Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition

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Its Felt Like a Long Time Coming

Growing up it always felt like there was an endless stream of opportunity to help with tasks around the house. Walls to raise, copper plumbing pipes to solder, tile to put in the bathroom, remodeling the garage into a sunken living room - the list goes on and on. While I wasn’t necessarily grateful for the exposure then, my appreciation has grown all the more in recent years for the variety of skills my father showed me.

In my initial disregard for ‘working hard’ and having a concrete end product without the financial success to back it up, I chose to follow a whole other avenue after high school. I enrolled and got a degree in civil engineering because I thought following an expectation would be the pinnacle of happiness in my life. I quickly realized I was mistaken, but followed through with it anyways. This was initially when my true interest in the possibility of working with wood began. Wood, a medium in which I could express myself creatively, combined with the enjoyment of working with my hands growing up.

I thought I might buy a vehicle and live out of it, but in order to survive I would build things. While that romantic initial idea has changed significantly, the heart of it, wood and self-sustenance never went away. I went through a series of jobs throughout the past three years; designing power transmission structures and foundations, assessing and reporting on the road conditions for the Bureau of Land Management, to camping and maintaining trails in the backcountry, and lastly bushwhacking through the woods to collect data on the health and diversity of the nation’s forests. Consistently, I would take a pay cut for each following endeavor and overall enjoy it more. Still, always in the back of my mind there was an itch to create rather than manage and that part of me felt lacking.

Finally, I woke up one day, pushed my initial nervousness aside and applied to the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. I just poured my intention into the application process. I got accepted and was extremely elated that I was finally going to proceed with this process of learning something about which I had little experience, and better yet in a traditional setting. I was initially set to take the Foundations of Woodworking course in the winter of 2018, but I had some economic downturns and had to refrain and push my attendance farther ahead to the fall course.

I was pretty bitter about that for a long while afterwards and for a long time it took the excitement I initially felt out of the endeavor. It was a little unsettling to feel powerless towards something I had been itching at getting into and to have to wait a little longer. However, the staff at the school were incredibly understanding and helpful towards my predicament and I couldn’t imagine being here at any other point in time than right now.

The historical context of woodworking, the skills-based learning environment, the community and support of peers and instructors have all been well worth the wait. It has been a wonderful experience to see my own development and the development of others within the course. To be able to interact with others from all walks of life within a common realm and to gain some great friendships along the way has been a pleasure. The sense of appreciation and satisfaction that comes with creating by hand and eye, while in the process breathing life into craft, tradition, and history surpasses any financial gain in my book.

I am incredibly grateful to the instructors and their wealth of knowledge, scholarship donors, and peers who together made the whole experience possible. I do not know what the future holds for myself. I always identified with the ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ mentality, but I believe woodworking will always have a stable ground in my life and I look forward to the endless rabbet holes within the craft that I may find myself exploring.

Matt Donaldson
Foundations of Woodworking, fall 2018