The Woodworking Foundation Course
A Three Month Hand Tool Intensive


We’ve always wanted to teach longer courses as part of our curriculum. In January 2011 we did a very successful trial run of the three month Foundation Course. This course gave our budding woodworkers (three men and three women) a solid grounding in the array of hand tool skills they needed to develop as wood craftspeople. On the completion of this course, they had gained woodworking skills that will last them the rest of their lives. 
This class is open to novice woodworkers and to more experienced woodworkers who would like to broaden (or simplify) their approach to woodworking. What do we mean by novice? We think it means you are a person who has decided to commit to learning new skills; to growing a passion for the craft of working with wood; and has a strong sense of the limitations of your own knowledge.
Graduates of the foundation course get transfer credit from Goddard College for taking this course. 
The Port Townsend School of Woodworking is licensed as a vocational school in Washington. You have the option to take this course as vocational training.

Our Philosophy Behind the Course

Traditionally woodworkers  (joiners) learnt their craft working as an apprentice in the Master Craftsman's shop doing the grunt work and learning by assimilation over many years. Our approach is a little different. We're making the assumption that you're smart; are developing or already have a passion for woodworking; and can devote three months to intensive learning.
This course will drill deep into the basics, giving you a firm foundation in understanding wood as a material, and then gives you introductory training in a wide range of techniques. This training will show you that many of the "advanced" techniques in woodworking are relatively straightforward, building on basic techniques you’ll have learnt in this class. We hope that this will be catalytic in encouraging you to further explore and develop those techniques after you graduate.
For the most of the course we'll be pretty heavily focused on developing your skills using hand tools. Each day will include a half-hour practice session. Developing your hand-eye coordination is a fundamental part of becoming a woodworker. Just like a musician you need to practice.
While the focus of the Foundation course is solidly on passing on traditional methods of woodworking coupled with a thorough experience of wood as a material, we do understand the need for students to learn to work with stationary woodworking machines for certain basic (and tedious when done  by hand) stock preparation operations.
This course is not about building a perfect piece - it's about building the perfect attitude. The "Oooh - that's neat - I can see how can apply that to...." is the perfect reaction to a demonstration or presentation.
While it is important to us that you develop an understanding and appreciation for the standards that make woodworking great, we don’t want you to get bogged down in a drive for perfection.
When we were starting the School we had long discussions about how to position the School. I (Tim Lawson) argued for Excellence in Woodworking. Jim (Tolpin), with the older and wiser head, argued for "Pretty Good Woodworking" and that is where we have ended up. We teach and encourage pragmatism but we don't push you for perfection - that has to come from you.

Course Description:

In the Port Townsend School of Woodworking’s twelve-week Woodworking Foundation course, you will learn the essential skills, tools and mindsets of the traditional joiner. This is NOT an industrial arts course with a focus on machinery and production processes. Rather, it is a course in PRE-industrial artisanship--the creation of individual works through mostly hand tools and skills.. 
On completion, you will graduate with a set of self-made tools, fixtures and storage units (not to mention the skills required to build them) that will serve and last you the rest of your life. You’ll be amply prepared to continue your woodworking education into specific trades such as architectural woodworking (finish work); custom door and window construction; solid-wood furniture and cabinetry; and boatbuilding.
The Port Townsend School of Woodworking offers intensives in many of these specialties.And we highly recommend the Northwest School of Boatbuilding in nearby Port Hadlock, WA 
Topics covered in the foundation course include:
  • The Nature of Wood
    • Understanding how wood works: effects of working with and across grain; of density and other fundamental characteristics.
    • How and why wood moves. 
    • Selecting and dealing with figure.
    • Selecting and conditioning wood for various applications.
  •  Wood as a Design medium 
    • Introduction to designing wooden structures of beauty and integrity--from pre-industrial (geometry-based) to machine-oriented strategies. 
    • Structural considerations of grain orientation
    • Selection, orientation and sizing of joints.
    • Strategies to accommodate wood movement
    • Choosing traditional finishing techniques and materials
    • Choosing traditional glue and fasteners
  • Layout and material preparation
    • Introduction to the design, construction and use of the straightedge; try-square; marking gauge and winding sticks. Creation of story sticks, templates, component and cutlists. (The latter for initial machine preparation of board stock).
    • Layout of components on stock (for both efficiency and aesthetic considerations)
    • Sawing components to width and length with handsaws at a sawbench.
    • Construction and use of a bench hook and shooting board (for precision cutting and trimming at the workbench.
    • Surfacing and edging work with scrub and foreplanes
    • Truing faces and edges with try, jack and block planes.
    • Dimensioning with stationary machine tools. (Operation of the table saw, jointer, planer and band saw for material preparation will be covered in this course--though their use is optional on a per-student basis.) 
  • Joinery
    • Design and layout of mortise and tenon joints 
    • Layout and construction of frame and panel structures.
    • Making mortises with mortise chisels.
    • Making and conditioning riven pegs for draw-bored tenon joints.
    • Cutting out tenons with back saws.
    • Design and layout of rabbets, dadoes and grooves
    • Creating rabbets and grooves with rabbet, plow and shoulder planes
    • Shaping and fitting faces and shoulders of joints with firmer and paring chisels
    • Creating dadoes with a saw and chisel (also dado and router plane)
    • Design and layout of dovetails (through, blind, and multiple)
    • Installing fasteners and hardware.
  • Smoothing
    • Use of smoothing planes for final surfacing of components.
    • Use of “card” scrapers
    • Use of rasps, files and floats
    • Sharpening and tool maintenance
    • Efficient and effective sharpening and maintenance strategies are taught and practiced for all the hand tools used in this course.


The projects in this course follow a natural progression of skills, techniques and tools. Some of the early student-made tools are, in fact, used to help make the next tool or bench fixture in the series. You are supported in the building of these projects with step-by-step outlines, knock-down examples and continuing, one-on-one consultations with the faculty. Periodic evaluations of your progress with a specific faculty-mentor help keep you on track.
Project 1: Stool 
As we believe that  there is no better way to understand the fundamental nature of wood than to work with it fresh from the log, in the first week you will produce a three-legged stool using buck and “whip”saws for crosscutting the log to length; wedges and froes for splitting out leg stock; drawknife and spokeshaves at a shaving horse for shaping the legs; and using travishers, rounding planes and specialized rasps for shaping the seat.
Project set 2: Layout tools and bench fixtures
These layout tools and fixtures, mostly in hardwood, were traditionally made by the artisan for his own use:
  • Straightedge
  • Winding sticks
  • Edge-planing stop
  • Bench hook/shoot board
  • Try-Square
Optional additional projects in this set: 
You may optionally also build a layout square; panel gauge; wood-bodied hand plane; and a chisel mallet from kits available for purchase from the school.
Project 3: Joiner’s Tool Tote
In the middle third of the course, you’ll build a tool tote that features dovetails joining bottom-to-end boards; rabbeted and copper-nail pinned side boards; shaped end panels and curved handles passing through angled mortises. This joiner’s tote also features a lift-out box for layout tools with lapped (or optionally dovetailed) corners and a sliding lid.
Project 4: Cabinetmaker’s Tool Chest
The last third of the course is devoted to the construction of a traditional tool chest. (Note: you can choose to build this project as a blanket chest or a trunk). Using clear, wide planks of Ponderosa Pine, you’ll join the side boards with dovetails; make the bottom boards of tongue and grooved planks; and the lid of frame and panel. You’ll work the edges of the skirting boards with hand planes (hollows and rounds). On the interior, you’ll fit your box with an optional number of sliding tills featuring lapped (or dovetailed) corners. 

Recommended reading:

Specific to the techniques and projects presented in this course:

The New Traditional Woodworker by faculty member Jim Tolpin. This is an introduction to hand tools (and the projects in the class) that shares Jim's thinking about the mindset needed to be a hand tool woodworker.  We will send you a copy when we confirm the class. If nothing else we recommend reading this book before the class.
The Joiner and Cabinetmaker from the Lost Art Press. A recreation of a traditional joiner's apprenticeship with annotations and commentary by Joel Moskowitz Christopher Schwarz and
The Anarchist’s Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz. This is is a provocative reflection on the minimal set of hand tools needed to make almost anything out of wood. It is also a paean to the ingenuity of traditional craftsmen and for the preservation of the hand tool.

Course duration and hours:

This is a 12-week course; the class hours are 9:00 to 5:00 each day.

The Workshop is fully available to students Monday through Friday. After the first four weeks of the class we will make the workshop available at weekends to you.


The School is fully equipped with sets of high quality hand tools for each workbench. You do not need to bring tools to this course.

We recommend not buying tools prior to the class but suggest that you use the school's tools and let that experience guide your purchasing decisions.  The sooner you use your own tools the quicker you'll gain mastery of them.


We prefer that you have some experience of woodworking before taking this class. If you have no woodworking experience - we’d like you to produce evidence of strong practical skills and problem solving ability (we can do this in a phone call). We're looking for the right attitude.

Course costs:

Tuition Fee: $6,700

Class size:
Minimum of 6 students and a maximum of 10 students

We ask for a non-refundable $200 deposit at the time of registration. The balance must be paid prior to the start of class. We will contact you to collect the balance.

Materials fees:

We ask for a $300 materials deposit and you select wood from the School's stock as you need it, recording your selections. We deduct the cost of those materials from your deposit and will refund or collect any balance at the end of the course.

Wood is also available from Edensaw Woods in Port Townsend.

This course runs during the off-season in Port Townsend. Vacation rentals and house shares can be picked up in town.


Transfer Credit for Our Graduates:

Goddard College accepts the satisfactiry completion of our Woodworking Foundation Course for 12 semester units of transfer credit. See the Goddard College site for further details on programs, degrees granted, and  transfer credit details.


Vocational Option:

The Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Preservation Trades is licensed as a Private Vocational School by the Washington State Workforce Development Board. We offer the option for you to take this class and receive a school Certificate of Completion for the class.
If you choose this option, we more formally evaluate your achievements as you proceed through the class. Upon demonstration of required skills, and timely completion of required projects, you will receive a Certificate of Completion.  A transcript of your achievements will be made available to you and kept in our permanent files.
As a vocational student your course fees are covered by a State hosted insurance that will refund your fee should the course be cancelled.
This option is only available to U.S. Citizens and Legal Residents.
There is an additional charge for the vocational option to cover the additional administrative overhead.


Our School fund-raises so that we can offer scholarships for the Foundation Course. Our ability to offer scholarship depends on us having funds available and requiring that students meet the conditions that donors attach to the funds.


Future Foundation Courses:

We ask for a deposit of $200 to ensure your place in the class. We enourage you register as early as possible - that really helps our planning and organization.

We're also offering a soft registration option - you can let us know which course(s) interest you and leave your contact information with us. We'll get back to you if it looks like a class is going to fill so that you can make your decision to register.

Soft Registration Form

Winter 2015 January 12 - April 3, 2015 Register
Fall 2015 September 28 - December 18, 2015 Register

If you'd like to ask questions - please feel free to contact  us - (360) 344-4455 or by email.

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Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Preservation Trades Copyright © 2007-2014. All rights reserved.

200 Battery Way | Fort Worden | Port Townsend, WA 98368 | (360) 344-4455 | email

The Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Preservation Trades is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit. Any donations made to the School are tax-deductible to the extent provided by law.