Prof Brings Voice of Experience to Taos Program

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Professor James Rannefeld helps a student prepare for gluing up the base of her Spanish Colonial end table project in the wood shop at UNM Taos.

Inspiration bench, in oak. Rannefeld wrote about the laminated joinery technique used to build it for Fine Woodworking magazine in 1983.

Inspiration bench, in oak. Rannefeld wrote about the laminated joinery technique used to build it for Fine Woodworking magazine in 1983.

James Rannefeld was a restless young man with two science degrees when Taos’ sluggish, mid-70s construction industry forced him to abandon his carpentry career for something more stable.
Determined not to fall back on geology or oceanography, he instead became a woodworker.
Surrounded by fine artists who were selling and shipping their work to collectors around the country, Rannefeld started making his living, in part, by building the crates. A few years later, he was showing his own sculptural woodwork through galleries in Taos and Santa Fe, building custom hardwood doors for designers in Dallas and fine furniture for sale in boutiques on both sides of the Atlantic.
He wrote for Fine Woodworking magazine, and he became an employer, keeping 10 workers busy building his Southwest style designs in a shop near Taos’ plaza. Unscrupulous competitors and changing public tastes eventually sunk that enterprise, but Rannefeld never quit designing and building one-of-a-kind work.
Like many woodworkers, he also became a

A student refines the surface of a sculptural mask in the wood shop at UNM Taos.

A student refines the surface of a sculptural mask in the wood shop at UNM Taos.

teacher. At the University of New Mexico’s branch campus in Taos, he is an associate professor and director of the school’s fine woodworking program, which he founded in the early ’90s. After four decades in woodworking, he still has plenty of lessons to share.
What he doesn’t have is enough students.
The program, which offers a Certificate in Fine Woodworking, has been enrolling 60 to 70 students per semester. Rannefeld said he’d like to see those numbers climb to at least 90 to 100 to help insulate the program from any future cutbacks.

Students seeking certification start with 18 semester hours of woodworking and furniture-making fundamentals. The program’s mission, Rannefeld says, is to “give them the basics. Give them the foundation, and let them build on that.”

Rannefeld in his office, with his Quattro wall-hung sculpture. The piece is assembled from shaped, solid hardwood laminated to a plywood core for stability.

Rannefeld in his office, with his Quattro wall-hung sculpture. The piece is assembled from shaped, solid hardwood.

The core courses are followed by 12 hours of electives, which can include sculpture, lamination, bending, and carving among other techniques. The program also offers an introductory business course and a semester of instruction on Quickbooks accounting.

Some students are intent on pursuing the craft for its own sake; others are fine artists learning to work with wood as an expressive medium. Almost all, he says, recognize the need to preserve the elements of the craft.
On a recent afternoon, the shop was alive with the sound of grinders and dust collectors as some students shaped and smoothed sculptural work while others cut joinery or prepared for assembly. Rannefeld circulated around the shop, stopping at each bench, offering pointers and asking questions.
Later, he shared with me a piece of advice he gives often – a lesson learned early: “Make it better than it has to be. That way you can sleep at night.”
Enrollment for the fall semester at UNM Taos is underway now. Visit http://taos.unm.edu/academics/fine-woodworking.html for more information on the woodworking curriculum.

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Chase Ankeny – Albuquerque Furniture Maker

10353712_390301457794951_5973716122976838859_nToday I want to share one of the best all-around pieces of woodworking wisdom that anyone has passed on to me in 10 years of writing about the craft. I say woodworking wisdom, because it came from a woodworker, but in truth you could apply it in many arenas. I suppose that is part of what makes it wise. Anyway, it goes like this: “Good craft demands honesty. If you lie to yourself that a joint is good when it is not, things will fall apart.” Simple but true, and it gets to the heart of just about every mistake I’ve ever made in the shop. It’s all too easy, when you want the finished thing in your hands, to let expediency guide your decisions – to do something halfway and hope for the best. And then you get into trouble. Or I do, at any rate. For that simply stated truth I am grateful not to an aging sensei of the craft, but to a remarkable young furniture maker named Chase Ankeny. Chase and I are neighbors, of a sort. I first saw his work on the website for his woodworking alma mater, the College of the Redwoods in Fort Bragg, California. I was then amazed to discover that his home and shop are about 10 minutes’ drive from mine in northwest Albuquerque. Chase grew up in the Albuquerque area. After earning degrees in philosopchase3hy and history from the University of New Mexico, he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail before settling on furniture making as a career path. He finished at Redwoods in 2012 and just recently left a job in a production shop here in Albuquerque to devote himself full time to his own furniture-making business. He seems poised for a good start. View his work (at www.chaseankeny.com ) and you’ll see that he follows his own advice. Like many Redwoods graduates, Chase is not much interested in ornament or decoration beyond elegantly defined shape, thoughtful details and the beauty of the wood itself. He enjoys the physical nature of the work and the satisfaction of creating something tangible. He likes the creative challenge of “composing with the wood,” i.e. carefully choosing species and orienting grain to best serve the design. Putting e material to its highest and most attractive use.The power tools in his shop are a necessity, he says, but adds “it’s the hand tools that make a piece come alive.” He works with an array of woodenwall4 planes that he made while at Redwoods. “There is a moment when you take a board that is square and flat, and put chamfers on it and shape the flatness out of it, that it seems to become real,” he says. “That is what I love the best, the small details that turn the design from something abstract to something embodied.”

Learn Woodworking: Anderson Ranch Arts Center

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anderson-ranch-woodworking-studentJust in time for Christmas, Anderson Ranch Arts Center has announced its schedule of workshops for next summer. The catalog includes nearly two dozen woodworking and woodturning classes, ranging in duration from one to three weeks. It is hard to think of a better way to ditch the summer heat than to head to the mountains and spend several days becoming a better woodworker.  The catalog includes courses on basic skills, furniture construction, finishing, design, wood bending and CNC fabrication.

In addition to the summer workshop schedule, the ranch also offers seasonal residencies to working artists and extended, intensive learning sessions to folks who are advanced in their craft.

One of the great advantages of the center is its secluded feel, says Fabiano Sarra, the ranch’s wood shop coordinator. Ranch buildings are clustered on a wooded corner lot right next door to the student apartments. The arrangement creates the feeling of an enclave, Sarra says.
“It’s a really tight-knit community – a collaborative environment,” he says. “Everyone’s here for the same reason, and we’re all learning from each other and bouncing ideas off of each other.”
Sarra is a custom furniture maker and former Anderson Ranch intern who joined the staff this past summer after working at shops in upstate New York. He and other staff members teach occasional classes, but most of the workshops are conducted by visiting professionals. Next summer’s faculty includes Michael Fortune, Brian Reid, Dean Pulver and David Ellsworth.
The woodworking facilities consist of a fully equipped shop and a separate turning studio. A third room is dedicated to CNC fabrication and houses a CNC router, CNC plasma cutter, a laser engraver and several 3D printers for rapid prototyping.
The shop stays open until 10 each night and is rarely empty at closing time.
“They’re here working like crazy and making awesome stuff,” Sarra says.
To see the course catalog and learn more about the ranch, visit the website at http://www.andersonranch.org/.

Learn Woodworking: Roberto-Venn School of Lutherie

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A student carves the interior bracing on an acoustic guitar top (above). Acoustic guitar by student Whitt Smith, Spring 2014 (left).

Smith2The Roberto-Venn School of Lutherie has been training instrument makers in Arizona’s Valley of the Sun for almost 40 years. In that time, more than 2000 students have graduated from the school’s 5-month program, with hundreds going on to work as professional luthiers.
When it comes to solo crafts people, working in their own shops, “I think we’ve produced more guitar makers than anyone in history,” says William Eaton, the school’s director.
“You do have a lot of pride in seeing people come through,” he says, “and knowing that it could change their life.”
The school’s five-month Guitar Making and Repair Course has been offered continuously since 1975, The school also offers a set of open-enrollment workshops on guitar electronics and finishing techniques.
Eaton says students start from scratch. “We don’t assume people have any background in woodworking prior to coming to our school,” he says. Students in the five-month course have the option of attending a three-day orientation to the use of woodworking machines and hand tools. Students build two guitars during the program, and repair numerous others.
Enrollment is set at roughly 40 per term, Eaton says. Most of the students are guitar players in their 20s, though some are older. The school draws applicants from around the country, he said. Faculty are all accomplished instrument makers themselves, including Eaton who began playing at age 7 and built his first guitar in 1971.
Eaton said he and his colleagues are planning several events to observe Roberto-Venn’s 40th anniversary next year.
To learn more about the program, or to enroll, visit the school’s website at http://www.roberto-venn.com.

Learn Woodworking: Snow College

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A Traditional Building Skills student (top) shows off the cherry stool he built in a furniture class led by Chris Gochnour. In another class, students built their own versions of Gochnour’s sea chest, which was featured in Fine Woodworking magazine.

Administrators at Snow College probably don’t mean to brag on their wood shop when they tout the school as “The Best Two-Year College in America.”

But brag they could. The college – about two hours south of Salt Lake City – has a remarkably well equipped woodworking facility. The school offers for-credit courses in cabinet-making and furniture construction, as well as a series of short furniture-making workshops with open enrollment.

The courses take place in a shop that includes four SawStop cabinet saws, a pair of big jointers (the 8-inch is the baby), multiple bandsaws, a 37-inch wide belt sander and an industrial grade shaper. For hand-tool work there are a dozen workbenches and a full array of handplanes, chisels, saws and other tools.

The for-credit cabinet and furniture classes are part of the school’s associate’s degree program in construction management.  The workshops are taught by accomplished local furniture makers, including Chris Gochnour, a longtime regular contributor to Fine Woodworking magazine.

There are still openings for the furniture making workshop that begins next month. To sign up, visit the school’s website at http://www.snow.edu/tbsi/.

Learn Woodworking: UNM – Taos Branch

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The view from the UNM Taos campus. Photo courtesy of http://www.terrain.org

The second stop on our virtual tour of regional woodworking schools is in the mountains of northern New Mexico.
At the University of New Mexico’s Taos campus, students can pursue a 30-hour certification in Fine Woodworking that offers the fundamentals of both hand and machine work, as well as courses in furniture design, carving, steam bending and chair making. The school also offers a course in construction of traditional Spanish Colonial furniture.
James Rannefeld, the program’s founder and director was a solo craftsman and a production shop owner before getting into teaching. The faculty also includes several other accomplished local furniture-makers and carvers.
The program began in the mid 1990s in Rannefeld’s personal shop. It now features a fully equipped shop on the Taos campus and teaches approximately 100 students each semester, with class sizes capped at 12 to 15 students. Roughly one quarter are certificate students, with the rest taking individual courses for university credit. Rannefeld says he believes UNM Taos is the region’s only woodworking program at a major university.
He also says there are still course openings for the Spring ’15 semester. Visit the UNM Taos website for more details.

Learn Woodworking: Southwest School of Woodworking

A proud student shows the Arts and Crafts table she built at the Southwest School of Woodworking.

When Raul Ramirez started learning woodworking in the 1970s, the Arizona desert posed a couple of serious obstacles: Few trees and even fewer teachers.

Those obstacles persist, naturally enough, though Ramirez is doing what he can to remove one of them. In a light-industrial neighborhood near Sky Harbor airport, the custom furniture maker began offering classes two years ago in a shop once occupied by a local guitar-making school.

He has assembled an experienced teaching staff of Phoenix-area professionals – builders of cabinets and custom furniture. The school also hosts workshops with guest lectures by out-of-town heavyweights.

The school regularly offers three courses on fundamental woodworking skills, two courses of finishing, a course on router basics and another on advanced veneering techniques. Classes meet at night to accommodate work schedules for students and faculty.

The facility is more rustic than Ramirez would like, but it offers the students plenty in the way of woodworking resources. The shop holds a full complement of floor-standing machines including two cabinet saws, three bandsaws, a pair of chop saws, jointers, thickness planers and a shaper.
Also, in line with the school’s emphasis on hand tools, there are nine workbenches. Ramirez hopes to add three more in the near future.

Ramirez says there is still plenty of time to sign up for the classes that begin early next year. For detail’s, visit the school’s site at www.swcfc.org.

“My attitude is that everyone should be a woodworker,” he says.