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Furniture Craftsmanship Schools..

9010 Views 22 Replies 17 Participants Last post by  PlaneDave
Hey everybody,

I've been doing some research lately about cabinet and furniture making as a career. I realize that there are many risks involved in this venture but I'm taking my time to get all of my ducks in a row… I have talked to a few LJ's about their success in this profession and that has been invaluable!

Currently I am going to school here in Phoenix, Az to get a degree in business. I have always been a sort of entrepreneur and I know that first having the knowledge to run a successful business is key.

My wife and I don't have any kids yet and she has a great job as an RN…(thats what we're living on right now…)

Along with being a smart business owner I want to be the best craftsman that I possibly can. I know that there are several options when it comes to getting formal woodworking training: weekend seminars or programs that last for months…

I am looking for the best woodworking education that I can get (that is here in the US…). I have looked into programs offered at the North Bennet Street School in Boston, MA, the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, ME, The College of the Redwoods in Fort Bragg, CA, and the Palomar College in San Marcos, CA.

If any of you have gone to these schools or know anyone who has I would really like more information about them.

I would like to know:

Do you feel like you received a high quality education?
Was is worth it?
Do you feel that your education has helped you professionally?
Would you recommend it to an aspiring craftsman?

Thank you all for your advice and support as I pursue my goals of being a successful furniture designer and craftsman.

-Spencer Bates
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I think you shoudl pay Marc Spagnuolo aka "the Woodwhisperer" a visit. He is there in the Phoenix area, but did some training with David Marks as an apprenticeship in California.
I am sure he would let you pick his brain a bit about moving into the pro's

All the schools you looked at are good - many really cater to the worker that is fairly advanced, as they have a sort of Portfolio review for applicants as part of the process. I would definitely say to choose the school close to where you want to live. You will do a lot of networking for associates, suppliers, and with your professors. So if you have all these great contacts in Maine but live back in Arizona, that would be a problem. So pick a geographic region.
I wont recommend a school but I will say this. I would keep your goals of being a self employed craftsman to yourself when applying for a job as an apprentice for the following reasons.

Grads from schools are often gifted, skilled, etc but are most often they dead slow so trying to make any money off them is almost impossible and therefor I view them as an investment and literally pump a whole lot of money into them knowing that some day, I will get a return on my investment. If I knew that the day they start making money for me, is the day they are going to leave…...........I would never hire them. Yes I know that people come and people go and always wish them the best but I dare say…...I might not disclose my future ambitions to a prospective employer.

Good luck and enjoy the journey

Just a thought.
Thanks for your input guys.
We'll be at North Bennet Street in a little more than a week for some workshops. We've been there doing workshops a couple times in the past. I'm impressed by the students and the work that comes out of there. If I was to offer criticism of all the woodworking programs I've seen, it would be about the lack of preparation to own and run a successful business. It sounds as if you may have that covered.
Look closely at the work the graduates have done after they have left. You can tell a Redwoods/Kernov graduate from 100 yards. Bennett street is a bit better, but pretty much reproductions type work. That's fine if you want your work to be in that particular style. If you have a different idea of what you want, they might not be a good fit. Also, what Roman said is pretty true. These graduates don't have the best reputation in most shops- to "artistic"- if you need to work for someone.
I took some classes at Red Rocks Community College in metro Denver. I can't say I learned a lot-grew up doing this stuff. But it did give me confidence in my abilities. Most of the schools don't even mention the pace of a commercial shop. Something to think about.
I am a "08" grad of the North Bennet St. School's Cabinet and Furniture Program. I am also a 2 time winner of "Best in Show" At the Providence Fine Furniture Show. Winning the first time in "07" as a student, then again 2yrs. later as a Profesional. I did not have the fine skills required for great furniture prior to taking the 2 year program. North Bennet gives you the knowledge required to build quality, lasting furniture. Believe me 2yrs. is not barely enough time to aquire the skills of fine furniture making. Running a business is another matter, I dont ask my plumber for legal advise and I didnt go to a furniture school to get a business degree.

What they did give me is an overall knowledge of the use of hand tools, how to design furniture around sound construction methods, templating from full size plans, An understanding of the 'science of wood" and how to design around its limitations. And a gradual escalation of required projects that tested my abilities, and gave me the confidence to reach further.

This cant be underestimated. Put 20 people in a room, all of similar minds and tell them to create. I learned the most from osmosis( seeing other classmates work in progress). I made around 9 pieces in 2 yrs. but watched a HUNDRED or more pieces be created by others doing the same thing ( reaching for their limits.)

The 2 yrs at North Bennet was a Fast Forward button for me, I felt good about what I could build when I graduated, and that I could sell it.. I have been working as a carpenter for 20 yrs. prior to going to school, I have worked for myself several times during that period.I can run a business and I have no problem promoting my work. What I didnt have was the skills to make the quality of furniture that would allow me to make a living at it. I have been fully self employed as furniture maker since gradutaion. Im not getting rich… but I can pay my bills. I also enjoy every minute of it.

My furniture has begun to evolve from strictly reproductions to my own designs and interpretations of classic designs. What is constant is I use the same skill gained making a Chippendale Chair, as I do making a modern desk or an art deco display cabinet.
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I graduated from NBSS last year and I'm way better than "mack" (hi, Kevin). This whole "graduates are slow" issue seems strange to me. Did you guys call the school they graduated from to ask about them? Did you look at their portfolio? Some people build 3 pieces at school; some build 10.

At NBSS, you get out what you put in. They'll teach you everything you want to know, but you have to ask. If you don't make the effort, it's your loss. The "curriculum" is very open, so what you learn depends on what you build. What mack said about having all those people around is true. I learned as much watching others as I did building myself. NBSS also has a great reputation among clients and employers.

The school has a reputation for being stuck in the past regarding style and technique, but it's not the case. The program is strictly focused on technique and quality. Students regularly come through with their own styles, but they can't just be high concept. They have to have solid construction. The four instructors each have their own approach to problems and have no problem using machines when appropriate. They just don't want students to be relient on machinery because it's limiting.

I could go on all day about the school. Oh, I guess I should answer your questions. In short, yes to everything. The amount they taught me in 2 years is astounding. Also, the school helps you find jobs and commissions after you graduate. The school has started offering courses in business and marketing, too. Not to mention, Boston is a really cool city.

I'm familiar with the CFC in Maine and they have a really interesting program. It's much more structured than NBSS but has different foci. If you have any other questions, I'd be happy to answer them. In case you haven't noticed, I loved my experience there.

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why is that younger men think this way.

I had a young man walk in for a job. His English literacy skills sucked but his Russian literacy skills were awesome but mine sucked. I looked at his portfolio and it got my interest but upon looking at his shabby rusted cheap tools I was suspect but I could his desperation in needing a job so we hired him for "one" day. In the first hour I knew that this young man was indeed worth his salt as much salt as any other man in the shop.

15 years later he now owns his own shop, employs about ten people and he is now a good friend. He never went to college, never took any courses but he did spend the first ten years of his adult life learning and mastering the use of hand tools for slaves wages in the former USSR. I can say the same for many European joiners but sadly I cannot say the same for the majority of fresh graduates on this side of the pond. Their egos are always much bigger then their performance.

Woodworking schools and colleges that teach do one thing. They get your foot into the door where if you had no school, no experince, that would be much more difficult. Some graduates are good and are worth the investment into a continuing career but it would be extremely rare for a fresh young grad., to make an employer money right from the word "go" and it would also be extremely naive, for an employer to expect it.

No offence but just my experience.
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One more school to look in to I can say hand down My time there w3as well worth it.
Why is it older men think that way?

I partially disagree with Moron. Every graduate from a school isn't great and certainly not better than every self-taught woodworker. However, schools, in addition to giving you connections, give you a head start. Two years at school may have saved me 15 years of learning by trial and error. Schools are hubs of knowledge. A graduate develops a new technique or approach and, often, shows it to the instructors, or to other students. I didn't just learn from one guy for two years, I learned from everyone who's ever been through the school.

I was just talking to an ex-instructor at NBSS about how some people build unbelievable furniture and are successful, but have never heard of some of the techniques we learn in our first semester. They have a way to do something that works fine, and they never knew they could do it better.

i have BFA in Furniture Design from Savannah College of Art and Design…. that was about 8 years ago! they have a great facility and i loved the program…. i still keep in touch with my Professors and they are very knowledgeable!! check it out if you havent already. if you have any specific questions just send me a PM… i would be happy to answer any of them and even get you in contact with the department head… you looking into Grad program or undergrad?
Business knowledge will take you farther in a woodworking career than anything else. I am sure everyone here can tell you about a woodworker they know with phenomenall talent that can't get work and then a hack they have seen that stays busy year round.

I'll take realworld experience in a successful shop, with a teacher who has learned how to actually make money in the trade, over woodworking philosophy anyday.

Its a wonderful thing to have all the time in the world to perfect a dovetail, but the percentage of people who recognize or are willing to pay for that level of craftsmanship decreases everyday. That is a free lesson from real world experience.
The older I get, the more I realize how little I know, suffice to say that the "little" I do know is significant enough to know that it is impossible to put an old mans head on the top of a young mans shoulders.

"Experience" is the hardest, toughest, cruelest teacher out there, the lessons always come after the test.

So many decades ago my wise friend, my very kind and educated mentor, my father told me I might be a fool to "study" woodworking. Wise beyond his years, he warned me of the pitfalls, the income, the government regulations, the betrayel of false patrons, the very difficult journey I was choosing at the time and when I finally graduated with an engineering ticket and a woodworking "official document" with my straight "A" average I went to work. Two weeks later and looking down at my poverty paycheque, children to feed, I realized how pathetically useless I was. Education opened the door to a journey I was not prepared for. Life went from "simple" to "super complicated" in a NewYork minute.

I often think that 2 easiest ways to reach bankruptcy and marital distress beyond repair, is to open a restaurant or a cabinet shop before you have the money and experience to make it happen. Even then it's a tough go. Ignorance is bliss.

Passion, talent and skill will only go so far, $$$$$$$ and lots of it….............does the rest.I am a believer in hard work and sacrifice and I believe that if one works hard enough, sacrifices enough,that dreams and goals can and will come true but I am not quite convinced that its always worth it. I always wonder that when I die, will my last thoughts be about my work, my craft?......I think not but rather hoping that I spent enough time with those I love to have made a difference in their lives. I'm just glad I have lived long enough to make it up to some of those who also sacrificed, their time, for my dream.

It's Sunday and I have to go back to work.
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Lots of good discussions here. I am also thinking about schools the same way you are AZwoodman. Any new updates on your research/ideas of what you are going to do?

@ Cfurnitureguy- I am actually currently attending SCAD for furniture design. they are changing the curriculum and I am personally not very happy with it. What was your courses like, were there any fabrication/craft classes? They removed several and its down to 1 that is require to take… It's changing so fast, so I am looking into my options. I definitely do not like the designing for industry, its too mind numbing and not very personal.

Here's another place to consider The Furniture Institute of Massachusetts it's run by Phil Lowe.
when a survey was given to other well know woodworkers they all selected Phil as the best woodworker they knew hands down. Phil was an instructor and I believe the head master at North Bennet street school for a number of years.
It's probably too late to get into one of the year long programs for the '10 school year. I'm unsure about the NBSS program, but know it's too late for College of the Redwoods, Inside Passage, or the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. But, most of the schools run shorter week or month long programs that are probably still available and will give you a taste for what the school offers.

Like some of the others have said, a big part of the school experience comes from working right next to other like minded people almost 24/7 for nine months, and the most significant skills learned are hand tools and design skills. Business skills … nope, professional woodworking … not so much. Perfection … pretty darn close. Also, you will get out of the experience what you put into the experience.

And, no, I haven't been to any of the schools. The above comes from talking to other folks that have.
If I did it for money, it would be no fun. I do it for an outlet of creativeness, love for family and friends, and should I get something extra along the way, I am grateful. I work with wood becauses it soothes my soul.

Has anyone heard of some good schools in Texas?
Hey burt,

Im sorry but i havent heard of any in TX. You could always check with your local community college though… They may have a program…
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