Kelly Mehler and I both live in Kentucky, but his Kentucky is far different than mine. Tonight I packed up my truck in Ft. Mitchell , a suburb of Cincinnati , and made the 100-mile trek from the city to the Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking in Berea, Ky.
Where I live, you can judge how close you are to the city’s center by how many Starbucks there are at each highway exit. As the city fell away tonight, their numbers diminished until I was confronted with soldiering on while sucking on an Excedrin or taking a chance on the coffee at Chester Fried Chicken.
By the time I reached Kelly’s school it was twilight. I unloaded my gear without incident, and as I write this blog entry the loudest noise is the crickets. And the brightest light is a toss-up between my laptop’s screen and the moon.
Tomorrow morning I start teaching a six-day class in building the Holtzapffel-style workbench I constructed last year for Woodworking Magazine. It’s a great workbench and is the one I have in my shop at home. But building eight workbenches in a week has turned out to be a logistical struggle for Kelly, who has been prepping stock for the class for too many days now.
You see, when Kelly and I decided to offer this class we really wanted to give the students a shot at actually completing the bench. Many people I’ve talked to who have taken bench-building classes have remarked that they only were able to work on the bench’s top.
So Kelly has been milling maple and gluing up blanks for legs and vise chops for days and days. When we start work tomorrow morning, we’ll have some chit-chat at first, but we’ll be gluing up the tops before lunch if all goes as planned.
The wood is waiting for them in four enormous piles on the ground floor of the shop. Each student’s top is dry-clamped and stacked on a cart. By the stairs is a large mound of leg blanks. Next to that mound is the stretchers and the vise chops. And over by the mortiser is a small army of wooden vise screws and all the other little bits of wood that will make the bench come together.
It’s going to be a week of physical exercise, but I expect the pace to be relaxed. It’s always that way when I teach at this school, and it is probably the result of the pastoral location and Kelly’s unflappable Zen-like vibe.
And the coffee helps, too.
Speaking of coffee, as I tooled through the rolling Bluegrass hills this evening I did spy one curious development on the landscape. At the Richmond exit , one exit away from Berea , they have a brand new Starbucks by the highway.
You could see it as sign of progress, or as something else.
- Christopher Schwarz