First Woodworking Class -- Brookfield Craft Center

In August 1989 I was invited to the Brookfield Craft Center in Connecticut to teach a class in woodworking. I thought that we might build a boat in the six days of class that were scheduled and was pleasantly surprised (and somewhat apprehensive) when the director agreed. I had no idea if we could actually build a boat in six days nor what kind of boat was best suited to novice builders. I read through John Gardner's “Building Classic Small Craft’ and decided on the Chamberlin Dory-Skiff. It seemed pretty straightforward, no steam bending or sharp curves and the plans were sufficiently detailed for first time builders to follow.

I knew that wood to be used in boatbuilding should be green, or barely air-dry, because kiln-dried wood is brutally hard and not amenable to being worked with hand tools. I soon found that local lumber suppliers, almost without exception, dealt only in kiln dried lumber.So I had to find the exceptions and it took a couple of hot, humid days driving around CT to find two sawmills able (and willing) to supply our very modest needs--eastern white pine for the planking and red oak for rubbing strips and bilge keels. The Gardner skiff has sawn frames, not the steam bent variety, so we could use Douglas fir for transom, sawn frames and, seats.The class was a success and was added to the Brookfield calendar---often taught by alumni of which there was a growing number.

This experience gave me the confidence to teach boatbuilding classes across North America, adding more complicated boats as the program became better known.The final boat in the class menu was a 20-foot recreational rowing shell, the Petaluma. It was a challenge for even an accomplished class but of limited use since it was a single seater. Built of solid wood it is no lightweight boat, but it has a 1920s elegance matched by none of the yclass-built boats. There are a pair of these shells, named Max and Min, hanging in the CWB workshop in Seattle where they were built by classes more than thirty years ago.