The Class Experience
Jim Thomas, 6-Slat Rocking Chair, 2013
I recently completed a Brian Boggs designed six slat ladder back rocker with Jeff at his shop. As usual, the build and week went by like a blur and the result was a wonderfully crafted chair that I had wanted to build for quite a while. For those of you who have built, or plan to build, a side chair with Jeff you should seriously consider the ladderback rocker as a natural follow up. Many of the techniques are the same, and this familiarity allows you to concentrate on the build rather than learning techniques from scratch.
Jeff is always well prepared and students receive a carefully conceived and detailed 3-ring binder with all the details and steps laid out in sequence. A real plus from these courses is that if you want, you can also build the bending forms and mortising jigs for your own use after the class. While I consider myself an experienced woodworker I often find myself starting to make mistakes in the rush to complete one step along the way. Jeff’s attention and gentle corrections always ensure that I don’t make a fatal mistake. In my previous side chair class I brought all my own tools. However, during this visit I flew in so ended up using Jeff’s shop tools — a real plus if you are traveling light.
A veteran of several chair classes and woodworking courses I would rank Jeff’s offerings at the top of the list. One-on-one (or two) instruction, a quaint location in a nice historical setting, and an instructor with a wealth of information and explanations that cannot help but increase your skill and precision in woodworking are the major draws for potential students. I recommend Jeff’s classes to anyone considering the side chair, rocker, or other builds of interest. You won’t be disappointed and you will complete your time with a finely crafted piece of furniture and an increased skill set.
Patrick O’Connor, Post & Rung Side Chair, 2013
The only other chair class I completed was Joe Graham’s Lenox windsor chair 10 years ago. There were six of us in that class. With Jeff I was fortunate to be the only student so it was truly a one-on-one experience. The following are just a few of the reasons why I was so pleased. First of all Jeff is a dedicated teacher as teaching is his first priority, not the mass production of chairs. Jeff has a kind and peaceful personality and as such there was no stress or feeling like there was a deadline to meet. I wanted to do steam bending and he made the process much easier than anticipated. Jeff has a repertoire of “pearls” — whether that be sharpening techniques or the use of the skew on the lathe — which he is more than willing to share. And Jeff wrote the 82 page manual which is an absolute necessity going home to build your first chair alone. Jeff is also a graphic designer which explains the precision of the manual. This was simply a very positive experience.
Mark Hochstein, Post & Rung Side Chair, 2013
Jeff’s classes are limited to a maximum of two people so you can be assured of a personal touch. When I arrived at Jeff’s shop he had a manual in a three ring binder for each of us. Jeff is a graphic designer by trade and it shows. He has created an excellent manual. It goes step-by-step through the entire chair building process. It even has complete measurements for all the jigs. After looking at the manual I felt completely at ease without taking any notes at all. I was able to just relax, listen to Jeff and digest the information he was teaching. It was a great experience.
The first day started with selecting lumber from the woodshed. This is when Jeff’s organizational skills first became evident. We were selecting wood to use to make the rear legs of the chair, but we had to steam bend them and then let them dry for several weeks. No problem, we would actually be bending the legs for the next class. The legs we would use for our chairs were already bent and dry, but we got to go through the entire process none-the-less—which was excellent. This continued throughout the course. Jeff always had things organized and ready to go. There was never any last minute scrambling.
Understanding of chair construction: The ladder back side chair is one of the most complex pieces of furniture I have made—complex because there are few square joints. Except for the front panel, everything is a trapezoid! Jeff showed us how to break these trapezoids down using “rise-and-run” measurements. This greatly simplified the process and allowed us to cut mortises without worrying about specific or exact angles. The jigs derived from these measurements took care of making accurate mortises. I now have a set of jigs and an instruction manual and feel comfortable building chairs in my home shop.
Learn new skills and complete the chair in six days: Never having used a drawknife or spokeshave, it was a new experience to use these hand tools to take a square (and curved) blank to a round tapered leg. Jeff led us through a practice leg with a series of individual steps which, again, simplified it into a controlled and manageable process resulting in a beautiful round chair leg. Using the jigs and understanding how the rise-and-run measurements were used to construct them helped visualize the whole process. I will certainly use this way of looking at things in my non-chair furniture making. Jeff had the six days planned out so I could work at a constant, but comfortable pace and was able to complete the chair.
A chair to be proud of: Throughout the process, Jeff was there to provide gentle advice, from how to hold a spoke shave to when a piece was “flat enough” or needed more work. He was also there to help remedy the inevitable when things didn’t go exactly as planned, e.g., unexpected grain tear-out. His experience and understanding of where things can be flexible and where they can’t really helped. I felt throughout that there was a shared goal of making a chair we both could be proud of—mission accomplished!
It was one of my most enjoyable weeks of woodworking—Jeff was a great teacher, I learned new skills and I have a beautiful new chair.
Paul Losik, Post & Rung Side Chair, 2013
I’ve always loved the simple lines and elegant curves of ladderback chairs. On a recent trip to the two Shaker communities in Kentucky I finally got the opportunity to examine them in person, not just on paper. When I sat down in many of them, I was amazed at just how uncomfortable they were. There was a vast disconnect from what they looked like (and what I wanted them to feel like) to what they actually felt like. It almost seemed like a kind of penance to sit in them for long periods of time.
Woodworkers have said over the years that Shaker furniture embodies the principle form follows function, but experiencing the Shaker ladderbacks first hand made me question that. Isn’t a key element in a chair to be seated in comfort? Isn’t that an inherent part of its function? If so, did they really succeed then? Five minutes of sit-and-squirm discomfort in a Shaker ladderback forced me to say no.
When I saw Brian’s innovative improvements and read reviews of his chairs, I knew I wanted to rekindle my interest in ladderbacks. Brian succeeded where the Shakers had failed: he combines beautiful form with amazing comfort. Now form really does follow function.
And when I found out there were courses being offered by Jeff to build them, I couldn’t say no, even though the task seemed daunting to a rookie such as myself.
Jeff walked me through the whole process, step by step. He is a gifted teacher who has both an encyclopedic knowledge of the process as well as the rare ability to explain it in a clear, logical manner.
I wholeheartedly agree with what other reviewers have said about his style and gracious personality, adding only a couple things. First, you will leave a better woodworker than when you arrived. Jeff showed me, for example, how to get my tenons to the exact specs required and graciously challenged me to do so without compromising. I needed that challenge to raise my skill level, and so do you.
Second, Jeff helped enormously with all kinds of jigs to make my post-class chairs a reality. While I was shaping the legs, he was busy cutting out forms for me. We knocked out most of the more complicated jigs, saving me a TON of time and energy. I’ve not met many instructors who worked this hard with such personalized instruction and service. Amazing.
Nat Cohen, Post & Rung Side Chair, 2013
I had the pleasure of taking the Post and Rung Ladderback Chair course with Jeff Lefkowitz last week. Jeff is a great teacher and a real craftsman. He covered a complex process thoroughly and as completely as was possible in the allotted time. He was able to convey large design concepts while teaching specific techniques and explaining how and why to use tools and jigs. His technical skills are excellent and he patiently showed us what to do at every point. Jeff was thoroughly prepared and put enormous energy into his teaching.
I was a little bit concerned about taking such a small class, but Jeff made me feel comfortable immediately. He made us welcome in the shop and his home and generously shared his meals. In the kitchen, over lunch, we would talk about chairmaking and design, review the morning’s work and layout the afternoon schedule.
There were two of us in the class and Jeff adapted easily to our different knowledge and skill levels. The pace of the class was intense at times, but there was a lot to do in a week! Jeff’s enthusiasm for the chair design and the chairmaking process was infectious.
As I started the class I felt a bit overwhelmed and wondered if I could finish this chair and make others. Jeff was very encouraging and made it clear that he intended to be a continuing resource for his students as questions come up. Although there wasn’t time to do everything, we made most of the jigs that are necessary to make the chair and I found the clear and well-illustrated manual to be an excellent resource that will serve as a necessary guide for the next chair.
I had never taken a chairmaking course and Jeff made it a great experience, introducing me to this amazing aspect of woodworking and the Boggs design. I look forward to finishing this chair and others in the future.
Emmanuel Nicolaidis, Post & Rung Side Chair, 2013
I am a cabinet maker in Baltimore city. For some time now I’ve wanted to branch out beyond the traditional cabinet work I have done for more than 10 years and try my hand at a kind of woodworking that was completely new to me. Chairmaking, with all of its design subtleties and complexities, seemed like just the challenge I was looking for.
I found postings about Jeff’s classes for the Boggs post and rung ladder back chair and contacted him to find out if any slots were available. Since I live relatively close to his shop he invited me down to meet and talk about the classes he had available. I knew right away that this was the class I needed to take and this was the instructor I wanted to work with.
Jeff teaches the six-day intensive class with patience and enthusiasm. The concepts behind the design are complex but not impossible to understand. It takes a good teacher to break it all down into clear, simple ideas. The same goes for learning to use the different hand tools. Jeff guides you carefully with tips on how to use them properly.
I highly recommend the class to any woodworker looking for a challenging project to develop his or her skill set from a foundational to more advanced level of woodworking.
Jim Thomas, Post & Rung Side Chair, 2013
After much discussion about scheduling I took Jeff’s class in March. Jeff had roughed out all the parts, and bent the rear legs and slats prior to my arrival (we bent rear legs and slats for a subsequent student in order to learn the process). This allowed us to concentrate on completing the chair within the allotted class time. Jeff’s approach was well organized and clearly presented. As a graphic artist the manual he created for the class is a wealth of information. For me, one of the big advantages of the course was to leave with a set of jigs and forms to build the ladder back chair at home. Jeff’s approach is casual while well informed. He is a wealth of information and was always willing to discuss other approaches and share his vast experience in chair making. I had initially wanted to build the ladder back rocker but Jeff convinced me to start with the side chair. In hindsight this was a good decision. It allowed us to focus on the specifics of ladder back construction, part shaping and fitting, and construction techniques. I will return soon to build the rocker as I am now familiar with the process.
An added bonus was the March blizzard that snowed us in for two days. We never lost power and pushed through our projects. Due to the weather and roads Jeff invited me to stay with him and his lovely wife for two days. It was nice to relax around the table and talk woodworking and chairs in our leisure moments.
If you are interested in learning how to build ladderback chairs I can give Jeff’s operation the highest kudos. The shop, setting, and surrounding countryside are a perfect setting in which to pursue your wish to build a Boggs designed chair.
Ed Eudy, Classic Side Chair, 2012
I would echo what John Zicker has said. Having taken several classes from Brian and one from Jeff, I feel I have a good perspective from which to judge. There is a difference, but neither presents a sacrifice. Brian is the creator and this is the feeling in his classes. He loves to talk about why and to challenge the woodworker. Jeff is the teacher. He stresses the how…technique and accuracy. Having been a woodworker for many, many years, I found things in Brian’s class that made me rethink conclusions I had drawn from experience. In Jeff’s class, I came away with a more in-depth approach to the same project…building a chair. I won’t say I prefer one or the other, but I can say that if you want to know how to build one of Brian’s chairs, Jeff will greatly exceed your expectations. He is competent and intensive in his approach. His main goal as I saw it was to insure that after I left his shop, I was equipped to build the chair without help…but he offered that as well. Thanks for the experience, Jeff.
John Zicker, Rocking Chair, 2012
This year I finally accomplished a goal that I have had for the last ten years. I took a greenwood ladder back chairmaking class with Brian and have dreamed of building a Boggs style rocking chair ever since. Needless to say, ten years passed while life rolled along. Whenever I had the time and funds to take the class, it was not being offered, so Brian referred me to Jeff Lefkowitz who is now giving classes at his shop in Virginia. At first I was a little concerned that I wasn’t taking the class from Brian but after attending the class I can only give the highest recommendation possible to taking a chairmaking class from Jeff.
The rocking chair class was set up by Jeff to take six days. Depending on the chair design you want to make and what you want to emphasize, the length of the class will vary. Jeff will tailor the class to your skill level and particular chairmaking goals. At the end, I had a rocker that was assembled except for mounting the runners, sanding, finishing and weaving the seat. Jeff did a great job of crating and shipping me the chair after I returned home. I was relieved to find out that I didn’t need to bring any tools since my travel involved a lengthy flight. Jeff has a well-equipped chair making shop that gave me a chance to experience some very nice, high end hand tools. There are reasonable cost hotels in the area and plenty of options for dining. I did go to the local grocery store and buy food for lunches, so that I didn’t have to run into town every day.
As I thought about my class with Jeff and writing this post I wanted to pick the top three things that I enjoyed or learned in the class. This was difficult to do as there were so many great things to learn from him. To start I’ll say that Jeff’s preparation for the class was first rate. He did a great job of preparing specific chair parts ahead of time to allow the chair to be completed in six days. He also had a well thought out and complete manual which let me focus on the experience rather than note taking. Second, Jeff has an abundance of tips and techniques gathered from his experience in teaching other students. They may seem like small details, but they have a big impact on the quality of the final chair. (For example, ask Jeff about his method for taking a leg from square to round). Finally, Jeff’s classes are designed for a small number of students. The personal attention is extremely helpful as your progress is tailored to your current expertise and abilities. I found that I sailed through some operations like shaping the rear legs but needed a good deal of instruction and practice carving the bottom of the legs where they join with the runners.
The biggest challenge of this class for me was that it can be a bit exhausting. Not from a physical perspective but from a mental one. As a hobbyist woodworker, I almost never get to spend 8 hours a day in the shop. Keeping up the mental focus and attention to detail for 8 hours a day, six days in a row was a challenge. (Thanks for the awesome afternoon coffee Jeff!). I thought I would be heading out to explore the area but found myself going for a short walk and then relaxing the rest of the evening.
If you can carve out the time, I highly recommend you spend a week with Jeff building a chair. Not only will you learn practical, useful woodworking techniques, you will come home with a beautiful chair. Everyone that has seen the chair I built can’t believe that I was capable of building such a beautiful piece of furniture.
Jim Chadduck, Post & Rung Side Chair, 2012
I recently completed a chairmaking class with Jeff Lefkowitz. It was a GREAT experience! He is an excellent teacher and represents you and your company extremely well. I am really a beginner with regard to chairmaking and found your website when looking for a hand tool class a couple of years ago. Your class was full at the time and I understand that you no longer offer it, but I kept checking on it from time to time. When I found that the beginner chair making class was being taught so close to my hometown of Winchester Virginia, I decided to try it. It exceeded all of my expectations and I hope I can continue to build your wonderful chairs. I plan to take the advanced armchair in the next year or so. You have a real winner and a great teacher and advocate in Jeff.
Bob Leavitt, Rocker, 2010
I just finished the rocker class with Jeff Lefkowitz. I wanted to build a rocker as a retirement gift for a retiring Naval Officer whom I have known and worked with for a number of years. I wanted to attend one of your rocker classes in Asheville, but since I just took a new job I didn’t have the vacation time to do so. Jeff and I were able to work out a class schedule that fit with my work schedule. It ended up working out great, I was able to build the rocker over about a 6 week time frame. The class ran across three 3 day weekends. This allowed me to get the instruction and take work home and hone my skills. It also allowed a bit more time to accomplish finishing some of the pieces before they went together as well adjust for any issues that occurred. One such issue was the engraving of the slats, some of the letters degraded sufficiently to not be sufficient for a gift. I was able to generate another carving, and bend and shape the slat so we could continue with the class.
With the class being just me, the student to instructor ratio was great. Jeff is a very good instructor. He walked through all that I needed to know and more. I got some great advice on the lathe, bandsaw and with some hand tools that made the rest of the class much better. We went into great detail on all the steps, and since there was no one else there if I was running amok he caught me well before I had made a critical error. Jeff also provided some great guides to assist in carving the legs after they had been slotted, and the pins when they had to be carved. His approach to getting to an octagon on the legs generated the best carved legs that I have done to date. I have produced 7 side chairs besides the one I did for in your class and these two legs were heads and shoulders better than those. He certainly has an understanding for the skill levels of the hobbyist and that really helped me get the most out of the effort. Great approaches, explanations and knowledge.
Besides walking away with a chair and a gift, I walked away with the knowledge of how to build the chair, the interrelationships in the chair and a much better skill level. I also got some help with jigs which will help going forward. In the side chair class you talked about building a manual so we had a repeatable process. The manual that Jeff provided will help when a weekend woodworker like me goes home and tries to reproduce all that he learned. I don’t have the time to reinforce all that I learned so the hints, keys and suggestions help the memory recall all those important steps. All said and done, it was a great 6 weeks and I really enjoyed Jeff’s instruction and friendship. He is certainly a great credit to Brian Boggs Chairmakers and I really like the idea of expanding the offerings.
Great class, great concept on the offering and a great learning experience.