woodworking school... not for a week, but months or years...

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Forum topic by ben posted 03-01-2008 04:40 AM 6954 views 1 time favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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158 posts in 3897 days

03-01-2008 04:40 AM

I suppose that now is as good a time as any to think out loud… twiddling my thumbs waiting for a some friends to show up on a friday night. So I’ll start off by saying, “Please bear with me. I’m a talker.”

Since getting my fingers (just barely) dirty and back into this interesting hobby, I’ve found myself wondering repeatedly about the “turn your hobby into a career” idea.

In a year and a half my wife will be finished with residency, and I will have a bit of freedom… meaning I can stop worry about being the sole source of income for a the first time in a while. Along this line of thought, I wonder what’s better: the school of hard knocks, or the school of furniture and craftsmanship?

Has anybody here gone through one of the substantial woodworking schools, a la College of the Redwoods, Northwest Woodworking School, any of the many high quality community college programs, etc.? Or have any people done a substantial apprenticeship? What do these give you that you are likely to miss (or overpay in time) to get by learning on your own?

I would love to hear the details of what you walked in expecting, and what you walked out knowing. If I went down this kind of path, why would make this kind of excursion worthwhile? Would I be better off just spending the time and money building my own things for a year to build up a “gallery”?

I welcome all thoughts, reflections, inspirations, and even down-to-earth, cynical observations… :-)

(Meandering stream of thought is now done…)

<< EDIT >>

After seeing a couple responses, I realize I left out a few useful details about my own situation. First off, I’m closer to novice than experienced, but not totally ign’ant. I took a 1 week ‘basics’ course with Jeff Lohr, and loved every minute of it—even the review of things I knew, or thought I knew. I am a software engineer, and think like an engineer… My childhood fostered a musical ear, but not an artful eye, and frankly would hope to develop that more than I worry about developing technique.

Overall, my “ideal” for going to such a school would be the mentorship and the peer environment that I simply can’t get from self-driven learning.


22 replies so far

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4015 days

#1 posted 03-01-2008 04:59 AM

School of hard knocks for me, but I think being en engineer helped.

If you don’t know squat, it woud be a good idea to go to a school.

If you know more than squat, then I would think it would depend on how much more you know
and what your plans are.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 3795 days

#2 posted 03-01-2008 05:10 AM

before you start thinking about a school try watching videos and then trying. everything that i know was self taught through the New Yankee Workshop, The Wood Whisperer, and Wood Works. If you watch those and actually apply what they cover in your projects you will see major improvement in your projects. as for schools im not so sure.

View gizmodyne's profile


1780 posts in 4117 days

#3 posted 03-01-2008 05:20 AM

I could write on this topic for hours. I have taken many classes at a community college. I went from novice to well… better in a short time. I have supplemented the classes with lots of reading, but watching the thinking and methods of a professional is extremely helpful.

It is creative environment with all levels working side by side. There is always someone working on something interesting and also someone to bounce ideas with.

Somethings are better in person. I read a billion articles on squaring stock. It never clicked till class.

Also, I was able to use professional equipment.

I recommend classes to anyone who wants to improve quickly. Community colleges are great.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View ben's profile


158 posts in 3897 days

#4 posted 03-01-2008 05:55 AM

Gary—if only I knew what my plans were… I am an engineer by habit and by trade, and I come from a family of engineers, builders and farmers. But developing an eye may be more important than developing a skill.

tww—i’ve watched nearly every video I can get my hands on, and they provide a great starting point, but it’s never the same as having experienced people next to you. that’s why I wonder…

gizmo—you sound like your experiences line up with my thinking :) unfortunately there is no CC available in my area, so I’m trying to think bigger.

View Karson's profile


35125 posts in 4427 days

#5 posted 03-01-2008 06:11 AM

The only Community College near me is doing construction. Nothing woodworking. maybe I need to go suggest that to them.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4187 days

#6 posted 03-01-2008 12:20 PM

Kaleo went to a woodworking school.

When reading your blog, what stood out for me was I took a 1 week ‘basics’ course with Jeff Lohr, and loved every minute of it—even the review of things I knew, or thought I knew. Sounds like woodworking school, for you, would be rewarding on its own, even if you did the “hard knocks” school before/after/during.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View gerrym526's profile


274 posts in 3835 days

#7 posted 03-03-2008 09:22 PM

Haven’t attended a woodworking school long-term, yet. (Am looking into mult-year courses currently). However my advice would be along the lines of my own experience (much like others have posted here)

-self-learning, ie. continue to watch every video/dvd you can, and start building a woodworking book library together with getting a subscription to Fine Woodworking and reading it cover to cover

-community college adult education courses. This was actually how I got hooked. If you sign up for courses you a) get professional instruction, b) get to use a workshop full of commercial grade tools, and 3) meet other more experienced woodworkers who take the courses repeatedly to get access to bigger power tools than they have

-try one week courses in various subjects first. I highly recommend your first course be one focussed on joinery (with hand & power tools).

-visit professionaly woodworkers shops and studios and talk with them about how they built their busineses

-finally, after all that, if you still want to take a multi-year course there are a number along the eastern side of the US where you live from Maine to Massachusetts to try.

Best of luck, hope this helps.

-- Gerry

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4341 days

#8 posted 03-03-2008 09:40 PM

I’m a community college product and served as an apprentice….College was cool I got to learn every phase from glue up to finish. The whole ball of wax. On the job training was nice because I got a pay check, but you end up doing just one thing for a whole year. At the end of the first year you might be pretty good at drilling holes in drawer faces….

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3989 days

#9 posted 03-03-2008 10:07 PM

I can’t say I’m self taught because of all the fine teachers in FWW and PW and here at Lumber Jocks. There is something to be said for working with a mentor or teacher because we all can mimic what someone is doing. From a school you will receive a starting process. You will learn to start at the beginning and go to the finish. From this process you can begin to develop your own process. I’ve watched so many who not only don’t have the answers but don’t yet know what the question is. I think school for you , Ben.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View ben's profile


158 posts in 3897 days

#10 posted 03-04-2008 01:09 AM

Seems like most people here are thinking the way that I am… which ultimately means I am leaning toward a school.

Dennis, you are thus far unique in having been an apprentice. Did you get more takeaway than drilling holes? My guess is that apprenticeships vary a great deal… I’ve found some online that specifically target building 6 gallery quality pieces over the course of a year, and others that appears to be equally dynamic, but less specific.

To me, the biggest con to an apprenticeship is having 1 instructor—and perhaps carrying that person’s biases, techniques, etc. without variation. The biggest plus is the opportunity to get more real attention, and the ability to personalize the learning.

In any case, thanks for all the feedback so far. I might have to ping Kaleo with a message and ask him to chime in as well :)


View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4341 days

#11 posted 03-04-2008 01:54 AM

I guess I have to break down the apprenticeship thing into two different experiences. The first was as an acoustical apprentice with the Carpenters union. That was “just a job” I enjoyed, but most was just about making the boss money. I can now install suspended ceilings in my sleep. The second was with a artist who did murals. I learned the basics. I learned his style. I drank his coffee. If was fun but still not real creative. Even the community college was geared toward the industrial processes. Something like College of the Redwoods might be a real treat.

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 3814 days

#12 posted 03-04-2008 05:57 AM

Another viewpoint:

“Woodworking as a career” is like saying “Engineering as a career”. Very broad, and I doubt many could master all the different disciplines. To make it profitable unless you are rarely gifted, you will need to narrow the scope, choose a category, find a reputable source of basic instruction, and spend the time needed to refine your skills, build your client base and reputation, and then you can expand your horizons as you feel needed within your capabilities.

You can be an exquisite craftsman in making Maloof style rocking chairs, but if you have no client base or reputation, you will not make a living at it. However, I also know people who do make a living building good quality pine furniture and saleable items that they market on the craft show circuit.

In the field of woodworking you are up against the cheap imports produced by cheap labor. Quality and custom work does sell, and is profitable if you are able to access the right market, obtain the materials (which is getting more difficult daily), and your price goes up with the reputation. None of that comes from a school, but from time spent refining the skills, and then establishing a client/reference base.

This is not meant to dissuade you. Rather, it is to encourage you to start with a small scope, develop that skill to where you are sought after for your product, and then apply that skill as customers come to you asking for something that stretches your capabilities.


-- Go

View ben's profile


158 posts in 3897 days

#13 posted 03-05-2008 03:18 AM


Thank you for the honest thoughts. When I second guess this idea, it’s due to these facts more than my potential ceiling as a craftsman.


View Kaleo's profile


201 posts in 4167 days

#14 posted 03-06-2008 03:53 PM


Sorry it has taken me so long to write on this topic. I have been and still am traveling in return from woodworking school. For me school was about learning from the hand of masters. Being able to spend time with men that have been or are doing this for a living was vital. But I know that a 2 year program is not for everyone. What I wanted to accomplish was cram 10 years of time that it would take for me to teach myself into 2 years. I think that this type of program is for those who are trying to be professional furniture makers.

There are plenty of schools out there. I would always encourage people to go and take a class here or there to develop there skills. That is the fun of learning.

I have written about this on my blog at just looking for the post called woodworking 101 and woodworking 201.

-- Kaleo ,

View robbi's profile


176 posts in 3982 days

#15 posted 03-06-2008 04:45 PM

Here are my thoughts…sometimes your passion isn’t your profession. I ventured out into the “Professional Photography” field during a time in my life. I specialized in children portraits and did hand colored black and white before it was mainstream. I had a good client base, I live in a community that has people that could afford my work and I think I was very good at it. But I realized that as much as I loved doing it, I loved doing it without deadlines. I loved taking my time and making it “just right”. And as an artist, you loose some of your creativity when you are producing something for someone else that has their own vision. I think all art forms are very subjective and therefore more difficult to make a career out of. And then, when you thought you were only going to be an artist and it turns out you also have to be a salesperson, advertiser, organizer and let’s not forget you have to pay those bills….somehow the art end of it ends up being the small part of what you are doing. I hope this isn’t to off topic. But what you are thinking of doing is an “art” and I commend you for wanting to do this professionally, I am not saying your experience will be the same as mine, just wanted to give you a little food for thought. Good luck in whatever you decide, oh, by the way, as far as school, I think it is very helpful and gives you foundation for your skills. Then you just keep doing it until you’re really good at it….then who knows what life might hold.

-- Robin, California

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