FIRST CLASS VACATION
A great week at The Conover Workshops.
SHOP OWNER: Tom Ryan
LOCATION: State College, PA
I spent a week last year in October taking a workshop at Conover Workshops in eastern Ohio. It was a wonderful learning experience. One of the pleasures in taking the workshop was meeting some great people. One of those, at the next workbench, was Howard Ruttan, the Webmaster for Conover Workshops. He took the photos here. The photo at left shows me plowing a groove, using a Stanley combination plane owned by the school. The other photos show another participant (with Ernie in the background), Ernie giving a demonstration, and Ernie in an 18th century carpenter's outfit. Howard Ruttan has a record of his experience of the workshop and a photo of his finished project at his Website.
The primary workshop I took was Hand Tool Basics, preceded by two related one-day workshops; one on hand planes and one on hand cutting dovetails. The Hand Tool Basics workshop was an intense five-day course. The basic format was that Ernie Conover would explain something, briefly and clearly, and then we would do what he described. Each student had his own European-style workbench. There were six of us taking the workshop (the maximum enrollment is 8), and both Ernie and his apprentice were around to help us. This way, we spent perhaps 2/3 of our time actually working on our project, and just enough time on lecture-like presentation. The time spent on the project was very productive learning time. At home, I spend a lot of time spinning my wheels trying to figure out why something isn't working the way I want it to. In the workshop, there is always someone to ask, and often Ernie or his apprentice spotted something I could be doing better that I wasn't aware of.
Because of the personal help, the course was suitable for a wide range of backgrounds, except possibly for a rank beginner. I did a fair amount of woodworking with hand tools in the early 70's, and then got away from it for a long time. A year or so ago, I took a very basic course in machine woodworking from the local adult education program.
The project for the course was a small walnut wall cabinet. It exercised many hand woodworking skills. We built a dovetailed carcass (I had never hand cut a dovetail before this workshop), built a mortise and tenon face frame, a mortise and tenon panel door, and a drawer with half blind dovetails in front and through dovetails in back. We smoothed stock with bench planes and cut moldings with molding planes. We learned a lot about accurate layout, a subject I had never appreciated before.
I haven't taken courses at any other schools, so I can't really compare, but I'd go back to Conover Workshops in a minute, and probably will sometime in 2003. The physical environment and the human environment were very comfortable. My woodworking took a quantum leap forward during the week, and it was a great vacation too. A friend of mine went to a workshop at Rosewood Studio (in Canada) and loved it, but it was further than I wanted to drive.. . . Tom Ryan
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