An evening well spent at the Circular Workshop

Friday, 02 February 2024 17:41

As soon as I stepped into the workshop, I knew I had entered an unfamiliar territory. The whole place seemed to be a treasure trove of tools of any sort you could possibly imagine, some of which I didn’t even realise existed. Hammers, screwdrivers, nuts, bolts, sanders, bar clamps, various scraps of wood, and giant machines with blades harbouring the potential to cause serious harm, occupied every nook and cranny of the place.

fatima  2 for webFifth-year medical student Fatima Ahmed.

The floor, blanketed in a fine layer of sawdust, emanated the comforting scent of wood, reminiscent of a furniture store. On the right, a workstation was meticulously adorned with a row of various kinds of drills. ‘This is going to be so out of my comfort zone’, I thought to myself. I took a deep breath, and, armed with the intent to learn something new, put all the anxious thoughts away and quickly scanned the room.

For some reason, I was expecting it to be filled with tall, jacked men with biceps the size of my face, chainsaws in hand, ready to get to work. To my relief, the reality was quite the opposite. The participants were mainly students who, like me, were experiencing the joys of carpentry for the first time as well. We were guided by our instructor, Jim, who, after introducing himself, set about showing us around the workshop and describing the functions of the numerous tools and machines that stood there in all their glory. He started the tour of the place by taking us to the very back of the workshop, which, I then realised, was much larger than it looked. You could find wood of almost every kind here, stacked upright against the wall, and right in the middle, stood a table saw, with heaps of sawdust hugging its legs.

That's when Jim taught us the first and most valuable lesson of woodworking – always keep your hands at a safe distance from blades when working with any equipment that has them. Pretty intuitive you would think, given the size of the blade itself. Yet, just a few minutes later, as I stood in front of the circular saw, hands poised to start the machine, Jim was forced to repeat his instruction, ‘Before you start, do you see how close your fingers are to the blade?’. ‘Oh, right’, I muttered, correcting the placement of my hands and the block of wood.

The rest of the evening was spent trying to replicate a wine glass holder Jim had carved just a few hours before. It looked like a simple structure to make for a beginner – a square with rounded edges, with a circular hole cut into the middle and long diagonal slits made at the corners. Or so I thought.

fatima wood

As unneeded as this creation was going to be for me, as I am neither an alcohol drinker nor a wine glass owner, I still set off about the whole process with great enthusiasm.

Jim assisted us throughout this undertaking with the utmost patience and made the entire three-hour ordeal not only informative but also very enjoyable. I was so engrossed in the assignment that I was oblivious to my surroundings, solely focused on completing the task to the best of my abilities. Some of us were even able to work on our own little projects and we were very kindly given an open invitation to visit the workshop if some spark of inspiration ever drew us to it.

All in all, it was an evening well spent. I was able to acquire a great deal of knowledge about the artistry required to master the craft of woodworking. The intricate details and the required attention to detail for this remarkable trade have left me in complete awe. I am eternally grateful for this opportunity and will definitely be paying a visit once more if time permits.

Scenes from various woodshops: illustrative photos by Shutterstock.


About the author
Fatima Ahmed is a fifth-year med student at the First Faculty of Medicine at Charles University. From Pakistan, Fatima was born and raised in Dubai, U. A.E., where she still resides. Beyond her passion for medicine, Fatima says she loves various sports and exploring new destinations through travel: “I'm a bit of a nature enthusiast, so I grasp every opportunity to break free from the confines of my books and indulge in invigorating hikes,” she admits. The woodshop Fatima attended was at the Circular Workshop at Kampus Hybernská - a vibrant and key site at Charles University jointly administered by CU and the City of Prague, credited with bringing people together.


What is Insight?
Insight is our newest feature at Forum EN, offering valuable student perspectives and writing from student ambassadors. The aim is to describe - with greater insight and detail - the experience of being at Charles University, providing a glimpse into everyday or even extraordinary moments that might otherwise be 'lost' in the rush of academic life and 'forgotten' under a pile of textbooks. Thanks in advance to all contributors - and good luck!


Author: Fatima Ahmed
Photo: personal archive, Shutterstock