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What makes a great woodworker?

by KnickKnack
posted 07-30-2012 06:29 PM

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52 replies

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View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3303 days

#1 posted 07-30-2012 06:40 PM

Some people are just a natural talent at what they do and have an excellent mind for creativeness and design. Others could work at something for a lifetime any only achieve mediocore results. You can compare woodworking to all these talent shows that are on the TV…some people have that natural ability to excel and grow and some never will…A fact of life.

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10094 posts in 4046 days

#2 posted 07-30-2012 06:44 PM

Here is one answer:

The way errors are / can be Fixed.

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View Kookaburra's profile


748 posts in 2218 days

#3 posted 07-30-2012 07:14 PM

I would say patience. Partly because it is sorely lacking in my work, but also because it is human nature to do things the most efficient way. I commented on Gumnut’s how-I-made-the-Eggnigma-Box blog that cutting the shell open must have been the most stressful part of the project. He replied that it was – not for the fear of error as I thought, but as he said “cutting the egg was the most stressful part as I had to wait for the egg to stabilize for so long, the concept was waiting and all planned out in my mind” How many of us would rush ahead?

Shortcuts abound – look how many gadgets and jigs are out there to save us a minute or two? Would our pieces be better if we gave up on the gimmicks and instead worked carefully and slower? Mine sure would!

-- Kay - Just a girl who loves wood.

View Tennessee's profile


2872 posts in 2509 days

#4 posted 07-30-2012 07:23 PM

I work for a mechanical contractor as the sales guy, and our fab shop foreman and I are about the same age. We both agree, that in metal as well as wood, it has to be in the mind’s eye of what it should look like. Having to strictly rely on a set of plans doesn’t get you there. You have to be able to imagine it in 3-D, and be able to know in your mind what the three dimensions are and how they relate to each other. For him, imagining a square to round connector, with a 45’ bend in it is something he has to imagine in the art of ductwork. Very hard to put that on paper, less alone write instructions on how to get there. But if he can imagine it in his mind, and he can, he can devise ways to reach the goal, and not always in ways that might be written down.
Wood is very similar.

I attended an artist’s fair on Sunday after church, and a county fair on Saturday. There were about 80 different artists of all types at these shows, and about 8-10 wood guys. You could see in an instant which ones were working off plans, and which ones were making items with the view I described above.

Personally, I may start with a set of plans, but most of the time I can see the result way before I get there.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

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2370 posts in 4376 days

#5 posted 07-30-2012 07:41 PM

I think what makes a GREAT woodworker is someone who comes on LJ,S and talks about and shares their woodworking projocts and experiences and doesn,t talk about politics ;-) Politicians are usually only good at one thing and that is flapping their gums :-)

-- John in Belgrave (Website) ,

View Tennessee's profile


2872 posts in 2509 days

#6 posted 07-30-2012 07:43 PM

I just had this surreal picture of some politican helplessly gun flapping…fbfbfbfbffbfb. That was funny!

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View NiteWalker's profile


2737 posts in 2571 days

#7 posted 07-30-2012 08:22 PM

Woodworking is mostly a series of small, concurrent puzzles. You start with one puzzle. Solving it, fully or partially, leads to another puzzle that you wouldn’t see without first solving the first.

What differentiates between skill level is knowing the order to solve these puzzles, and the steps in doing so.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View DKV's profile


3940 posts in 2498 days

#8 posted 07-30-2012 08:26 PM

Ability to envision a project in 3D.

-- This is a Troll Free zone.

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2481 days

#9 posted 07-30-2012 08:40 PM

Attention to detail.

I’m not good at that part. I make a dado 1/64” too wide… it’s good to go. I make one wall of a cabinet 1/32” too short or a half of a half degree out of square…. it’s good to go.

I’m not a craftsman. I try, but I end up doing it wrong.

I have been trying to make a square box for 5 years…. each one might look good, but somewhere in it is something I’m not satisfied with that I coulda done better.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

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Tom Godfrey

488 posts in 2170 days

#10 posted 07-30-2012 08:57 PM

What’s great to one person isn’t great to someone else. It depends on how you look at things. I for one know I am not great and never will be great but the people that i make things for are happy and pleased, so I am happy and pleased.
I do try to improve and continue to learn as i always have all my life. I don’t want to be great then i wouldn’t have any thing to work toward.
Don’t want to be rich either. That would take all the fun out of trying to make do with what I have and not worry about what i don’t have.

-- Tom Godfrey Landrum South Carolina (

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Jorge G.

1537 posts in 2469 days

#11 posted 07-30-2012 09:18 PM

Patience and attention to detail. It is easier to do something right at the outset than to fix errors afterwards. The reason I am successful here in Mexico is because most of the woodworkers/carpenters here have the “good enough” attitude. In my case I prefer to redo a piece that was cut or sized wrong, or damaged than to spend hours trying to match color and grain with paste or sawdust/glue combinations.

Granted sometimes you cannot help it, for example I am remodeling a home at the moment. Bricklayers here in Mexico are incapable of making a square, be that a window, door sill, or a straight wall. If you make a perfectly square frame it wont fit, or will separate at the corners. Nothing to do but fill in the gaps as best as you can but if we are talking about furniture, a kitchen or anything like that, perfect fit, perfect finish require patience and attention to detail.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View EPJartisan's profile


1118 posts in 3119 days

#12 posted 07-30-2012 09:52 PM

An old saying of mine… A Master is not someone who does not make mistakes…he just knows how to hide them very well.

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

View Alexandre's profile


1417 posts in 2185 days

#13 posted 07-30-2012 09:55 PM

A old guy with a HUGE pile of sawdust, and High quality tools that are all dusty and worn…

-- My terrible signature...

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6836 posts in 3362 days

#14 posted 07-30-2012 11:07 PM

I have to agree with Joe Lyddon on the fixing mistakes … I have a lot of examples of that, so good and some bad!

  • We are human and we make mistakes so part of being a good worker/artist is being able to correct those errors. Can you imagine TV and/or movies without tape or film?
  • Being able to visualize the end results before the first cut makes it easier to avoid mistakes! I typically have an image of the end result of a sub-assembly or completed project before I start cutting.
  • Having a good set of plans …. 3D models help with visualization! But CAD again is only a tool and has limitations.
  • Understanding the interaction of the tools on the wood! Wood type, feed speeds, cross cuts, rip cuts etc.!

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View Oldelm's profile


75 posts in 2169 days

#15 posted 07-30-2012 11:24 PM

I think that the 2 most important things are execution and the picking of the wood for each piece. I don’t have the luxury of having an endless lumber stock but I do try to pick the individual pieces as much as possible. I work with oak a lot and if you get a pair of doors with a stile on one door of flat sawn and an almost q sawn piece on the other someone may not be able to tell you exactly what is wrong but their eyes will tell them something isn’t quite right.

-- Jim, Missouri

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929 posts in 3078 days

#16 posted 07-30-2012 11:45 PM

The best quality a great woodworker can have is humility and empathy to other craftsmen. Raising all boats by simply doing, being ones best what ever that level is at the time.

I have strived to be the best craftsman I could be at all times and while I am better than I was 20 years ago, 1 year ago or last week, I have always been ever improving and will ever keep improving.

I have learned more by watching a tool poor carpenter work than listening to the tool richest Master yammer.

When I look at pictures of members shops I don’t look to the collection of tools they showcase. I look back on the shelves and walls at the jigs, tool scatterings and mahem. That shows me the spirit of the craftsman.

-- ~Just A Guy With A Hammer~

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3259 posts in 2670 days

#17 posted 07-30-2012 11:57 PM

Dallas and JMG0658 are onto the correct answer to this. It is patience and determination. You never decide that good enough is good enough. You always fix the problem and the source becuse if it is left as a problem the next step will enhance that problem and in the end you will have a big mess. You have to envision the part and then strive to make it perfect. work at it until it is perfect then move to the next step. Don’t make the move until the part is made as perfect as you can measure. Machinists often make the best wood workers. They work in .002” while woodworkers want to say that is within 1/16th inch so it is close enough (.060”). That won’t work if you want a good looking project.

View thedude50's profile


3603 posts in 2472 days

#18 posted 07-31-2012 12:02 AM

Mastery is never thinking you know it all. while some people will toot their own horn the true master is knowledgeable BUT HUMBLE. I am sick of people who brag and say only pros can do it well but never show their work on here or at best show a fuzzy photo. We are fortunate to have a lot of real masters here . Me I am a competent woodworker. I can build anything that i try to. I have been doing this since I was seven years old I am 51 now and experience is a key. I have a friend who I play guitar with I have been playing since I was 12 I love guitars as much as I love working wood the guy is amazing he is a real pro. I will never be that good because it is not my focus. I play well enough to enjoy the music and i don’t miss changes but I am no Hendrix.My friend is great and should be famous his name is terry Lauderdale look him up some time. MY focus in the shop is on reducing errors to a minimum I always measure three times and cut once I am a safe woodworker i have 10 fingers I don’t have a saw stop.I work hard to make each cut straight and square. I keep my tool very maybe excessively sharp they work better isf they are sharp. And in this information age I watch the masters and I read lots of books I have over 500 woodworking books I can do anything and I still serve a master I serve Rob Cosman I belong to his online school and I study other masters I also teach to new woodworkers and I share the knowledge. I think these are great times we live in where we can share what we know. I choose to be competent and their for I am. Sam Maloof told me being great is the little things I believe he was a master and so I do as the master. and like SAM one day my things will sell for a high price if I focus and do my best with every operation. above all focus when your in the shop close the door avoid interruption and stay on task. Choose to pay attention to details and pay attention to the small things that will make you a master and if you do this one day you will be a master and then people will come to you asking to buy your goods.

-- Please check out my new stores and

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3109 days

#19 posted 07-31-2012 12:51 AM

a woodworker is a person who use the time to cut wood into small piece´s
and glue them back together again
so the deffinition of a good woodworker must be how well can you
puzzle it together again


View cutworm's profile


1075 posts in 2788 days

#20 posted 07-31-2012 01:22 AM

If you enjoy woodworking. Icing on the cake – if others enjoy what you do.

-- Steve - "Never Give Up"

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Craftsman on the lake

2790 posts in 3432 days

#21 posted 07-31-2012 01:22 AM

If you’re an anal retentive and just can’t let it go till it’s perfect, heck that’s no fun, it’s OCD. All of my work and I’ll bet most of yours has flaws. Often it’s only flaws that I know about but sometimes it could be seen by someone who is looking for it. Either way, if it looks good or at least has the illusion of looking good, then it’s as good as I can do today and that’s just fine.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View CueballRosendaul's profile


484 posts in 2134 days

#22 posted 07-31-2012 01:34 AM

All of the above, but also an understanding of scale and aesthetics. A simple small curve instead of a straight line, pieces that flirt with the Golden Rectangle, pieces that will last longer than the man that made them.

-- Matt CueBall Rosendaul. I don't think I've ever had a cup of coffee that didn't have cat hair or sawdust in it.

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2684 days

#23 posted 07-31-2012 02:01 AM

The secret to a great woodworker is contained in Greg The Box Sculpter’s tagline. It is one of the truest statements that I have ever read. I try really hard to adhere to this sage advice (and I still have a ways to go).

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

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#24 posted 07-31-2012 02:04 AM

IMHO: (1) visualization, seeing the finished project from all perspectives; (2) exact execution of each step as any mistake becomes progressive—being anal retentive at each step; (3) understand, know and become proficient with each and every tool you have/use; and, (4) when a mistake happens (which it always does), take your time and figure out how to correct it. This is my hobby and I only do what I enjoy (well for the most part considering the importance of marital bless sometimes requires accommodations).

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

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884 posts in 2763 days

#25 posted 07-31-2012 03:34 AM

It’s all about extras, those extra steps. Extra planning, Extra Patience, Extra practice and test pieces, Extra attention to detail, extra sanding, and extra coats of finish. All of these things take extra time and that’s the one thing that most of us are short on. However, some guys half assd work is better then other peoples perfect. That’s where experience and natural ability separate the craftsman from the carpenter.

-- Dan - Valparaiso, Indiana, "A smart man changes his mind, a fool never does."

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Monte Pittman

29217 posts in 2332 days

#26 posted 07-31-2012 03:51 AM

It’s no different than being great at anything else.

First you must have the desire to do the job. Must have a can do attitude. Negative attitude leads to failure.

Second, are you willing to do what it takes to succeed. It takes hard work and sacrifice to be good at anything. Accepting failure is the lazy way out.

Third, are you physically able to do the job. All of us can run a long distance, but only a few can be a long distance runner. Some this can be overcome with attitude and determination. But you do need to be realistic (not negative though) about what you’re capable of.

Study what makes the best be the best. Techniques, work habits, etc …

Don’t be afraid to say I don’t know and be willing and open minded to learn how.

Never be satisfied. That doesn’t mean being over critical of yourself. But always look for ways to improve. If you are standing still, you’re falling behind.

My opinion

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2845 days

#27 posted 07-31-2012 04:42 AM

Let’s look at the metaphysical component.

Let’s imagine two woodworkers, separate and identical shops, each gets like materials and is asked to make a box 12×19 x 30. Let’s say they both emerge with, to a tape measure and a set of calipers, identical products.

These are not robots, they are people. One is in turmoil, uncertain of the future, anxious about tomorrow and fearful of tonight. Good descriptors would be: angry, tense and quietly seething.

The other is at peace, comfortable with the vicissitudes of life, strongly connected to the earth, moves easy, sleeps well, whose soul is nourished with care and frequency, who offers help to others as possible.

Would you be able to tell which box was whose?



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 2670 days

#28 posted 07-31-2012 12:55 PM

Lee, Your metaphysical component sounds nice but quite simplistic.

To say a person who is:”in turmoil, uncertain of the future, anxious about tomorrow and fearful of tonight is angry, tense and quietly seething” is incapable of creating beautiful woodworking compared to someone who is:
“at peace, comfortable with the vicissitudes of life, strongly connected to the earth, moves easy, sleeps well, whose soul is nourished with care and frequency, is rediculous liberal hippy fluff.

It’s like saying: Love is never having to say your sorry….. Look at the fluffy clouds!

You can’t divide people into one description or the other. I am a mixture of both descriptions. Some would call it passion, OCD, ADHD, being who you are, dealing with a horrid past and trying to improve everyday.

It is in woodworking that I find inner peace, a willingness to help others, a way to work out my frustrations and escape all the turmoil and uncertainty. I move just fine, except for a trick knee, and I sleep quite well because I work hard everyday to become a better person.

My grouchy built box would be just as good as your fluffy cloud box anyday. Ha!

Obviously, I haven’t had my coffee yet.

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#29 posted 07-31-2012 01:04 PM

I would say artistic ability, mechanical aptitude, practice, and of course patience.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

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404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2963 days

#30 posted 07-31-2012 01:31 PM

I swear by Jack Daniel’s motto:
Every day we make it, we make it the best we can.

It’s all about caring about what you’re doing. OK is only average, if you only want to do OK jobs, you’ll never achieve perfection.

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2771 days

#31 posted 07-31-2012 01:36 PM

I cannot speak for others on this, just for myself -

I have a high stress job and use woodworking to reduce stress. I am not saying that I am good or bad – just do. Some of my projects get cut up for something else (sometimes the smoker), some get donated, some my wife will not let out of her sight. Every project gets better than the last (I hope). Every project gets reevaluated at different stages, just to make sure it it is what I or the customer (usualy my wife) wants. Once it is done, it is really hard to go back.

If I did this as a production shop – things would be completely different. If you look at the stuff in the stores, gaps and loose are the norm – because of wood movement and the like and the use of jigs is required to make 500 of an item. This is an art in itself.

All of this requires some of this and some of that and the fact that some are better at drawings and some are not, some put a swirly here or there and some don’t, does not mean that it is good or bad – just different. If it does what it is intented to do, all is good. I make what the customer wants – and try to do the best I can for that project – unless it is designed to be a snap together thingy.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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3320 posts in 2771 days

#32 posted 07-31-2012 01:41 PM

My paper towel holder took 5 minutes and a little tong oil and my wife loves it. No plans, just a papre towel roll so I could make sure I can put the roll on it – Its all good!

-- David in Damascus, MD

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10094 posts in 4046 days

#33 posted 07-31-2012 03:49 PM


... have a picture of it? LOL

I gotta see a 5 minute paper towel holder… LOL

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2771 days

#34 posted 07-31-2012 06:59 PM

I’ll see what I can do -

-- David in Damascus, MD

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2364 days

#35 posted 07-31-2012 07:14 PM

I’m a novice and by no means a great woodworker, but characteristics which have helped me to produce work I am proud of are :
- Attention to detail. 1/2” does not equal 15/32” or 17/32”. In my experience, the smallest errors usually end up compounding in the end.
- Patience.
- Being able to visualize how all of the parts come together and interact as a whole.
- Patience.
- Taking pride in what you’re doing, and relaxing while you do it.
- Patience.
- Learning a minimum of one lesson per project, and carrying it forward into future projects.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

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Jorge G.

1537 posts in 2469 days

#36 posted 07-31-2012 07:33 PM

1/2” does not equal 15/32” or 17/32”.

Exactly, I don’t care if wood moves or not, precise measurement is precise measurement.

and relaxing while you do it.

I went from being a chemist to woodworking, hated chemistry, I cannot believe people pay me to do what I do. Confucius was right, find something to do that you love and you will never have to work in your life… :-)

Very well put Ed.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 2978 days

#37 posted 07-31-2012 07:34 PM

Your title and your opening question asks two different questions. Your thread goes in the motion of workmanship as opposed to woodworker which can have as many different answers as well.

So going with everyone has the same equipment simplifies the answer isn’t in the equipment. So it would come down to the talent and ability to skillfully use the equipment provided to complete the project. I have the equipment and the ability to see it in the 3D or finished state. What I don’t have is the talent needed or the ability to produce a great project.

Don’t get me wrong I can do good workmanship, but I don’t do great workmanship. The talent needed to produce great workmanship is not in my blood. On the other hand I do consider myself to be a damn great woodworker.

So in conclusion I would have to say that some are blessed with more talent than others and that’s what makes for great workmanship.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View thedude50's profile


3603 posts in 2472 days

#38 posted 07-31-2012 07:38 PM

Ed your right that is why people who cant do fractions should work metric. It is by far easier and way more accurate IMHO. But i use and i think this is important to any new guy. Great measuring and marking tools. if your marks are a bust so will the project bee.

-- Please check out my new stores and

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2771 days

#39 posted 08-01-2012 12:07 PM

Joe – a 5 minute paper towel holder

-- David in Damascus, MD

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#40 posted 08-01-2012 02:32 PM

For me, it’s all about patience. Take the time to build a jig if it will help you make a more precise cut. Take the time to set up your equipment properly. Practice a tricky technique on some scrap wood before doing the real thing. Check the alignment of your tools frequently. Don’t skimp on sanding. etc..

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View helluvawreck's profile


31030 posts in 2861 days

#41 posted 08-01-2012 03:00 PM

Do the best that you can do on any project. Take the time to do good work. Always be willing to do things that you have never done and try your best to learn everything that you can from the experience. If you feel that you didn’t do something well in spite of trying then do it again – and again if necessary.


-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

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Joe Lyddon

10094 posts in 4046 days

#42 posted 08-01-2012 03:58 PM


That’s a COOL quick little towel rack!

Does the job!

Thank you!

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2771 days

#43 posted 08-01-2012 06:51 PM

Its funny how some of the simplest things work out the so well.

three pieces of scrap cherry, a piece of cherry dowel, and a hole cutting bit (ends) and you have a towel bar.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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18266 posts in 3670 days

#44 posted 08-02-2012 05:16 AM

The same thing that makes a good anything you want to name. He/she sets the standard by which others will be judged. Not sure what elevates them to that standard; maybe natural talent, maybe endless, conscious effort or maybe some other factor?

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View upinflames's profile


217 posts in 2156 days

#45 posted 08-02-2012 05:32 AM

Think about this, for many years carpenters and furniture makers did not have “the top of the line power tools”, and they did some amazing works of art. That’s what woodworking is, an art, you don’t need the most expensive tools to create a masterpiece, just patience and time, Rome was not built in a day.

View thedude50's profile


3603 posts in 2472 days

#46 posted 08-02-2012 05:48 AM

dustmagnet dont kid your self they gad great hand tools and they normally served as an apprentice for 7 years to learn the trade.

-- Please check out my new stores and

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Arlin Eastman

4211 posts in 2555 days

#47 posted 08-02-2012 05:32 PM


You asked the question “What makes a great woodworker” I would like to answer that for you

First what makes a good person? Is he/she satisified with OK work or are they constantly trying to improve the methods, ways, abilities, attitude, and patience towards what they are doing?
I believe if you see the person you see his work. You can also tell if he/she trying to improve. That is what makes a person and a woodworker


-- It is always the right time, to do the right thing.

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Raymond Thomas

189 posts in 2213 days

#48 posted 08-02-2012 11:43 PM

Someone who loves all things wood, practices self-improvement, and shares his/her love of the craft with those around them. No matter how complex or how simple, the joy of the wood is in the sharing. This quality will lead to being great in whatever endeavor you undertake.

-- Raymond, Charlotte, NC -------- Demonstrate the difference!

View KnickKnack's profile


1088 posts in 3561 days

#49 posted 08-03-2012 04:17 PM

Thanks to all for the interesting and informed discussion. It may not, of course, be over. I’ve read it all, and read it all again, and I will keep coming back regularly to read it more times.
I now have some more demons in my sights – I rarely manage to fire a killer blow on them, but once in a while I do manage to wing one.
I don’t ever expect to be a “great” woodworker – there are just too many traits listed up there that I simply don’t have, and, in all frankness, I’m more interested in the design side of things than the “craftsman” side of things. As a sagittarian rat I’ve always found that I’m more interested in how to solve a problem, than in whether the “answer” is 42 or 43.

That said, I’ve always believed in aiming for the top, so that’s where I’m off to –

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step

-- "Do not speak – unless it improves on silence." --- "Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope."

View MrRon's profile


4764 posts in 3238 days

#50 posted 08-03-2012 04:27 PM

I would answer your question with one of my own. What makes for a great musician, artist or athlete? The same traits, attitudes, disiplines would be a common factor of all great people. I don’t think you could pin it down to just a few. The old saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” might apply here. I know people who are smart and intelligent, but are deaf to Mozart or Beethoven.

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