After several years in which teaching at various institutions has become a larger part of his woodworking career, Kelly Mehler “got a wild hair and decided to do my own” school. The Kelly Mehler School of Woodworking opened in Berea, Kentucky, for its first season this year.
It’s something the woodworker and contributor to Woodworker’s Journal magazine has been thinking about for years, often at the suggestion of others. For this first season, he has been the only teacher in the classes which concentrate on traditional, solid wood woodworking, but he is negotiating with others who specialize in various areas to be a part of the second May-October season.
The classes Kelly teaches, while they frequently have a specific project as a focus, are really more about the skills and general woodworking information, which the project is able to convey. “The projects are chosen for their broader aspects of woodworking,” he explained, so that a class on a writing desk might see students actually building a writing desk…or a computer desk, or a sofa table.
Class sizes are limited to eight students for each approximately week-long course, which gives Kelly the opportunity to pay individual attention to each student, all of whom are at differing levels in their woodworking skills. “They get the benefit of someone with 30 years of woodworking experience. I can stand over their shoulder and help them acheive insights,” Kelly said.
Each day includes demonstrations by Kelly of various aspects of woodworking as well, in order to improve the flow of things as the students work on their projects. For instance, one day he might demonstrate how to sharpen tools; another day, how to cut a dovetail.
A local chef serves a full catered lunch daily — “I figure part of the success is through their stomachs,” Kelly says — in the lunchroom of the two-story school building. Built by Kelly himself on his 10-acre lot near Berea, the school features a machine room on the lower floor, with a lot of European-style machinery. Kelly chose his tools, he said, for their quality and their safety features. “Safety is a big issue with me.” Each machine also has dust collection setup.
Upstairs is a bench area, with master craftsman’s benches featuring high quality vises, facing south for the natural light. A well-stocked woodworking library, the lunchroom and a deck which overlooks a creek are also upstairs. Besides being the site of several luncheons, the deck is also where some students choose to take the massage that is offered weekly as part of Kelly’s curriculum.
Such activities are open to spouses as well and, while he has had two sets of husbands and wives sign up to take classes together, the spouses who aren’t interested in woodworking find Berea an interesting community in itself, Kelly said. The state of Kentucky built an artisans’ center there recently, and it is a thriving crafts community. One weekend this year, the town organized workshops by potters, stained glass artists and those who work in other materials for the spouses of students in Kelly’s classes, as well as others who were interested, to participate in. He’s also acquired reduced rates for his students on local lodgings.
The students who participate in his classes, Kelly said, get a lot of experience in a short amount of time. As for himself, “It’s just like a teacher’s dream. I have students who are so eager to learn, and so appreciative of it, and I enjoy sharing what I know. And it’s just fun.”
Kelly will be posting the schedule for next year’s classes in October. In the meantime, if you’d like to check out his school or sign up to be notified of those upcoming courses, you can visit www.kellymehler.com.