you live in central Illinois, you may already know about CU Woodshop Supply
in Champaign-Urbana. It's an 8,000-square-foot woodworking
retail outlet that features a Rockler affiliate store, plus a broad
offering of machinery, tools, accessories and lumber. It also houses
an additional space called the DreamShop, a member-owned and
-operated woodworking shop showcasing around $150,000-worth of the
the latest machinery and Festool products in a state-of-the-art
setup. But if you haven't been to the store since last summer, you
may not know that CU Woodshop Supply now has added another 16,000
square feet to its growing woodworking "campus." In August,
the new space opened as the CU Woodshop School of Woodworking.
Van Pelt, education director of the new school, along with store
founder Dennis Coleman, have ambitious plans: "We want to be the
Midwest's premier woodworking destination."
idea for opening a woodworking school came as much from necessity as
inspiration. About two years ago, Van Pelt says a machine shop
adjacent to CU Woodshop Supply went up for sale. It was already set
up with an office space and a vast shop area perfect for classroom
instruction and an expansive woodworking shop, plus room for
warehousing inventory and lumber. Up to that point, the store had
already been offering woodworking classes to the public, using its
DreamShop space. But classes were beginning to encroach on the time
DreamShop members had available to work on their own projects. And,
nearby Parkland College was channeling students enrolled in its
community education program to CU for woodworking classes.
had to change, so CU bought the machine shop and started renovations.
Pelt joined the store staff about a year ago this month. Formerly, he
founded and ran the American Sycamore Retreat in Cloverdale, Indiana.
The Retreat offered classes and lodging accommodations for students
and instructors, but Van Pelt was forced to close it during the
recent recession. Prior to opening the Retreat, Mike worked for 30
years in woodworking retail, as a woodworking teacher and as a
salesman and demonstrator for ShopSmith and Delta. A lifelong
woodworker, he specializes in Arts and Crafts furniture. After
joining the CU staff, he ran Saturday seminars and worked on the
showroom floor, "so helping to start our new school and get it
up and running smoothly was a natural fit for me," he says.
previous affiliation with the woodworking school circuit has also
enabled him to draw some talented and acclaimed woodworking
instructors to the new school. "We have 12 regular teachers,
including three who were already nationally recognized before they
started partnering with us: George Vondriska, Tom Turgeon and Donna
is managing editor of Woodworker's Guild of America and a regular
contributor to Woodworker's
Journal. Turgeon is,
by Van Pelt's estimation, the best longbow craftsman in the country.
Menke's specialty is carving wearable art as well as crafting band
saw boxes, for which she's published a book and numerous magazine
articles. A list of other instructor bios is available by clicking here.
School of Woodworking has only been open four about four months, but
the scope of its curriculum is broad. Courses in woodworking basics,
hand tool sharpening and use, hand plane restoration, bowl and pen
turning, cabinetry and project-intensive courses all have been
offered or are on the docket for this year. The school also provides
two classes that are focused on getting the most from Festool tools.
(CU Woodshop Supply is an authorized Festool dealer, and Festool
classes are led by John Morrison, a Festool expert.)
Click here to see a course listing for 2013.
Pelt is looking forward to several courses the school will host in
the months to come. One by John Garrison this May will teach students
how to make a Maloof-style sculptured rocker. Mike plans to lead a
course on building a cabinetmaker's workbench. Over the years, he
says he's built more than 200 benches, "and the design just
keeps getting better. For this coming five-day class, I really think
we'll build what I consider to be the very best workbench money can
this month, CU has held 11 classes, and courses are filling for third
and fourth quarters of 2013 now. Almost 20 different topics will be
taught this year, plus several more offered through Parkland College.
Sessions are offered evenings, weekends and now even weekdays to
accommodate the needs of students. Course durations range from just a
few hours to as many as 10 days for complex projects. So far, the
most popular topics have been general "Woodworking 101"
training, hand tool use, sharpening and woodturning. The two Festool
instruction classes are also drawing good attendance.
from its wide-ranging curriculum and knowledgeable instructors, Van
Pelt is pleased with how well the school's workshop has been
conceived. Classes are limited to six to eight students, and each is
provided a dedicated workstation. It includes a 4x8 assembly table
customized to fit Festool's MFT accessories, a traditional workbench,
clamps, drill/driver, sander and a collection of hand tools. In
addition, the shop features five "pods" of stationary
machines to minimize or eliminate waiting time. Each pod has a
planer, jointer, band saw, drill press and table saw; all connected
to dust collection and situated close to the student workstations.
"We provide everything a student will need, tool-wise, to
complete the class, and there's pretty much no need to double-up on
machinery or share any of the smaller tools."
school also has a separate woodturning room with six lathes of
various sizes so turning classes can be offered at the same time as
other classes without disturbance.
looking for woodworking instruction these days? Van Pelt reports that
many students are novices who want to get into woodworking but don't
know how. Others don't have the space or budget for buying tools but
want to improve their skills. A growing segment are women who've
never had access to woodworking education before. But Van Pelt
assures them, "if you can run a home, operate a sewing machine
and drive a car, there's not a woodworking machine you can't learn
how to use. They're excited and often come with mindsets that are
more open to learning new things than many of the men."
considers himself blessed to be surrounded by great staffers and to
have the opportunity to continue to share the craft and leave a
legacy. But, he admits part of the joy of teaching continues to be
learning. "Students often approach problems different than I
would in the shop, and their solutions offer me opportunities to try
new things. I'm constantly becoming a better teacher as a result."
more about CU Woodshop School of Woodworking by clicking here.