What makes a great woodworker?

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Forum topic by KnickKnack posted 07-30-2012 06:29 PM 2101 views 0 times favorited 52 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1094 posts in 3763 days

07-30-2012 06:29 PM

I’m not talking about from a design standpoint here, rather from the “great workmanship” viewpoint.

Things weren’t going very well today, and I found myself at my desk and my mind drifted in this direction.
I’m guessing if you took 100 random people and put them each in a well equipped shop, gave them some tuition on safe tool usage, and 5 projects to build (with good plans), that by the end 10 or so would not be very good, 80 would produce passable work, and 10 would be producing pretty good work, and, maybe 1 of them excellent work.

So – what are the traits, attributes, attitudes etc etc whatever, that would make one person a “great woodworker”?

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

52 replies so far

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3505 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

10320 posts in 4249 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 2421 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


2891 posts in 2711 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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2376 posts in 4578 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


2891 posts in 2711 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


2738 posts in 2774 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 2701 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 2684 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!

View Tom Godfrey's profile

Tom Godfrey

488 posts in 2373 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 (

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1537 posts in 2672 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


1122 posts in 3322 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 2388 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...

View oldnovice's profile


7316 posts in 3565 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 2372 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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