Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition

Twelve-Week Intensive: Foundations Winter 2020

An intensive introduction to hand tool woodworking and methods in traditional joinery. 


Foundations of Woodworking

12-week intensive program - Winter 2020

Winter 2020
January 6 - March 27, 2020

Scholarships may be available for qualifying students

Believe in preserving tradition? 
Donate to our scholarship fund

Our Philosophy Behind the Course


Traditionally woodworkers  (joiners) learned their craft working as an apprentice in the Master Craftsman's shop, doing the grunt work and learning by assimilation over many years. Our approach is a little different. We're assuming that you're smart; are developing or already have a passion for woodworking; and can devote three months to intensive learning.

This course drills deep into the basics, beginning with a firm foundation in understanding wood as a material and incorporates introductory training in a wide range of techniques. The curriculum focuses on imparting skills through a series of projects designed to build on one another in techniques and complexity. 

After twelve weeks, you'll leave with an in-depth experience of hand tools; having practiced applications of joinery methods, considered choices for wood selection and worked with non-toxic materials. And you’ll understand practical planning for designing and executing woodworking projects. 

We follow many traditional standards because they impart the work ethic of doing things right by emphasizing quality, attention to detail, considering impact and longevity, and working to high standards for lasting work.  

We strive to invite you into our community by connecting you with others who have a passion for craftsmanship.  

We're committed to passing on the living tradition of woodworking--rooted in techniques that create lasting results and instilling the values and practices of fine craftsmanship, sustainability, and creative expression.  

Course Description:


In the Port Townsend School of Woodworking’s twelve-week Woodworking Foundation course, you will learn the essential skills, tools and mindsets of the traditional joiner. This is NOT an industrial arts course with a focus on machinery and production processes. Rather, it is a course in PRE-industrial artisanship--the creation of individual works through mostly hand tools and skills.. 

For most of the course we'll be heavily focused on developing your skills using hand tools. As a developing woodworker, there is no substitute for putting in the hours of direct hands on practice it takes to gain an intuitive understanding of wood. The early part of this course focuses on working with hand tools as we believe they bring you closer to wood as a material.  You can rip a board on a table saw without much thought to the wood itself, but you will understand much more about grain if you rip a board with a hand saw.  As the course progresses, machine processes are introduced as a pragmatic aid in expediting projects.  

On completion, you will graduate with a set of self-made tools, fixtures and storage units (not to mention the skills required to build them) that will serve and last you the rest of your life. You’ll be amply prepared to continue your woodworking education into specific trades such as architectural woodworking (finish work), custom door and window construction, solid-wood furniture, cabinetry, and boat-building. 

Topics covered in the foundation course include:

The Nature of Wood

  • Understanding how wood works: effects of working with and across grain; of density and other fundamental characteristics.

  • How and why wood moves.

  • Selecting and dealing with figure.

  • Selecting and conditioning wood for various applications.

 Wood as a Design Medium  

  • Introduction to designing wooden structures of beauty and integrity--from pre-industrial (geometry-based) to machine-oriented strategies.

  • Structural considerations of grain orientation

  • Selection, orientation and sizing of joints

  • Strategies to accommodate wood movement

  • Choosing traditional glue and fasteners

Material Preparation 

  • Sawing components to width and length with handsaws at a sawbench

  • Construction and use of a bench hook and shooting board (for precision cutting and trimming at the workbench)

  • Surfacing and edging work with scrub and foreplanes

  • Truing faces and edges with try, jack and block planes

  • Dimensioning with stationary machine tools. (Operation of the table saw, jointer, planer and band saw for material preparation will be covered in this course--though their eventual use is optional on a per-student basis.)

Design and Layout

  • Introduction to the design, construction and use of the straightedge, try-square, marking gauge and winding sticks. Creation of story sticks, templates, component and cutlists.

  • Layout of components on stock for both efficiency and aesthetic considerations

  • Lofting, patterning and geometry


  • Mortise and tenon joints

  • Layout and construction of frame and panel structures

  • Making mortises with mortise chisels

  • Making and conditioning riven pegs for draw-bored tenon joints

  • Cutting out tenons with back saws

  • Design and layout of rabbets, dadoes and grooves

  • Shaping and fitting faces and shoulders of joints with firmer and paring chisels

  • Creating dadoes with a saw and chisel (also dado and router plane)

  • Design and layout of dovetails (through, blind, and multiple)

  • Installing fasteners and hardware

Smoothing and Finishing 

  • Use of smoothing planes for final surfacing of components.

  • Use of “card” scrapers

  • Use of rasps, files and floats

  • Choosing and applying traditional finishes like shellac and tung oil

  • Safe practices for handling finishing rags

Handling Tools 

  • Safety with hand and power tools

  • Efficient and effective sharpening and maintenance strategies are taught and practiced for all the hand tools used in this course.

  • Caring for and restoring hand tools

The Projects

The projects in this course follow a natural progression of skills, techniques and tools.
Some of the early student-made tools are, in fact, used to help make the next tool or bench fixture in the series. You are supported in the building of these projects with step-by-step outlines, knock-down examples and continuing one-on-one consultations with the faculty. Periodic evaluations of your progress with faculty helps keep you on track.

The description below is an outline for how the course will proceed.  We intentionally maintain a level of flexibility in our curriculum to adapt and respond to the needs of each group of students depending on aptitude.  Each project has a basic standard of completion as well as design opportunities for elaboration and exploration of more advanced techniques.   Our instructors will guide you through projects that are best suited for your ability level.   

As time allows, classes may also get the opportunity to practice coopering, tool restoration, turning on a lathe, steam bending, carving, or tool-making.  

Project 1: Three-Legged Stool from a Tree

Working with wood fresh from the log, this green woodworking project is the perfect introduction to edge tools and wood grain.  In the first week you will produce a three-legged stool using buck  “whip”saws for crosscutting the log to length, wedges and froes for splitting out leg stock, drawknife and spokeshaves at a shaving horse for shaping the legs and using travishers, rounding planes and specialized rasps for shaping the seat.

Project 2: Layout Tools and Bench Fixtures


These layout tools and fixtures, mostly in hardwood, were traditionally made by the artisan for personal use:

  • Straightedge

  • Winding sticks

  • Edge-planing stop

  • Bench hook/shooting board

  • Try-Square

Optional additional projects in this set: 
You may optionally also build a layout square, panel gauge, wood-bodied hand plane, and a chisel mallet.

Project 3: Workbench Tote

Ken Dunkel's Workbench Tool Tote Foundations, fall 2019

The third week of the course will focus on building a workbench tote. This is an excellent first all-hand tool project that introduces simple joinery. You will practice methods, design and layout based on classic orders of proportion and geometry.

Project 4: Joiner’s Tool Tote

tool tote.jpg

In the fourth and fifth weeks of the course, you’ll build a tool tote that features dovetails joining bottom-to-end boards; rabbeted and copper-nail pinned side boards; shaped end panels and curved handles passing through angled mortises. This joiner’s tote also features an optional lift-out box for layout tools with lapped (or optionally dovetailed) corners and a sliding lid.

Project 5: Chisel Cabinet

This intermediate project builds on the rabbeting and dovetail joinery skills from the tool tote and introduces carcase construction techniques including building and hanging a frame and panel door.  This is our first real taste of cabinet making.

Project 6: Frame and Panel Chest

The last third of the course is dedicated to a frame and panel chest.  
Working within a set of guidelines, students will go through the process of drafting, designing, selecting wood, processing stock, cutting joinery, as well as exploring finishing and decorative details.
This project has the most flexibility in design opportunities for embellishments. Instructors will help guide students towards project goals that are both challenging and appropriate to their skill levels.  

Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of "Sam Green"
Copy of Copy of Foundation Course

Alumni Stories

Course reading:


The New Traditional Woodworker by founding member Jim Tolpin. This is an introduction to hand tools (and the projects in the class) that shares Jim's thinking about the mindset needed to be a hand tool woodworker.

 You will receive a copy in the first week of class.  The cost of the book can be deducted from your materials fees. You'll have time to read the book during the first week in preparation for the second week.  

joiner and cabinetmaker.jpg

Optional reading:
With the Grain: A Craftsman’s Guide to Understanding Wood by Christian Becksvoort.


Class size:
Minimum of 6 students and a maximum of 10 students

Course duration and hours:

Twelve weeks  

Class hours are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday in Building #315. Students are expected to arrive at 8:30 am to practice and prepare for the day.   

The workshop is fully available to students during class time Monday through Friday. After the first four weeks of the class, the bench room is available after hours and on weekends.


The school is fully equipped with sets of high quality hand tools for each workbench. You do not need to bring tools to this course

We recommend that you not buy tools prior to the class and that you use the school's tools. Let that experience guide your future purchasing decisions.  You are welcome to bring any tools you already own. 


This class is open to novice woodworkers and more experienced woodworkers who would like to broaden (or simplify) their approach to woodworking.

What do we mean by novice? We think it means you are a person who has decided to commit to learning new skills; to grow a passion for the craft of working with wood and has a strong sense of the limitations of your own knowledge.

We prefer that you have some experience with woodworking before taking this class. If you have no woodworking experience then we’d like you to produce evidence of strong practical skills, problem-solving abilities, and experience with hand work (we can do this in a phone call). We're looking for the right attitude. This 12-week class is mentally and physically rigorous.


Course costs:

Payment schedule:
$75.00 Registration Fee (due at the time of registration)
$750.00 1st Deposit (due upon acceptance into the course)
$1,500.00 2nd Deposit (due 2 months before class start date)
$5,250.00 3rd Deposit (due 1 month before class start date)
= $7,575.00 Total Payments

Two Steps are required:

  • Register - you pay a $75.00 non-refundable registration fee. Registering adds your name to the class roster.

  • Submit an application - there is no fee to submit an application. The application is your opportunity to tell us why you want to take this course. We review your application as a final determiner of acceptance to the course.

    * The Register and Apply buttons are at the bottom of this page.

A materials deposit of $300.00 is included in the total payments of $7,575.00 Any unused materials deposit will be returned at the end of the course. You may use the materials deposit to buy books, finish, wood, fasteners, and hardware. Due to credit card processing fees, we kindly ask that students make the 3rd Deposit of $5,250.00 or largest, final payment by personal check, money order, or bank check.

This course runs during the off-season in Port Townsend. Vacation rentals and shared housing can be picked up in town. We maintain and offer a list of housing opportunities with home owners who enjoy hosting students and offer a range of accommodations and reasonable rates. Students are responsible for contacting the providers and arranging housing that suits their needs. 


Our school fund-raises so that we can offer scholarships for the Foundations Course. Our ability to offer scholarship depends on us having funds available and requiring that students meet the conditions that donors attach to the funds.

Gi Bill

The school received VA approval to receive GI Bill funding in January 2017. Read more...

Transfer Credit for Our Graduates:

Goddard College accepts the satisfactory completion of our Woodworking Foundation Course for 12 semester units of transfer credit. See the Goddard College site for further details on programs, degrees granted, and  transfer credit details.

Vocational Option:

The Port Townsend School of Woodworking is licensed as a Washington State Private Vocational School. The school is not nationally accredited and regrettably cannot accept AmeriCorps Funds.

Find out more about our vocational option and see our vocational catalog. 

Application and Registration

Application Process:

Foundations of Woodworking runs every fall (September - December) and winter (January-March). The application process for each session opens nine months in advance of the course start date. There is no fee for applying. Applications are completed online by students. 

If the class is full and you would like to add your name to the wait-list, choose the Register button below to add your name to the wait-list. 

What's in the application?

  1. Contact information

  2. Enrollment agreement stating School Policies and Procedures including:

    • Physical Eligibility and Safety

    • Code of Conduct

    • Statement of Financial Responsibility

  3. Personal statement

    • Why are you interested in taking Foundations of Woodworking? What drew you to this course? What are you hoping to gain? (250-500 words)

    • What else should we know about you? Share some fun stuff about yourself. What other experiences do you bring to the class?(up to 100 words)

  4. Scholarship Application (optional)

Please take the time to read our Registration, Cancellation and Refund Policy.

You must Register and Apply. You will receive a registration confirmation e-mail and a confirmation of your application by e-mail after you submit your registration and application.  Please contact us if you do not.