January 25, 2013
Woodworking provides a counterbalance to Jim Hood’s job as a professor of English, and he’s sharing that longtime hobby with students during January Term.
“There’s really a strong emphasis on experiential learning in the J-Term, so I wanted to do something tangible and visceral,” Hood said. “I’ve been a woodworker for about 30 years as a hobbyist, and I thought I’d give other people a chance to experience that.”
The project he’s leading, Woodworking & Furniture History, involves much more than physical labor, of course.
“Some of the students may have been surprised by how much thinking work goes into woodworking,” he said. “There are 100 decisions you have to make.
“You have to measure things; you have to plan steps as they go, even if you have a plan in front of you; you have to use a lot of math. It’s a lot more involved than just copying from some schematic.”
Students are getting a lot out of the project.
“The students seem to enjoy it,” said Hood. “They’re really into it — they’ve been spending more time in the shop than I have. They’ve really liked having just one thing to focus on.”
“The experience has been fantastic,” said Ivey Long ’13, one of Hood’s students. “I’ve mostly enjoyed the process of watching everything come together so nicely (it’s really exciting to attach pieces for the first time), on my own project and on other people’s.”
Hood also thinks that learning about woodworking has a lot to offer in and of itself.
“Furniture is really in the background of our lives,” said Hood. “It’s just kind of functional. I think it’s important to develop an appreciation for things in the background of our lives, and to take the time to focus in on things of which we are generally unaware.”
The project doesn’t just focus on woodworking as a practice, either. It incorporates furniture history. The students all had to do independent research and present on a furniture style or maker. The group also went on two field trips to furniture museums.
“There’s a lot of furniture history here in North Carolina, so it’s a really good setting in which to do this,” said Hood. “The students really enjoyed being able to see actual pieces of furniture and how they would have been made. They were on their hands and knees examining the pieces.”
According to Hood, he had his own learning experience in putting together a course for the January Term format.
“This was my first time teaching anything like this,” said Hood. “Figuring out how much time everything would take was a challenge. Certain things took longer than I expected.
“I also had to explain things in words while showing people how to do something in order to make the material stick. It was difficult, because using a handsaw, for example, is something you really need to get a feel for.”
Though the January Term format caused some challenges in navigating how a project would flow, Long thinks the experience was great.
“This J-term has been quiet and relaxing, which gave me a lot of time to focus solely on my project,” said Long. “I’ve enjoyed the low-stress environment on campus, and having my time structured in the same way every day is very refreshing.”
Hood also thinks that the January Term provided a great environment for learning, and that the opportunity to put one’s all into something without worrying about a lot of other things is very special.
“I think I would do this again,” said Hood. “Some things would change, obviously. I’ve learned a lot. I’m thinking very strongly that I’d like to do this again.”
Story by David Pferdekamper ’12