Observations #6: The Value of a Pro

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Blog entry by Russel posted 05-05-2008 10:00 PM 1244 reads 0 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: What's in a Name Part 6 of Observations series Part 7: I Need More Time »

For about 5 years I made my living fixing computer systems for businesses who’s owner’s nephew knew something about computers. More often than not, my task was to take the work of a hobbyist and revise it for a professional environment. Contrary to what many believe, there is a vast difference between a professional computer person and a person who fiddles with their home system. Home and work are two different worlds.

A while ago, I had a conversation with a friend who was considering home-schooling. He believed that because he and his wife had college educations they were more than qualified to teach academic subjects through high school. My response was to tell him the story of my own, misguided, attempt to equate myself to the pros based on slightly related experience.

I had been in a couple bands in high school and even took extended course work in music theory. While performing with a community choir, I had the opportunity to perform with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra—- that was cool. However, when we got to rehearsal, I found that the pros are expected to know, not learn. The conductor went through the score and said, “At measure 127 I want a slight increase in the horn section, okay, let’s hear it.” We did about 10 measures and then it was on to the next piece. We never went through the whole program. It was assumed that we knew and to go through it in detail was a waste of time.

Here on LumberJocks, there has been a bit of conversation about what pros do, or should do. For the most part, I’ve tried to keep my nose clean (and it has been hard), since I ain’t no pro. How the pros use the site is not my call, but one for Martin and those he looks to for input. And, until the pros start telling me I’m not welcome here, I’ll hang around because you can’t do better than learning from a pro.

The professional has authority to say things that I cannot say. I do things that work for me and some of those things are good and some of those things are less than desirable. However, I have no real risk. I have no reputation and what I do is for my enjoyment and education. The pros on the other hand have not only their reputation, but their livelihood on the line. The result of this situation is an awareness of consequences that I need not concern myself with. An experienced professional wil typically encounter more situations and oddities than any hobbyist. Unless they’re stupid and arrogant, this gives the pros a distinct advantage and an acquired wisdom that deserves deference on my part.

The professionals on LumberJocks add a legitimacy to the site that does not exist in hobby forums. The professionals provide wisdom that can only be had by engaging risk. The professionals speak with authority that most of us can only dream of. I, for one, appreciate the pros.

-- Working at Woodworking

15 comments so far

View trifern's profile


8135 posts in 3189 days

#1 posted 05-05-2008 10:24 PM

Nicely said Russel. I enjoy having the pros around too. I certainly need as much help as I can get.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3167 days

#2 posted 05-05-2008 10:31 PM

Russel, I’d like to share a story.
In the town where I grew up there was a low clearance railroad trestle over Main Street. One day a pulp wood truck, stacked a little higher than it should have been, came down Main St. and got itself stuck under that railroad trestle. Well, this was a big to-do in our little town, since nothing much ever happened there. They had the Mayor, the Fire Chief, Police Chief, Public Works Supervisor, Railroad Maintenance Supervisor, and just about anybody else that thought they might have an educated idea on how to get this truck out assembled there. They talked about jacking the trestle up or cutting a section out. They tried to figure out how they could get some of the load off the truck and move it out. This went on for about an hour. About that time a young boy on a bicycle came riding by. He stopped and watched for about a minute, while everyone was scratching their heads. He waited for a lull in the conversation and said ” Let the air out of the tires.” Then he rode off. All the “educated folks looked at each other, with their red faces, wondering why they hadn’t thought of that.
So the moral of the story is: No matter who you are, nobody is to insignificant to have an opinion not
worth listening to.

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 3297 days

#3 posted 05-05-2008 11:01 PM

I know I will never have the competence of a pro. I have a desire to attain the highest level I can as a hobbiest, and this site continues to be head, shoulders, armpits and waistlines above any other site. The pros here are willing to observe, comment, and suggest on any topic. Good post Russel.

View manilaboy's profile


177 posts in 3357 days

#4 posted 05-06-2008 01:41 AM

I’d like to think that’s what the pro’s in Lumberjocks are. Real pro’s. One who takes the time to teach everything he has learned over the years. One who is willing to impart his knowledge to others and he himself enjoys and takes great satisfaction and pride in doing so. One who will answer any question no matter how insignificant or trivial you might think it is. One who does not look down on anybody because in his heart he knows he had gone through the same path. He was also an apprentice once. He also had a mentor before him. That’s my pro.

-- "Real jocks do it on a bench"

View Blake's profile


3442 posts in 3296 days

#5 posted 05-06-2008 08:28 AM

Hmmm, Russel, you make some good points, and I agree with some of them, but agree to disagree with some as well.

“Until the pros start telling me I’m not welcome here…” First of all, I don’t want anybody to think that this website is or ever was designed just for “Pros.” Lumberjocks is a community of people interested in discussing, learning, teaching, or just exploring woodworking as an art form, hobby, vocation, passion, or necessary skill. (Just had to make that clear in case any newcomers read your post.)

The main point I disagree with is the automatic assumption that pro woodworkers always know more than “amateur” woodworkers. I have encountered many instances to the contrary. What does it mean to be a professional woodworker? Well, it means that you must make a profit from your work. And how do you make a profit? Well, in my opinion you must at least be either very good, or very efficient (or both).

Now the funny thing about being efficient, is that a lot of “professional woodworkers” that I have come across have defaulted to the very efficient category by learning a trade, figuring out what works (or what the market demands) and sticking to it.

Do I really need a disclaimer here to point out that I am not talking about all pro woodworkers? Well I guess I’d better include it anyway… I’m not talking about all pro woodworkers. There are a lot of pro woodworkers who I know personally who are extraordinary craftsman and are truly an inspiration to me… I will always look up to them. (And besides, if you are a pro woodworker on Lumberjocks, I immediately have immense respect for you. So if you are reading this, you can’t get mad at me.)

But what I am talking about are the thousands of run-of-the-mill Big Box store cabinet factory workers, carpenters, Ikea-like furniture makers, and such all across the world who make a great living as a “professional woodworker” but don’t know the difference between a dado and a dovetail, and couldn’t cut one with a handsaw to save their lives… because the don’t have to.

The hobbiest, on the other hand, does woodworking because he/she is passionate about it. And for many, that means reading every single piece of literature including books, magazines, movies, journals, catalogs, and websites. It means constantly craving information to no end.

I once (actually several times) visited a cabinet shop because I was so enamored by the thought of a professional woodworker. But I left in such disappointment. It was so different than my world of woodworking. The shop was dirty and unorganized. His shop was filled with expensive and apparently abused machinery. With his young assistant helping, he ran a router around a large arc of mahogany to profile the edge. As it reached the apex, the grain clearly switched directions. I felt myself start to ask… but he was the pro. He knew what he was doing. He had been doing this for thirty years. I was the kid, and I was going to learn what it was all about…. Well that mahogany exploded as it caught the router bit in a climb cut. He spent a few moments cursing and then muttered that maybe it was time that I left.

He was the professional. He had built a successful and profitable business from his trade. There was no reason for him to spend long hours into the night reading books and magazines and blogging on Lumberjocks. He got the job done and got paid.

You said yourself that “I have no real risk. I have no reputation and what I do is for my enjoyment and education.” This is exactly what empowers you. Pro’s may not have (or take) the opportunity to take a risk and learn something, or try something different. A lot of the time they have to stick to what they know is quick and profitable, which is very limiting.

Now I know I am getting controversial. Please refer again to my above disclaimer. As far as putting the “pro” on a pedestal, some are and some aren’t. You just can’t assume that because they make money doing something, that they have more authority on the subject than the passionate “amateur.”

By the way, Translated from its French origin to the English “lover of”, the term “amateur” reflects a voluntary motivation to work as a result of personal passion for a particular activity. (Wikipedia)

-- Happy woodworking!

View John's profile


10 posts in 3121 days

#6 posted 05-06-2008 11:18 AM

I guess you guys have covered both ends of the topic. What I think each of you is saying is that you welcome someone to the site that is human. Someone who does not think himself better than others yet knows his ability and is willing to share his knowledge. Someone who does not think himself less than others because he seeks a knowledge and understanding that others have already gained.
Both willing to seek and share. Both desiring to improve ….one by helping someone else and in the process gaining fresh knowledge and insight….the other by being helped and reaching toward a goal of self improvement as well as gaining skill and ability.

I haven’t been on this site long but have quickly learned that the comments are always positive, always aimed at helping and improving. Sure some times making a point may be a little, “controversial.” But the point being made is not a personal attack, but rather a thought provoking observation hoping that all consider their own personal goals with, perhaps, a little somber reflection to insure we are all headed in the right direction.

Thank each of you for the postings, projects, comments, and time taken to share. It is so rare to find an individual willing to share, much less a web site filled with individuals with similar goals willing to share the ups and the downs in reaching toward making something using hard work, study, sharing, the level of ability attained at that time and the wood that God provided for us to use. Wonder what ever came of the carpender that was chosen to raise, and teach, Jesus. That task had to be given to a woodworker!


View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 3361 days

#7 posted 05-06-2008 11:50 AM

Interesting thoughts guys, though I think I should clarify something. I didn’t mean to imply that pros were necessarily more skilled and smarter than hobbyists, just more credible. For example, if Bob builds something 10 times and Tom builds something once, the reasonable conclusion is that Bob has a better idea of what’s involved than Tom. If I had to choose who to believe, I choose Bob. He may be wrong, but the odds are against it.

And, I think many of the pros here have said that the priority of the professional is making a living. And to make a living, you’ll either need a really big market where you can run away from your mistakes, or you need to be competent enough to be asked to do it again. Efficiency and quality do not have to be mutually exclusive. Keeping the two in balance is the mark of a successful pro. To my understanding, if you emphasize one over the other, and you are either a starving artist, or just starving.

-- Working at Woodworking

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3809 posts in 3444 days

#8 posted 05-06-2008 02:02 PM

Can anyone explain to me why folks join a forum such as this and the first thing they do is ask a technical question regarding purchase of tools and equipment and then qualify the potential answers by putting very low budget in place.
Most of us realize that it just can’t be done with the bottom end junk out there yet we are constantly asked to evaluate it.

Where would most of us get that experience?

Would it help to have a “recommended list”?
Would they bother to look at it or just burn up more bandwidth anyway?
Would a newby section take some of the burden off the forum?

Think about 4300 members and over 200,000 responses.


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3167 days

#9 posted 05-06-2008 03:38 PM

Bob, I think the one work answer to your question would be “newbie”. Some folks don’t really want to get into something by investing a lot of money in it, then find out it’s not their bag. Maybe when you first started making furniture or whatever, you bought exotic wood from Tasmania, but I started out making stuff out of pine and poplar, then moved up to flat sawn wood, then finally to the more expensive wood. There’s a learning curve for most people and some aren’t willing to pay much to find out what’s involved until they know they will make it around. I used to run into the “Trust Fund Babies” up in Maine, that figured if you threw enough money at the hobby you would become a world renown furniture maker, accepted and loved by all. I found that they could buy friends that could get them some connections, but some of their work was much to write home about.
People don’t like to admit that they don’t have a clue about how to start something, so that’s where the waffling comes in. If we’re here to help, then either don’t waste your time answering their post or have a little patience with them.
Ok, I’m off my soap box.

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3809 posts in 3444 days

#10 posted 05-06-2008 04:09 PM

Hi Tenontrim:
I agree with what you are saying.
That does not, however make those of us already committed to the craft experts on the latest entry level tools and equipment.
Generally our first experiences were several years ago and not even relative to the question.
Suffice it to say that if anybody goes to a website and or a physical store with a calculator in hand they can quickly qualify themselves for this hobby or craft or profession.
I’m not suggesting that newbies should not ask questions before taking up this sport but asking questions about questionable junk that’s cheap doesn’t really get the answers they are looking for either.

I guess I don’t want to respond when my answer is boxed in by a ridiculous budget.


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3167 days

#11 posted 05-06-2008 04:27 PM

I hear you, Bob. It amazes me too, when someone gets 10 or 12 good answers to a question, and one from left field that almost doesn’t even qualify as valid, and they say they are going with the odd ball. Sometimes, even though it can be dangerous, the only way people learn is by their mistakes. Oh, well. That’s why they have the “Darwin Award” every year.

View jjohn's profile


390 posts in 3136 days

#12 posted 05-07-2008 04:18 AM

We here are all examples of wood workers from no knowledge to experts, and the questions asked would naturally range from no clue, to I already know everything and don’t have to ask any questions. Because of such a mixture the inexperienced to “Pro’s” The pro’s must remember that the inexperienced will in fact ask questions that are sometimes off based. That is probably what intrigues me most about Lj’s. It’s the first forum I have ever belonged to that you don’t have to fear asking one of those questions because the rest are all nice enough and wise enough to understand and simple try to help. And by the way…some of the most beauitful carvings I have ever seen were cut from and old cheap pocket knife.

-- JJohn

View odie's profile


1690 posts in 3262 days

#13 posted 05-11-2008 04:22 PM

Russel, Thank You and sorry it took me so long to find this. I couldn’t agree more with most of everything that has been said here. Blake, I hope I’m not in that category just knocking “them” out to sell. Although it feels that way sometimes.

About me … I worked for “Ma Bell” for more than thirty years, and most of it in Truckee (23 years). It was miserable sometimes at 6000’ or higher in 20 feet of snow, but I loved it. I was considered one of the best at what I did (cable splicing) and even taught it for awhile. The politics of that got to me after awhile and I went back to the tools. Since the age of 10 I have been a woodworker and grabbed every trick, idea, or tool I could find. Some of the guys at work would buy my jewelry boxes at cost from me, at Christmas, for their wives. That gave me an Idea for when I retired … WORK FOR ME and not someone else … and woodworking chose ME. The phone company made that decision for me two years earlier than I planned with a “golden handshake”. That was five years ago, and I’ve never looked back.

Now I am faced with those “politics” again. In fact they almost drove me away from LumberJocks. But, I love to share my knowledge, and some think too much. “He uses his web site for profit here.” NO HE DOESN’T … he uses it for two reasons. I designed it and I’m proud of it. It also helps you get to know me.

Since I have been here some of you so called “amateurs” have put me to shame with your talent. I just happen to have a knack for using a certain jig. I’m here for “FUN” and this serious crap is starting to get to me. That’s why my comments are ending. This is a six day old blog, so what I wrote will not be read much … thank God.

OH jjohn there really is no such thing as a stupid question … honest.

-- Odie, Confucius say, "He who laughs at one's self is BUTT of joke". (my funny blog)

View unknownwoodworker's profile


221 posts in 3126 days

#14 posted 05-11-2008 11:24 PM

I keep running into you Odie. Thanks I kind of like that.

-- ??? My mistakes heat the house. It's very warm in here. ???

View acanthuscarver's profile


268 posts in 3134 days

#15 posted 05-31-2008 06:24 PM


From a pro, thank you for your blog post. I made the same points in a conversation I had with Adam Cherubini a couple of months ago. His response was “that’s not fair”. I fully understand his point that an amateur may have tons of ability and talent but the reality of the situation is I’ve had a lot more “practice”. Does that mean I think there is no way an amateur can carve a ball and claw foot as well as me? No. In fact, I’m sure there are those that can do it better. Does it mean that an amateur should “expect” he can do it as consistently and expeditiously as I can? The chances are, he or she can’t. It’s not a matter of a pro being dramatically more talented, it’s a function of repetition. Does that make the observation you and I share ‘unfair’ as Adam thought? I don’t think so. I’ve seen immensely talented amateurs but they lack the ability to “produce” an object in a fashion where their quality is at their peak while also being able to make a living doing it. It’s purely a matter of practicing with a deadline. Nothing hones your skills more than having to keep your quality level at the highest possible level while doing in a timely manner so you can pay the rent. This is exactly what you discovered in your orchestra analogy.

As a pro, I’m here because woodworking is my passion. I also am passionate about teaching others how to become the best they can be. Here, and in the classes I teach, I see people with massive desire, talent and skills. Using my ball and claw foot analogy, an amateur may be passionate and have the ability to turn out a single foot but what happens when he moves to the second or third? Can I help that person get a better result by telling them about the little tips and tricks I learned or developed over the years of carving hundreds of ball and claw feet? You bet I can. I’ve seen it happen in person in my classes. People who have never carved anything before leaving my shop with beautiful cabriole legs. The likes of which I would be happy to put into a piece of furniture for one of my clients.

Which brings me to the reputation part of things. Every day I put myself and my reputation on the line. I do it with every commission, every class and every single Lumberjocks post. And as long as you “amateurs” aren’t telling me I’m not welcome here anymore, I’ll keep doing it…gladly.

Odie, I know this is an older post but I’m with you brother.

-- Chuck Bender, 360 WoodWorking, period furniture maker, woodworking instructor

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