The Foundations Program

The opportunity to develop a foundation in the fine art of cabinet making.

Term 1  Artisan Program: October, January & April Intake.

Term 2  Maker Program: January Intake.

Term 3  Designer Program: April Intake.

My ten weeks with the UW Artisan Program have been an extremely enjoyable and enriching experience; definitely one of the very best of my life and one that I will treasure forever. I am usually a self-learner, but what a difference this course made for me! I would never have thought we would be able to produce pieces of such quality and complexity in such a short 10 weeks, but Tom masterfully broke everything down into small parts and under his and Justin’s supervision and encouragement they made us believe we could do it…and we did it. I really loved the people at the school; the students’ wildly different backgrounds and common passion for woodworking resulted in a wonderfully fun, creative and supportive team dynamics; the teachers’ generosity, experience, and enthusiasm skillfully lead us through a thorough, fully hands-on, tour of all important aspects and techniques of traditional woodworking and left us confident we can tackle any project we may choose to do next. My many thanks and gratitude go to everyone at UW Toronto for gifting me with such a rewarding and memorable experience; I will sorely miss you.

Filippo Tampieri (Montreal, Canada)

Resident Student, Artisan Program

From the historic methods described by André Jacob Roubo in the 1700’s, you’ll study tools and techniques used centuries ago. We’ll then fast forward three hundred years, and find inspiration and motivation from the impractical teachings of James Krenov.

I learnt more in the first semester of the resident programme at the Unplugged Woodshop that I had done about anything in years. After three semesters I feel confident I could take on any woodworking project that comes my way. And not just the making, but the designing too – I read people online asking for plans for pieces they see and think, “Why do they need that?”

It was also great to meet people from around the world and from all walks of life, fellow woodworkers with whom I hope I’ll stay in touch for life.

Tom Raw (Toronto, Canada)

Resident Student, The Foundations Program

The Foundations Program runs in 3 terms, you’ll begin your journey with the Artisan Program, continuing on with the Maker Program and finishing with the Designer Program.

We offer an October intake for anyone wishing to complete the entire Foundations Program. For those interested in the stand-alone Artisan Program, you can join us in October,  January or April.

Each program runs Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm for 10-weeks. You will also have access to the school facilities on Tuesday Nights, Thursday Nights and Saturdays if space is available.

During these first 10 weeks, you’ll discover the tools, materials, methods and techniques we use here at The Unplugged Woodshop. The fundamental skills involved in furniture making, using only hand tools, will be yours to discover, practice and develop. Through a deliberate and methodical approach to working wood with your hands, you’ll gain valuable insight into the process and techniques used in the fine art of cabinetmaking

Artisan Program

Term 1

Week 1 – Sharpening and Dimensioning Lumber by Hand

Day 1: On the first day of your journey, we’ll begin with the basics.

  • Learning about the tools you’ll use throughout the course of your training, and the steps you’ll take to maintain them.
  • From oil and wax to adjusting the throat and setting the iron, the hand plane will quickly become an extension of your arms, capable of rough dimensioning the most difficult woods, to final smoothing and polishing to a mirror-like surface.
  • You’ll learn how to sharpen plane irons and chisels, and see how we maintain and care for these tools so they operate at optimum performance for the duration of your journey with us.
  • We’ll look at the mediums we use and the methods we practice. From sharpening stones to honing guides, effective pitch and the techniques used to flatten and smooth wood.
  • In the early afternoon, you’ll prepare the Hock irons you’ll be using for the wood planes you’ll be making in week two of your journey.

Day 2: On the morning of your second day, we’ll look at the woods we use and the options we have when carefully selecting materials.

  • You’ll discover how wood is sold and measured, what to look for and where to find it. We’ll discuss the benefits of using local materials, and why it gives you a much better chance at a successful project. You’ll select the stock you’ll be using for your cabinet projects and start studying the grain patterns before ‘composing’ your cabinet parts.
  • In the afternoon, we’ll begin with a discussion about design, and focus on the layout and the joinery. You’ll learn how to make full-scale drawings and templates, an essential skill you’ll carry with you for the rest of your days building fine furniture.

Day 3: On day three of your first week, you’ll learn how to make ‘a perfect board’.

  • An age-old exercise to six side a board using only hand tools. You’ll discover the process and realize the tolerances we’re able to work to when the proper care and attention are practiced.

Day 4 & 5: On day four and five, you’ll make a cut list and begin laying out your cabinet parts.

  • Paying close attention to grain direction, you’ll learn about ‘composing’ with wood. From that point, you’ll be ready to start rough dimensioning the cabinet parts you’ll be using in week three of your journey. From rough sawing to planing, taking your parts closer to their finished dimensions.
  • You’ll also prepare the blanks for the wood planes you’ll be making in week two.

Week 2 – Making a Wooden Plane & Hammer

The response you get from a wood plane is altogether different from when you are working with metal hand planes. The tactile feeling absorbed through the sole of a perfectly flattened and polished wooden hand tool you made yourself is a satisfying and liberating experience. Simply put, wood on wood just feels good!

During the week you will make a curved bottom plane – a special purpose tool you’ll refine and use in week four when you make your coopered cabinet door.

Also, you will make a wood and brass, plane adjusting hammer- an essential piece of kit to adjust the plane while you refine and fettle it until it performs as any custom wooden plane should.

Week 3 – Workshop Appliances

In the third week of our journey, you’ll begin to refine your skills by making a handful of workshop appliances; a great practice to hone your skills while not having the added pressure of working on your cabinet project.

Making your own workshop appliances can be both rewarding and practical. You’ll be making a Shooting Board, Winding Sticks, and a set of Shop Bents. Having somewhere to store your cabinet parts as you work your way through the program will be most helpful.

Using the design from, Made by Hand, you’ll be able to refine your skills through a great exercise in dimensioning wood and mortise and tenon construction. Traditional techniques with mallet and chisel, we’ll cover basic mortise and tenons, through mortise and tenons, as well as a half lap joint at the top!

By weeks end, you’ll be happy to have your hand planes and shop appliances all refined and ready to work, as you prepare for the carcase construction on your project in week four.

Week 4 – Making a Coopered Door

We’ll begin the week with some design and construction theory. We’ll look at the methods used to make a coopered door by hand. After that, you’ll be able to refine your door stock and saw the staves.

Day two brings more dimensioning as you finish preparing the staves and begin the bevelling process. All the while, working from full-scale drawings.

On the third day, you’ll finish off the bevelling and begin glueing up the door.

When it comes out of the clamps on day four, you can refine the shape using your curved-bottom plane you made in week 2.

Day five allows time for final shaping and refinement as you design and shape the door pull.

Week 5 – Carcase Construction, Dovetails, Rabbets and Grooves

In the fifth week of our journey, you’ll begin your cabinet project,

“Ain’t no feathers around here boys…” a delicate wall cabinet based on a design from, Made by Hand-Furniture Projects from the Unplugged Woodshop.

The biggest difference in this version is that this one will have a coopered door and a frame and panel back that incorporates a solid core substrate and a parquetry veneered surface (more on that in week six).

On the first and second days of the week, you’ll make full-scale drawings and double check your design and final dimensions. From there you can finish dimensioning the project parts that have been settling and acclimatizing since week one of your journey.

Day three and four will be all about laying out and executing both through and half-blind dovetails for the cabinet carcase. The hallmark of fine furniture making, dovetails are arguably the most beautiful and robust form of joinery in the modern wood shop.

On the fifth day of week three, you’ll prepare the stock for the cabinet frame and panel back and rough out the parts for the door and drawer you’ll make later on in our program.

Week 6 – The Kerfing Plane & Frame Saw

These tools feature the finest hardware and saw plates available by Bad Axe Tool Works, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, you’ll refine the parts and assemble these unique and useful tools. Shaping and adjusting them, until they fit perfectly into your hands.

We’ll begin the week by learning the fundamentals of hand saw sharpening, along with the tooth geometry and the set, used on both of these tools.

Beginning with the fixed fence Kerfing plane, you’ll cut the slot for the saw plate and drill the holes for the stepped nuts. Utilizing bench top jigs and appliances, the accuracy of these steps will be much more reliable. Once complete, it’s time to install the blade and take some test cuts. If all is well and you’re happy with the tools performance, you can remove the hardware and start shaping the tote. From fret saw work to shaping with rasps and files, you’ll learn many of the fundamental skills in hand saw making.

By mid-week, when your Kerfing Plane is complete, we’ll move onto the Frame Saw. Mortise and tenon joinery will form a solid frame while the hardware is installed and then tested.

The tool will be adjusted and shaped as you take a few practice cuts and get ready to start sawing your veneer in week six.

Week 7 – Roubo Style Parquetry & Solid-Core Substrate

Now that you have your own custom tools for making shop-sawn veneer, you’ll start the process of creating a Roubo-style Parquetry panel for your cabinet back.

The parquetry will be cut from your sawn veneer and traditional hot hide glue is applied to the parts face-down on craft paper. This will hold the parquetry in place while we work on our solid-core substrate panels in week eight.

You’ll also make a small scale miter-box, a dedicated tool that is necessary for the parquetry work at hand.

Week 8 – Applying Finish, Glue-up and Frame & Panel

  • Our eighth week begins by dry-fitting your cabinet and laying out the interior drawer divider. The parts are made using sliding dovetails in the front, with grooves and tenons in the back.
  • The second day will be the time to do any final shaping and smoothing and then it’s onto finishing. A hand rubbed finish of oil and wax will be worked into the surfaces.
  • The solid-core substrate will be made and your Parquetry panel applied.
  • On the fourth day of the week, the Frame and Panel will be fit and glued together before a final finish of beeswax is applied using a Pollisoir.
  • On the fifth day, you’ll be ready to fine tune the door, attach the hardware and glue-up your cabinets.

Ten weeks in the Artisan Program was a remarkable life experience.  To learn, grow and create in the Unplugged Woodshop was to live a lifelong dream.  The learning and development were cumulative and exponential.  I love woodworking and it was a pleasure to take the craft to the next level.  It was not an easy course:  physically, mentally or spiritually because it challenges the limits of the individual’s abilities and capacity.  I pushed way beyond the level I started at and greatly expanded all my skills and resources.  It was not a freebie – the results came with work and effort.  Lots of it – but this was the place to do it.  The space was fantastic.  The people were fantastic.  The environment is motivational and inspirational.  The neighbourhood is livable, alive and fun.  Toronto is an inviting, accessible and friendly city.  This is a great place to come and indulge a passion.  

I put my heart into the program and I’m so happy I made the investment.  These skills will be the foundation of all the work I do from here out.  I feel prepared, motivated, inspired and confident to pursue the craft I love and want to be involved with for the rest of my life.  I spent ten weeks working wood six days a week by hand.  Now that I’m home I want to work wood more than ever.  The queue of projects in my minds eye continues to grow.  That is a great thing – a thing that makes me happy.  Tom, Justin and Richard are the best.  They cheerfully meet you wherever you are and give whatever it takes to help you learn and develop with your project.  I loved the experience I had at the Unplugged Woodshop and strongly recommend this to anyone who loves to work with wood.

David Bank (New York, United States)

Resident Student, Artisan Program

Week 9 -Making a Traditional Dovetailed Drawer

In this, your ninth week of our first 10-week program, you’ll learn the traditional ways of fitting and building a drawer. From day one with design, to layout and options. Then onto the slow and deliberate process of fitting and tuning the drawer back, front, and sides.

Day two brings careful attention to grain direction and layout, with half-blind dovetails in the front, and through dovetails in the back.

After the dovetails are complete, you’ll learn how to make and fit traditional drawer slips that will eventually hold your solid wood drawer bottom. By the end of day three, your drawer should be ready for glue. (no pressure-;)

On day four, you’ll make the drawer bottom panel and fit it into the grooves on the slips. Then it’s onto the drawer pull, where moulding planes and files will be utilized to shape these delicate custom parts.

On the fifth day of your ninth week, it’s all about any final tuning and fitting.

Once your drawer is complete we’ll reset and discuss the options for the next stage of your journey.

Week 10 – Final adjustments, and Tool Storage

During this, the final week of our Artisan Program, we’ll address any final questions or concerns. You’ll have time to finish off any adjustments or shaping on your pieces, and we’ll recap the skills and joinery techniques we learned along the way.

You’ll have an opportunity to make a simple Japanese Style tool chest, using pine planks with butt joints and cut nails. A perfect box for carrying some of your new tools back home with you.

On the second to last day, the fourth of our week, you can invite friends and/or family members to the school to showcase your work and relax at an open house to celebrate the end of your 10-week program.

The final day will be a Q&A morning, open to comments and suggestions while we look forward to the next semester in our Artisan/Maker/Designer Program, the 10 Week Maker Program.

Well, what can I say about these past ten weeks at the Unplugged Woodshop?

I started the Artisan Program as a total beginner: I had never used a jack plane (nor any other plane) before and I barely knew how to spell the word “chisel” and what dovetails look like. After completing the program, I quite feel I got acquainted with the basics of “unplugged” woodworking and definitely gained a lot of practical skills and knowledge (…but the spelling, maybe :-P).

I liked a lot the way the course was organized, covering all the sequential steps from sharpening theory (followed of course by a lot of daily practice!) and the making of our own hand-tools equipment, all the way to build a complete cabinet with coopered door, parquetry back panel, shelves and drawers, wax and shellac finishing, etc.

It’s been interesting and precious to work alongside the other students, each experimenting possible variations and solutions and ending up with a very unique piece of furniture ultimately different from all the others.

The course has been intensive and sometimes very demanding; the ambiance at the workshop is cool and friendly and relaxed, while the projects are challenging as week by week they always involve different and new skills, tools and techniques. Unexpected troubles and mistakes happened often, but that’s the way you learn and I felt both Tom and Justin have always been there to offer sound advice with amazing patience and helpfulness.

I can say that for everyone who feels like working his ass off getting involved in a day to day hands-on learning and sharing process, the programs at the UW may be the right opportunity to learn (and actually make) a lot.

Federico Coglitore (Rome, Italy)

Resident Student, The Foundations Program

Maker Program

Term 2

Developing your skills through the fine art of cabinet making using only hand tools. We’ll be working again, using many of the tools and techniques we introduced in our first semester. This time round, you’ll be working on a bookshelf, based on the “Where the Good Books Go” design featured in, Made by Hand.

Working closely with locally harvested lumber, you’ll compose the parts for your cabinet. Creating full-scale drawings, a cut list, and then rough dimensioning your parts, this project will demand a close attention to detail, and perfectly dimensioned pieces as we lay out and execute through mortise and tenon joinery for the carcase. The interior will differ from my original design as we’ll add a drawer box section while furthering our skills on hammer veneering techniques, shop made banding and stringing, along with some more traditional furniture making techniques.

We’ll mix mediums and incorporate leather, paper and some new hardware choices as well. An intermediate level project to push the boundaries of your hand tool skills while you create a beautiful cabinet for your home.

On the second to last day, we’ll invite friends and/or family members to the school for an evening open house. There you can showcase your work and relax and celebrate the end of your 2nd, 10-week program.

We’ll say goodbye for now, and prepare for your final semester that begins in a couple of weeks!

I came into the woodshop knowing absolutely nothing about wood and had no idea where to even start. Tom Fidgen made it easy, he has such a genuine love for the craft and it quickly became obvious that he has a passion for teaching as well.

Not only does Tom give great insight and instruction but he and his staff (Justin) make the woodshop feel like a second home. Going completely out of my comfort zone and building something with my own two hands gave me some new found confidence and let me express myself creatively, opening doors that I never knew were there.

I would absolutely recommend the Unplugged woodshop to anyone who is even slightly curious about wood, these guys really love what they do and they do A great job sharing their interest with everyone.

Thanks guys.

Fred Mirabelli (Ontario, Canada)

Resident Student, Artisan/Maker Program

Designer Program

Term 3

You are at the point when it’s time to tap into your creative mind and design your own cabinet. Developing a form and style all your own, you’ll learn about options, choices, decisions, challenges, failures and rewards as you create a unique project. We’ll be there to guide and assist you, but rest assured, this is going to be a project you can truly call your own.

From initial sketches to wood selection, you’ll find a path to creative flow. Refining and nurturing the skills you’ve been practicing for the last 6 months; you’ll realize your potential as you work towards it. Joinery options and scale, hardware and finishes. Nothing will be left to chance.

This will be 10 weeks you’ll remember and cherish, for the rest of your days working wood.

At the end of this semester, we’ll again have an open house where you can invite friends and/or family members to the school to showcase your work and relax and celebrate the end of your 9 months, The Foundations Program, here at the Unplugged Woodshop.

I came to the Unplugged Woodshop because, while I did have some power tool woodworking experience, I was keen to learn more about the hand tool approach to woodworking.  The 9-month Foundations Program (all three programs: Artisan, Maker and Designer) was exactly what I had been searching for, and I had a fantastic time.
The Unplugged Woodshop teaches students woodworking theory, design, and skills at a pace that is exciting and challenging, all which engender a degree of resourcefulness, creativity, and confidence that is invaluable to hand tool woodworking.  Through the programs you will recognise your own strengths and weaknesses, and learn to improve or accommodate for them.  Through my learning and working closely with Tom, Justin, Richard and my classmates a comradery developed that made the conditions more conducive to learning and much more fun.
The programs take you through a series of projects that teach the principles of traditional woodworking, and progressively remove design restrictions, allowing your personal style to develop and bear fruit in a final project that truly is of your own making.  Immediately Tom demonstrates theory, methods, and techniques that are implemented by the students by designing cabinets, making cut lists, prepping lumber, making hand tools and shop appliances.  Everyone of these smaller projects contains within them multiple techniques that will be used in your final pieces, and throughout your woodworking to come.  As the program progresses, design and the concrete limits of time management are your obstacles, as tasks that at first monopolised your time and focus become simpler and seem routine.  Time always seems tight, but everyone somehow pulls through.  And all the while, you are getting to see different methods used by your classmates, experiencing different tools, and learning what is truly essential and what is superfluous.
I had an amazing time at the Unplugged Woodshop. I cannot thank enough Tom, Justin, Richard, Filippo, Federico, Tom R., Fred, Dave, Tiffany, Marco and the Majestic Robou.  My skills have developed tremendously, and I have made some life-long friends.  If you have the opportunity to attend the school, even for a short course, I would highly recommend it.
P. Vincent Block (Arkansas, United States)

Resident Student, The Foundations Program