Bill Carney wants to create a culture of craftsmen in Chattanooga and nurture the talents of individuals who are interested in making a living by working with their hands.

The Chattanooga Woodworking Academy, founded by Carney, will open its doors for the first time this fall and will offer both programs for both beginners and advanced woodworkers looking to gain additional skills and experience.


Carney has been making a living working with his hands since college. From his early days teaching in the woodworking shop at Lookout Valley High School and the Sequoyah Vocational School to his 30-year career building custom homes, cabinets and furniture for high-end clients, Carney said he is ready to combine his love for creating and his love for teaching.

The dream of the former schoolteacher and master craftsman has been in the works for many years now. Carney said he thought he would have the school open in 2008, but after the recession hit, it was harder to secure the financing needed.

Now with the necessary funds in hand and a refurbished 1940s former brake shop on Market Street in Chattanooga’s revitalized Southside district as the location, Carney said the academy’s first students will begin classes this fall.

The school will function similarly to a traditional trade school with a two-year apprenticeship program and a two-year journeyman program. There are two 20-week semesters each year, with morning classes for beginners and afternoon classes for the more advanced. Those who complete all four years will receive certification as a master craftsman, according to Carney.

Night and weekend classes will be offered to part-time hobbyists and others who aren’t interested in pursuing careers in woodworking.

But for those who are, Carney said the master designation will give each student the necessary skills to enter the field of professional woodworking as a top wage-earning craftsman or manager.

From basic technical drawing, identification of various woods and tools, carving, lathe work, and advanced design and furniture making, Carney said all classes will have both shop and field components, including project work on job sites building homes and custom interiors.

Carney’s commitment to working with his hands and nurturing a like-minded community in Chattanooga taps into his inner historian.

Citing local turn-of-the century history, the academy’s brochure laments the disappearance of the numerous mills and other woodworking enterprises that helped the city become an “industrial powerhouse” after the Civil War.

According to the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, during the turn of the century, Tennessee led the nation in the production of hardwoods like oak, yellow poplar and hickory. Beyond supplying lumber and paper, the encyclopedia says that “wood from the Southern Highlands was used for the manufacture of photographic print stock at Kingsport, and wood pulp was used for the production of rayon at Elizabethton.”

Carney said today there is plenty of work for skilled cabinetmakers and woodworkers. His recent work on the historic Poe’s Tavern in Soddy-Daisy has helped raise money for the new academy, and he hopes similar historic and contemporary residential projects will provide valuable and practical experience for academy students.

Anyone interested in learning more about the classes, tuition and enrollment can contact Carney by calling 423-842-1469 or emailing him at [email protected]