edited chat log

a Special Guest Chat with
Woodworking Educator

Ellis Walentine, Host

Sunday, May 1, 2005
9:30 pm EDT

CLICK HERE to visit Peter's website.

Chat Topic: “Learning to Design”

Ellis I'm pleased to introduce our special guest this evening, Peter Korn, Director of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine. Welcome, Peter!
Bater Hi Neal & Peter
gypsydave_in_alabama hi Neal
Peter Korn Hello. Sorry I'm late.
Carole_in_VA Hi Peter. Welcome!
Neal__San_Jose_ 'Evening all
Ellis Welcome, indeed, to our chat.
Dustmaker Is this particleboard desk I use fine furniture?
Ellis 's okay. Glad you're here.
Peter Korn So, I've never been in a chat room before. Thanks for inviting me. This should be interesting
gypsydave_in_alabama just like sittin' around a campfire
Bater Usually is!
Ellis We're interested in what you do up there in Maine, Peter. Tell us about your school.
Peter Korn How much time do you have?
Ellis Tons!
Peter Korn Well, we take about 350 enrollment per year, teaching furniture making, carving, and turning.
Peter Korn Our courses range from one week to nine months in length.
Peter Korn They are taught by an incredible array of professional woodworkers from the USA, England, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.
Ellis Wanna drop some names?
gypsydave_in_alabama nine months!! That's quite a class
gypsydave_in_alabama that's an apprenticeship
Peter Korn Names? Some are well-known, such as Garrett Hack, Phil Lowe, Alan Lacer... But we don't so much look for "stars" as we do for the best teachers.
Ellis What courses are the perennial favorites, Peter?
Carole_in_VA Is there emphaisis on any particular style or period?
Dustmaker I have seen a lot of new furinture with Dutchman in it I thought they where normally used to cover a mistake
Peter Korn We encourage each student to find his or her own voice in design. Anything from Shaker-inspired to art furniture is fair game. We don't teach period reproductions, though.
Peter Korn Have any of you taken classes at other schools? Which ones?
Ellis So, where do you begin the course on design, Peter?
Carole_in_VA I haven't...I am a beginner.
RayT Yes, Marc Adams shool
Alan_B Peter - why not period furniture?
Neal__San_Jose_ I can stick two boards together, but have difficulty with design. I have great respect with people like you, Michael Fortune, Graham Blackburn that can come up with designs that work. I guess that's why I tend to do reproductions of older designs.
Peter Korn Ellis, all of our courses teach craftsmanship and design inseparably, Every student designs the piece he makes to incorporate the skills he wants to explore.
Ellis That sounds like an ideal approach, Peter.
Peter Korn We don't teach period furniture because: 1) the North Bennet School does such a great job already and 2) we are really about encouraging woodworkers' creative self-expression.
Ellis When it comes to design, I suspect nothing is new under the sun. How do you approach design instruction, Peter?
Peter Korn Neal, I believe that every person can design, given the methodology and encouragement, and I haven't been wrong yet.
Carole_in_VA Do you think creativity in design can be learned, Peter?
Neal__San_Jose_ That's promising!!!
Peter Korn You can learn to generate ideas and then translate them into reality, so yes, creativity can be taught.
Peter Korn Can we teach you to be a great designer? I'm still trying to teach myself to be a great designer!
Carole_in_VA How do you teach someone to generate ideas or move outside the box? Seems like a hard thing to teach.
Ellis I wish I could have been the fly on the wall there all these years, Peter. I'll bet you have really evolved your design program.
Peter Korn And Ellis, there's a difference between creativity and novelty. So much contemporary design is about novelty and not much else. Furniture design is really a way to describe how we think life should be lived.
Peter Korn Damn, I haven't typed this fast in my entire life.
Carole_in_VA LOL
gypsydave_in_alabama What is your school's web address?
Peter Korn
gypsydave_in_alabama thanx
Ellis You're doing very nicely, Peter! :-)
Carole_in_VA "How we think life should be lived"...that's one of those phrases that will stick with me the next time I try to create something!
Ellis Welcome to chatworld. :-)
Ellis It's a good one, Carole.
Carole_in_VA Sure is!
gypsydave_in_alabama I'd create a mess using that philosophy!
Peter Korn I know it sounds grandiose, but I ask myself why any of us want to design and build a piece of furniture, and it's certainly not because we need it functionally and practically, because it's actually easier to just go buy it.
Carole_in_VA Not if you can't find what you want...which I usually can't.
Ellis So, design comes from the specific design "problem" that we have?
Peter Korn Ellis, yes, there is always a design "brief", a problem to be solved, even if that problem is just what will make me, the maker, feel satisfied.
RayT My take is you teach someone how to think about the design process, then channel that thought process into creativity.
Peter Korn Ray, that sounds about right.
Peter Korn Except that thought is often the enemy of action!
RayT Analysis paralysis
Peter Korn You never get a sketch done by staring at the paper and thinking, you get it by moving the pencil, making mistakes, moving on....just like life
gypsydave_in_alabama but action minus thought------yikes
Carole_in_VA Do you often make changes to your initial design as you go or do you pretty well stick to the original design you came up with?
Mac Dont you find that a game of croquet helps?
RayT That is part of the process, do something even if its wrong, its just paper
Ellis Right, Peter. Woodworkers have skills they want to apply. They don't necessarily have any design chops. How do you get them on the right track?
Peter Korn Well, gypsy, with just a pencil it's not too dangerous.
gypsydave_in_alabama lol
Ellis What are the tenets of design that we need to bring to our work?
Peter Korn To start, Ellis, we often have them do a variation on a theme, just to get comfortable with sketching, full-scale drafting, and modeling.
Peter Korn One thing about our school, Ellis, is that we don't have a design orthodoxy.
Ellis ...beginning with a particular furniture form?
Peter Korn There is not such thing as good design, just successful design, which is design that satisfies its brief.
Ellis That's a good thing, Peter.
Ellis Right. Function, cost, etc...
Peter Korn If you don't like someone's work, you probably don't like the values that motivated his brief.
JohnP that's a good thought, Peter
Peter Korn Which Mac is that, asking about croquet?
Mac me
Peter Korn Ah, our outstanding turning teacher!
Peter Korn I am curious about how all of you have gone about learning woodworking???
Ellis This notion of a brief is intriguing. This would be one's particular statement of his design problem?
Carole_in_VA Fumbling around, reading and asking questions on WC! LOL
JohnP graduate of the Univ of Errors
gypsydave_in_alabama I am in process of design/building a potato and onion bin---I have about 40 hrs in construction and at least 200 in sittin' and starin' at it
Peter Korn Ellis, not everyone articulates their brief, but it's always there and always a good exercise to try to verbalize.
Bater I hung out in my neighbor's shop! He was in the cabinet business!
Ellis Sure, you need to know the starting point.
Neal__San_Jose_ You graduated, JP?
JohnP yes, Neal, but grades weren't all that good.
Ellis Seems that people learn by a lot of different means, Peter. Magazines, websites, personal contact, schools...
Carole_in_VA I am still a "wannabe" all the tools and stuff, just haven't produced much.
Ellis We're all somewhere on the learning curve.
Peter Korn All good ways to go. I myself am self-taught, or at least I was till I started teaching with so many other people and learning how I should have been doing things all along.
FrankJ Carole you do well. and a lot.
Carole_in_VA I have gotten sidetracked by that spinny thing!:)
Peter Korn Turning is seductive. We added turning to our curriculum last year and it's hot!
Ellis Your school is a valuable resource for people who know where there are on the curve. Your instructors can move them along in a particular direction they want to go.
Carole_in_VA I bet there is a huge waiting list, Peter!
Peter Korn Ellis, absolutely. We have a very high teacher/student ratio.
Peter Korn Carole, we do have wait lists for many courses, but we also have some that never run full.
Peter Korn A course like Japanese Hand Tools doesn't have that large an audience, but we run it for those who are interested, even if it won't fill.
Carole_in_VA Are the turning courses full? I bet they are.
Ellis What are the most popular courses, Peter?
Dan_D I think that websites such as WC are also a big advantage to new woodworkers. Where else can you get advice from as many experts for the best price::smile Of course, it also helps to have a live person next to you demonstrating things, but both are very good.
Peter Korn The introductory-level turning courses are full, but we're adding another session in August, if you're interested. Some of the intermediate ones still have room
Carole_in_VA I never could have even started before the Internet!
Ellis Who is teaching turning, Peter?
Peter Korn Most popular courses: turning, Basic Woodworking, Finishing, introductory carving...
Ellis How do you teach carving?
Peter Korn Alan Lacer, Beth Ireland, Michael Hosaluk, Stephen Gleasner...
Peter Korn Al Stirt, Jacques Vesery
Peter Korn Our carving teacher is Chris Pye, from England
Ellis Yo, great lineup!
Carole_in_VA Wow
Peter Korn I, myself, don't know much more than which end of a gouge does the cutting.
Ellis :-)
Peter Korn Chris is an unbelievable good instructor. This will be his 8th year with us.
Ellis I carve with a pneumatic sander and rasps.
Peter Korn Ellis, I don't have the hang of those funny faces yet.
Ellis We have just started a new carving forum on WoodCentral. I hope your folks will frequent it.
Ellis Not to worry, Peter.
Peter Korn Chris teaches with hand tools. Some of the turning instructors carve with flexible shafts, etc.
Ellis Does Chris have a particular favorite brand of chisels?
Peter Korn Chris likes the ones they sell at woodcraft. He feels they come with the bevels properly shaped.
Ellis that would be Pfeils?
Peter Korn Yes
Ellis That confirms some suspicions. Thanks.
Carole_in_VA He sells Auriou on his site, doesn't he?
Peter Korn Chris Pye has a great web site and is very accessible by e-mail for questions.
Bater Last Woodcraft catalog I got had Pfeils!
Ellis So, where do people stay when they come up there for classes?
Peter Korn Some camp, most stay in private rooms in shared houses for $250/week in the summer. Some rent private apartments.
Peter Korn Then there are a lot of motels, b&bs, etc. but they are more expensive.
Ellis ...but you help them make arrangements, right?
Peter Korn Ellis, what's your favorite glue?
Ellis Hey, you got the smileys down!
Peter Korn Yes, it is very easy to arrange housing through the school
Ellis I like good ol' Titebond. What's yours?
gypsydave_in_alabama my "brief" was a functional potato bin of gallery quality and style
Peter Korn Titebond because it's non-toxic, but we use a lot of Unibond 800 for longer assembly times.
Peter Korn And epoxy seems to be coming on.
Peter Korn gypsy, how about sending a photo!!
Carole_in_VA Hey, Gypsy, find a wood that prevents sprouting and you will have something!:)
Ellis Yep. And we used to use a ton of West System epoxy for our gates.
Peter Korn With epoxy wood seems to slide into place better.
Peter Korn But I don't trust it for longevity.
Ellis And stay there...
Jack_E Peter what about hide glues?
gypsydave_in_alabama no camera----and it's not finished yet----but close
Peter Korn Hide glue is a pain in the butt!
Carole_in_VA LOL
Peter Korn Don't quote me!
Carole_in_VA Never say anything in a chat room you don't want the world to know, Peter! LOL
Ellis What do you know about epoxy longevity?
Ellis We edit loosely here. :-)
Peter Korn Ellis, I know nothing about epoxy longevity. I just don't trust it's long-term adherence for joinery, where it has to deal with wood movement. It is so inelastic!
Ellis I know what you mean.
Peter Korn Of course, I have lots of unfounded opinions I'd be happy to share.
Ellis Don't we all :-)
Peter Korn Ellis, what's the best woodworking magazine these days?
Ellis I worry about those things, too, Peter.
Ellis What do you think?
Carole_in_VA LOL
Peter Korn You first! Carole, what do you think?
Carole_in_VA Slick dodge, Ellis
Alan_B Other than longer clamp times - what don't you like about hide glue?
RayT Two politicians making a decision
Peter Korn I'll stick to glue.
Ellis I have to be cagey. I like different mags for different reasons.
Neal__San_Jose_ I'll go first - Pop Woodworking
Carole_in_VA I am getting a little tired of all of them, if want me to be honest! I still get PW.
Peter Korn Real hide glue sets so fast you don't have time for assembly. Liquid hide glue delams in hot humid weather.
Peter Korn I will say that I particularly like some of the profiles in Woodwork.
Carole_in_VA They all seem to have the same thing only in different issues.
Ellis Have you tried Pat Edwards' Old Brown Glue?
Peter Korn No, should I?
Ellis Yes. Tell him I sent ya.
Peter Korn Okay.
Ellis I like Woodwork, too.
Greg me three!
Peter Korn I stopped writing for magazines because how many times can you explain how to cut a dovetail?
Ellis Woodwork doesn't seem to need to make money, so Lavine does what he wants. It's a very tasty book.
Peter Korn What's the scoop on that?
Carole_in_VA I liked the first issue of the Woodcraft mag but the price was tad steep for me at the time.
Greg or set the edge on a scraper....
Ellis Right you are, Peter. Nothing is new in mag world as far as I can see.
Peter Korn Well, wood hasn't really changed all that much over the centuries, has it?
Peter Korn Well, I don't know where all you bon vivants live, but in Maine this is an hour past bedtime!
Ellis Geez, Peter, you guys turn in early...
Carole_in_VA I think it (wood) has changed, acording to the "old time" woodworkers I talk to. They say it is very difficult to find wood as good as it was 50 years ago. I wouldn't know, personally.
Peter Korn Well, did you know that Maine should properly in in an earlier timezone than the rest on New England?
Ellis I get all the mags and I don't know that any are really a cut above.
Jack_E 9:30 here
Ellis Pop Woodworking has been coming along nicely lately.
Peter Korn Carole, you are absolutely right in that. I've seen the change over the past 30 years at the lumber yards.
Carole_in_VA They published my tip, so I have to like them, Ellis! :)
Peter Korn I, too, have heard good things about Popular Woodworking.
Ellis No I didn't know that, Peter. You should be in the same zone as Bermuda.
Peter Korn As Newfoundland?
Ellis Chris Schwarz has energized that magazine. Check out some of the guest chats he has done here.
Peter Korn Will do!
Carole_in_VA I like the fact that they added a turning section.
Peter Korn Ellis, is there much difference among the different woodworking shows that travel the country?
Ellis Well...
Peter Korn I haven't been part of the world.
Peter Korn I mean, part of that world
Ellis I am partial to the WoodWorks shows, although they are only in about eight venues.
Ellis The Woodworking Shows are in about 30 or more venues.
Peter Korn I'll look up the WoodWorks shows.
Ellis A lot is the same. WoodWorks concentrates more on the teaching program.
Ellis I happen to know the webmaster :-)
Carole_in_VA Gotta go. Thanks for coming, Pter! Nite all. :)
Ellis So, Peter, are you going to be there all summer?
Peter Korn I'm always here all summer. There's sailing when there's free time/
Peter Korn Best time of year!
Ellis I'm planning a trip to NH in June and I might be heading your way.
Peter Korn Please do come out!
Jack_E Peter Does your school occupy most of your time or are you involved other aspects of woodworking?
Peter Korn Jack, running the school is more than full-time. I get to make one or two pieces of furniture a year and I'm doing some personal writing. It is a very satisfying life.
Ellis I wish I could find time to make a couple pieces per year.
Peter Korn Weekends!
Peter Korn When there are no leaves to rake, overtime to put in...
Ellis I don't have weekends. :-) I do turning because it's fast.
Peter Korn Turning is the creative sport for the modern world.
Ellis I still design furniture in my off hours. I'm not looking for customers anymore.
Peter Korn We have an incredible turning show in the school's gallery right now.
Ellis I'll bet. Can't wait to stop in and see what's up there.
Peter Korn It can be seen on the gallery page at
Peter Korn This summer it will be a faculty show.
Jack_E Your web site is quiet informative
Ellis Remember about 25 years ago, Peter, in Philly? The Heartwood Craftsmen guys? Where have the years gone?
Peter Korn Ellis, do you remember the show Furniture by Phila. Woodworkers? It eventually led to the Phila. Fine Furnishings Show, at least in my imagination.
Ellis You bet, Peter. I still have the catalog. You and I were both there.
Peter Korn Because it introduced Bob Ingram and Josh Markel
Ellis Yep. And they took off from there.
Peter Korn My only first prize!!!
Ellis You deserved it.
Ellis Those were the days. But, so are these.
Peter Korn I'll finish up by saying that this is a great time to be involved in woodworking.
Ellis Peter, thank you so much for visiting with us tonight! I hope some of our visitors will have the chance to experience your excellent school.