My woodworking education #3: Trying to make a Good Decision...

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Blog entry by azwoodman posted 03-26-2010 10:41 PM 3117 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Review after visiting Palomar College Part 3 of My woodworking education series no next part


So I as you can read in my previous blog posts about my woodworking education, I have been seriously contemplating enrolling in a full time furniture craftsmanship program. I recently returned from a visit to Palomar Community College in San Marcos, Ca to meet with the Cabinet and Furniture technology program instructors and take a tour of their facility.

I mentioned that I was about 90% sure that I would be going there this fall (August 2010). Well, I’m not at 90% any more…

I have a certain method for making decisions in my life: Study and evaluate all viable options, choose one that feels like the best at the moment, and proceed down that path even if I’m not 100% sure yet that it’s the right one. I am a religious person and I believe that God is not only interested in our “eternal salvation” but He’s interested in our daily lives. I believe that He will help us find a path that brings us the most joy and personal growth, even if that path isn’t the easiest option. That being said, the next step I take when making decisions is to confidently pursue the option that I have chosen, fully devoting myself to it. If the decision is correct I will feel settled and secure. If it’s not, I will feel uneasy. If I don’t initially feel confident then I will keep going until I either become confident or a more appropriate option becomes available. The bottom line: make an educated decision by yourself and God will help you feel if you need to change course.

Ok, now that you kind of know how I make decisions I’ll fill you in on what I’ve been thinking lately…

So as of last Saturday (3/20/10) I had pretty much decided that I was going to be enrolling in one of the Cabinet and Furniture Tech programs over at Palomar College. My wife and I were already planning when we could get back over to CA to get our I.D. cards to start establishing our “residency” there. As the week passed I have tried to move forward with my decision. I have spoken to several family members, and a couple friends, and told them that we were probably going to be in California by the fall. But the longer I thought about my decision the more uneasy I felt about it. My wife felt the same (it’s imperative that we make important decisions as a team).

I have looked into other options that I could pursue to get my woodworking education. There are several good woodworking schools around the country that I am considering at this point in time. One of them is The Northwest Woodworking Studio (owned and operated by Gary Rogowski, a well known craftsman and published woodworking author) in Portland, Oregon. They have a couple options that might work for me. There are three “mastery” programs that include a 9-month commitment for their Resident Mastery Program, or 2 years for their Distance and Local Mastery Programs.

The ones that I am most interested in are the 9-month Resident Program and the Distance Mastery Program. The benefit to the Distance program is that it is about $10,000 cheaper than the $17,000+ that you need to pay for the Resident Mastery Program. Another benefit to the Distance Program is that it is designed for people that are holding down a full time job in conjunction with their woodworking education. That would be helpful to me because I could work and continue to go to school to earn my business degree while also getting a great woodworking education.

The down side to the Distance Program is that there would be all of the distractions that come with “work” and “home”, not to mention that the program is over twice as long as the 9 month version. Also, for the local and distance programs, you have to use your own shop. I guess I could use the extra 10 grand that would have gone to tuition to buy the additional tools that I would need (band saw and drill press, various hand tools, for example). Another drawback of the Distance program is that there would be quite a bit of travel involved. Every 3-4 months during the 2-year programs there is a muti-day seminar that I would need to attend. I would also need to find a way to transport the current project from Phoenix, AZ to Portland, OR (just over 1300 miles) so that it could be reviewed.

There are several well-known woodworking schools, other than the Northwest Woodworking Studio, that offer a 9-month comprehensive program (The North Bennet Street School in Boston, MA and The Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, ME, to name a couple). The benefit to the 9-month program is that it would be literally 9 months of pure woodworking paradise, a well outfitted shop with all of the appropriate machines, direct and more constant contact with the instructors, and few distractions that would get between me and my work. Most of the schools that I have looked into for that type of program also set aside some time to work on the business side of things in one way or another. The prices for these programs all hover around $17,500, give or take a couple Benjamins, not including materials for each project (add about another 200-500 bucks times the number of projects to be completed).

Well, we’ve gone over some of the comprehensive programs that I am looking into. I think that I would really like to complete a program like the ones that I’ve discussed because I feel that they offer the best type of woodworking education out there. I think that by immersing myself in the craft for a solid, extended, block of time, I will be shaving years off of the normal learning curve of the typical woodworking education (“typical” being defined as self taught or working as an apprentice at an already established shop).

Now the nuts and bolts: My current plan…

-Continue going to school to get my degree in business

-Pay off some debt and set some tuition money aside for the next year or two so that I can fund a 9-month comprehensive program with mostly, if not all, cash.

-Build up my collection of tools

-Continue to investigate the fine custom furniture business by talking to successful makers that are currently working

-Take a few smaller seminars at various woodworking schools that I’m interested in

-Plan on getting an education that ensures a more stable and reliable income while I hone my furniture making skills at the same time

-Upon graduating with a degree in business, get a well paying job while I start my furniture business on the side

I’m sure that as time passes I will modify the plan but now I feel confident that the direction in which I am heading is the right one for me, right now. I feel like waiting to drop everything and go to woodworking school is the right thing to do, right now. I feel that as I explore all of my options and take a few woodworking classes while simultaneously getting a degree in business can do nothing but help me in the future as I eventually start my own business as a furniture designer and craftsman.

Bottom Line: I need to worry about my “bottom line” making sure that I can earn enough $$ to pay the bills and have the lifestyle that my wife and I want, without sacrificing my passion for furniture design and craftsmanship…

Let me know what you think…

-- Spencer, Gilbert Az (

6 comments so far

View Eli's profile


142 posts in 4217 days

#1 posted 03-27-2010 12:14 AM

Just to be clear: North Bennet Street is a two year program with 9 months of instruction each year. NBSS also has a “3-month Intensive” workshop. It’s certainly doesn’t compare to a full time enrollment, but it does cover all of the fundamentals and a few more advanced techniques. I was amazed by how much I learned during that time.

Good luck with everything.


View michaelray's profile


232 posts in 4665 days

#2 posted 03-27-2010 12:23 AM

Sounds like a solid decision. Especially seeking Gods will for your life. Trusting in Him and His timing, not ours, is always beneficial.

-- [email protected]

View azwoodman's profile


132 posts in 4592 days

#3 posted 03-27-2010 01:13 AM

Thanks for the clarification Eli. It sounds like you had a great experience at NBSS. I am really considering that school.

-- Spencer, Gilbert Az (

View Hacksaw007's profile


620 posts in 4400 days

#4 posted 03-27-2010 01:28 AM

Your plan sounds solid. God’s direction first, common sense second. Having your wife’s opinion and prayers, priceless. You are very right in your thinking. In the times that we are now living, paying the bills is getting harder and harder to do. Keeping on top of that is key to being sucessfull. Too many times we leap before we think. There is also anounther option, do all of the things that you mentioned, however you may cross paths with a fantastic woodworker that you could learn from part time, and get a better idea of what kind of wood working you really want to get into. Pro’s have all made the major mistakes or learned not to do them from someone else. Many times the things that you can learn from someone who has to do it for a living is much better that paying someone to teach you. Getting paid and learning a trade is a much better way. Glad to hear that you have kept God in the midst of it all. He will continue to direct your paths. Being a good woodworker with a business degree sounds great to me. Keep looking up!

-- For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

View ericandcandi's profile


152 posts in 4729 days

#5 posted 03-28-2010 06:08 AM

Go into the medical field like nursing and then you only have to work 3 months out of the year. Lifes short, make the most of it.

-- ericandcandi in Louisiana- Home of the "LSU Tigers"

View azwoodman's profile


132 posts in 4592 days

#6 posted 03-28-2010 11:19 AM

LOL, that’s actually not a bad idea there ericandcandi! In fact my wife is a Registered Nurse working at a hospital here in Phoenix. I would be more interested in a career in the medical field if I didn’t nearly loose consciousness around needles all the time… I can only imagine how bad that would be to accidentally stab someone in the wrong spot because I fainted… ;)

-- Spencer, Gilbert Az (

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