Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Online Carpentry Study Group

I've been chewing over the responses I have had to my previous announcement about possible Japanese carpentry study courses later this year, and have drawn some new conclusions I'd like to share.

A couple of people suggested an online study format of some sort, and I have been thinking this over more seriously and do believe it holds much promise. One thing I recognize and acknowledge is that there are blog readers and followers here who do not live remotely close by my location, and for whom the costs of flying out to take a workshop, with the attendant time off of work and away from family, along with added food and sundry costs, makes a workshop a tough proposition time-wise and financially. Also, the pace of study in a workshop does not suit all participants. If we move along at a pace I like to work, or in effort of covering a lot of material, many people get overwhelmed, understandably, and really can't keep up. Once the glass is full, so to speak, there's little to be gained from pouring more water in there, and those that have attended some workshops I have given in the past would concur that such an overflowing does characterize much of the experience. And if I slow the pace down to the 'average' course participant's rate of work, as I did in the last course I taught, a lot less material tends to get covered and some participants may end up feeling frustrated or shortchanged by that. Finally, some people freeze up a bit in group settings and may feel intimidated or pressured for one reason or another, and this holds them back from getting the most out of the process.

So, online learning seems like a good option for many. There is the matter of individual motivation, and that will vary among folks out there, but the opportunity is there to study at your own pace and as one's personal schedule allows. So, the pressure is largely off. Some may prefer to be entirely passive about the whole thing, and such has been the case for the majority of people who have purchased the first two volumes of my Carpentry essay, where the assignments involved completing a table of values using repetition of calculation, and the construction of a non-joinery hopper. And that's fine-  I would prefer people take the information from the essays and actually start cutting wood, but I certainly can't force anyone to do so.

Another point on my mind concerns the content of this blog. It varies from personal reflections and process analysis, to detailed looks at history and culture, to build threads, to technical/instructional exposes, such as the 'X' Marks the Spot series from earlier this year. From doing that drawing series, I realized there was a contingent out there who were interested in a step-by-step learning approach to carpentry drawing, and at the same time, there were undoubtedly other readers out there who found it all a bit outside their area of interest. Indeed, during those series I was a bit concerned that despite the huge number of hours that went into the work on my end, that I might have been turning some people off of the blog as a result.

Here's what I have decided to do: the blog will continue as usual with build threads, photo essays, book reviews, etc., however there will be no more technical/instructional series. For that side of things, I will be starting an online Carpentry Study Group, which will be by paid subscription. The format will allow for inter-activity among members of the study group, so that people can both ask me questions and discuss/share stuff with other members. At the conclusion of a project, members can post up pictures of their competed pieces - or not - and will have the option of letting those picture(s) being posted on this blog. You don't have to make anything if you don't want to, or don't have the time, but I hope you will! I am planning to release study material in a graduated fashion so as to allow enough time for students to make the pieces, and keep a good flow to the process. We'll explore both Japanese, French, and even German carpentry.  The focus will be on carpentry drawing, that is, layout. I'll be making the pieces too and will provide photo essays of how I go about the cutting, in more detail than I typically share on the blog. While I already have a good idea of a logical progression of learning tasks, I will be open to participant needs/wants, and flexible enough to take side trips from time to time.

The subscription fee will be $20/month. People can opt in or out anytime they like. So long as 'dues' are paid by the first of the month, subscribers will continue to receive installments. If you didn't pay dues, then I take you off the list. If you pay your dues and don't like the material after receiving the first installment, I'll refund your money. These installments will be mailed out to subscribers in much the same way as I currently provide the carpentry essays, and will have much larger photo files than the blog so that the drawings will have much better detail than what you see on the blog. I will also look at doing video presentations of certain aspects of the material.

So, we'll see what happens - I'm very much wanting to form a community of people interested in delving into technical carpentry practice, who want to study and make stuff. If you're interested in getting involved, and want to push your technical carpentry savvy into new areas, please contact me at the usual email address. Subscription is by way of Paypal (to my email) or personal check drawn on a US bank and mailed to me. The first course is slated to start on July 1st, 2011, and will be delving into splayed box joinery and from there moving into splayed leg sawhorse/table construction. After that, we'll probably make a Japanese hip roof model. And again, to be clear, this blog will be continuing in it's usual way, with much the same content as before, sans technical drawing threads.

I'm looking forward to seeing what the repsonse is. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say.  Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way, and comments always welcome.


  1. Chris,
    I recently discovered this great blog. As a complete newbie woodworker and experienced computer graphics professional, I've enjoyed very much the series on traité de charpente, especially "X Marks the Spot," and have learned a lot by following along in Blender. It would have been a shame if that material was behind a paywall. I hope you'll consider continuing to post the technical drawing threads here at the same level of detail and save the build instructions / source drawings for the online course. Perhaps it's a sign of my newbieness, but I don't find that you include sufficient information to duplicate the drawing of projects like the Mazerolle tréteau.

    I understand your need to monetize your time spent, and I am probably not your target market for the online course, but... at 20$ / month, I am torn between signing up or buying a copy of Mazerolle.

  2. Tim,

    you're quite correct that I didn't include sufficient information to duplicate the Mazerolle tréteau in the blogging on that topic. I might point out that Mazerolle didn't include sufficient information either in his text, not to mention the deliberate errors one finds there, both in that tréteau drawing and in most others i have delved into. That thread wasn't intended as an instructional series, and to cover it in that manner would, I think, have been a blog content that was fairly incomprehensible to the vast portion of the reading audience and would have absorbed dozens more posts on top of the 50 in that thread.

    In terms of the online study group, what you get is the information in an orderly and logical arrangement, without the errors to confuse you and the extensive hair-pulling I had to got through in figuring the material out. All the drawing work to present that material takes a lot of time and I feel it is reasonable to be compensated for that.

    I welcome anyone go out and buy the books and devote themselves to self-study if that is what makes sense for them. With the $300 Mazerolle text you have the delight in deciphering the incomplete graphical information, along with arcane 19th century French to try and work out. The other French 19th century texts I have are even worse - extremely cryptic and poorly drawn. With the Japanese materials, there is the language barrier there as well, which is a wall to climb.

    I am firm in regards to not doing anymore technical drawing threads here on the Carpentry Way. I've already devoted huge hours to that in the past couple of years, and simply can't continue in that vein. If you were in my shoes, perhaps you would feel the same.

    Thanks for your comment! If you decide that the online study makes sense after all, I look forward to your participation.


  3. G'Day Chris,
    I am very excited about the prospect of an online carpentry community and $20 per month sounds like a very fair price to me, certainly compared to our monthly payments for phone, internet connection, utilities and so forth, $20 is a trifling amount. Having purchased your other products I know that the value for money will be excellent.

    To Tim - yes you certainly could follow the path that Chris has taken and work all this stuff out for yourself from first principles by studying the texts yourself, but when you price out your time I don't feel you will have saved any money. I don't wish to invalidate your thoughts on the matter, if you are young, without family and your time is cheap then it is admirable to forge your own path in this area. In my case, with full time work and family, I have real and large time commitments that I couldn't (and wouldn't) forego to work it all out myself - it makes no sense in my case not to 'stand on the shoulders of giants'.

    Hopefully I am one of many who see the value in this idea.

    How do I pay?

    Warm regards

    Derek Cox

  4. Derek,

    your perspective is appreciated as always, and I think accurate in regards to the relative value of what I am offering and what has gone into it. I do think the self-study route is great, but as you say, one needs a veritable evangelical dedication to the material to get anywhere. This is self-study, with the benefits of the landmines having been largely cleared, and other people to share the fun with!

    I really think it would be great to have a group of people from diverse places and backgrounds working to solve and learn from carpentry challenges, individually and/or together as each sees fit. I've been wanting to get something together like this for a long time, and logistics and cost were in the way for much of the time. The internet makes such things possible these days.

    And to both you and Bill, and anyone else interested, to get involved, it's the same procedure as with the carpentry essays, using paypal to my email address. I'll put the names on a list, and the initial topic of study, possibly a 'warm-up' of sorts, will go out on the first day or two of July.



  5. Chris,
    I know that you found many errors in Mazerolle, and in correcting them and building the tréteau you did something of value, as well as something that few have done, other than compagnons de devoir. Mazerolle didn't have SketchUp, and you have presumably produced a correct "épure" and 3D model. The question is whether this work is more valuable -- in a global sense and to you personally -- as something "free," available to all, or as payware. I have spent a good part of my career working on free software, so I definitely tend to the free side, but I will not force that point here.

    I live in France and speak French, so the primary texts are a lot more accessible to me. I can also go to the "musée de compagnonnage" here in town -- where next year my 9-year old is enrolled in an after-school program taught by a real live compagnon de devoir -- and see many examples of these kinds of constructions. The reprint of Mazerolle costs about the same as a year of your online course, so the trade-off is very interesting. There are more modern texts available here, such as "Charpente Les tracés" by Schumacher et al. That book doesn't have the puzzles of Mazerolle but it has a very clean graphics style and frequent explanations of the 2D process with 3D views.

    Derek, I'm not that young and do have a family and a full-time job, but my field is 3d programming, so I deal with the math every day and don't find the material that intimidating. Chris has some interesting thoughts on the auto-didactic route. Anyway, perhaps there doesn't need to be an either / or choice.


  6. Chris,

    I think it's a good idea to create an online course. I live in London, England, and like you say, it would be near impossible for me to afford to come over to you and take a course. As far as I know there is no such Japanese joinery course in this country.

    However, I am an absolute beginner, with only some experience in chair making, not to mention not having a large workshop stocked with tools aplenty.

    In your opinion, would I still be able to get something out of the course?


  7. Tim,

    thanks for your comment again. Bear in mind that the material I will be covering in the study group will be primarily out of Japanese carpentry practice. In regards to traditional French carpentry, it sounds like you have some definite advantages based on your location and circumstances, and by all means 'have at it' with the self-study. You are always welcome to join the online group and continue that self-study, so perhaps I'll hear from you at some point. All the best!


    I guess the take-off point for this study group is the hopper, which I covered in detail on volume II of the Art of Japanese Carpentry Drawing series. That volume sits atop volume I, which reviews basic mathematics, none of which is anything beyond the 10th grade of formal schooling. If you haven't studied those volumes, the material I will be starting with will be more of a challenge, especially as I won't be covering the hopper basics all over again in detail. All that said, getting up to speed on that material shouldn't take all that long IF you are motivated.

    Skill-wise, I would expect participants to have some woodworking experience. It's not really an 'intro' course as such. You should be able to wield a saw, chisel and plane to some degree, know how to measure and mark wood, etc. Participants are free to use hand or machine tools as they see fit, though some things we will cover can only be accomplished with hand-tools. Everything covered can be done with hand tools, though it would be helpful to have a jointer, planer, hollow-chisel mortiser, router, tablesaw or bandsaw, etc.

    As for hand tools, if you are starting out I would spare no expense when it comes to the marking and measuring stuff, like tapes, squares, straightedge, inkline, and so forth. For other hand tools, aim for a medium price point - the cheap stuff is almost always false economy. A set of 6~10 bench chisels would be good, at least a medium size ryoba, a few different size hammers, a couple of planes, a set of sharpening stones. Basically, you need a kit of equipment for tackling joinery work in solid wood. Note the things I made and have shown on this blog working for much of the time out of my kitchen upon a sawhorse.

    It doesn't matter how many tools you have, it always seems like MORE would be nice! I could drop another $150,000 in tools into my shop easily if I had the money to do so. Lack of tools should not be a hindrance to taking the course, though you do need at least the hand tool basics.


  8. Being one of those long distance fellows you mentioned, I am quite interested in this prospect. Look forward to hearing more on the subject.

  9. RS,

    if you want to get involved, send me an email. The first mailing will be going out in the first few days of July.


  10. This is a great idea and I will subscribe to the first 2 months, with an option to continue.
    Chris, I think this is a problem - enthusiastic starters, followed by fall-out for all the
    usual reasons.
    To tackle this you could publish a rolling 3-month syllabus, and/or offer a small discount
    for a 6-month "subscription" - or similar schemes.
    As I understand it, the fee covers the interactive bit as well, so there may be months with no/few articles but lots of discussion. (And I can imagine you might want to have a sabatical month, due to family, holiday or contract committments.)

    Living in Belgium this is a great opportunity and I hope enough people sign in to allow it to take-off (or should I say, to be raised).

  11. Dear Chris,

    I am very happy to hear about your plans for a study group. I can't stress how great I think this idea is. As a carpenter I am lucky to work with and learn from some very skilled people. But your blog and essay writings have definitely contributed to my learning curve and are always most inspiring. A study group like this is something I have been dreaming of for a while now.

    I look forward to make time to study the subjects you mentioned and become a active member of the group. I sincerely hope there will be many active participants and I imagine this can become a very helpful, unique and instructive environment for anyone interested in the subject.

    I have some experience now in deciphering French carpentry texts. I speak french as my second language and must confess it takes a serious amount of time to study anything beyond the ordinary. Any help or anything that can speed up my learning curve is always appreciated.
    I hope the majority of the material covered will deal with Japanese carpentry practice since my main interest lays in this field.

    Even with an enormous amount of resource material available to me and people around me who can explain me most of the complicated carpentry drawing theory I often refer to your written material. I consider you as one of the authorities in this field and look forward to learn from you once again.

    20$/month is not to be neglected but as a professional this money couldn't be spend any better. Since it will not only benefit me but also my colleagues, the clients we work for or anyone who I can pass some knowledge to. (Although a discount for long time subscribers would be nice)
    Can't wait to start, especially with the more complex material you will be covering. Super psyched...
    Thank you for this initiative.


  12. Mathieu,

    great to hear from you, and I'm psyched that you're psyched!

    Yes, a discount for people willing to sign up for a longer period is a perfectly reasonable idea. So, if anyone wishes to pay for 6 months, I will give 7 months membership for that amount.

    I've been thinking a lot about the format for this project and will be sending out an email to interested individuals by the end of this month concerning that matter.

    I'm looking forward to getting the ball rolling soon.



  13. Hey Chris,

    I'll be joining in at some point. I might wait until you've covered some of the things that I've become familiar with. Without being a member, is their some way I can monitor what the study group is covering.
    When you do get to curvilinear roof problems I'm all ears.
    One thing that I've never bothered to rationalize is chochuko. Just used it in faith for the saw horses. I'd like to have a better understanding why chochuko is needed in the nuki.

    Ian Lawford

  14. Ian,

    thanks for your comment. The 'chochuko' is actually the shochuko, and we will be covering that in detail with the very first porject. You may wish to reconsider your entry point into the study. Lookingforward to your participation when you decide to get involved.


  15. Thanks for the clarification Chris. I'm starting a basic woodworking course in October, so perhaps after that would be best to start on your course, along with reading your first manual. Anyway, good luck with it, and hope to join up in the next year then.


  16. Marmaduke,

    looking forward to it! Let me know how you like those first two volumes in the essay set.



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