Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont offers over 80 hands-on courses per year in design, construction, woodworking, and architectural craft and offers a variety of courses concentrating in sustainable design. Now in its 35th year, Yestermorrow is one of the only design/build schools in the country, teaching both design and construction skills. Our hands-on 1-day to 3-week workshops, certificate programs and semester programs are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country. For people of all ages and experience levels, from novice to professional.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Tess Thomas: Developing Craftsmanship & Consistency in the Woodshop

The wood shop is buzzing with activity, as our Woodworking Certificate students near completion on their Small Scale Design/Build projects. The diversity of projects is remarkable: from a coffee table to a sphere-making jig, from a stylized chair to a rubber band shotgun. This is the first time the students have had such a free assignment and the drive is palpable. Tess Thomas is no exception. The intensity of her concentration can be seen by the focus in her eyes as she examines the wood of what will be the legs of the pair of stools she is making.

No stranger to the design process, Tess studied sculpture and installation art in Charleston, SC and Chicago. A self-taught woodworker, Tess came to Yestermorrow to learn craftsmanship. “With woodworking, I always thought of it as being super-rigid, but I was able to have this very creative, open design process.  Then I learned how to choose my own lumber and learn the order of operations. I am constantly learning that there is this intuitive nature about it all, and that was unexpected.”

Why stools for the current project? Tess wanted to keep it simple. Craftsmanship and consistency are two qualities which she really admires, so she chose a project where she could practice on these traits. Most of all, she wanted something streamlined, allowing her to make two of more of something. These beautifully hand-tapered stools with high quality craftsmanship empowers her to do just that.

“I am learning to trust my instincts and take my time,” she says. “Most of all, I have learned that one of the things that makes a great woodworker is that they know how to remedy their mistakes and make them look intentional. There’s a certain kind of magic in that. I am starting to see how that is totally true.” Tess points to a leg of one of her stools. “See this taper—I had two distinctive layers along with some pencil marks and glue. But I learned how to calm down, know that this does not ruin the whole thing, and trust myself that I would come up with a way to fix it.  And I did, and they look great now.”

“Justin (Kramer, program director) has been really amazing to teach me about the efficiency component; to not only do something beautifully and make sure your level of craftsmanship is up there, but to do it in such a way so that you are not afraid to cut corners and use the machines in a more efficient manner so you are watching your time. It’s a component I am not used to thinking about.”

Before Tess came to the program, she was already dabbling in woodworking. She worked in a frame shop for a couple of guys in a two-car garage. She didn’t want to ask questions, though she had many. She speaks of how the Woodworking Certificate is a completely different situation.  It  is the first time she has truly been trained to use the various machinery of the shop and how she has been taught from the ground-up. And how questions are welcomed!

“I now feel comfortable. I am getting to the point where I can understand the inner workings of things and that is really helping me be competent in the shop. I have had a lot of design-heavy pieces in the past, but I haven’t been able to execute them. Especially in the past two weeks, I have been able to know how to implement my designs in a step-by-step manner… and that has made me feel very competent, which is a big change from having an idea but not having a clue of how to go about making it.”

By Nic Tuff

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