Woodworking at the End of the World
Do not tell my wife this, but one of the best parts of teaching woodworking is getting to travel.
Since I started teaching woodworking six years ago I have seen many places that I’ve always wanted to visit: Germany, Maine and Portland, Ore., to name a few. But perhaps the most gorgeous setting for a woodworking school I have ever visited is the Port Townsend School of Woodworking in Washington state.
It is difficult to describe what this place is like to someone who has lived only in the South and Midwest. It’s like living on the edge of world. You look across the water, and there is Victoria, Canada. The sound is filled with boats – ferries, pleasure craft and nuclear subs. And they move about against a backdrop of mountains that makes my familiar Ozark mountains in Arkansas look more like hill-like outcroppings.
The school where I am teaching this week is in a special place. It’s located on the Fort Worden State Park – a World War I-era fort that features its original buildings all perched above Puget Sound. You wake up in the morning and are stopped mid-yawn by the beauty. You walk to the bathroom – stopped dead by the beauty of the water and mountains outside the window. You go to do your laundry and… well, you get the idea.
I love old places, and getting the opportunity to do some serious woodworking in an old fort that is lousy with beautiful Victorian-era buildings makes the whole thing pretty spacial.
But then there is my assistant for the week: Jim Tolpin, author of “The New Traditional Woodworker” (Popular Woodworking Books).
Yup, you read that right. Tolpin, perhaps the best-selling woodworking author of all time and one of my favorite authors, is on the faculty at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. He graciously agreed to help out with my classes on sawing and handplanes this week.
The school itself is located in the old power plant for the fort, which is built into a hillside. There are large windows that let in lots of light, high ceilings and acres of old Victorian buildings outside. Some of these are dormitories (I’m staying in what I believe were military barracks). Other buildings are used by arts and culture organizations, including music training, a couple small publishing companies and the like. During lunch you can go out and stomp around the old parade grounds and watch the boats pass by.
The school, a non-profit organization, was founded by Jim Tolpin, John Marckworth and Tim Lawson a few years ago at the fort. They specialize in offering hand-tool courses, though the school has a full shop of machines and a full industrial millwork shop. The millwork shop is part of the school’s effort to offer classes in historic preservation (especially for veterans) and use some of the buildings at the fort as projects for the faculty and students.
And if all that isn’t enough, the town of Port Townsend itself is quite charming. It’s a little jewel of a village filled with 19th-century buildings and restaurants, art galleries and shops. Plus they have a brewery that makes a couple great IPAs.
Well, it’s time to go for a run on one of the trails that ring the park and walk over to the school. I have a sawbench to build. It’s a tough life, I know.
— Christopher Schwarz