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He built it and they came

Raul Ramirez, founder and director of the Southwest Center for Craftsmanship’s School of Fine Woodworking in Phoenix, knew there was a void in the local market for a school that taught fine woodworking skills, but would there be enough students to fill the classes? So far, so good.

The Phoenix school offers plenty of bench space.

“The school was started because there was no woodworking school that offered a comprehensive woodworking program in Arizona. There are some community colleges and high schools that teach classes, but nothing dedicated on the craft like this,” Ramirez says.

Ramirez is a retired theoretical atomic physicist who took up woodworking as a hobby in the 1970s, making furniture for friends and relatives. He joined the Arizona Association of Fine Woodworkers, taking a turn as president, and opened the school with his own money.

“Our purpose as an association was to educate our members and promote woodworking throughout the community and to make items for children and women’s crisis centers — things like that. We had demonstrations at each meeting, then had a mentor’s workshop the following week on whatever was presented,” Ramirez says.

“In 2012, the members started discussing having a school, but it seemed too hard to do because of the risk of indemnifying the board of directors and others so that’s when I decided to do it myself.”

Students with their completed projects.

He leased a 1,040-sq.-ft. building in January 2013 and classes began. The school currently offers 40 classes for beginner to advanced students. Most classes are held during the evening hours.

“We bring in a lot of big names here like Frank Klausz, Michael Fortune, Paul Schürch, Mary May, George Walker and others. Those classes run all day.”

The school currently offers 40 classes.

Weekend workshops have been held on wood bending, repair and restoration, inlay and marquetry, and advanced router carving. About 60 students have gone through the school, including some who’ve tried to take almost all of the classes. About 5 percent of the students aspire to be professional woodworkers.

“My goal for the future of the school is I’d like to expand and get us into a different building so we can host more than one class at a time and maybe offer a two-year certification. And I also want to have it like a school for people to come and work on things that they’re making on their own. Many of our students don’t have workshops so they come to the school to work on their projects. However, we do treat those like classes so that they’re legally enrolled and subject to our insurance.”

Contact: Southwest Center for Craftsmanship, 1321 E. Monte Cristo Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85022. Tel: 480-734-0274.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue.

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