A Masterclass in Woodworking

Fatima Ahmed, Study in Czechia Ambassador
Fatima Ahmed, Study in Czechia Ambassador
Leisure activities, Student community
11 December 2023

I stood awkwardly in a seemingly unoccupied corner of the room. To even call it a room would be generous. It bore a more remarkable resemblance to an expansive hallway intricately linked to even more adjoining spaces. 'I know you like pushing boundaries,' I told myself, 'but this is a bit too much, don't you think?' The only thought that seemed to be even remotely comforting at this point was the allure of learning something new. Something useful. I had never worked with wood before. I assume not a lot of us have. I couldn't even remember the last time I saw a woodworker, maybe when I was much younger. Traditionally, an established and valued craft, I, rather foolishly, surmised that woodworking and carpentry were now becoming more obsolete professions. Little did I know that a new world would unfold before me in the next few hours.

'Hello, everyone. My name is Jim Donnelly, and I am your instructor for today. If you haven't already signed beside your name, I'd appreciate it if you could come up and do so.'

Jim's voice jolted me out of the depths of my thoughts, and I trudged towards the line that had begun to form before him. I discreetly glanced at the people who had signed up for this workshop, like me. Contrary to what I expected, no lumberjacks or rugged individuals wielding chainsaws were in sight. A collective unfamiliarity and anticipation lingered in the air, suggesting that everyone was also embarking on this experience for the first time. A quiet sigh of relief escaped my lips. After all of us had signed up, Jim officially introduced himself again and set about giving us a tour of different regions of the workspace, which turned out to be much more spacious than I expected. We funnelled along a long corridor into a room where wooden boards and panels of different lengths and widths lay stacked on each other or against the wall. Jim briefly described the different kinds of wood in the room and then shifted his focus to a large machine at the back. Miniature hills of sawdust hugged its four legs. This glorious machine was the table saw, capable of sawing your fingers off if you didn't position them well enough while working. It was the perfect segway into learning our first and most important woodworking rule - keep your fingers away from blades. Could an instruction be any more self-explanatory? Just a few moments later, though, while cutting our wood blocks into precisely measured squares, this deceptively simple teaching had to be repeated to me. 'Do you see how close your fingers are to the blade?' Jim remarked. 'Oh right, of course,' I mumbled sheepishly as I adjusted the placement of my hands.

Armed with our square blocks, we commenced 'Operation: replicate every step Jim does' to recreate a wine glass holder he had crafted before we arrived. It looked like a relatively simple structure to reproduce for a complete beginner - a square with rounded edges, four diagonal slits at each corner, and a circular hole in the middle. A few of us wanted to work on our own little projects, which Jim graciously allowed and even encouraged. He exuded a genuine passion for his trade that immediately entranced all of us. With a wealth of experience, he benevolently imparted his knowledge, showcasing utmost patience while guiding us through the intricacies of woodworking. I found myself fully engrossed in the process, completely oblivious of my surroundings, my sole aim being to complete the task at hand to the best of my ability.

Before I knew it, I was finished and held my creation up like a child excitedly clutching a drawing to present to his parents. I glanced at my watch and was surprised to learn that three hours had already flown by since I started. I was right on time, though, because it also meant that the workshop was drawing to a close. As we all prepared to leave, we thanked Jim for his time and were kindly invited to visit the workshop if some spark of inspiration ever drew us here. It turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and I left not only in awe and admiration of such a remarkable trade but also with a great deal of respect for its pursuers.

It's great to take a break from studying and sometimes try a completely different activity.