With the arrival of the new year, I typically think of resolutions or things to change in my life. But I think I can speak for everyone, 2020 brought enough changes and I certainly don’t want any more. But I still like to set goals for myself. And a goal that I can never fully master is woodworking.
Several years ago I did a video titled, “The Best Way to Learn Woodworking.” Click here for the video. I thought I would revisit that topic. It doesn’t matter if someone is just beginning their woodworking journey or if they are highly skilled and looking to master a specific technique, there is always room for improvement. So here are my top 5 best ways to learn woodworking.
5. Blogs/ Magazines
Blogs are a great way to learn. I like them because they are short with concedened information. Typically they come out regularly and are usually free. There are a wide range of topics from various authors. Best of all, you can access them anywhere at any time from a smartphone.
The same can be said about magazines. They are short and many times comes with the plans of the project.
Because blogs are usually short, they can’t give all the detailed information that might be necessary. Also, is the author an experienced woodworker or a hobbyist who got lucky on their first try?
Most people would probably say videos are their number one way to learn. And it’s true, videos have truly opened the door for many people to learn this woodworking.
Videos are great for people who don’t like to read. Plus they are able to be watched showing workflow, technique, mistakes, and can even be entertaining.
Some of the videos are fast. This might mean missing a step or even skipping it altogether. Some videos might have poor quality, bad angles, and even have bad jokes in them. (no finger-pointing please:-)
Books are of high value to me. A book causes you to slow down and really focus on fine points. Books are usually highly detailed and the information is solid because it is fact checked by an editor, unlike a blog. Speaking from experience, when I wrote a book for Popular Woodworking, I had four different editors review my book to help prevent mistakes from being published.
Finding answers in a book is a lot slower, especially if you are in the shop and need that answer now. Unlike blogs that are free, to own books it costs money. And lastly, books require space and can quickly fill up a shelf or two. (or 16 in my case)
Taking a class from a professional woodworking instructor is time well spent. Unlike a video, the instructor is right there to watch your progress and give you some fine tuning tips right on the spot. The instructor can answer questions instantly and even give additional information on a topic making you a more well rounded woodworker.
Classes cost money and are not always available in every city. Classes also require scheduling and having time to set aside to take the class. Class size might be limited, so getting in could be difficult. And finally, not all instructors are good teachers. Some woodworkers might be very proficient at their craft but might lack the ability to convey the process in an easy to understand explanation.
So now we are down to my NUMBER ONE way to learn woodworking. Many people have disagreed with me over the years, but I still believe it to be the best way.
1. Get a Customer
This might sound ridiculous to many but hear me out. Many times in woodworking we fall into a comfort zone with our skills. We will build the same type of thing over and over because we know it well. However, most customers all have different interests. This might require doing a technique or style that is new to us. Having a customer forces you to learn more.
Having a customer also means you will get some money. True, you may not make a fortune off of it, but you will get paid for doing something you love.
Having that customer also means you will try harder to produce quality work which will earn you a good reputation.
The biggest problem with having a customer is fear. The fear of failing. Fear of disappointing a customer. The fear of losing money. And the biggest fear, losing your love for a hobby as it becomes your job and actual work.
Your hobby becoming a part-time job opens all kinds of other issues most of us never thought of. There are issues of quoting jobs. Meeting deadlines. How to sell and how to find work. All these things are issues that will have to be dealt with if woodworking becomes a job. But I truly believe my own woodworking skills became much better by taking on jobs from customers.
In my humble opinion, there are my top five best ways to learn woodworking. And if I may make one final point, when I made the video some years ago, several people in the comments said the best way to learn woodworking is to practice. And although I would agree, practice is important, you first have to learn something before you can practice it.
Before I could practice baking a cake I would first have to learn what is involved with baking. I would need the recipe and the step by step directions to follow. I would need the ingredients and the quantities. Only after I have learned what is required could I then practice.
So I sincerely hope 2021 is a better year for everyone and I wish all of us continue to grow and learn more from this wonderful craft of woodworking
Chad Stanton- Owner of Stanton Fine Furniture