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Make furniture and art with your own hands at the Chicago School of Woodworking

Woodworking, in many ways, is the core skill-sets of the 'Do It Yourself' Movement. Even in a world where metal and plastic products are mass-produced, the majority of the objects in your home will be made of wood; as a result, woodworking is often the first skill people learn when trying to fixing up their homes/belongings.

Picture of a chess set made with a scroll saw at the Chicago School of Woodworking
Coleman Gailloreto

Fortunately for Chicagoans, the Chicago School of Woodworking, located on 5104 N. Ravenswood Avenue, is a top notch place to learn this skill. Founded in 2007, it's self-stated mission goal is to provide wood shop and furniture making classes for their community, the sorts of classes that have become less common at high schools and park centers over the years.

It's located in one of the many repurposed brown-brick factories that line Ravenswood Avenue from north to south, and it's many rooms are filled with work tables and tools, carefully stacked on shelves and in slots. A gentle golden retriever named Queenie lies on a bed near the school's entrance, and always is will to greet visitors and demand pets as tribute.

The front rooms host a variety of hand tools and rows of 'scroll saws', precise cutting machines that can carve scrollwork, letters, and other ornate images into wood. The back rooms hold large circular saw cutting tables, with silvery vacuum hoses above that suck up and store sawdust in a bin to the side; according to one of the instructors, Shaun Devine, a group of artists from the Lillstreet Art Center haul off this sawdust to use as an ingredient for their clay.

“Traditionally, you see a lot of seniors taking up wood-working after their retirement.” Shaun mentions during a tour through the place. She goes on to add that these days, the Chicago School of Woodworking gets students from all walks of life, hosting classes for “kids, students, and seniors”.

Most of these courses take place on Monday and Tuesday, and have very specific curriculums. The 'Introduction to Woodworking' course teaches people the basics of wood-carving and assembling furniture, usually starting with items like tea boxes or block writing desks. The 'Techniques of Machining Wood' class teaches students how to use motorized saws and other high-energy machines to cut and carve wood, while the 'Methods of Mortise and Tenon Joinery' course teaches the various methods of interlocking pieces of wood to each other in tables and chairs.

There's a few nods to modern milling machines and computer-aided design at this school; a Saturday course teaches students 2D 'CAD' drawing using the 'Draft It' program, and Shaun at one point shows off a framed portrait of a husband and wife, carved into a block of pale cherrywood with a CNC milling machine.

Still, during her tour, Shaun takes great care to emphasize that the school's focused on teaching manual skills. For certain, the students who frequent the Chicago School of Woodworking take great pleasure at stepping out from behind the computer screen and shaping wood with their own hands.

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