Sitting one half block south of the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga Woodworking Academy appears like an old General Store made out of handcrafted wood. But the depth and size of the extended structure lend plenty of room for handcrafting log cabins, benches and furniture for the home, which the still-under-construction school will do beginning in September.
"I've been envisioning this for four years," said owner Bill Carney. "I will begin taking students in September. We are building work benches in the academy right now."
In the four-year school, he said students will start out with basic carpentry, go into bench woodwork, cabinet making, millwork and finally furniture making.
"When I first started I went to all the high schools in Hamilton County and the city of Chattanooga to talk to students about coming to the school," said Carney. "There's not one wood shop class offered in Hamilton County public schools."
In his 40-year professional woodworking career, Carney has been a cabinet maker, completed commercial millwork and for the last 15 years he has been a furniture maker. His first year out of college, he taught wood shop. He said he liked teaching the skill to others and went back to school to receive a professional certification to teach. Then he began teaching drafting, wood shop and furniture making at Oak Ridge High School. After seven years of teaching he decided to go into the woodworking business strictly for economic reasons.
"I always wanted to get back into teaching," said Carney. "When I turned 59 years old I decided I needed to get started."
He said he has been fortunate to be able to make a good living with his hands and wants to help others do the same. He said he wants to pass on his skills to others to make sure the craft of woodworking lives on in Chattanooga even after he has passed on.
"You have to invest time and effort," said Carney. "You don't make a lot to start with, but if you stick with it, you do well. It's for people that want to work for themselves. There's a demand even in this economy for skilled carpenters and woodworkers."
Looking back, Carney said master furniture maker the late Robert Dalton inspired him to pursue the art of woodworking. Since that time, Carney estimates he has made thousands of pieces of furniture and hundreds of kitchen cabinets, front doors and special round-top windows.
"As much as I love what I do, I love to see others learn to do what I do more," said Carney. "I'm a born teacher."
He envisions teaching 10 students in the morning and 10 different students in the afternoon at Chattanooga Woodworking Academy.
"This school is for people who want to develop the skills necessary to make a good living with their hands or want to develop a hobby to a high degree," said Carney. "We will begin every class building log houses. This will be done with traditional hand tools such as broad axes, foot adzes and hand saws."
He, along with other local woodworkers, built the Poe's Tavern replica that sits in a park in Soddy-Daisy.
"What I want to do in Chattanooga is to create a culture of craft through Chattanooga Woodworking Academy," said Carney. "In this culture of craft by being cooperative, we will be able to share the cost of marketing and selling products made by these craftsmen across the country and eventually the world. We want tourists to come to Chattanooga Woodworking Academy and see the fine work turned out here and take a piece home with them. We hope to attract people with high-quality small items such as Chattanooga themed wooden boxes, stools and toys."
The academy showroom and a catalog will both showcase a full line of kitchen furniture, cabinets, bedroom suites, desks and tables. Profits from handcrafted items will be used to purchase more supplies for the creation of more student handmade items.