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Institute’s furniture-making class offers its students needed skills

February 21, 2021 at 2:36 a.m.
Zack Fealk, of Detroit, shows off a toolbox he made during the furniture making class at the Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute on Jan. 19, 2021, in Adrian, Mich. Students in the class make a variety of handcrafted wood projects. (Mike Dickie/The Daily Telegram via AP)

ADRIAN, Mich. -- A student in the Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute's furniture-making class can practically furnish their home with handmade pieces and the right time commitment.

But that barely scratches the surface of what the class offers.

The year-long class is in its third year. Open to beginners and experts alike, the class teaches students how to make a variety of pieces while also learning the trade of woodworking. Ages range from 16 to those in their 50s.

The first project is a cutting board. Then students work their way through others such as a toolbox, kitchen cabinet and dresser. They also learn how to make a chair, which is the "pinnacle of furniture making," Luke Barnett said.

Classes are Tuesday and Thursday evenings plus an online component. Students are required to spend at least 100 hours in studio. Barnett calls this "getting the reps in."

Barnett is one of two instructors for the class. Patrick Moore provides the online component, teaching students about historical preservation on Monday.

"It's a great opportunity that students can learn from two instructors who are pretty good," Barnett said.

"Pretty good" doesn't do Barnett and Moore justice. Both are renowned woodworkers.

Moore is the only person from North America to hold the title of Compagnon Passant Charpentier. This title is reserved for those who are versed in the traditional carpentry guild of France. To earn the title, Moore worked with master carpenters in the country for seven years, learning the trade. The work, title and honor is a prestigious one in woodworking.

Moore is currently involved with a restoration project at the Canadian Parliament building.

Barnett's talent is in American Windsor chairs, and he has been nationally and internationally recognized for his work.

Now an accredited post-secondary school, students walk away from the Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute with a diploma that can open plenty of doors.

The certification tells employers they can make high-level products and their skills are transferable to any task. The furniture-making industry is vast, and Michigan is one of the top five producers of office furniture in the country.

Some take the class as an alternative to college. Others are looking for a career change.

"We have students who take the first semester and said, 'I want to make a career out of it,'" said Charlie Johnson, executive assistant at the institute.

Caleb Peper is one of them.

The student in his late-20s from Troy, Mich., couldn't afford new furniture when he bought a house five years ago, so he made his own. Wanting to build on his skills, he found the Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute.

"I really wanted to take it to the next level," Peper said.

Barnett and the institute have allowed him to do just that. Peper recently quit his day job and plans to open his own woodworking business out of his garage.

Some of the best to ever do it started in their garage -- á la Adrian's own Orville Merillat of Merillat Industries, a manufacturer of wooden kitchen cabinets in Adrian.

The entrepreneur route is another path students can follow after completing the class.

"There's a lot of demand for locally made, locally crafted items," Barnett said.

The director said he started the class after he saw the need in the industry. There are few others like it. Many students come from the Detroit area and make the drive multiple times a week.

"Woodworking has opened a lot of doors in my life," Barnett said. "I enjoy sharing it."

Students are often at the institute well before class starts, weekends too.

"I have to kick guys out of the shop," Barnett said.

It's not hard to understand why. The class features a lot of group work and collaboration. One hundred hours gives students plenty of time to get to know each other.

"We're all learning together," Peper said. "That's one of the best parts about it. You never feel like you're alone."

"The class we have now is amazing," Johnson added. "It's the best class we've had."

Peper said Barnett does a good job of offering advice while also allowing students to make mistakes in an environment where it's OK to do so.

"That's the only way (to get better)," he said.

While the class is accessible to all skill levels, it is selective. Barnett and Johnson talk with potential students to explain the scope of the class and the time commitment to determine who is a good fit.

"It's always full," Johnson said. "We always end up turning people away."

About eight students are completing their second semester. The first semester of the next class starts this fall.

They'll likely have a few more students to interview for the fall as 10 are already registered.

To learn more about the institute, visit www.sambeaufordwoodshop.com .

Distributed by The Associated Press.

Jeff Rawlings, left, steadies a chair made by Caleb Peper, center, while Luke Barnett, director of the Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute, looks on at the shop on Jan. 189, 2021, in Adrian, Mich. Rawlings and Peper are students in the Furniture Making and Wood Design class at the institute. (Mike Dickie/The Daily Telegram via AP)
Jeff Rawlings, left, steadies a chair made by Caleb Peper, center, while Luke Barnett, director of the Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute, looks on at the shop on Jan. 189, 2021, in Adrian, Mich. Rawlings and Peper are students in the Furniture Making and Wood Design class at the institute. (Mike Dickie/The Daily Telegram via AP)
A toolbox made with dovetail joints is shown during a furniture making class at the Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute, on  Jan. 19, 2021, in Adrian, Mich. Dovetail joints is a skill students learn during the class.   (Mike Dickie/The Daily Telegram via AP)
A toolbox made with dovetail joints is shown during a furniture making class at the Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute, on Jan. 19, 2021, in Adrian, Mich. Dovetail joints is a skill students learn during the class. (Mike Dickie/The Daily Telegram via AP)
James Beauregard, of Lambertville, handcrafts a dovetail joint for a toolbox during a furniture making class on Jan. 19, 2021, in Adrian, Mich. It's one of the many skills students at the Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute learn during the class. (Mike Dickie/The Daily Telegram via AP)
James Beauregard, of Lambertville, handcrafts a dovetail joint for a toolbox during a furniture making class on Jan. 19, 2021, in Adrian, Mich. It's one of the many skills students at the Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute learn during the class. (Mike Dickie/The Daily Telegram via AP)

Distributed by The Associated Press.

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