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What exactly to expect at the Lohr School of Woodworking

 A detailed account from signup all the way through to the experience of completing the Practical Woodworking Course at the workshop in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania.   

By T. Ramsey Thorp, MD / Lohr School Alumni , Class of November 2006

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    " You need to understand, Iíve reached that age where I am going to have time to spend and I want to do this well.  I have always had an interest in wood working and fanaticized that one day I would have a shop.  Many times in the past I have found wood worker hobbyists happily involved in their work.  Several years ago I became interested in wood carving and since that time I have done several ducks and song birds.  During this time my shop in New Hampshire had become more sophisticated and ready for new adventures.  Some of my equipment sits unused waiting for a knowledgeable worker.

     It was time to go to the next level.  Friends encouraged me to go to a woodworking school.  Off I went to the internet to see what I could find.  Part of my decision was based on proximity and ease of scheduling with my routine doctor life.  (Dr.Thorp has since relocated to PA) The result was the JD Lohr Woodworking School in Schwenksville, thirty five miles away.  The next step was getting placement and in one of Jeff's Practical Woodworking Courses.  This was done on line and with some sense of trepidation.  Courses in the school for the most part are sold out and it became apparent that I would have to register for a course that was nine months off.  The demand is so great that registration occurs on a specific date and time.  If not done properly I would have to put the whole process off for an unknown amount of time in the future.  I was one of the lucky ones, got the right course even though it would be a long wait. 

    November eventually did come and I girded myself for two extended  weekends away from home.  My wife, while totally supportive, gave me the look that it would be nice to have me home, I was going to be missed.  November 4th was a day filled with anticipation.  I really did not have a good idea how to find the school other than some maps that Jeff had sent me.  I decided to get an early start.  I had my cup of coffee and was off to the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Once on cruise control, the coffee and the music seemed to blend very comfortably.  As I moved north west on Route 422 I could see the smoke from the Limerick cooling towers.  These towers are awesome, they are so big.  As you approach them they first are on the right side of the road.  They are huge even at the distance of ten miles.  As the highway turns they eventually appear on the left side of the highway, silent, enormous signs of our need for energy.   

    In contrast, the smaller roads wind off to the east to Jeffís home.  sign is very modest and is almost unreadable on one side.  I was warned to drive slowly.  Itís a right turn on a gravel road, past a small barn on the left and a meadow on the right.  Then itís up a short hill past another farm building on the right until you come to the parking area.  Rob, one of Jeff's apprentices met me there and told me to tighten up my parking position as there would be others coming and space was at a premium.  Once more tightly parked, I go out and went to the wood shop.  A sign said: ďSafety glasses required within.Ē

    The wood shop is large and well lit.  One whole side of the room is floor to ceiling windows, and above this there are sky lights, all of this on the south side.  To the right is a wall and work bench.  The wall is covered with all sort of chisels, planes, squares, hammers, and a bench saw.  The floor of the room is covered with power tools: table saws, jointers, planers, mortiser, band saw, belt sander and more.  Beyond the wall to the right is another room with work space, jigs and storage areas for lumber. 

   Jeff and Toby were there to meet us.  Toby is a German Sheppard who I understand can be challenging if he wants to be, however I found him to be a ready companion and enjoyed meeting him at the beginning of every day. There were nine of us students and Jeff.  Rob is an apprentice and helped us along the way.  Other helpers, were there also from time to time.  I think of Mark (this course's assistant teacher) who was so helpful when it came to setting up our work for gluing.  He was also really helpful to me with the use of the router. 

    So the day began with a lecture about wood, a story about straws, and many things that would be enriched as the classes went on.  First, it is obvious that Jeff loves his work and is a fabulous teacher.  You really need a tape recorder to get down all that this fine man gives to the students.  I understand that there might be a series of CDís created by Jeff for encyclopedic teaching of woodworking processes.  It would be a worthy effort.  Jeff has the unique balance of having so much to offer and putting it in such an engaging way.  I was never bored, itís really a challenge to keep up.  He has a pleasant manner with his enjoyment and then can be necessarily fussy when he needs to be.  Fussy is about as bad as it gets.  He gets attention and once forewarned misadventures seem less likely to occur.

    There were eleven of us  students, all working on essentially the same project, a hall table.  As time went on, it was amazing to see how all did so well in completing this work.  Some of us had more experience than others but in general it seemed that all were doing quality work.  The day started somewhere between 7:30 and 8:00.  There really was no break in the action right up to lunch where there would be a sudden hush over everything and we retreated.  Lunch was precisely a half an hour, and some used even less.  All seemed excited about keeping at their work.  Jeff would interrupt from time to time for a demonstration or short lecture. 

    The amount of material to remember is enormous.  I did take notes but feel that my best chance of solidifying what I have learned is to get down and get another project started.

    There is a quality to the light in the shop along with the smell of fresh cut wood, sawdust, glue that has its own magic.   

    At the end, of course, I did not want it to stop.  There was a quality in all of us, that we had experience something very valuable and we would have liked to have gone on longer.  Jeff and his wife are warm and inviting.  It was really a privilege to have had this opportunity.  I hope I can blend my own enthusiasm with the joy that Jeff demonstrates along with fussyness and the requirements of being exact.  It will be hard to duplicate his imagination, his fascination with the nuances of his work.  It was personally a great satisfaction for me to share this time with a very talented man. "

T. Ramsey Thorp , MD  / Wyndmoor, PA 


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