- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 14, 2005

Last year, seven members of the Annapolis Woodworkers Guild gathered in their waterfront town to build a series of wooden gates, 17th-century style, for the historic Hammond-Harwood House.

All by hand. No power tools.

When the group began, only one member could consider himself a skilled woodworker. When the project wrapped last July, all seven could create a gate from scratch.

The group’s educational outreach is only one way metropolitan-area residents can pick up woodworking skills.

Capital Area Woodturners also offers instruction aimed at beginners. The group meets the second Saturday morning of each month in Alexandria and can be found online at www.capwoodturners.org.

The Woodworkers Club in Rockville offers classes in veneering, hand plane techniques and basic carving. For more information, visit www.woodworkersclub.com.

With the dearth of woodworking classes in the public school system, guilds are picking up the slack in passing down the trade.

Jack Hirrlinger, president of the Annapolis Woodworkers Guild (www.awwg.org), says the guild stresses education as well as providing a place for veterans to talk shop.

“We have a broad range of talents, from people starting up to those who are very good,” says Mr. Hirrlinger, whose specialty is wooden toys.

“We teach at each meeting,” he continues. “Members bring something in and demonstrate how to use it … and the show-and-tell section lets people tell how they made something and what problems they had with it.”

Michael Arndt of Severn, Md., a former president of the Annapolis Woodworkers Guild, laments the lack of woodworking opportunities for today’s schoolchildren. He cites insurance worries and budgetary cuts as two reasons for the decline, but says groups like the guild can help fill the void.

The meetings aren’t just for amateurs looking to pick up a trade.

“I’ve been doing this professionally since 1968 and I’ve never gone to a guild meeting where I haven’t learned something,” says Mr. Arndt, whose guild is currently lending members to re-create wooden benches this summer for the Hammond-Harwood House. “And it doesn’t cost you anything [to attend].”

Members’ interest ranges from creating furniture to mantle clocks.

“The steps are pretty much the same,” he says of the creative process.

What often differs in woodworking is the wood itself.

Classic woods such as cherry and walnut are good choices for woodworking projects because of their beauty, and Mr. Arndt says each also supplies a stable material that doesn’t change much during weather fluctuations. Wood tends to change size with the seasons, he says.

Another good wood for detailed woodworking projects is mahogany, due to its straight grain, he adds.

For such projects as chairs, maple is a solid choice because it’s able to turn well on a lathe, he says.

Tom Begnal, associate editor of Fine Woodworking magazine based in Newtown, Conn., says guilds exist all over the country to help neophytes learn the ways of wood.

“Every state has one. Bigger states have several,” says Mr. Begnal, whose magazine soon will publish an issue dedicated to first-time woodworkers.

Mr. Begnal says woodworkers tend to share some common traits.

“Attention to detail is a common thread among woodworkers,” he says. “People don’t mind spending some time alone. It’s a solitary pursuit.

“There’s also a certain sense of creativity,” he adds. “You start with a jumbled pile of boards and in a few hours … or even a few months you end up with something of some value.”

He says the biggest change in the field, technologically speaking, is the recent addition of a safer saw to the marketplace.

The Saw Stop is a table saw with a device that can tell if the material being sliced is wood or flesh. If the blade hits the latter, a spring is sprung and a piece of aluminum digs into the blade, stopping it almost instantly.

The device “tells the difference between the conductivity between a human and a piece of wood,” he explains.

The saw costs more than a traditional table saw, but it’s not too expensive for many enthusiasts, coming in under $1,400 for a basic model.

Greg Gloor, general manager of the local Hardwood Artisans chain of furniture stores, helps train woodworkers who have more than a passing interest in the field.

Mr. Gloor is currently looking for the next crop of woodworkers to help the store build furniture. His apprenticeship program takes students of various skill levels and trains them for two years before joining the shop.

“We will pay them to work here and train here,” Mr. Gloor says of his shop, which has been building furniture for 29 years.

One of the first lessons he teaches students is to sharpen a knife and a chisel, the most basic tools of the trade. Using sharp implements and caring for them are a sound way to start a practice, he says.

“It’s the noninteresting part of it, but if you don’t do that, you have a hard time representing yourself as a craftsman,” he says.

A basic woodworking shop, or basement for the novice, should also feature a router, jigsaw and drill.

Future woodworkers don’t have to know their way around a band saw to join, but it helps if they aced math in high school. Woodworkers often must convert fractions to decimals, then decimals to metric figures because some of the machines are metrics-based, he says.

A basic understanding of trigonometry is also a plus.

Mr. Gloor doesn’t mind teaching students all the basics, in part because people today often lack even a rudimentary understanding of the craft.

“The society has moved away from kids learning to how to use tools.” he says. “Twenty years ago I could hire people out of high school. Not anymore.”

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