In the above video, period furniture maker Phillip Lowe shared an exciting tour of the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts with me.
Phil started the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts in scenic Beverly, MA as a way to preserve and spread the skills of building and restoring historical heirloom quality furniture. And man, has he succeeded.
His school offers everything from weekend classes on basic furniture-building skills all the way up to multi-year full time woodworking apprenticeship programs. You can see Phil’s short biography and a list of his Fine Woodworking Magazine articles & videos right here.
What I liked most about Phil’s workshop school is that it has a very laid back atmosphere. Of course, I was only there for an hour, but everyone seemed to be having a blast, and working right along on the skills that Phil had taught them. Some of Phil’s programs are like an open shop class where you come for a week or two and build whatever you want, and Phil is right there to teach you how to do it. Others shorter classes are focused on building one project, like this cherry shaker table:
I was absolutely shocked by the high level of quality put into the period furniture. Some pieces were absolutely jaw dropping; fit for a palace.
If students don’t already have a project in mind, Phil introduces them to his library of period furniture books to get some inspiration.
Then they spend the first day or two learning how to draw working plans for the furniture…yes sir, good ol’ fashioned drafting with a real pencil and paper!
Ah, this brings back memories from my high school architecture & woodworking classes.
Then the students spend their time learning from Phil how to build their chosen piece of period furniture, then they are turned loose to apply what they learned.
Some stunning pieces of furniture have come from Phil’s students and more especially from Phil. I was amazed as he showed me many pieces of furniture that are well beyond my skill level.
I was happy to see not only middle-aged guys in Phil’s school, but even some fascinating young guys, like David Hibino. David didn’t have the confidence to build a quality workbench by himself, so he dropped in for a couple weeks of help from Phil.
Phil would walk David through a step, then turn David loose to apply what he had just learned. Then when he was ready for the next step, Phil was close by to teach. I love this type of learning.
I loved seeing someone part from the typical woodworker’s atire…you know what I’m talking about: checked button-up shirt tucked into denim jeans? I’m happy that the upcoming generation is taking an interest in the trades of the past…even if they can’t put their iPhones down.
Thanks for the tour Phil, and thank you for preserving and passing on the furniture-making skills of the past.
In addition to being a regular contributor to Fine Woodworking Magazine, Phil Lowe is also the author of several woodworking books and videos (see the list below), and is an expert on furniture restoration and recreation.
- DVD: Measuring Furniture for Reproduction: with Phil Lowe
- DVD: Bookcase With Bracket Feet
- DVD: Carve a Ball and Claw Foot
- DVD: Basic Workbench with Built-In Storage
Here is a list of the tools that Phil Mentioned in the video:
- Stanley smoothing plane
- Lie-Nielsen No. 4 Bronze Smooth Plane
- Lie-Nielsen No. 51 Shoot Board Plane
- Lie-Nielsen No. 9 Iron Miter plane