Which brings up a good point. Though Covell builds upon a really basic foundation that even a beginner can understand, his courses find followers among jaded professionals just the same. When asked why he enrolled in Sunday's beginning aluminum class, Marshall Woolery, an accomplished shaper in his own right, responded, "Because I haven't learned it all yet." Woolery, owner of Thun Field Rod & Custom in nearby Tacoma, continued, "I took one of Ron's classes years ago and learned a lot then. I figure if I learn two things this time it'll be worth it." That he did was no surprise, only he didn't expect it by the first break. Covell offers a series of advanced courses for those looking to build upon the basics.
Why novices and experts alike benefit from the classes is a result of Covell's career in the metal shaping world; one doesn't work among some of the most talented craftsmen in this industry and not fill up a bag of tricks. And these are the heavy hitters, too: Kent White, Ron Fournier, Cass Nawrocki, and Scott Knight, just to name a few. Consider Covell's courses his way to broadcast the information he's learned.
The varying methods Covell presents are significant, if only because they underscore the intense latitude metal shaping offers, there really are few rules as these methods prove. One worker, as Covell noted, hammers metal exclusively on a small, thick, flat steel plate to replicate intensely curvy shapes like Ferrari race car bodies. He uses that example to emphasize just how simple metal shaping tools can be. "All it really takes is a mallet, bag, a hammer, and a dolly," he observes. And though he admits an affinity for more sophisticated tools like the English wheel ("...because they're so quiet," he says), he holds the basics—the hollowed-out oak stumps and hammers shaped from scrap materials that built those early Ferrari bodies—in equally high esteem. "You can work with the simplest tools," he often proclaims.
Each class begins at 9:30 a.m. each morning and ends theoretically at 5 p.m. But as we learned on the first day Covell uses the curriculum, not the clock, as his gauge (he went 'til quarter to 6 and—get this—apologized for it). Numerous breaks, including an hour-long lunch supplied by the class host, divide the span into manageable bits.
As noted earlier, Covell allocates each day to a specific material. If we have one recommendation beyond taking a class, it's this: take both, even if you have no intent to work in the alternate material. Despite their differences, Covell explained, steel and aluminum respond similarly to basic methods (in fact, aluminum is far more forgiving, a confidence builder to paraphrase Covell). And while at first glance splitting the information over two classes seems a ploy to extract twice the money, it's an honest and inevitable consequence. It would be simply impossible to impart the breadth and depth of what he offers twice in a weekend—hell, it's too much to do the subject justice in just a weekend. So if you do one, do both. You won't regret it.
And while the course is tutorial only, Covell's accommodating nature makes it quite interactive. Among other things he invites questions and students' personal experiences and tricks they've acquired over the years. It's for those reasons that no two Covell classes are exactly alike.
As Ron Covell repeatedly emphasizes, there really isn't anything magical about shaping metal: it's simply bending, shrinking, and stretching with simple tools, many of which predate written history. It's not to say that mastery is easy; even he admits that nearly half a century after he started he faces challenges. But as he emphasizes, metal shaping is definitely within the grasp of anyone willing to invest themselves in the processes. It's how people like you and I can learn these age-old crafts, no Edison bulbs required.