Apprentices bring wood to life at Pocahontas Woods
In 2009, Pocahontas Woods began an apprentice program, offering an opportunity to learn the art of woodworking. Since then, several apprentices have honed their skills and created functional works of art, including tables, cabinets and chests.
Instructor John Wesley Williams entered the woodworking field after college, when he realized his degree wouldnﾒt lead him in the direction he wanted.
ﾓI had a math degree from Tulane [University, New Orleans, Louisiana] and I didnﾒt know what I was going to do with it,ﾔ Williams said. ﾓI realized after a couple of jobs that I needed to find something that I could do on my own. I saw information on this furniture design program, and I had no inclination that I would be good at it, but I got into the program.ﾔ
Williams attended the program in Toronto, Canada, and went through an apprenticeship before becoming a master woodworker. He moved to West Virginia in the 1990s and worked as a wood artist for several years.
ﾓI was married, and my wife was an artist, and we were doing shows around the east,ﾔ he said. ﾓWe thought this was a good central location.ﾔ
Now, with a shop in Renick, Williams travels to Marlinton to instruct the apprentices at Pocahontas Woods.
Students with all levels of skills learn the ins-and-outs of woodworking during the six-month apprentice program.
ﾓWeﾒre getting more project-oriented,ﾔ Williams said. ﾓIt used to be the program consisted of these little tasks that I saw no value to. What I do is get them right on doing a project. They usually go to a piece that involves mortise and tenons joinery and frame and panel joints. As the project progresses, they learn everything you really need to know. They find the areas that they know they donﾒt know about, and they seek those out.ﾔ
Williams believes in a less structured curriculum and allows the apprentices to choose what they want to make. Colt Zendik, Andrew Must and Clay Condon are currently in the program and each came into the class with a different mindset.
ﾓAndrew and Clay have been working with a lot of live edge and natural forms,ﾔ Williams said. ﾓWhen I went to design school, I did the same thing they are doing. They remind me of me. They donﾒt want to come in and build a Queen Anneﾒs desk, they want to build something they are comfortable with and is natural.ﾔ
Zendik discovered his love of woodworking at a young age and has pursued the craft for most of his life.
ﾓI have been into trying different woodworking things on my own, and I always wanted to know the right way to do things,ﾔ he said. ﾓRichard [Horton, Pocahontas Woods Executive Director] told me they were offering an apprentice program. It was a golden opportunity to come and learn from someone that has been doing it and knows what they are doing.ﾔ
For Zendik, the opportunity to learn the correct methods was priceless.
ﾓI would spend hours in my shop, wishing there was a machine that could do this certain method, and I come here and find out there is an easy way to do it,ﾔ he said. ﾓItﾒs been really nice and fun to learn. I grew up around artists, have always been around artists and always wanted to be one. I tried my hand at a lot of different things and through it all, was kind of always doing something with wood. I was always building shelves or sheds or houses. It was kind of something I just considered a necessity.ﾔ
Zendik visited Williamsﾒ website and was excited to learn from him.
ﾓThe thing Iﾒve always liked about wood is really capturing the beauty and the life in it,ﾔ he said. ﾓI always wished I could, and from looking at Johnﾒs website, he knows how to do that. That was very inspiring, and I wanted to learn how to have that capability. My interest is to gain as much knowledge as possible.ﾔ
Must, owner of a construction company, has been working with wood on a larger scale. He became an apprentice to learn about the finer things in wood.
ﾓI like working with wood, and I was interested in taking it to a finer, more detailed and more artistic level,ﾔ he said. ﾓI wish I could be here more to work on my projects. I wanted to learn how to use all the machines for a cabinet shop or furniture shop, and get the hang of what I can build, and see what I can design. I think Iﾒve gotten that, and now Iﾒm honing my skills.ﾔ
With those new-found skills, Must said he has thought about having a shop where he can continue building furniture. Although there is a call for homemade furniture in the market, Must said he isnﾒt interested in selling his work.
ﾓI donﾒt know if it will be a big part of my money-making career, but itﾒs definitely an interest Iﾒm going to pursue for the rest of my life,ﾔ he said. ﾓI want to make furniture. Itﾒs hard to say if Iﾒll sell it or not.ﾔ
As a contractor, Must hopes to implement some woodworking styles in his house construction.
ﾓIﾒm interested in doing timber frame building,ﾔ he said. ﾓA lot of principles and joining of furniture making go into timber framing. Thereﾒs no metal hardware involved. The skills kind of overlap a little bit.ﾔ
Condon entered the program with similar interests as Must.
ﾓIﾒm interested in timber framing, and a lot of the same joinery applies to timber framing structures,ﾔ he said.
Using hand tools instead of machinery is more rewarding for Condon.
ﾓI like the hands-on aspect of it ﾖ to use the hand planes and spokeshaves,ﾔ he said. ﾓItﾒs really satisfying. Itﾒs almost like meditation carving down the wood.ﾔ
The openness of the apprentice program was also appealing to Condon.
ﾓThey let you decide what youﾒre going to build, and you can choose your projects,ﾔ he said. ﾓIﾒm surprised there arenﾒt more people taking advantage of this, because it is such an awesome opportunity to learn a valuable skill.ﾔ
To learn more about the apprentice program at Pocahontas Woods, visit pocahontaswoods.com or call 304-799-6985. W