My long-time friend Pete Bromwich recently attended a 12-week woodworking skills course at the Boat Building Academy at Lyme Regis. Naturally, I was curious, and asked him to pen a shot report about it… And here’s what he had to say. Many thanks for taking the time to write Pete!
‘I wanted to improve my woodworking skills but could not afford the time to do the 38-week boat building course at the BBA. So after a chat with Will, the tutor on the 12-week woodworking skills course and BBA principal Yvonne, I decided the 12 week skills course was for me.
‘On my course there were five other student so we all had a good amount of tutor time if we needed it, but also time to practice what we had been taught without someone constantly looking over our shoulders. Teaching is between 8.30am and 5.30pm, but most students put in a few extra hours in the evening and weekends.
‘As the 12 weeks comes to a close this tends to come to a climax of late nights and early starts to get the project finished.
‘Like all good things in life, you get out of it what you put in. Being a resident at the centre certainly helped me concentrate on my woodwork skills. The housekeeper, Wendy, cooked a mid-morning snack and lunch for students at a very reasonable price – a heap of good, wholesome food that made cooking in the evening unnecessary. So the only thing to really worry about was the woodwork.
‘The first few weeks were spent building our basic woodworking hand skills, working towards a City and Guilds level 1 in construction. This is basically the same course as the people doing the year boat building course.
‘We were issued with a tool kit and spend the first few days familiarising ourselves with the tools and learning to sharpen and use them properly and get to grips tutor Will’s rules of woodwork:
– sharpen your tools
– square up the wood and use face marks
– mark out accurately
– cut to the line confidently
‘The first fully assessed piece was a builders square. Yes.
‘The plans required a 2mm inset on the cross piece, so you could not rely on planning it square when you had glued it in place…
‘The other fully assessed piece was four different mortice and tenon joints. We also made a lap joint and a housing joint that needed to be completed for the City and Guilds, but this was not marked.
‘All the joints had to be completed using hand tools only, starting with wood that needing squaring and dimensioning. Marks were gained or lost for being within 0.5mm or 2mm on dimensions and 0.5 or 2 degrees on square.
‘As well as practical woodworking skills we also had at least one session per day on theory or a practical demonstration on topics such as like different wood types, steam bending, using the router table or different finishes.
‘This was to build our knowledge for the level 3 part of the course. We also had instruction on health and safety and technical drawing, using paper and pencil – with no Autocad or computers allowed!
‘All of the tasks we were being asked to do were demonstrated and Will, out tutor and Steve our technician were on hand to ask questions or seek clarification from.
‘We then moved on to make a dovetail-jointed box and and to fit the hinges and locks. The lid and bottom was made from plywood laminated with cherry veneer using a vacuum bag. This was the last of the level 1 tasks.
‘We then moved on to the level 3 part of the course, which is centred on furniture design and construction. We still had instruction and demonstrations of the new techniques but were expected to remember the things we had been taught and to evaluate the plans we had been given for the pieces.
‘We made a small table from beech, and at last, we did not have to do everything by hand: we used a table router for the legs and a morticer for the mortice and tenon joints.
‘We were encouraged to look at tools and think about what additional tools we would want in our tool kit. Not necessarily going out and buying everything new from Axminster (just down the road!), but looking at second-hand tools or tools we already owned and how we could improve them by sharpenin, replacing blade irons, cleaning them up and generally tuning them.
‘We also got to use some of the large planers and saws while preparing our wood for our projects, and also to practice using some of the smaller workshop power tools safely and efficiently.
‘We were also working on what our final project designs and having done all the theory on wood selection and faults in woods we went to Yandles, near Yeovil, to select our wood for our projects.
‘This was a great day of making decisions, compromising here and there, and perhaps changing our minds – perhaps because the steamed pear looked fabulous for the legs of the table etc…
‘All of the spaces in the workshop started filling with stacks of wood acclimatising and getting ready for the big project build.
‘We then did our last assessed piece, a small cabinet in cherry. All of the trim was made using a router, and the doors were made using the morticer.
‘Just as we finished off making the cabinet and were preparing to start on our final projects, we had to sit our C&G exams, which included on furniture design and construction, health and safety, a written technical drawing exam and an assessed drawing.
‘The exams are certainly not mandatory, and originally rather than sit them I just wanted to do the practical aspects of the course – but having made all the assessment pieces, I decided to do the written exams as a way of consolidating my knowledge.
‘We then had the last few weeks to make our projects. I chose to make a hammered dulcimer, a musical instrument I had played previously, and wanted to start playing again. Among my fellow students, Sam made a table, Corrine made a ukulele, Bella made a tool box, Alec made a cabinet and Simon made a chest. See them here, and see what students on earlier courses have made in the online archive.
‘The dulcimer was made of Robbins Super Elite marine plywood. I chose this as I wanted to try out making a dulcimer purely from plywood, and hopefully with the best I could afford, hence the Super Elite. The bridges were made from cherry.
‘I also built one using birdseye maple for the sides and a spruce soundboard, but the picture above are of the plywood one.
‘This was the first time a woodworking skills course student had elected to build a musical instrument, and I had to satisfy Will I knew what I was getting into as while he could help with the woodworking aspects of the build, he could not contribute much in relation to the design or advise on what tone woods to use.
‘Also, he had never seen or heard a dulcimer before!
‘I began by making four sets of hammers with different tips to create different sounds. I used the vacuum bag to laminate the plywood frames I made for the dulcimer. I then cleaned up the frames before putting on the base and soundboard.
‘This video shows the finished product, and how it sounds.
‘I would thoroughly recommend the course to anyone who wanted to improve or develop their woodworking skills, the course is about working with wood in general rather than geared to boat building, but the skills you pick up will certainly help on any future boat building or boat repair work.
‘The BBA also runs run short courses on specific boat building topics, that I will certainly attend some of these over the next few years. Also, I’ve found they are a great bunch of people and are always willing to give help and advice to ex-students.’