman all over the world becoming maestros with their western planes and doing magnificent work. Same with the Japanese planes, although I will say that if you check online you will find footage of Japanese masters whose work with a plane will make your jaw drop. But, in the end, it is each individual’s familiarity with their own planes that is the greatest predictor of success. That and developing a great deal of skill at the sharpening stones.

    If I was pushed to make a recommendation, I would lean towards Japanese planes and chisels for one simple reason: the steel.

    By Jonathan Cohen Tools
  • 26 May

    And the envelope, please…Some thoughts on my favorite tools

    Chisels – Western chisels can be very good, but only if you are willing to pay top dollar for them. I like the feel of Japanese chisels better and would lean that direction. Plus, they have that beautiful steel.

    Planes – see Chisels above

    Hand saws – okay, this is a plain and simple rout. Western saws: heavy, thick, cumbersome. Japanese “pull saws”: light, effortless, and remarkably accurate.

    Marking gauges – Old/cheap style western marking gauges use a sharpened brad to mark the wood and it just kind of crushes the wood. The Japanese gauges use a sharp knife which is much better but can wander with the grain. The newer, nicer western ones use a rolling wheel cutter and would be my first choice.

    Sharpening stones – Western-style oil stones / hard Arkansas stones: oily, messy, (I do NOT like oil on my tools), and oil is thick and masks the feel of the cutting action. Don’t even want them in the same zip code as my tools. Japanese water stones: clean, easy to true when needed, and you can develop a very nice feel for the polishing through the thin water. Crucial. Wouldn’t trade my water stones for a king’s ransom.

    Hand power tools – Japanese: not so great. American, British, etc: nothing special. Anything else: wonderful as long as they are made in Germany by Festool.

    Measuring tools – Made in the US of A: Starrett!

    Wood – all over the world- It’s a smorgasbord out there.

    By Jonathan Cohen Thoughts Tools
  • 19 May

    Meet Stephen Barney

    Stephen Barney is a long time friend of mine and a man I admire. He is a superlatively talented woodworker and I feel we are very fortunate to have him sharing his skills with the students here at the Ebanista School of Fine Woodworking here in Seattle. Still busy in his own shop, he finds time to come in and teach our workshops on sharpening with water stones.

    His beginnings in woodworking are somewhat unusual. Stephen got hooked on woodworking when he was living in Japan as a young man. He met an elderly master craftsman, who rebuffed nearly all the young Japanese men who came seeking his tutelage, but saw something in Stephen that he found worthy of sharing his knowledge. Steve’s job for months on end was just to take the few chisels and planes that the master had gifted him, and sharpen them. That’s it. Just sharpen them. And then do it again. Kind of a Karate Kid story, you might say.

    Some years ago, Stephen and I decided to join our efforts and started making furniture pieces together that I think we both are still very proud of. If you take a look at the school website at ebanistaschool.com, find the classes page, and under “Joinery/Small Cabinets”. You will see a picture of a piece that I designed and Stephen built. Notice the hand planed curved drawer fronts on the walnut cabinet and the impeccable and graceful dovetails. I believe Stephen has very few peers.

    Telling anecdote about Stephen: I was asked by a wealthy and famous Seattleite to build a large table. Again, we decided to join forces. The table was to be made out of a 63” wide slab of an amazing cedar tree that was lying abandoned in a forest. We were told it was 600 years old, but we counted the annual rings and found that it was closer to 800. I designed and built the base, and Stephen volunteered to do the planing of the top. One night I went into the shop, only to discover Stephen standing in his socks atop the table. He had three of his Japanese smoothing planes beside him, and there was a pile of gossamer, translucent shavings all around reaching up to the middle of my thigh. When I pulled out a brown paper bag and filled it with some of the shavings, I saw that Stephen was looking at me curiously, and I told them that they were for our client, so he would know what he was paying for. I found out later that Stephen was knocking out his plane irons after every stroke to resharpen them.

    Footnote: When we later tried to finish the table, the surface was so glassy smooth that it wouldn’t absorb any finish so we had to “rough” it up with bond paper from a printer. Yes, bond paper.

    Lesson: Spend a year not sleeping or eating but just sharpening your tools.

    By Jonathan Cohen Woodworkers
  • 12 May

    How I Fell In Love With Woodworking

    Like many a junior high school boy, in my very early teens, I was assigned shop class. Hopefully, we have progressed enough as a society that young girls are also able to take those classes. However, with the shamefully under-supported schools we now have, I would not be at all surprised to find that most schools across the U.S. no longer offer such classes to anyone.

    At Boynton Junior High School, shop class consisted of a stint melting plastic pellets into molds to form a  little coin purse ( actually pretty fun but never in the running to capture my attention as the other two projects we were assigned). The second was learning how to handset type and use an old printing press, with which we all made something every 13-year-old boy needs: a business card. To this day I have a love for typography, and letter forms and  I am still a practicing calligrapher. That seed was planted back in that shop class. The third project was to make something out of wood. Most of my classmates made birdhouses or little trays. The Raponi brothers were content just to take pieces of wood and spend the whole class grinding them into sawdust on the disc grinder. But the very instant I saw the room with the wood in it, and the tools hanging around the shop, my eagerness knew no bounds. I immediately set out to build a chair. That was, as they say, all she wrote. I have never stopped living to be at a workbench with a few pieces of beautiful wood, a hand plane or two, and my very sharp chisels.

    By the time I got to high school, the myopic school administration kept trying to dissuade me from taking “shop “ classes. I should focus on academics to point me toward college. They really were relentless about it, so I finished all my high school requirements by midway through my sophomore year and they threw up their hands and I spent most of my last years in high school in the woodshop, the home-ec class making cookies, the auto mechanics shop and a couple more periods in the woodshop. Fidgeting while the shop teacher droned on at the beginning of every class, I would leap from my chair in unbridled joy when he finally stopped and said, “OK , let’s go to work”.

    Later, now ensconced in college, I still lusted to work in wood, but again I was pulled aside by some patrician snob who haughtily informed me that, “Here at Ivy League universities we don’t engage in trade work.” So, I dove into the sculpture studio where most of my work looked suspiciously like furniture. After school, I piled my few belongings into an old Volvo, transversed Canada, and settled in Seattle.

    With a few college debts to wrestle with, I realized that I would need to find work. My first thought was to do what I had assumed would be my career since I was four: nope, not fireman or astronaut. I wanted my whole life to be a lawyer who fought for the rights of Native Americans. Besides, there were not too many jobs where they paid you to spend long hours reading, and I loves me some reading. But, my imagination took flight and the following chain of thoughts ran their course in less time than it will take to read them:

    IF I pass the Law SAT’s, and IF I get accepted to law school, and IF I manage to survive law School, and IF I pass the bar exam, and IF I get offered a job in a law firm, you can be damned sure they are going to stick this newbie in a windowless office with an oak Formica desk. And then I am going to be unable to work at a cheap plastic desk, so I will be forced to build myself one out of ebony with hand-dovetailed drawers and silver inlay, and then I will be sitting there and people will walk in and say, “I do not know how good a lawyer you are, but I’d love for you to make me a desk.” So, I decided, why meander through all that rigmarole? Why not just start making furniture? Honestly. That’s how long it took, and I have been making furniture for the last 42 years. ( Footnote: A prospective client came to see me some years ago, and we got off track and into a spirited discussion about politics, when all of a sudden he leaned back and said, “you should have been a lawyer”. You just can’t win.)

    How I went about gaining and refining the skills necessary to be a furnituremaker is another story.

    By Jonathan Cohen Uncategorized
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