Recent News & Articles

  • 17 Nov

    He Taught Me Everything I Don’t Know

    In an earlier piece, I wrote about some lighthearted moments in my early days as a woodworker, and much of the craziness seemed to emanate from my time with my first boss, Al. Perhaps I poked too much fun at him, but there is one thing for which I actually am indebted to him: he taught me almost everything I know about running a woodworking studio/business.

    Not, I should point out, in the way you might presume. After observing him studiously for nearly two years I was in his employ, I realized he was kind of a divining rod. I literally make it a practice to not do anything he did, and do everything he would not. While it would be something of a stretch to say that I am knocking on the door of the Fortune 500, for more than 40 years my studio has run amazingly smoothly and free of any financial issues. (In fact, we have just published a new workshop offering here at the Ebanista School of Fine Woodworking called the Business of Woodworking and would encourage you to check it out).

    In some respects, I think you could say that Al ran his cabinet shop in a way that managed to make money. Kudos to him. But that is a pretty lightweight way to determine if he was managing it successfully. Not a single person who worked for him ever parted on good terms, nor do I believe the majority of his clients feel like they had been treated fairly. He rarely had repeat customers. Again, acknowledging that I am no business maven, from my point of view, customers who come back again, (and again- I have one client who has commissioned north of one hundred pieces. Am I proud of that? Inordinately, and very grateful,) are the best sign of a successful business. He showed no loyalty to his clients, and in turn, they felt none towards him. Big mistake.

    Rule # 1: DO ANYTHING FOR YOUR CLIENTS

    He was serially dishonest to his clients. Some of the time they were outright untruths. Often they were what might be referred to as an onerous white lie. He would tell them he would deliver a piece by a certain time and not even come within years. One time while he was out, I answered the phone- we were supposed to also be secretaries when he was not in- and the following conversation ensued:

    “Hello. Al’s cabinet shop.”

    “Hi, this is Mrs. Jensen. Do you know if my table is ready?”

    “I am sorry, Mrs. Jensen. We are not working on any tables just now, what does it look like?”

    “It is made of black walnut with tapered legs.”

    “Could you hold on just a second. I will go out in the shop and take a look”.

    (I asked my coworkers. One of them trotted up to the loft to a table covered in dust that had been there, apparently, for many years.)

    “We found it, Mrs. Jensen. But no one can remember ever seeing it being worked on”.

    “Hrrrrrrmph. He promised it to me by Thanksgiving.”

    “Ma’am, it is only June.”

    “Six years ago!!”

    When he got back a little later,

    I told Al “ That a Mrs. Jensen had called.”

    He panicked and asked, “Did you tell her that we were working on her table?”

    “Why would I tell her that? We are not.”

    “You should have lied to her.”

    “You pay me $2.45 an hour. I pray that I never sell my soul to the Devil, but I sure am not going to do it for that.”

    Rule # 2: NEVER LIE TO YOUR CLIENTS

    In 43 years I have never once delivered a commission late. It is so easy to do and I KNOW my clients feel respected. They tell me so.

    Al also had another curious business practice: he often padded the charges to his best clients. His rationale was that they were rich, so they could afford it. Several people over the years have suggested I charge my wealthier clients much heftier fees. Really? Where is the decency or logic in that?  I have sometimes gifted them something extra so that they know how much I appreciate their support of my work.

    Rules #3 & 4: NEVER “PAD” CHARGES ON TO YOUR CLIENTS. AND NEVER TREAT YOUR BEST CLIENTS AS ANYTHING BUT YOUR BEST CLIENTS

    In yet another shining example of Al’s business acumen, he made it a practice to pick petty fights with his employees after they had been with him for a while. He confessed that in that way he could get them to quit and hire new guys for a few dollars less. Unbelievable. Just when people have gotten some real experience and are more valuable to you, you run them out in an attempt to save a few pennies. 

    Rule # 5: DO MORE FOR YOUR EMPLOYEES AS THEY GET MORE KNOWLEDGEABLE AND MORE VESTED IN YOUR WORK

    Be loyal and grateful to them, and prove it to them financially. You will all win.

    You would think it would be child’s play to master the decidedly uncomplex notion of running a business on the very reduced scale of a small furniture studio. Anyone certainly can, but you have to see it as important. My incentive? Not running it well means I am ultimately not going to be able to keep my studio open, and I will not be able to do the work I love so much. So, thanks, Al. I owe you one.

    By Jonathan Cohen Uncategorized
  • 03 Nov

    A Little Foolishness

    Woodworking is and needs to be a huge dollop of focus and seriousness, at least whenever the machines are on. But there have been a few light moments along the way. You might think we are a pretty droll lot, but you would have another think coming.

    For me, the shenanigans started pretty much from the beginning. A few days after I turned twenty, I  started apprenticing at a Seattle cabinetmaker’s shop. I hopped on my bicycle one morning and peddled into work. My boss was a…..well, …..let’s just say he is going to get more ink in the next few paragraphs than he’d probably like.  (I should say, probably would have liked, he has passed on to the great tool shed in the sky.) I‘ll call him Al here because that was his name. He was kind of a fussy, nervous guy. And he was also kind of a, I believe the word is parsimonious, fellow. He was always scurrying around the shop complaining about not making enough money. I know it was not because of me and my three fellow shopmates because he paid us $2.45 an hour. Yes, you read that right. The minimum wage at the time was actually an astronomical $2.75 an hour, but that did not appear to keep him up at night. 

    On this one particular morning, I was squeezing in sideways through the ever-present boondoggle of unfinished projects that choked off the shop. Al, it turns out, really liked getting paid by his customers, but it seemed he felt no real compunction to actually deliver any of the work. As  I was trying to avoid crashing into any of the pieces in the shop, one of my co-workers, I will call him Reed, (yes, that is his real name- what did you think, this is the FBI?), scurried up and bumped me off balance and I fell against an expensive teak veneering job. He started laughing and saying, “you broke it, you broke it”. I, simpleton that I am, started worrying that I would never be able to repay the boss for my mistake, not on what I was earning. The panic must have shown on my face, but my new best friend, Reed, gathered me into a conspiratorial conference and offered to set the piece gently back in place and to trick Al into knocking into it. It worked far too easily. Reed called the Boss out into the shop, ran up to him and Al was knocked off balance, and became much chagrined when he saw that he had busted that expensive piece. He stalked off back to his office muttering about how much money it was going to cost him and I hugged Reed and felt like he was my new best friend. Later that afternoon he confessed that he had come in the night before to pick something up and broken the teak. I was feeling less chummy after that.

    Another lighthearted maneuver that the boys like to inflict on any newcomer involved glue. We used a lot of a glue back then which, if my memory serves me, was called Urac 185. It was a two-part glue that when mixed properly had the consistency of a milkshake and the color of caramel. One morning when I came into work, I headed over to my workbench, eager to review my progress from the night before on a nice little mahogany coffee table. And there, sitting right in the middle of it, was a nice 6 or 7-inch puddle of caramel-colored Urac 185 hardened to its usual indestructible best. I just stared at it in horror for what seemed like an eternity, until I noticed the guys were all snickering. Then one of them silently walked over and simply picked the glue patch off of the table, as if it were one of those rubbery fake vomit gags, and said, “Welcome to the monkey house”. I couldn’t wait until Al hired a new guy so that I would not have to be the reigning cretin.

    To add to Al’s list of redeeming qualities, while he was frittering around the shop and getting worked up, he often got tangled in a web of his words. I don’t mean lying, which he also did plenty. I mean just confusing them. (If it seems like I am being disloyal and unfair to him, read a future blog called He Taught Me Everything I Don’t Know- and you will see how lightly I am actually treading here. Really).

    One day Al came back from delivering a job, and whenever he got paid he was in a capital mood. For some reason, he wandered over to my bench in a talkative mood and seemed determined to detail his exploits at dinner the night before. I did whatever any chattel does when his boss speaks, I stared back absolutely rapt with attention. It seems the night before he and his wife, Barbara, had gone out to a pretty nice French restaurant in Seattle called the Brasserie Pittsbourg. Al was really getting into his story, and he said to me, “ Gawrsh. (Al always said gawrsh when he got excited). Gawrsh, Jonathan we went to the Pittsburgh brassiere last night”. I looked up to see if he was in earnest, having just mixed up a kind of French restaurant with a woman’s supportive garment, but he was just motoring on. He got more excited and told me that he was really happy because their friend had offered to pay for the wine and they had chosen a nice “Zindafel.” (that’s not a typo- that’s what he called it). But the real piece de resistance, (that’s not a typo either, and while it may seem a bit presumptuous to use a French term- you can clearly see the suitability of it here), was when he marveled at the news from the night before.

    “Gawrsh, Jonathan, you wouldn’t believe what happened later. Barbara ran into some of her old sorority sisters, and gawrsh if it didn’t seem like they were all having maserectomies”.

    My lemonade came squirting out my nose and I choked on the sandwich I was eating. He looked at me suspiciously and I knew I was heading for a place I might regret. But when he asked me what was so gawrsh darn funny, a cooler head was not mine for the asking, and I replied, “I am sorry, Al. it’s just you are the only guy I know who can make a breast operation sound like an Italian sports car.”

    To this day I do not know why he didn’t fire me on the spot. Later it turned out the whole shop had been listening in and I became a little folk hero for a day or two.

    By Jonathan Cohen Uncategorized
  • 20 Oct

    A Sobering Little Aside on Safety

    One runs the risk of sounding like Chicken Little when discussing woodworking and safety.

    But one runs the risk of a lot more damage if one refuses to discuss it. And, much worse, even more, when not practicing simple, common-sense practices. Here a glimpse of what we teach our students here at Ebanista.

    First of all, no one comes into the shop without earphones, earplugs just don’t cut it, and safety glasses. Eye protection should be obvious but hearing loss is a one-way street. Once the fragile cilia in your ears are damaged, there is no repairing them. Hopefully, no one needs much convincing about all that.

    There are so many things one can do to ensure a long and prosperous and ten-fingered life in the woodworking shop. But there are quite a few you should never, never do. An example? Failing to leave a push stick on top of your table saw and then deciding to walk around and pull the board through from the backside. Before you know it, you have seven fingers. Of all of the woodworkers I have met over more than four decades in woodworking who have seriously hurt themselves, not only were doing something they shouldn’t have been doing, but they told me later that they knew as they were doing it that they shouldn’t be doing it. We tend to be overly confident when we become well-versed or good at something, putting safety in the back burner. 

    I make sure I take all the safety precautions needed each and every time I approach the table saw: I never turn on the table saw, or joiner or any machine without making sure that the floor in front of it is swept clean. If you are leaning over to make a detailed cut, you want your connection with the ground to be sure. Next, I always blow or brush off the table saw surface. If you can rig an air hose to hang from above, this is great. Sawdust can act almost like a lubricant, and make you lose a bit of control of your piece.  Next, check that fences are locked.

    We also never turn on the saw without making sure there are two items on the non-cutting side of the fence. One is a push stick. Do not, for any reason attempt to push a thin piece of wood with your fingers between the blade and the fence. From a Darwinian point of view, this is not a winning formula for ensuring a long line of people with your family name. And I always make sure that there is a fairly new pencil within reach. Why new-ish? Because it will be longer, and the eraser will be newer and stickier and this makes a wonderfully safe extend-o finger to pull little pieces of falloff from the blade without having to turn the saw on and off every few seconds or flick them away as if they were hot embers at a campfire.

    And the last thing we teach our students at Ebanista is to watch the fence, NOT the blade. The saw blade is not going anywhere. While watching it might be entertaining, it will provide you with neither safety or accuracy — two very important matters that almost always go hand-in-hand. If you are vigilant and make sure no shadow develops between your workpiece and the fence, you will be a very happy camper.

    Does all this seem like an interminably long list of items to check off before getting to work on a table saw? Or a jointer, or shaper?  I give you my word that after a very short time it will become so quick and automatic that you will not even notice it. And it will make you much more confident around your machines. And, although this seems unnecessary to have to bring up, the question begs asking whether you would rather spend a few extra seconds ensuring a long happy career in wood, or a painfully long time trying to figure out what went wrong, and why you might no longer be able to do this work you love so much?

    I told you that this was going to, by necessity, have to be a serious discussion. On the other hand, two guys walk into a bar……………….

    By Jonathan Cohen Woodworking
  • 06 Oct

    End Grain

    End grain. A simple concept, but slightly more difficult to master what it represents in the world of woodworking. We have talked about this on one or two of the other blog posts.

    To describe it in the simplest terms, a piece of wood can be thought of structurally as a collection of straws. The two broadest surfaces and the two sides, assuming that we are talking about a rectangular solid or a board, are the sides of the straws and are referred to as flat grain, while the two ends of the board, the open ends of the straws, are referred to as end grain.

    End grain and flat grain have very different properties and must be seen and dealt with in very different ways. From a woodworker’s and designer’s point of view, the most important fact is that wood moves- expands and contracts- so little along its length, (the same directions as the straws run) that movement there is safely ignored. However, wood DOES move across the board, or across the ends of the straws. The fact that boards move differently on different faces of a board seems to cause great consternation among woodworkers, but there are very time-proven methods for allowing the wood to continue to move in harmony for centuries to come.

    One of the main characteristics of the end grain in a piece of wood, is that being similar to a straw, it soaks things up much more easily than flat grain. More water. More oil. More finish. But, perhaps most consequentially, glue. The result of that is end grain is not generally your friend when it comes to gluing pieces of wood together. When you are gluing two boards up edge to edge, as in say a tabletop, the grain is flat (or side) and the wood stays on or near the surface. When the glue cures the two pieces are chemically bonded and are actually stronger at that joint, assuming well prepared gluing surfaces. The problem with gluing where one or both surfaces are those straws, the end grain, soaks up much more of the glue and therefore the chemical bond is relatively much weaker.

    The solution? Joinery. The entire purpose of joinery is to join two pieces of wood together in a way that provides the maximum amount of strength. There are two ways to do that. The second, is to create some kind of mechanical bond such as dovetails or a myriad of the extraordinarily complicated but beautiful joints employed in Japanese joinery where there are pins and wedges used to lock pieces together. But the first method is the most easily attainable and that is to form a chemical bond using one of many types of mastics, or glue.  The way to overcome the shortcoming here, that the end grain will suck the glue out of the joint, is to create a way of increasing flat grain to flat grain mating surfaces. That can be done in countless ways such as dovetails, half laps, splined miters, finger joints, and for me, a furnituremaker, not so much a cabinetmaker, the most important of all, the mortise-and-tenon.

    Very commonly used for example, where a horizontal stretcher connects to a chair or table leg. To a casual observer, it looks as though the stretcher, ( or apron), is simply butting into the leg. But we already know that the end grain of the stretcher will not afford much strength: we cut a rectangular hollow, called a mortise (think mouth) into the leg. Then, when the tenon (think tongue) is cut on the end of the stretcher and is coated with glue and slid into the mortise you have a pair of cheeks- the flat grain surfaces- mating and providing a strong glue/chemical bond. And voila! A strong joint.

    Another way in which end grain is very different than the other four (flat grain) surfaces of a piece of wood is its hardness. Press down on the sides of that bundle of straws and you can collapse them very easily. Press down on the ends of those straws and they have remarkable resistance. That is why vertical support members in a building are constructed with the grain running vertically. 

    One of the effects of this is it is much harder to plane or sand end grain than it is flat grain. Planes have been specially modified to deal with this problem by lowering the angle of the plane iron. ( Named, not surprisingly, a low angle plane.) An absolutely essential piece in any woodworker’s tool kit. And here’s a nice trick to remember: unless the end grain is precisely perpendicular to the length of the board, there is usually one direction to plane end grain that is a bit easier. This is most simply found by experimenting in different directions. Some woodworkers who are not as familiar with their hand planes as they could be might resort to sanding, but as most of you know by now, I consider that a vastly inferior and more inaccurate way to work wood. A tool that is very underrated and highly effective on end grain is a simple ( sharp- not the old rusty one in your Dad’s toolbox) flat file. Try it, you’ll be amazed how easy it is to get a polished finish on the end grain.

    End grain is, indeed, a different animal than flat grain in a piece of wood. It comes with some difficulties, such as needing to be extra careful when working it so that there is no blowout. But it can also be quite beautiful and placed where it can be a wonderful design feature. Look at some furniture pieces with through tenons. You can also go to YouTube and search for end grain cutting boards.

    Become good friends with end grain. It is worth it, and every piece of wood has it. You’ll see

    By Jonathan Cohen Woodworking
  • 22 Sep

    The Exquisite-ness of Hand Planes

    You may, at some point, have heard a woodworker rhapsodize interminably, as I am going to do here, about the endlessly satisfying feeling one gets when planning a fine piece of wood with a really sharp handplane. If this causes your eyes to wander about the room, feel free to click on another blog post. But, if like many, you are a bit curious, or perhaps more along the lines of mesmerized about why this is such a wonderful aspect of fine woodworking, then please allow me the opportunity to try and explain why I feel so strongly about all this.

    When new students come to our school, the Ebanista School of Fine Woodworking, here in Seattle, most of them know, or at least sense, that there is something quite special about the beauty of wood. We feel like our job here is to unleash that passion for our material. And one of the most important ways to do that is to teach the various methods of showing the very nature of wood.

    Hand planes are essential to this “unleashing” in a number of ways. One is very basic, but sometimes missed by the untrained eye. You probably know what sanding is but as a reminder, it’s a process with which the abraded wood fibers are crushed down into the remaining piece — it “muddies” the look of your work. A sharp hand plane slices through the wood and clarifies the remaining wood, making it more vivid. Sanding (ugghh) requires the woodworker to go through a whole series of finer and finer grit papers, which takes MUCH longer, creates a cloud of dust which you are probably not going to be too excited about breathing in, and you have to keep buying more sandpaper. [Groans everywhere.] The finest grit most people, sand to is 220 or 320, while one generally sharpens a nice plane iron to at least 6000 or as much as 15,000. Which do you think leaves a nicer finish?

    Sanders, especially belt sanders (ugggggggghhhhhhhhh), which I consider the most pagan woodworking tool of all time, are also noisy and I can think of no tool that can ruin a project quicker. And, this is no small thing. Truthfully, I have never heard of a woodworker putting down a belt sander and saying, “Wow, that was just so satisfying. I simply cannot wait to pick that up and do it again”. People who have just finished hand planing a piece of wood will usually pause for a second after they are finished and have a little smile on their face. Is that a small thing? Resoundingly, NO. It is everything. It is years and decades of turning out the lights in your shop and thinking, “I cannot wait to get back in here in the a.m.”

    So what is it that stops most people from going plane crazy?

    Simple. Commitment. Anyone can pick up a sander and turn it on. Planes take time to learn. Their whole foundation derives from sharpening, and that takes a commitment of time to learn. Is it worth it? I personally guarantee it. It all comes back to reward you many times over. It takes you from breathing a sigh of relief when a piece is done, to falling in love with it.

    By Jonathan Cohen Tools
  • 08 Sep

    Wood Movement

    No, I am not speaking of a revolution here. Just the immutable fact that wood moves, and learning to be a woodworker means understanding this.

    Right now on youTube there is a young, blonde, Canadian woodworker (who interestingly calls himself Samurai Woodworker…). He’s jumping up and down and working himself into a lather about the idea that wood movement is myth, and we should all just pretend it’s not an issue. He then goes on to list a whole host of situations (outdoor furniture, furniture in badly heated homes, wood not well dried,etc.) where he graciously concedes that, OK, maybe it does move sometimes. I assume all the ranting is just to get more viewers, but I believe that kind of disinformation does not advance our cause.

    You can believe whomever you choose, but let’s just say that in more than 43 years of making handmade furniture, I have seen numerous examples of how foolish it is to not understand and design for your wood to expand and contract. I had my first tool box, built when I was about 20 years old, of maple and ebony and bronze, explode with a huge boom while I was sleeping. It was well-crafted, or so I thought, with frame-and-panel construction and it still sounded like a tree had fallen on the house.

    The problem in talking about wood movement is that it scares the Bejeezus out of so many woodworkers when they are starting out, as it seems so evil and mysterious. It is neither, but just as in every other aspect of life, a little knowledge goes a long way.

    Envision a piece of wood as a collection of straws. Imagine that a wooden board is a six-sided rectangular solid, with three “pairs” of surface.

    The end grain is represented by the open ends of the straws, and has many similar qualities. Moisture and nutrients pass along these “tubes” to sustain the tree. It also allows moisture to escape the end grain at a much faster rate than it does across its grain. 

    Therein lies the imbalance that dictates a woodworker need study their material.

    The amount of movement along the board- the length of the board in most cases is so minimal, that we rarely need to take it into consideration. Movement across the board is what does require planning. While our wood moves across the board in both width and thickness. The vast majority of wooden furniture is not much more than 8/4” or 2” thick. There is some movement there, but negligible. It is across the board, where the rubber hits the road. And when you start gluing up 30” or 40” wide tabletops? I’m sorry my young friend from north of the border, but this is where you are wrong.

    If you need more proof of our amazing material and its willfulness, I have read that in the time when the hoity-toity were prancing around in stone castles and a little remodeling was in order, the masons just stacked lumber between two walls and threw water on it. Don’t believe me? Note that little saplings can grow through stones, split rocks, and even perforate pavement. Nature will find a way, and this makes wood so wonderfully complex and interesting to work with.

    Okay, now that you are duly educated, relax and know that there is no shortage of manners in which to comfortably and effectively deal with this when designing/building a piece. The simplest is to make any large surfaces of plywood, which has its ornery-ness taken out by gluing multiple substrate veneers at right angles to each other. Easy, but many fine woodworkers want no part of man-made materials in their work. Another way then is to control and work with the wood movement rather than fight it.

    For cabinetry, the problem is most commonly in door panels, and Frame-and-panel construction was developed centuries ago to deal with wood movement. A fixed dimension frame with a wide panel snugly filling it, but not glued and with space for the panel to expand into. For furniture, which is most of my work, the issue is usually with wide table and desk tops. The method I most often employ is to attach (notice I very specifically did not say glue — do NOT glue it!)  a batten to the underside of your wide solid top. This is held in place by a mechanical piece –think wood screw — that draws the top down flat to the batten. However, and this is everything, the screw cannot pass through a round hole. When the top expands the screw would be locked in place by the small hole and would be in direct conflict with the movement of the wood. The hole bored for the shaft of the screw must be elongated into kind of a through mortise or slot. Then the tension of the screw head pulling against the threads hold the top flat, while the elongated holes allow the top to move across its width all the while resting comfortably.

    There are literally hundreds of other methods for allowing your wood to move through the seasons and across the centuries. Rather than think of this necessity as a burden, I enjoy making it a design consideration. If you have a chance to look at a few pictures of my work at ebanistaschool.com or www.jonathancohenfinewoodworking.com you will notice several examples of how this can be done. Don’t let the wood movement intimidate you, but use it as a creative advantage.

    By Jonathan Cohen Woodworking
  • 25 Aug

    One Way to Go About Gaining Superlative Woodworking Skills

    Learning is not just learning. It is loving.

    When I was in college, I somehow ended up in a class in Russian Literature, a subject for which I do not recall having any particular affection. Just a few days into the semester, I noticed that the professor would start almost twitching with joy when she sensed one of us clueless freshmen getting just a whisper of what she was talking about. And I discovered that the teacher’s enthusiasm for the subject matter was as important to my enjoyment of the class, as was the class itself. Learning can be contagious.

    That has become, all these years later, one of the guiding principles here at the Ebanista School of Fine Woodworking. There are quite a few woodworking schools out here in the Seattle area and all across the country that can teach you some of the basic skills of woodworking. Some of them boast of having a good record of getting their graduates into commercial shop situations, and I salute them for providing that need.

    But, our goal at Ebanista is not to teach you to become a good woodworker. It is to teach you to LOVE being a really fine woodworker.

    When that intoxicating feeling hits you, and it will, the matter of becoming really good at this has already been taken care of. You will, of course, need to spend more hours than you can imagine in your shop and at your bench, to further your skills. But you know how love works: if you love something it ceases to become work.

    If you are considering getting into woodworking just to earn a living, I would suggest you will do neither. You will probably not earn a whole lot of money, and you will probably not get into it.

    If you let it consume you, you will probably do both. You will be in hopeless love with what you are doing with your life, and while you probably still won’t be busting any banks, the money you do earn will seem like a fortune because people who are commissioning you are actually paying you to do what you want to do more than anything. I sometimes feel a little sheepish when I sell a piece. But let’s keep that between you and me.

    By the way, there is a way to have your cake and eat it too. Develop the skills and the affection for all this and do not do it professionally. The difference between a professional woodworker and an amateur has absolutely nothing to do with skill. It signifies only that the former is being paid. Many amateurs do finer work (sadly) than many pros — the passion and love for learning shines through.

    Do it for love. Only love. The rest of the details will work themselves out.

    By Jonathan Cohen Uncategorized
  • 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 Jonathan Cohen 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 Jonathan Cohen Thoughts
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