What makes a master?

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Forum topic by rhett posted 05-31-2013 11:54 AM 1805 views 0 times favorited 36 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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742 posts in 3693 days

05-31-2013 11:54 AM

Just throwing this out to see what fellow ww’ers think. I’ve heard 10 years or 10,000 hours you can master anything. I’m sure that holds true, if it’s a single function, but woodworking encompasses a large array of disciplines.

I’ve met plenty of ww’ers and visited many wood shops. Only a few times have I felt I was in the company of a master.

A cabinetmaker
A wood turner
A dulcimer maker

None of them called themselves masters, they were actually quite humble about their skill.

None were younger than 50.

None had a clean shop full of nice tools.

All were very inventive in solutions to problems.

All chose solitude over self promotion.

All were very open about their methods and were excited to pass along information.

All seemed to enjoy a “simple” life with little emphasis on material possession.

These seemed to be the cohesive traits of the three. I would love to hear what others think or have discovered themselves.

Be Good

-- Doubt kills more dreams than failure.

36 replies so far

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1835 posts in 1995 days

#1 posted 05-31-2013 12:16 PM

Interesting question there Mr. Rett. I most definitely not a master woodworker; however I make my living playing guitar and teaching music. (I also have a Master’s in Guitar Performance although I don’t think of myself as a Master guitar player)

I have taken lessons with some of the greatest players on the planet. The greatest musicians I have encountered I always describe as they play the instrument, the instrument doesn’t play them. Complete poetry in motion.

My father is a master Diesel Mechanic when he turns a wrench it is just so, not too much not too little. He has been doing it for almost 40 years. He works the tools, not the reverse.

It’s not the tools that make a master however it’s the knowledge basis, the know how, the body reflexes when using it, overcoming the limitations and mistakes, and most importantly the ability to create a piece of themselves that lives on to something lasting. Take John Towsend and Sam Maloof for example.

These people don’t just exist; they excel every second of every day. That is some of what makes them masters

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View Tennessee's profile


2873 posts in 2540 days

#2 posted 05-31-2013 12:42 PM

I started using master woodworker on my website only after people started referring to me as such. I don’t really think that way, I make as many mistakes while alone in my shop as I did ten, fifteen years ago. and I do prefer to work alone so I can think more creatively.
But I think the big difference for me now is I don’t force anything. I’ll stop and just study something if I have a problem, sometimes even walking away. But also, I always want to get back down in the shop to just be there with the tools, wood, the environment.
If it takes time, you just have to realize your limitations, your abilities, and as they say, “There is always another way to get it done properly.”

One other thing, about a year ago a fellow luthier told me that Paul Reed Smith of PRS guitars once said you have to build 25 guitars or so before you know what you are doing and can call yourself a luthier. When he said that to me, I was somewhere in the 40’s, and #56 just went out the door two days ago. I’ve got a major repair on the bench, (cracked neck), a customer has entrusted to me, but still, I don’t know if I would truly call myself a luthier. Our local museum is after me to display my other wares, we’re haggling on pricing. Still, all said and done, save for the advertising on my website that is for show only, I’ll settle for “pretty good woodworker”.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

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333 posts in 2259 days

#3 posted 05-31-2013 12:48 PM

I think part of being considered a master is the ability to fix mistakes or work around them to save the project. We all make mistakes and avoiding them is a skill as well. Redesigning on the fly so that the final results are acceptable does take a good but of experience.

-- Fine Custom Woodwork since 1978

View Icemizer's profile


88 posts in 3565 days

#4 posted 05-31-2013 01:17 PM

A true master is only recognized by others never himself.

You can master certain skills, but that wont make you a master.

I consider myself a novice woodworker which is one step up from a dabbler and one step down from a hobbiest.

-- Say what you mean and mean what you say.

View redSLED's profile


790 posts in 1918 days

#5 posted 05-31-2013 01:20 PM

Becoming a master starts first with mastering your emotions. For some of us, that takes a lifetime.

-- Perfection is the difference between too much and not enough.

View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2312 days

#6 posted 05-31-2013 01:28 PM

The mark of a master is not a title that can be instituted by the master himself.
And the master will be judged not only on his own work, but in the number of others to whom he passes his knowledge.

View helluvawreck's profile


31393 posts in 2892 days

#7 posted 05-31-2013 01:36 PM

I’m sort of a Jack of all Trades (don’t take the term literally but as used in common folk language); but I’m definitely not a master of anything and probably never will be. However, I sure do enjoy fiddling with my tools.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View bold1's profile


293 posts in 1873 days

#8 posted 05-31-2013 04:13 PM

When I worked as a mason our definition of pro versus amateur was a pro knows how to correct his mistakes. I believe a master knows how to avoid the mistakes in the first place.

View PurpLev's profile


8536 posts in 3674 days

#9 posted 05-31-2013 04:31 PM

I’ve always held the 10,000 count as the indication of becoming a master.

it takes practice, muscle memory, and lots of it as well as encountering issues and trying out different solutions to find what best suits your workflow.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View BigYin's profile


418 posts in 2442 days

#10 posted 05-31-2013 04:36 PM

A master is entitled toopen his own workshop and employ others.

-- ... Never Apologise For Being Right ...

View MrRon's profile


4795 posts in 3269 days

#11 posted 05-31-2013 08:03 PM

When asked, what is a master craftsman, I have to revert back to the Japanese artisians who make swords, drums and other craft items. I can only compare one to a true master. I believe a Japanese master, devotes his entire life in the perfection of a skill, one that he can repeat day-in and day-out without thinking. Mistakes are not allowed. Any error would result in starting again from scratch. This would be perfection at it’s extreme, but in our non-Japanese society, a master would probably be one that is aclaimed as such by one or a group of masters who are in a position to judge. I am not a master, so I am not in a position to judge. All I know is he can do better work than I can. He may be a master in my eyes, but maybe not to others.

View LoydMoore's profile


105 posts in 1982 days

#12 posted 05-31-2013 08:33 PM

I have scraps of paper that say I am a Master Machinist, Master Die Maker and certified master metrologist. With any one of those scraps of paper and $4 I can get a really good cup of coffee down at Starbucks. IMO my woodworking skills are far superior to any of those certified skill but not a day goes by that I don’t see a project on here that makes me say “wow, wish I could do that”. In other words, observing what others do humbles me and causes me to keep striving to be better.

PS; I also have a Master of Public Administration but based on what I see on a on the news every day, I think the bar for that designation is fairly low.

-- Loyd, San Angelo, TX

View quicksilver's profile


195 posts in 2614 days

#13 posted 05-31-2013 08:43 PM

I feel that the loss of the journeyman and the apprentice relationship has severely damaged many industries.
Then again, at least in America, the big box stores and the currently most advertised furniture company has brainwashed the public into price first.
Chicken or the egg????
I found the Finewoodworking galleries of the West and Northwest and dreamed.
Now I visit LJ’s and dream. What a great site.
Thanks all

-- Quicksilver

View Gary's profile


9333 posts in 3459 days

#14 posted 05-31-2013 08:44 PM

A person must be keenly aware of his emotions and the desires of the wood. Just look at this project and you will be able to see how a true “Master” works

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View Loren's profile


10476 posts in 3674 days

#15 posted 05-31-2013 08:56 PM

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