On the evening before my flight left for Germany, my wife and I took a nice long walk around the neighborhood. I hadn’t packed by suitcase. I didn’t have a German phrasebook. And I’d never been to Bavaria.
“What the hell am I doing?” I asked my wife as we rounded the circle on Woodlawn Avenue. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
“I can’t believe it either,” she said, in a moment of complete honesty.
The next afternoon I boarded a plane bound for Paris, and the following 10 days were a long and pleasurable blur. Not because of the amazing weissbier (well, OK, the weissbier did its part), but because of the gorgeous mountains, hearty food and tremendous hospitality of the people at Dick GmbH.
Dick is a hand tool woodworking company with a large catalog, a store in Metten and a huge (even by United States standards) woodworking education operation.
The Dick officials hired me to teach a five-day course on “Classical Joinery” (in English!) at the company’s workshop, which is about a five-minute drive from the company’s warehouse and store.
The workshop is on a farm that used to be a large plant nursery and later a woodworking shop. There are lots and lots of windows that look out onto beautiful green fields.
The main room of the school is about twice the size of our shop in Cincinnati , and that’s just the bench room. The room is stocked with a dozen Ulmia benches for the students, plus two walls filled with tools for the students to use , everything from axes to Japanese saws to carving tools. All sharp.
There is one smaller room (about the size of my shop at home) that is for sharpening or to run a second class. And there is another room of the same size that is filled with massive European machinery.
At the rear of the school is a large kitchen and lunchroom that featured the best machine in the entire school , a coffee-making machine that would make all manner of espresso drinks with the touch of a button. I tried to empty this machine. But I failed.
The best room of the shop, however, was the one that the students couldn’t go into. It was where Dick keeps an enormous inventory of tools for the classes it runs, from carving to joinery to bow-making. Every set of tools is in a special finger-jointed box and clearly labeled. It was like a well-organized tool heaven.
All week during the class, I went back there and asked for the most ridiculous things, such as a propane stove to char our hinges. Andreas and Wolfgang, the certified cabinetmakers at the shop, would raise their eyebrows for a moment and then return with the tool within a few moments.
One last detail on tools: Every student in the class was provided with a finger-jointed box filled with all the basic tools needed for the course. A few of the students in the class were brand new to woodworking, and they could get going without having to purchase a bunch of tools as a result.
The other thing that made the week such fun was the students themselves. We had five native Germans, four of whom took benches at the rear of the room. They were an amazing lot. All of them were beginners in the craft, but all of them took to the work like fish to water. One student, Markus, had never done any woodworking and turned out the best finished project of all the students.
In front of the Germans we had a very experienced Danish doctor, who kept me on my toes all week. Next to him was a Connecticut-born former United Nations official who lives in Hungary. He has more tools than I do, and he brought many of them (his Stanley 66 beader saved the day).
The next row had a German retiree who had built his own enormous wooden boat after attending the Wooden Boat School in Maine. He should have been teaching the class. Instead, he teased me mercilessly all week. Next to him was an Irishman living in Switzerland , Europe is a crazy place.
And in the front row we had Mike, an American Army serviceman stationed in Germany who helped out every single person in the entire class (including me) and whose good humor made me feel good to be an American. Plus a young Polish air traffic controller who spoke better English than I do. And we had Bengt, a Swedish woodworker I have corresponded with for years. He turned out to be an amazingly nice guy and excellent eating and drinking partner all week.
We made it through the week with me drawing lots of diagrams and miming a lot of things , the technical language of woodworking can be a real challenge even for English-speakers. In the end, I was so proud of the cabinets that these guys made. They all worked hard to make them as perfect as possible , one student was still tweaking things as they rounded us up to leave on the last day.
There is so much more to tell, as I spent the weekends and evening exploring the area with the people from Dick. And I haven’t even said the first word about this impressive company. Stay tuned.
– Christopher Schwarz