School Taught VS Self Taught

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Forum topic by ErikF posted 10-31-2012 11:37 PM 5257 views 1 time favorited 57 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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613 posts in 2239 days

10-31-2012 11:37 PM

I have been spending a lot of time lately considering the benefits of woodworking school. I know I want a career in woodworking and I know I can get into it whether I go to school for it or not. What gets me is the learning curve. I have been putting in about 15-20 hours a week for the past 8 months and have made some decent progress in developing my woodworking skills but I know I have a crap-load more to learn. I have 2 years left in the Marines so I have a good amount of time to continue building my knowledge base but after that it is time to dive into the real world where Uncle Sam isn’t paying me twice a month to ensure I am happy and cozy.

There is a woodworking program offered at Palomar College which is only 10 miles from where I live now. From what I have read it is a pretty good program and the class options are pretty diverse. I would like to take advantage of it but I also have a wife and child to support, so if I decide to go to the school it would have to be worth the 2 years of stress that comes with having a family, school, and paying the bills.

I would like to hear from any of you that have gotten a formal education in woodworking and how much it has affected your woodworking capabilities and would you do it again. Also, anybody who is self taught and is making a living of it.


-- Power to the people.

57 replies so far

View NiteWalker's profile


2737 posts in 2572 days

#1 posted 11-01-2012 12:05 AM

All of my woodworking I learned from books and videos.
I’m sure it’s a great experience, but I don’t miss a formal education (or the cost associated with it) at all.

I don’t “make a living” off of the projects I sell, but I’m able to support my tool and video game habits. ;-)

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

View BentheViking's profile


1782 posts in 2560 days

#2 posted 11-01-2012 12:23 AM

its a tough call. going to school could cost money and it may not teach you exactly what you will need to learn for what you end up with for a career. on the other hand, if you just start tying to make money woodworking, your going to probably start out on the bottom and not make so much to start.

I did go through an intense 8 month training program that was a combo program between the local carpenters union, trade school, and Prince Charles. At the end I found it very difficult to find steady work that paid well afterwards. I eventually had to realize that it was ok to woodwork two days a week rather than five. Good luck

-- It's made of wood. Real sturdy.--Chubbs Peterson

View oluf's profile


260 posts in 3035 days

#3 posted 11-01-2012 12:23 AM

Never pass up the opportunity to get formal education. You can still, and you must, continue to expand your knowledge and skills with self training and practice. There are untold stories of those who made it and made it well without formal training. You just don’t know how much better they could hsve done or how much more they could have enjoyed the ride. Your wife and cjildern will be proud of you.

-- Nils, So. Central MI. Wood is honest.Take the effort to understand what it has to tell you before you try to change it.

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3281 days

#4 posted 11-01-2012 12:27 AM


What kind of woodworking business do you plan on pursusing when you leave the Marine Corps. and what type woodworking will the school offer. All schools should teach you the basics of woodworking and jointery, but some will focus more on fine furniture construction and some will focus on carsass, cabinetry construction. All will definitely help you learn your trade, but you may spend a lot of time and money learning something other then what you plan on doing for a living.

I’ve owned a Custom Woodworking Business for the past 27 years (Just retired this year) and I guess you could say I’m self taught. I took woodworking classes when in High School, but that was it until I started my own business some 13 years after I graduated from HS. Over the years, I’ve taken some courses that I was interested in that I wanted to learn more about. Example; I took a course on woodturning, since I had two wood lathes in my shop and felt they really didn’t make me any money since I was so limited on my skills with them.

Something you may want to check into is to see if any of the technical colleges in your area offer any furthering education courses on woodworking. They are more like 8-12 week classes and very reasonable. I taught classes in the evening for our local tech. college on woodworking and we focused on tools, safety and basic woodworking techniques. I usually had between 6-8 people in each class so I could spend a lot of time with each. It was very economical for each student and I had both men and women from young to old.

Even though I did not go to woodworking school, I would recommend it for anybody that could, as long as you get out of it what you’re looking for. Over the years I’ve had a couple fellows come to work for me when they came out of a woodworking school and they really had no idea what it took to work in a typical shop. They knew how to hand cut a dovetail or mortise and tenon a joint, but no idea how to sell or build anything that actually used it. What I mean by that is; experience will also need to be your teacher.

Woodworking is a never ending learning experience.

BTW. Thanks for your service!

-- John @

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Joseph Jossem

492 posts in 2264 days

#5 posted 11-01-2012 12:43 AM

I am self taught and learned what I could when I worked in a production shop.I have friends that went to school for woodworking and did not like it to slow of a pace.One good way is to work for custom shops that are willing to show you the tricks.I think spending the money on the education is good but might as well buy tools with that money and dive in.Practice on cheap woods till you can get it a days you can use this site or google and get help on almost anything free. I think failure has been my teacher

View teejk's profile


1215 posts in 2680 days

#6 posted 11-01-2012 12:54 AM

IMHO you will learn more about any profession “on the job” than any school can teach you (e.g. I had degrees in accounting and finance and quickly learned that the “real world” was never discussed in the class-room).

But in any trade, some education is vital if for no other reason than teaching safety and engineering principles. A 2 year classs room program seems to be a lot but if they take you through all aspects of woodworking (tools, safety, wood ID, finishing, basic stuff through fine carving), then maybe 2 years doesn’t seem like a lot. They will most likely have nicer equipment than you could ever hope for but if you pay attention you’ll learn a lot about where to spend your $$$ when you graduate.

btw…do they get into carving? I got all the tools and a few books for xmas a few years ago but am afraid to start (I don’t have much of an artistic eye).

View Sawdust4Blood's profile


404 posts in 3017 days

#7 posted 11-01-2012 12:57 AM

I spent 28 years in the military and if it taught me nothing else, it taught me the importance of getting properly trained to do any job you want to do. No doubt that you can learn a lot on your own. But if you want to do this for a living and do right by your family then you owe it to them to be the best at it that you can possibly be. One trait that all the great ones have is that they never pass up the opportunity to learn from others. Will it be hard? Yes. But everything that is truly worth having is hard to attain.

Beyond that… Semper Fi and thanks for your service.

-- Greg, Severn MD

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3281 days

#8 posted 11-01-2012 01:09 AM


Do you have any woodworking clubs in your area. A lot of times the woodwooking clubs will have members that teach different classes on turning, carving, sharpening etc. The classes are usually really reasonable and will at least teach you some of the basics.

When I was in Myrtle Beach, SC., they actually have a wood carving club that meets every week for a couple hours. Anyone is welcome to come and either watch, or actually carve. These guys were really good and they would help you with anything. If you could find something like that in your area, it would be a super way to learn to carve.

-- John @

View Dabcan's profile


255 posts in 2667 days

#9 posted 11-01-2012 01:10 AM

I’m in the same boat as you. I just finished a career and have decided to move into fine woodworking as my next. I thought long and hard about school, and whether to do intensive (and more expensive) programs or longer programs which would allow me to work part time. I am also newly married with a 3 year old.

In the end I decided to go to a private woodworking school in an intensive 6 week program. I learnt an incredible amount, but my teacher was also amazing. What I benefitted most from, funny enough, was my screw ups. Every time something didn’t work out right, my teacher was there to help walk me through a solution. Plus the number of time saving tips and tricks I learnt from his 30+ years experience was invaluable.

Now will a formal education guarantee you a career in woodworking? Of course not, no education will guarantee that in any line of work. But it certainly can help put you on the right foot. I would love to continue my schooling, but the money has run out so I have to work a bit more and save up more money.

If you signed up for this two year program and managed to find a local fine woodworking company to work for (even if you volunteered) after class, you would leave school with an incredible foundation.

Let us know what you decide!

-- @craftcollectif ,,

View ErikF's profile


613 posts in 2239 days

#10 posted 11-01-2012 01:14 AM

Thanks for all of the great responses. Here is what the school offers:

CFT 100 Fundamentals of Woodworking
CFT 105 Machine Woodworking / Furniture
CFT 110/111 Machine Tool Joinery I & II
CFT 120 Advanced Furniture Lab
CFT 122 Cabinetmaking Lab
CFT 124 Chair / Table Lab
CFT 130 Guitar / Stringed Instrument Making
CFT 142 The Art & Craft of Planemaking
CFT 143 Decorative Box Making
CFT 144 Production Furniture Making – Toys
CFT 145 Advanced Toy Manufacturing
CFT 149/150 Hand Joinery Technique I & II
CFT 151/152 Veneering Technology I & II
CFT 153 Studio Furniture Design
CFT 155/156 Classic American Chair Designs I & II
CFT 157/158 Chair and Seating / Prototype Construction
Chair and Seating / Product Manufacturing
CFT 161/162 Table / Prototype Construction
Table / Production Manufacturing
CFT 163 Plastic Laminate Fabrication
CFT 165/167 Cabinetmaking / Face Frame Construction
Cabinetmaking / 32mm European Construction
CFT 168 Architectural Millwork
CFT 169 Computer Cabinet Layout
CFT 170 Workbench Design & Production work bench projects
CFT 173 Bamboo Fly Rod Building
CFT 175 Jigs and Fixtures – Detailed notes about the project together with photos can be viewed on a 17-page PDF document (371KB).
CFT 176 Woodturning / Lathe
CFT 180 Wood Bending and Lamination
CFT 185 Shop Layout / Design & Machine Tool Technology
CFT 187/188/189 Introduction to Carving, Intermediate Carving,Advanced Carving
CFT 195 Finishing & Touch-up Repair
CFT 196 Special Problems in CFT
CFT 197 Timber Frame Workshop
CFT 198 Advanced Finishing & Touch-up Repair
CFT 97J Starting a Woodworking Business

The Actual 2 year certificates are:
Furniture Making
Cabinet Making and Millwork

I would be applying for the furniture making certificate and I think it would be interesting to take a few classes on building instruments as well. I am able to use my GI Bill so the 2 years of school would be paid for and I would still have another two years left on the GI Bill to pursue another degree down the road.

They also do their own milling at the school. This is something I am interested in as well…I would be very interested in cutting and drying my own wood and also selling what is left over. From what I have read, they teach you about this process to a certain extent as well.

I guess it comes down to knowing what I want and deciding which way to get it. I know there is sacrifice either way but it’s hard to judge where the road ahead leads to.

Thanks again

-- Power to the people.

View JesseTutt's profile


854 posts in 2106 days

#11 posted 11-01-2012 01:15 AM

While in the Marines, could you get the government to pay for some education? How about night school in general business and sales & marketing? Both would be a plus for any business. Would they pay for any of the woodworking classes? GI Bill?

I think that a formal training program lays a good foundation for any career. It won’t provide everything you need, but it is a good start. Additionally, having a Associates or Bachelors is sometimes useful.

Are there any woodworking stores in your area that would have a 1 night class on using a particular tool?

-- Jesse, Saint Louis, Missouri

View OnlyJustME's profile


1562 posts in 2372 days

#12 posted 11-01-2012 01:18 AM

You can spend the money on school training or spend the money on a botched project where you have to buy more wood to redo it or you under priced the project since you didn’t know ahead of time what you were getting into.. Both give you training and you spend money either way. But did that project have a deadline that you can’t meet now since it has to be redone. That won’t get you many call backs.

i would opt for the school training to start with since this is something you will be wanting to support the family with. It will give you at least some knowledge base to fall back on, on what you are getting into with certain projects and get your muscle memory started ahead of time.

If it was just a hobby that you have been doing a long time on the side and it just sort of started into a business that’s a different story.

-- In the end, when your life flashes before your eyes, will you like what you see?

View Don W's profile

Don W

18710 posts in 2563 days

#13 posted 11-01-2012 01:29 AM

I spent almost 20 years in the carpentry/woodworking field, all self taught. I switched careers about 15 years ago to technology, again self taught. I got my bachelor degree, self taught, and I teach technology as a self taught teacher.

You need to answer that question. How do you learn. I can sit in a classroom and after about 3 days my eyes glass over. But if I just start doing it, I’ll learn how. I can buy a book, read and do as I read and retain. Once I set my mind to learning it, I don’t stop until I’m happy with my results.

So are you a self motivated, can read and understand, if you don’t understand can you research and figure it out, or are you better having someone explain it.

I’m not telling how I do it to brag, but to explain why you may not need school. If you learn better in a more traditional way, then go to school.

There is a good reason almost every major university in the country now has online degree capabilities. When I did it it was relatively new. Today, not so much.

I completely agree you should learn from anyone you can, I’m just not of the opinion traditional classroom learning is the only way to do it.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View JAAune's profile


1797 posts in 2312 days

#14 posted 11-01-2012 01:30 AM

It’s hard to give a definite recommendation for any individual but there’s several things that should be mentioned. First of all, a good woodworking school will do wonders for your knowledge, confidence and help in making connections with other furniture makers. In my classes, I learned in just a couple years what most self taught woodworkers will not learn in 20. The knowledge alone isn’t enough though. Like Huff says, it’ll also take plenty of time working in the shop to develop actual skills. The schooling simply makes this easier since less time is wasted practicing bad technique.

Also, making a living as a furniture maker is not easy. It takes an enormous amount of time and practice to develop the skill required to make turn a decent profit. It might be a good idea to contemplate the idea of making non-furniture items as well.

To make a living, two additional skills are important – creativity and salesmanship. The creativity is what makes your work stand out from the sea of manufactured goods. Salesmanship is important because people probably won’t need anything you have to sell. They can probably get it cheaper elsewhere and will have to really desire your products before they will buy. Being a good woodworker isn’t enough. I know this because my inexperienced business partner has obtained as much work in one year as I have in several.

My original plan was to be self-taught but I’m glad I ended up doing an apprenticeship with a furniture-maker instead. Lots of hands-on practice and being in a real business environment gave me a grounding in how to work with the goal of earning a living. This is a lot different from being a hobbyist woodworker and requires a different mindset.

For supplemental education I took classes at Marc Adams School. I decided to go to this school because the week-long classes could be fit into my schedule as time and budget permitted. Also, I was able to pick topics based upon my individual needs. For example, I didn’t need to learn how to operate machinery since I learned that in my apprenticeship but classes on finishing techniques and wood-bending were loaded with information I hadn’t yet acquired.

-- See my work at and

View Milo's profile


869 posts in 3315 days

#15 posted 11-01-2012 01:37 AM

I’d go back to school for woodworking in a HEARTBEAT if I could… :(

-- Beer, Beer, Thank God for Beer. It's my way of keeping my mind fresh and clear...

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