Recently I had the good fortune to attend one week of the summer classes at The College of the Redwoods Fine Furniture program in Fort Bragg, California. I highly recommend the summer program as I learned so much, was exposed to excellent teaching and the best part, I met amazing people from all over the world. Over the next few months I am excited to introduce a few of the talented women I met.
First up is Andrea Cortés. Andrea visited The College of the Redwoods Fine Furniture Program in Fort Bragg from her now home of Barcelona, Spain. I was envious that she was to spend a month at the school summer program and also excited to follow up with her and learn more about her and her woodworking journey.
I wanted to know how Andrea had heard about the school and ended up in a small town on the West Coast of California. We'll get to that part soon but first I asked Andrea how she came to woodworking. Andrea says that she has always been drawn to things related to woodworking, things like: working with tools, fixing things around the house, making gadgets, and building models. She has always enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together and, in general, she is drawn to problem solving. Andrea was born and raised in Colombia. She says that in Colombia manual labor is "unthinkable for a woman as a career" so she never really thought about woodworking as an option; "It just wasn't in the picture." It was made clear to her she should pursue academics and that's how she ended up studying architecture. She says, "it was the closest thing I could feel comfortable with". Her favorite parts of the architecture program were making models and a class on the history of furniture. She worked as an architect after graduation and it wasn't for her, as she says she "just hated it." It didn't fulfill her need to touch things she made. She found it lacking something and she knew she needed a change.
Andrea then began another chapter of her life: she fled to Spain. She needed to get a job in Spain. She needed to make a living so she tried other things and discovered web development. She then needed space to do her work and ended up in a co-working space in Barcelona and that space had a woodshop. Here she started and finished her first project, a folding table a friend needed. Using her CAD experience from architecture school she modeled some ideas and built the table from scrap wood. This was two years ago and she has been hooked ever since, learning to build more and more pieces. She has continued to build furniture projects going on intuition and the help and experience of others in the co-working shop. She's interested in design that is functional with simple lines and less into ornamentation.
She says she loves the day to day of the workshop. She loves "being active and not being in front of a computer for 8-10 hours" at a time. She is drawn to the process of figuring things out and then evaluating progress. She taps into that natural problem solver skill set learning how to come back from a mistake and most importantly learning how to be patient. She says it best: "there's something meditative about the whole thing. I get so into what I'm doing that my mind is free from random useless thoughts. I love the feeling of going to bed tired after a day in the shop." She loves that she is continually learning and is especially interested in learning more about wood, how it moves and lends itself to different types of work.
We talked a bit about what her experience has been as female woodworker. As she had said earlier, being a woodworker in her native country of Colombia was simply not a career option for a woman. Only upon moving to Europe did the woodworking world open up to her and she found a maker community in the shared woodshop. Women are beginning to find a spot in these communities in Europe and while still a minority…things are changing. There is sense of empowerment for women working in the workshop and it's great to see this continue to grow.
Andrea's recommendation for a beginner project is to try a coffee table as it has a few basic components such as putting together a table top and the joinery for the base can be as simple or complex and you desire. She reminds me she's new to woodworking too and her advice is "don't bite off more than you can chew." She says "start with a simple project to learn a couple of techniques." If you want to practice putting together a top, try a cutting board as a warm up project.
What about the College of the Redwoods Fine Furniture program? Andrea just finished a four-week course there, focusing on tools, joinery and even an introduction to steam bending techniques. She found out about the program from a shopmate in Barcelona. She says the program was a "game-changing" month for her as it was the first time receiving formal woodworking education. She highly recommends the school and participating in the full experience. They made their own Krenov-style hand planes, learned how to lap and sharpen plane blades along with chisels and that was just week one! They spent some focused time on joinery (from dovetails to mortise and tenons) and learned how to use and maintain hand tools and power tools. In the final week they got an introduction to advanced techniques including band sawn veneering, steam bending, bent lamination, coopering and tambour panels. She says that "it was an amazing experience to be a part of the College of the Redwoods Fine Furniture community for a month. I had the opportunity to meet amazing people along the way and learn from them too. I'm going home with a lot of ideas and knowledge to start working on new projects."
Check out Andrea's website and follow her journey:
Andrea Ramsay is a dedicated student of hand tool woodworking since attending Port Townsend School of Woodworking and completing their three month intensive program. She left the technology world in 2014 and is happy every day that she traded in her laptop for a chisel. She does commissioned work out of her shop in Seattle's Equinox Studios..
Andrea can be reached directly via email at
and you can check out her website at
and follow her on Instagram at
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