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I plan to take a week long class next year. I was looking at Lonnie Bird's Woodworking Essentials. It's in Dandridge, TN which is five hours away so I can drive there (I'm near Atlanta). Has anyone taken a class with him?  Another option would be Gregory Paolini in Asheville, NC. His "Essentials" class builds a shaker table like Bird's does. Pricing is comparable as is the "you will learn" goals. 

Looking for suggestions and insight. 

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I would watch some youtube videos of each instructor and see which one you gravitate towards.

To Erics point, Marc has a shaker table video series.

Chris Schwartz has a dvd on building a shaker end table, which should really be called "how to understand and properly read grain direction and properly use hand tools, oh and make a table at the same time".. But that title is too long, so it's simply called Shaker Table...

I have not seen the one Marc did, but the CS dvd is essential for anyone making a Shaker end table, or any small furniture using hand tools.

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I don't want to give the wrong impression here - I am a Marc groupie and have learned a ton from him.  I watch, rematch and then watch his videos again.  I just thought a hands-on class to learn how to cut dovetails, fitting inset drawers, hand cut mortise and tenons, etc. would be beneficial.  I didn't pick the Shaker Table because I want one, though I do like the style, just seemed like the one most of them are using that build for Essentials classes.  If Marc's Guild build goes into good detail on cutting dovetails then I would absolutely opt for that first.  The more time I spend in the shop and the more builds I do, the hungrier I get for new and improved knowledge of the craft.  I'm nearly 60 so I plan to retire in a few years and spend a considerable amount of time building furniture for fun and maybe a little profit to finance a trip or two with the bride :)

Maybe a better definition to my question is this.  I want to significantly improve my hand tool skills - which won't be that hard at my level, LOL.  I sense that having an instructor to help you figure out where your techniques are incorrect and instruct you properly is key.  In all honesty, I thought about signing up for Shannon's Hand Tool School, but back to the one on one instruction thing.  I would MUCH RATHER find an alternative to a hands-on school and spend the money I save on more tools and wood.  I have a PC 4212 jig but I really want to learn to do dovetails by hand, as well as mortise and tenons.  I love hand tools and really want to become more proficient with them.

I really do appreciate your input on this subject. 

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If you're looking to do DTs by hand (and improve other specific hand skills), I would probably gravitate more toward finding a class for those specific skills.  I know Vinny attended a Rob Cosman hand cut dovetails class recently and enjoyed it.  Paying that much to spend a week building a shaker table doesn't seem like a good use of funds IMO.  I'd rather buy Marc's guild build and then pay for a one day class on cutting DTs if you feel like you want more hands on instruction.  And you'll have plenty of money leftover to buy a LN DT saw and a nice chisel set...

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I have no experience with those instructors, but I did take the Benchwork Week class with Roy and Bill at the Woodwright's School in NC.  There are only like 8 or ten people in the class, so there's always someone available to answer questions or work out technique issues.  Plus you end up with a useful tool chest.  It wasn't cheap, but I thought it was worth it and would do it again.

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Hand tool skills are about 5% instruction and 95% practice.  Yes Marc covers hand-cutting the half blind dovetails on the drawer of the Shaker table and I believe he hand cuts the front apron-to-leg dovetails as well.  But dovetails are not the mystery that people sometimes think they are.  Watch a couple videos from trusted sources, then get out in the shop and practice practice practice.  The skills will come when the work is done.

Taking live classes can be great if you can find a specific, detailed course in your area at a convenient time.  I never find that a class meets those criteria for me, so I continue to do my learning online and in my shop.  Learning the techniques are the easy part...mastering them through experience is the challenge.  Live classes are also costly whereas practice costs nothing but time.

"You dropped 150 grand on an education you could have got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library." - Will Hunting

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Marc's shaker table video is honestly one of my favorite of the 11 guild projects that I have access to. You can absolutely learn hand tool skills from watching the video but it requires practice.

Should you choose to go to Asheville, make sure you go to Biscuit Head. Seven different gravies available, and you can order a gravy flight with your biscuit. I think that alone is sufficient reason to choose which class you take.

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Edited by Chuck Melton
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I can't comment on either instructor, but I say go for it.  Online videos are great and I've learned a ton from Marc's free and Guild videos, but there are times when I am using hand tools and I just can't get perfect results and I know it's because of some technique issue that would be easy to resolve if someone knowledgeable was there to help out.  I know Shannon has advocated making a video of yourself so you can see what you are doing wrong, and that's a great tip, but only if you know what to look for.  Whether the one-on-one instruction is worth the cost is a personal decision for you, based on your finances and expectations.  Eric's point about practice is 100% right, but if you are practicing a flawed technique, then you're not going to improve.  

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Marc's shaker table video is honestly one of my favorite of the 11 guild projects that I have access to. You can absolutely learn hand tool skills from watching the video but it requires practice.

Should you choose to go to Asheville, make sure you go to Biscuit Head. Seven different gravies available, and you can order a gravy flight with your biscuit. I think that alone is sufficient reason to choose which class you take.

Slack for iOS Upload.jpg

I'm in!

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I absolutely understand the practice, practice, practice aspect - which I look forward to - but as a couple have mentioned, if I'm doing it wrong to begin with...  I live near Atlanta so I just looked at Highland Woodworking's class schedule and they have Jim Dillon teaching a class on hand-cut dovetails November 21st.  It's only $95 and I've taken classes there before and they were good.  That might get me headed in the right direction.  Then I could talk my wife into giving me the Guild with WhisperCare membership for Christmas and buy the shaker table to practice on.  You guys are geniuses!

Maybe in the meantime I can find a really good video - youtube or DVD - to get started?  Any recommendations?

One more question.  What are the essential tools for dovetails?  I have the Lie-Nielsen Tapered Carcass saw (sadly never used yet), I have the Veritas wheel marking gauge, a couple of marking knives, and a Japanese kataba saw (which I love), and a set of Narex chisels.  What do you recommend for laying out the angles?  I see Veritas has a Dovetail saddle marking gauge.  Worthwhile?  Is there a good angle to learn first, i.e. 1:8 for example?  Guess that's more than one question, but I can't count which explains why I have too many board feet of lumber in my shop - if that's possible LOL.

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Here, why not start with our local hero...

 

 

Or try another Brit, only older...

 

 

Or perhaps you'd prefer pins first...

 

 

Or if you like yours fast and flashy with the possibility of buying a used car by the end of it...

 

 

And here are some half blinds with Uncle Spags...

 

 

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Unless he has moved, Greg is actually a little west of Asheville. I have taken a class from him and really enjoyed it, and I learned a good deal. I have built a number of guild and free site projects "along" with Marc. He is a great teacher and I highly recommend a guild membership. 

Having said that, if I could afford it I would almost always jump a class on site with a good teacher.  There is something about being immersed in just wood working for a week with someone who can watch your work and help correct your errors, not just general problems. Also, you learn not just from the instructor, but from your classmates. More often then not you also get to use tools you don't own. 

I don't think you will regret either class.

 

 

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So after reading your replies I decided to just attempt to cut some dovetails.  I learned two things. First, I suck at sawing. That's not a surprise since it's not a skill I've ever developed. Lousy sawing will result in lousy joints, so my first step is practicing sawing to the line and sawing square. Second, I just fell in love with the Lie-Neilsen tapered carcass saw I've had for eight months but never used. I'm convinced once I learn to use it I'll want some more of their saws. 

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A tip I received from Glen Drake was to practice sawing by using your square to mark a series of straight lines as long as your saw will cut (before hitting the back strip on your saw) along the end of some scrap hardwood, then start sawing trying to follow the lines.  If you can saw straight down, you can saw at an angle for a dovetail. A few minutes practicing before cutting on your project makes a big difference. Also, starting out, do a couple of strokes, check to see if you are still on your line, and make an adjustment if you need to. It's hard to adjust a cut after more than a few strokes.  Have fun. 

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