Woodworking and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

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Blog entry by Eli posted 01-19-2011 06:48 PM 2249 reads 1 time favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Originally I had planned this blog post to be about the Dunning-Kruger effect and how it manifests itself in woodworking forums and woodworking conversations in general. (Before you continue reading, check out the above link for a quick primer on the Dunning-Kruger effect). It’s not such a stretch to connect the D-K effect and woodworking, and I found it interesting that the effect is an actual thing, not just a perceived difference between the knowledgeable and, well, everyone else. But as it turns out, there’s some debate over whether the effect is actually what it seems, so I’m forced to adjust my rant slightly.

I was planning to point to the endless debates about woodworking tools and techniques that we engage in on forums, casting them in the light of the D-K effect. With the implications a little less exact, I’m forced to make broader points. Regardless of interpretation, the experiments show that people generally aren’t so good at recognizing their own ability, or lack thereof. The simple conclusion, and one I support, is that we shouldn’t buy into all the hype. When someone claims to be next big thing, well maybe they are and maybe they aren’t. Despite the significant growth of woodworking communities online, context is still lacking. Though many users browse multiple forums, there is still a significant “us vs. them” mentality preventing thorough exploration. The “local” forum champion, wherever he/she may actually live, is held in the highest regard, while the challengers are scorned for using too many power tools, or not enough, or using plywood, etc. In a field still struggling to transcribe all the secrets of the masters, misinformation spreads much more quickly and convincingly through forums. The overwhelming size and scope of websites prevent oversight, while the flurry of new topics buries older queries before a quality source can be found (much less verified). Consequently, the knowledge of the forum “hero” is disseminated and digested by users, while the insight of the truly experienced never makes it to the board.

I seem to have gone a bit away from my intended direction, but I kind of like it. In summary, this should read like a wordy caveat to those woodworkers scanning all the forums out there for “the answer.” When it comes to the selecting a “voice of authority” to listen to, choose wisely.


edited to add links, thanks rw

14 comments so far

View rwyoung's profile


409 posts in 3494 days

#1 posted 01-19-2011 07:00 PM

You use plywood!!!!!!!! Bwaaaahahahaha! ;)

Oh, and no link, perhaps you meant to add this one:

-- Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

View PurpLev's profile


8536 posts in 3670 days

#2 posted 01-19-2011 07:05 PM


I agree with both (even though there seem to be more than just 2) points made. One being that the more proficient woodworkers are not always the more noticed or more listened to, and in turn those that are less competent but know how to turn on CAPS are. I think this is why it’s so refreshing going to woodworking shows, or (better yet) exhibitions and see actual finished work of others up close to understand the difference between knowledge, and experience. The other point being that with all the online forums and the massive amount of members, it’s quite easy to get pulled on the “if you want to do this, you need to buy that” train and completely lose the focus on the core subject being woodworking which can be done with very little to very high standards.

sometimes you have to get out of the box to get reminded what it is that we are trying to do here, there and everywhere.

Thanks for the post!

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View lilredweldingrod's profile


2496 posts in 3129 days

#3 posted 01-19-2011 08:36 PM

Hey Eli, Now I have a question; Where does the Peter Principle fit in to this? They sure sound as if they are connected.

View Tony Strupulis's profile

Tony Strupulis

260 posts in 3145 days

#4 posted 01-19-2011 08:37 PM

This should show up on every forum you try to enter. You would have to read it and accept it like any other terms of use screen. But who really reads those anyway?

The nice thing about LJ is that you can click on someone’s profile to see what their actual skill level is. That makes for a good reality check against “inflammatory” forum posts.

-- Tony -

View Bob Simmons's profile

Bob Simmons

505 posts in 3036 days

#5 posted 01-19-2011 08:38 PM

To find gold one must shovel and separate lots of dirt. and … All that glitters is not gold.

-- Bob Simmons, Las Vegas, NV,

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3330 days

#6 posted 01-19-2011 08:44 PM

Similar to the “big fish in a little pond” and the “little fish in a big pond” scenarios. I personally just have fun doing what I do and try avoiding comparing myself to others and the skill levels…whatever they might be.

View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3182 days

#7 posted 01-19-2011 09:09 PM

I’m more along the lines of the Eddie-Kruger effect. If I make something that looks like crap, then I smash it all up and put it in the fireplace to destroy the evidence.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4027 days

#8 posted 01-19-2011 09:43 PM

I’ve never met anyone i thought was enlightened on a subject that would say the same thing about themselves. If they do say it, then they cease to seem enlightened. Sort of like the weird particles in quantum physics. Where merely observing them changes their very nature.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 2962 days

#9 posted 01-19-2011 10:14 PM

A rare blog post…meaningful…words of substance…

Thank you for introducing me to the Dunning-Kruger effect. Very interesting…some valid points…I have some reading to do….

In the end, only the work should speak…

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View Bertha's profile


13529 posts in 2715 days

#10 posted 01-19-2011 10:24 PM

To see a really fantastic example of the argument above, check out a bodybuilding forum. Any will do. The stud du jour will provide all manner of impossible accomplishments and non-scientific methods. I devised the FAF (forum adjustment factor) which reduces the posters height by 3 inches and poundages by 45%. Of course, on the internet, I’m 6’7” and bench 775 pounds. I also have never heard of plywood and hand-cut bookmatched veneer. :) Thanks for posting this!

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View BritBoxmaker's profile


4611 posts in 3058 days

#11 posted 01-19-2011 11:57 PM

No-one has all the answers. I think its good to try things out for yourself, experiment, and find out what works for you.

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 2910 days

#12 posted 01-20-2011 12:23 AM

Hi Eli.

I’ve spent a number of years going from site to site seaking one where I felt at home and could actually learn something worthwhile.

After all that time as a seaker, I have settled upon two sites I feel fit my own needs almost perfectly.

One is the one we are on now, and the other is one I’m sure you are familiar with as well, Tommy MacDonald’s site.

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View shipwright's profile


7992 posts in 2820 days

#13 posted 01-20-2011 01:38 AM

Tony made a great point. If in doubt about advice, check the profile and projects of the offerer.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View mpounders's profile


875 posts in 2917 days

#14 posted 01-21-2011 06:24 PM

I have also noticed that some people who are experts or talented in a particular field, sometimes consider that as adequate credentials to be authorities in other areas! And the opposite can also apply…..just because someone has little knowledge on a particular subject, does not mean that they are not gifted in any or all other fields. The humorist Will Rogers supposedly said, “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects!” I get frustrated at times when dealing with people and it reminds me that I need to avoid being the source of that frustration for others! And that everyone is not as expert or as courteous a driver as I am!

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

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