The Virtual Apprentice Goes to School

Well, it’s taken me a bit longer than I expected to write my second blog, but better a late second than no second entry.


Having spent an inordinate amount of time watching “how to” videos and combing the internet for inspiration, I knew I needed something to help me shift my time from observing to making.  I’m fortunate to live near Red Rocks School of Fine Woodworking and Lutherie.  It’s a community college with a very affordable and rather well known woodworking school.  I signed up for their intro to woodworking.  It is a 2 semester commitment – the first semester focuses on hand tool work and the second semester introduces machine.  The hand tool semester teaches about the use and care (sharpening) of planes, chisels, layout and marking devices, etc.  The picture above is my M&T example assignment.  Thankfully I was well versed in the Paul Sellers method for chopping mortises. I used the method Paul teaches for all my mortise work.  I tried other approaches – namely using the drill press to hog out most of the waste, but my results were poor with that approach.  With practice, I’ve become quite proficient at chopping out a mortise with a bench chisel or mortise chisel.  And it is exactly that, schedule time to practice, that turned out to be the best thing I got out of my Red Rocks experience.  There’s no substitute for hands on experience.  I need to build and build more and build again.

In addition to oodles of time spent flattening all my chisels and sharpening every tool I own, I also made a small table in the first semester.IMG_1146 IMG_0092

Another invaluable experience is spending time working at a great variety of incredible workbenches. I certainly got to try many different configurations – all vastly superior to my wobbly HF bench.  And I’m narrowing in on the bench I will eventually build for myself.


All of the benches in the photo were made at Red Rocks.  Every other semester they offer a bench building class which I would love to take when I am ready to build my bench.  However the class is usually during a weekday, which makes it not possible for me to attend.  I’m likely to build a version of the split top Roubo we see so much of and working on these benches has given me a much clearer understanding of what I like and dislike in a workbench.


4 thoughts on “The Virtual Apprentice Goes to School

  1. Sounds like the school has been a great experience. The table you built is very nice. I like the clean, Danish modern look of it.
    I agree, there is no substitute for hands-on. I spent a lot of years convinced that I didn’t have the right tools or enough skill, ect. Once I laid that all aside and just went for it, a whole new world opened up. Masterclasses and Paul Sellers played a huge role in that change. I have a lot to learn, but no more excuses will be holding me back.
    Fantastic second post Denise. I’ll be looking for post number three. Hopefully not as long a wait this time. 🙂


  2. Fascinating. I wish that I had learned hand tool woodworking before machines. The hand tools dramatically improved my machine work and my understanding of wood. Looking forward to future posts

    • Richard, I’ve used machines in the distant past – but not for fine work. When returning to woodwork 2 years ago, the revival of handwork was very popular and certainly captured my attention. I joined Paul Sellers WW Mastersclass group and began again with only hand tools. Besides I am working in my basement and the only power tool I still owned was a bandsaw.

      I’m enjoying the work and I completely understand why you would say that hand tool abilities make machine work better. I’m slowly adding machines and my hand skills are invaluable.

      Thank you for your comment and I enjoy reading your blog and watching your work.

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