Pittsboro, NC is nice little town south of Chapel Hill. Anyone who watches The Woodwright’s Shop knows that Chapel Hill is where the show is filmed. And anyone who follows Roy Underhill knows that Pittsboro is where almost three years ago Roy opened the Woodwright’s School. That is where I spent three days early last week. Three days that went by much too fast. I took a hand sawing class with Chris Schwarz. Roy was there, as well as Bill Anderson, another instructor at the school. The students came from all over. Florida, Kentucky, Connecticut, New York, Maryland, North Carolina and myself being from Michigan. Pittsboro provided a great back drop. Next door to the school is a soda shop and directly to the back is a bar. Down the street is a barber shop, the county court house, and several other small businesses.
The class was called “Sawing Secrets” but all manner of handtools were used. Planes, chisels, layout tools, and of course saws. Chris was an excellent instructor. He gave a brief history on saws at the beginning of class. He had us try all the bad habits of woodworkers attempting to saw. Then the proper way. Relaxed grip, proper stance, forearm in line with the saw back, and nibbling. Nibbling? Nibbling. This was something I never was able to pick up from his writing. How can you? You have to see it really. My best explanation is that you start with little strokes until the kerf is established. Then you go for it. Then there was the use of other tools. Friends of the saw as Chris liked to call them. Shoulder planes, router planes, and shooting boards. The other great thing Chris did was he allowed everyone to use any of his tools. This was a mixed blessing. It was the first time I have used a properly set-up smoothing plane; a Lie Nielsen No.4 with 55* frog. Oh no! I need to hide my wallet from myself. But it also made me realize that many of tools are no where near tuned to the level they could or should be.
Aside from the basics of sawing and building a sawbench, we also got some other lessons from Roy and Bill. Roy showed us his bow saws and frames saws. Bill gave us a quick primer on saw sharpening. Speaking of Bill, what a terrific person. He walked around helping anyone and everyone. He gave out pointers, gave a hand when needed, and even sharpened a saw for me that I got from upstairs.
Upstairs is Ed Lebetkin’s antique tool store. He had all sorts of goodness up there. Metal planes, wooden planes, router planes, molding planes, saws, chisels, rulers, squares, hammers, tool chests, miter boxes, saw sets, drawknives, spokeshaves, and more. Quality and prices were good and Ed was great to deal with. I picked up a Stanley No. 36 folding rule, Disston 28″ 5 1/2 point rip saw (this is the saw Bill sharpened for me), and an Atkins 24″ miter box saw.
Throughout the class, Roy was preparing for his “Mystery Mallet” class. So we were able to see how he assembled the mallet. I’ll have to leave that a mystery though. According to Roy, the mallet in question was designed by Abraham Lincoln and lead to the quote “…with mallets towards none.” Everyone got a good chuckle out of that. We ended up getting done early so Chris gave us a quick lesson on his method of dovetailing. He uses a rabbet plane to help transfer layout lines and saws out the majority of the waste with a fret saw. I liked it. Now I want a good rabbet plane.
There was also fun after classes. Every evening after class we would go to the City Tap, a bar directly behind the school. This was a chance for people to talk with Roy and Chris and ask questions about their lives and what not. However, the biggest treat came on Wednesday when we were invited to McBane Mill, Roy’s house. Everyone gathered there to have a few beverages and we were shown the newest episode of The Woodwright’s Shop that Roy and Chris had shot just days earlier. I don’t want to go any further than saying, it was funny and informative.
If you should ever have the chance to take a class at the Woodwright’s School, do it. Roy and Bill were both very nice and gracious. I hope that next year when I get more vacation time that I can return. And of course, Chris was awesome. He is very willing to teach all that he knows. He was never short nor condescending. He was willing to talk about anything and share all he could. I hope this meeting will not be my last with him or anyone else I met, classmates included.
“Some make things for beauty, others for utility, I make things for irritability.” -Roy Underhill on his mystery mallet.