Woodworking Classes, are they worth it?

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Kjuly posted 05-17-2010 02:23 PM 2273 reads 0 times favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch

First the disclaimer…I have been teaching woodworking classes for several years. Just so you know up front, this is not a sales pitch, just a look into why someone wood (pun intended) want to spend time and money to take a class when there is so much free information on the web.

There are countless woodworking forums, blogs and online magazines packed full of useful information. As fast as you can click your mouse, you can find a boat load of information on every aspect of woodworking. Just one click and you can find a step by step tutorial on how to make mortise and tenon joints, another click and you can watch a video on how to cut dovetails. Look a little more and find page after page on boat building. With all this good (and free) information at your finger tips, are woodworking classes worth the investment?

Here’s a quick look at few of the different types of classes that are offered.

Classes that are focused on one piece of furniture, such as a chair, , be it a Windsor, Adirondack or rocking chair, the goal of the instructor is to teach you how to build that particular chair. These classes offer a great opportunity to learn the steps needed to build a single piece.

Marquetry, inlay or carving are disciplines taught in phases, (like most woodworking). Starting with the basics and move forward as your skills progress.

There are classes that cover the set up and safe use of a particular type of tool. This could be a table saw, band saw or router. Usually geared toward the beginner, these instructions are designed to help you get the most out of your woodworking equipment.

Classes that teach you about a specific type of tool, such as the lathe or scroll saw. In this situation, the tool and the different methods of using it, are the center of the instruction.

This list is by no means a complete list of woodworking classes, just a few examples of what is offered.

Hands on classes offer a chance to learn directly from someone skilled in your area of interest. When reading “How to” instructions or watching videos on line, the information is delivered and then it’s up to you. If the information is vague or unclear then you are left sorting out what is relevant or useful. In a class setting, you have the opportunity to ask questions and insure that you have a clear understanding of the material. This is also a good time to exchange information with fellow classmates. The chance to hear the instructions, discuss them, and either watch someone else practice the technique and/or give it a try yourself, all while under the guidance of the instructor.

I have often wondered why woodworking tool manufactures don’t directly support classroom instruction. It seems to me a great opportunity for them to promote their products directly to the people that would be buying them. As mentioned above, I teach woodworking classes and one class that I offer is a basic router class. In this class I ask each student to bring a router, so that they have the opportunity to see first hand other routers and their different features. Having several routers lined up for inspection, the students get a first hand look at what features the different manufacturers have to offer. I call this “the Good, the Bad and the Ugly” session. I always bring the ugly one. As the session progresses I often see the students borrowing routers from each other and then comparing notes. The likes and dislikes discussion eventually turns to which one would you buy and why.

Have you ever taken a woodworking class? Did you find it worth the investment?


-- Keith, Charlotte, MI

23 comments so far

View Jimi_C's profile


507 posts in 4288 days

#1 posted 05-17-2010 03:05 PM

I’ve actually been considering taking a turning class, before I would buy a lathe. That is one thing I don’t want to learn on the fly – lest things start flying off the lathe (and not in a good way)...

-- The difference between being defeated and admitting defeat is what makes all the difference in the world - Upton Sinclair, "The Jungle"

View PurpLev's profile


8652 posts in 4701 days

#2 posted 05-17-2010 03:27 PM

it really depends on the person, class, and other things that may be involved.

sure you can prob learn to build anything on your own, especially with todays vast jungle of information on the web. but a class gives you the environment, instructions, and direct and immediate feedback that all help to create a more intense, focused, and in a way – more effective process of learning.

I am personally a self taught person (in almost everything I do), but the thing is especially with woodworking (since this is a hobby to me and I don’t have much time to spend doing it) is that it takes me a very long time to master anything, or even get to things. we were just at the North Bennett School on our last LJ meet and were presented with a demonstration of a Chippendale chair making class – and it really made me want to attend such a class.

So, as I started off- it really depends on the person, the class, and other things, but I think that theoretically speaking- a class is far and beyond what one can acquire online (in terms of efficiency, and time constraints)

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

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 4051 days

#3 posted 05-17-2010 03:33 PM

When you add the price of everything up, it is really hard to justify for me personally. For the same amount of money, I could buy a pretty big stack of wood to practice with or more tools. Even for the price of some of the cheaper classes that run a couple hundred dollars, you could throw in a couple books as well. There is a class that is offered about 300 miles from where I live that I would love to attend. The class is about $700 for a week long course. Add to that about $100 for gas, 6 nights at a hotel (say $50/night). That $1100 would buy a really big stack of lumber. Yes, I am sure that there would be a lot of good things I would learn in the class but I find it really hard to justify over just going to the lumberyard and bringing home a big stack of wood to practice on. I am going to make thousands of mistakes. I might as well just start getting them out of the way.

Another problem I have with the classes for learning skills is the wide range of people in the classes. I would not like to go to a class on hand tools and wait around twiddling my thumbs while a large portion of the class is spent covering the skills I already have. I don’t want to pay that kind of money to watch beginners learning how to sharpen a chisel. I mean no offense to the beginners. I am a beginner at a lot of things. I just don’t want to spend my money watching other people learn what I already know how to do.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 5180 days

#4 posted 05-17-2010 03:46 PM


I started teaching classes on rustic woodworking and vintage finishing a couple of years ago.
It’s been fun.

-- 温故知新

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 4039 days

#5 posted 05-17-2010 03:56 PM

I also teach classes, although not in woodworking. (In machining!) Some students watch the videos, read the instructions, practise on their own and just “get it”. (I am typically also one of those students, I’ll admit) Others go through it several times and the pieces don’t click until we’re in a classroom, they ask questions, with the machine right there, and they do it under supervision. Then it clicks.

Just different learning styles.

I will likely take some woodworking classes – I feel anything I can learn is always a good thing – and I’ve taken lots of classes in other things I’ve been interested in.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 4162 days

#6 posted 05-17-2010 04:01 PM

As already stated, depends on the setting and the skill. I read many books before I started working with the tools and illustrations only help so far. Videos are handy but not exactly setup to watch while you work. I find I can get about 60% there with reading material and then spending time with an experienced person helps me get the rest of the way there. I think I would do much better one on one rather than in a class though, because I can target the specific items I am confused on or items I would like further clarification. Everyone learns at an individual rate and classroom environments usually end up with the slowest learner setting the pace (of course that would be me at times and I end up feeling sorry for everyone else ;).

I was self taught on many things involving information technology. When I decided to go to school, I was able to fill in the gaps of my knowledge, but some days I would have to sit through a 2 hour lecture to get the 5-10 minutes of information I needed. I think woodworking would be about the same for me. Optimally, I would learn the most from time spent with an experienced woodworker who is gracious enough to share their knowledge with me.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Greedo's profile


473 posts in 4013 days

#7 posted 05-17-2010 04:17 PM

im going to woodworking evening school since january, it’s not expensive as it is run by the state, somewhere around €80 for a year and a half of lessons. 4 evenings a week from 5 to 8.30.

i initially did it because you need a degree in woodworking if you ever want to start your bisness in belgium, i had been learning on my own for about 10 months so i thought i wouldn’t really learn “that much” since there is the internet, books etc…

but was i wrong! in the first month i learned more than i did in 10 months on my own, i have a certain advance on the other students but i had to correct some bad habits aswell. there are just those things that only experienced craftsmen can teach you, things you won’t find in any book or video. and then you can always ask advice for the projects your working on at home.
i would have regretted it all my life if i wouldn’t have taken these lessons

View moonls's profile


412 posts in 4039 days

#8 posted 05-17-2010 04:29 PM

I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments. They present angles from both sides of the fence. I would like to take a course at some point but would have to consider the expense. I was certainly motivated to do so after spending the day at the NBSS! I am for the most part self taught but wonder if I have developed some “bad habits” along the way too.

-- Lorna, Cape Cod

View CharlesNeil's profile


2501 posts in 4923 days

#9 posted 05-17-2010 04:35 PM

Having taught many many woodworking and finishing classes , I agree with those above , it all depends on who is doing the teaching, today with so many wood working folks all but out of business there are a zillion classes offered… I decided last year it wasn’t worth the effort for me, I am fortunate as i stay pretty busy with client orders , not to mention all the Internet stuff,

But here is honestly how I see it, with all the “Free” stuff it is hard to discern fact from fiction , or better put
facts from ideas… there is alot of good solid info out there, there is also alot of junk, A good class from a reputable instructor , can help you to learn the difference, I have seen some of the retailers who have classes , and its often some guy who works there, who hasn’t a clue, on the other hand I have seen them have super good instruction.. again I will say .. learn as much about the instructor.. this is the single deciding point… having 25 years of building bird houses , doesn’t qualify you teach inlay and carving , but then again I guess that depends on the bird houses you build

View northwoodsman's profile


525 posts in 4799 days

#10 posted 05-17-2010 04:59 PM

I can think of several reasons to take a class (although I never have, but would like to): 1) to be able to have the one on one interaction and be able to ask questions and converse. I don’t care how good a video or manual is they don’t tell you all of the little tricks. 2) as Jimi stated, you can try a piece of equipment, like a lathe, before you invest in it. 3) some people can read over something 10 times and not understand it but can see it done once and be able to master it. 4) if you have someone watching over your shoulder or at least available, they can probably tell you what you did wrong. It is almost impossible sometimes to pick it out yourself. It’s like a car wash – you can wash your car in your driveway if you like, you can go to a self service wash and pop in quarters and get out and do it yourself, you can go to a gas station and go through the drive through, you can go to a full service wash and have them clean the inside, hand dry the outside, treat the tires and even hand wax it, or you can spend a couple hundred bucks and have it completely detailed to look as good as new. It depends on your style, your budget and the end result that you want.

-- NorthWoodsMan

View Kjuly's profile


311 posts in 4338 days

#11 posted 05-17-2010 05:41 PM

You make a good point about the cost and how it is a personal choice. I like you reasoning about the class cost verses lumber and books but not everyone can learn that way.( as stated before by others.)
Your other point about classes with mixed skill levels and how one person can hold up the whole class. That is a challenge that I face in every class I teach. There is no simple way to sort out skill levels so it is up to me to make sure everyone gets a good value. Even it means having the class run long. Thanks for commenting.
I can’t tell you how many times I have had a student say ” I have read how to do this but it just isn’t clear” and after a quick demo it clicks. It really makes teaching worth it as I am sure you know.
A degree in woodworking before you can start a business in Belgium. I find that fascinating. I would love to learn more about what is involved and how long the process takes.
I think we all pick up bad habits along the way, even when we know better.I know I do because my wife tells me that all the time. Sorry, what is NBSS?
I am with you on the instructor, a little back ground info will go a long way. I have a friend who teaches lathe classes and he is truly a gifted instructor. You can tell by of the list of repeat students.

Cool car wash analogy. Fits perfectly.

-- Keith, Charlotte, MI

View SouthpawCA's profile


277 posts in 4286 days

#12 posted 05-17-2010 05:59 PM

I have recently taken a number of woodworking classes (including Jim Rodgers’ woodturning classes). I’ve found all of the classes that I’ve taken to be well worth the investment. For example, the turning videos never seem to get a catch. In class when you get a catch the instructor is there immediately to see how you are holding the tool and to correct your process.

Classes also take the stigma out of a process that seems to be very intricate. For example, french polish seemed to be a very involved process (to me). After watching it and doing it with an instructor to show you some tricks it’s the finish of choice now for me. Marquetry is another example, especially where hints and tricks are involved.

It’s sad to hear about our high schools dropping what I remember as Industrial Arts. These classes, along with art and music provide the heart and soul to our human existence. What will become of the next generation? Maybe a some will needlessly be missing a finger or 2 because they didn’t have Mr. (fill in the blank) standing and watching making sure you were safe.

-- Don

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 4051 days

#13 posted 05-17-2010 09:20 PM

The way I have seen it work is to have a more granular division of classes. Some small workshops on basic skills. Then have more sophisticated classes that are open to people who have completed the basic skills (or will go to the class fully knowing that they will not have a lot of help on the basics.) Of course that is in a perfect world with a big enough market to keep lots of classes filled. If the classes were local and weren’t extraordinarily expensive, I would probably still slug through them for the gems I would miss otherwise.

The other side is that if there are not enough people to sign up for classes, you can’t keep the teachers going to keep having classes… It is a vicious circle.

What I would really enjoy is a setup like Greedo mentioned above but I suspect that it is geared toward people who are going to make a living with woodworking rather than the hobbyist. Back when it was cheaper, I would sign up for classes at the university just for access to the studios (ceramics, sculpture, jewelery making).

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 4638 days

#14 posted 05-17-2010 10:19 PM

I have to say puplev is correct what’s the point of getting a poor instructor showing you badly how to make what you’ll never need? Take up or join a college evening class which is cheap they teach you the basics either cabinet making or woodturning whatever you should like to know also buy some good books I have hundreds and dozens of dvd’s. You have to practice at the end of the day no matter what you’re shown.Best of luck.

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View pommy's profile


1697 posts in 4744 days

#15 posted 05-17-2010 10:24 PM

I have to say after 20 years of teaching myself all the bad tricks of the trade in carpentry i have looked at evening classes i think if you go and look for the right one you cant go wrong as we all keep saying we learn something new everyday

-- cut it saw it scrap it SKPE: ANDREW.CARTER69

showing 1 through 15 of 23 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics