Woodworking school enrolls a first

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 3/7/17

Brandon Denning took the long way to arrive at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Preservation Trades, but his G.I. Bill helped him walk through the door.

Denning, 27, is the school’s …

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Woodworking school enrolls a first


Brandon Denning took the long way to arrive at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Preservation Trades, but his G.I. Bill helped him walk through the door.

Denning, 27, is the school’s first student to use G.I. Bill funding to attend a course. He left the U.S. Marine Corps in August 2012 after four years in, during which time he was deployed to Afghanistan twice, served in the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion and attained the rank of sergeant.

It was just days before Christmas of last year that the school received news that it had passed the Veterans Administration’s (VA) licensing and certification requirements, which Denning took advantage of starting in early January of this year.

While Denning now lives in Chimacum, he was bereft of both roots and future plans for several years after separating from the service.

“When I got out of the Marine Corps, I had no game plan at all,” Denning said. “I bought a one-way ticket to Europe and spent the next six months hitchhiking. I finally flew out of Egypt to come back to the United States.”

Prior to his European trip and his time with the Marines, Denning’s only travels overseas had been a month in Japan during his senior year of high school. He returned to America with some newfound wisdom, but was as aimless as ever.

“I realized that I can do without most things,” Denning said. “I essentially lived out of a 35-liter backpack, camping out a lot and spending very little.”


About a month after starting college, he found himself so disinterested in his courses that he felt like he would be wasting his G.I. Bill by continuing to attend. He successfully completed a four-month trade school culinary arts program, only to find that field didn’t hold much interest for him either.

When a friend moved to Port Hadlock to attend the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, Denning joined him in making the move, but decided that a similar school seemed more suited to the self-discoveries he’d made overseas.

“With boatbuilding, it’s more of a coordinated effort, using larger tools and equipment,” Denning said. “I knew I wanted to work more on my own, and produce complete pieces by myself.

At the School of Woodworking, I’m using hand tools for more traditional ends. I like knowing that, if I were to fell a tree, I could produce whatever I wanted out of it, without having to depend on others.”

Within the next month or so, Denning expects to complete the Foundations of Woodworking – a course developed six years ago by local craftsmen Jim Tolpin, John Marckworth and Tim Lawson – but he’s already looking for more 12-week courses he can attend at the school throughout the year.


Lawson, executive director of the school, deemed the woodworking courses “powerful transformative experiences for each and every student,” and expressed his gratitude to the VA for certifying the courses.

“I believe that immersion in the craft of woodworking, learning the skills and allowing a passion for making to develop, are all powerful tools to help veterans find meaningful work as they transition to civilian life,” Lawson said.

Denning, in turn, praised the “outstanding school” for its “excellent learning environment” and instructors, whom he deemed both knowledgeable and well-known nationwide in the woodworking field.

“They really take the time to teach you the proper techniques,” Denning said.

Denning appreciates the style of his instructor Abel Dances, and feels inspired every time he listens to a lecture by Tolpin.

“I’m definitely interested in buying some land and building a timber-framed ‘tiny house’ here on the peninsula,” Denning said. “And after listening to Jim’s talks about building homes and making furniture based on simple ratios and my own proportions, I’m going to apply for the furniture making course this fall.”

“As an ex–U.S. Navy submariner, I know how important the G.I. Bill was for me, setting out on my career in the ’70s,” said Bill Wise, chair of the School of Woodworking board. “This program delivers core woodworking skills, prized by contractors looking for workers in the current building boom, and these skills will be a lifelong asset for any vet.”

Currently, the G.I. Bill can be applied to three of the school’s courses.

For more information about the Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Preservation Trades, located in the old power plant, Building 315, at Fort Worden State Park, visit ptwoodschool.org.


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