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Forum topic by CAV_Scout posted 12-01-2009 07:28 AM 2611 views 0 times favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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5 posts in 4352 days

12-01-2009 07:28 AM

As you all can tell by my photo I am in the Army. Going on ten years of active duty and I don’t know if I am at a turning point in my life or if I am just getting bored. However, I want to pursue a career in wood working. I am feely a little overwelmed with the thought of it though. I usually get to spend about ten hours in the shop a week. On the weekends I spend my Saturdays in the wood shop on Fort Hood. I am learning a lot of techniques and getting a lot of ideas on this site but I feel like I never have enough time to dedicate to become a true professional. I have another three years left on my enlistment, and I want to start planning now for my future.

So my question to LJ’s is: What is the best path to take to become a professional, independent woodworker? I will have the G.I. bill to apply to an accredited university and I have already been accepted Northern Michigan Unuversity but, I don’t know if that is the best option. Looking at a lot of profiles here I hardly ever see any mention of college degrees. It is almost as if everyone here is born with there skills when I know that is not the case. What are then best universities (anywhere) to learn the craft? And how does one become an apprentice? Anything will help, and thanks for the help!

27 replies so far

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


22366 posts in 4915 days

#1 posted 12-01-2009 08:02 AM

Welcome to LJ. We talked about this a couple weeks ago. check this out and come back with more questions. Good luck!!

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View RetiredCoastie's profile


999 posts in 4423 days

#2 posted 12-01-2009 08:10 AM

Welcome to LJs, you couldn’t have picked a better site to join! Thanks for your service to our country and good luck with your new career path!

-- Proud Supporter of Homes For Our Troops

View wood247's profile


9 posts in 4375 days

#3 posted 12-01-2009 09:08 AM


I am new to LJ’s but have in the last few weeks have scrolled through every page of projects and look at the site a couple of times every day. I really enjoy woodworking and would love to make a living at it. Someday maybe I will but for now I read everything I can about woodworking and search all kinds of sites like this one (which by the way is the best I have found), but I know it will be hard to make a good living in woodworking. I myself am in the navy and will be retiring in 7 months after 20 years of service. I would urge you to think LONG AND HARD before you walk away after 13 years of service!!!! You are 2/3 of the way to a retirement check. During the remainder of your time you could pursue all the education you want on woodworking and after your time is up you will have a paycheck to help supplement your dream of making a living with woodworking, not to mention your medical and other benefits.
Just my two cents.
Welcome to LJ’s and good luck with your decision.

View DaleM's profile


958 posts in 4623 days

#4 posted 12-01-2009 09:22 AM

New York State has a carpenter’s apprentice program that is either supplemented or fully funded by the state, not sure which. I don’t know what other states have, but some others may have something comparable. The only problem will be after completing your apprenticeship and possibly finding that nobody needs anything built. I know you said you still had a few years to go, so maybe the housing industry will be growing again if that’s the way you want to go. Good luck to you.

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

View RetiredCoastie's profile


999 posts in 4423 days

#5 posted 12-01-2009 09:35 AM

I second what wood247 said about going the distance and retiring. I couldn’t do the things I do today if I wasn’t getting a retirement check from the Coast Guard and VA every month. It would also give you some security until the economy turns around. Jobs are scarce. But you have to make that decision. Good luck in whatever you choose.

-- Proud Supporter of Homes For Our Troops

View FirehouseWoodworking's profile


791 posts in 4513 days

#6 posted 12-01-2009 09:44 AM

Cav Scout,

First, THANK YOU for your service. You and your brothers and sisters in uniform do us proud!

Let me give you my two cents. I retired from the Army in 1996 with 21 years of service. Granted, during my years of service, we were not faced with the wars you probably have. I had Grenada, Panama, Desert Shield/Storm, and Somalia. So, obviously, I had nothing to face like you have. But I would STRONGLY recommend that you consider your options very carefully.

I had a bachelors degree when I got out and was half way through my masters. After retirement, I went into business for myself and did fairly well. But it sure was nice to have that retirement check coming in during the lean times! It allowed me to control my own destiny rather than being a subject of the economy.

I have since moved on to a different career , but I still do woodworking as a sideline. It got to the point where I was more worried about the “business” side rather than the “sawdust” side of woodworking.

It will be more so in your case. The iindustry is suffering greatly due to the economy and the outlook doesn’t look good for the near future. Of course, the world situation isn’t the greatest either. But to be honest, I miss it and I surmise you will as well. There is a lot from the service that you will not find on the outside.

So think about it. That retirement that you are closer to will really give you a cushion when the time comes. You’re probably young enough that you’ll have plenty of time to start up that new career. In the meantime, hone your skills and do your market research. When the time comes, you’ll be so much better prepared to jump into the deep end!

Best of luck and stay safe.

-- Dave; Lansing, Kansas

View pashley's profile


1047 posts in 4957 days

#7 posted 12-01-2009 03:25 PM

Thanks for your service brother, I”m sure it hasn’t been easy.

If it was ME in your shoes, I think I would hang in there to get the retirement check, BUT try to enroll in school dedicated to woodworking; that way, you’re being practical and satisfying your “jock” itch, so to speak, LOL. Around here, in Rochester, NY, We have the School for the American Craftsman at RIT – something like that would be great. You can take night courses, and really bring your skill set up to speed in a comparatively shorter amount of time. Maybe you can get the GI Bill to help as well? Once you retire from the military, you’ll have that check every month to keep your head about water while your pursue what you love – woodworking.

-- Have a blessed day!

View CharlieM1958's profile


16292 posts in 5458 days

#8 posted 12-01-2009 04:10 PM

Thanks for your service.

I will add my voice to those urging you to hang in there till you’ve made your 20 years. Professional woodworking can be a tough racket with lots of lean times. Having a regular check coming in would put you in an ideal position to have a second career without having to worry about starving to death when business is slow.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View chunky's profile


9 posts in 4474 days

#9 posted 12-01-2009 04:20 PM

CAV Scout,
Don’t give up your Army career. 26 years in the Navy and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Got my BA while on active duty and did my MBA after I retired. Don’t think that the grass is always greener on the other side – I know that feeling that you believe you could be doing something more enjoyable, but you’ll never do anything more rewarding/satisfying than what you’re doing right now. Fit school into your Army schedule – while on active duty I was always helped by my senior officers to bend schedules, etc to go to school.
Plus a retirement check every month helps a lot – it takes a lot to start and run a business. I have owned two since I retired and could not have done it without that cushion every month. Years go by fast – don’t rush them. God bless you and keep you safe

View rtb's profile


1101 posts in 4953 days

#10 posted 12-01-2009 04:30 PM

JUST SPEAKING FROM EXPERIENCE. Stay and get that check !! By the time you are due to re-up you will have far to much invested to throw away and retirement from the NG/Reserves doesn’t cut in until age 60. Try to get an MOS change. Your time in combat arms may be great for promotion but isn’t really something that is very salable on the civilian market. Continue to read this site. You will learn more that you can ever guess right here. You will also learn that the transition from very talented amateur to self supporting is a giant and very unsatisfactory giant step. Even when times are better people are cheap, they would rather spend on fast food the hand made quality. Feel free to pm me if you have other questions

-- RTB. stray animals are just looking for love

View CAV_Scout's profile


5 posts in 4352 days

#11 posted 12-01-2009 06:27 PM

Thanks for the advice everyone. There are a lot of veterans here, with a lot of wisdom. Some of you mentioned that you would do the military again if you had to. I am just frustrated with where the Army is at right now. I just don’t get the fulfillment that I used to. I know one day the Army is going to end for me, and when that day comes (either 3 or 11 years from now) I want to be prepared. I like the idea of taking classes but I couldn’t keep up with the expenses. There is a Woodcraft store in Austin, only about 45 miles from Fort Hood and the Center for Essential Education near Waco, which is about an hour from me. Has anybody ever been to the classes at either of these places? The prices are similar, about $100 to $400 a class. They also provide materials and tools. The only other problem besides the expense is fitting into my schedule. If I make the investment, I want to make sure that it is worth it.

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 5486 days

#12 posted 12-01-2009 07:36 PM

Thanks for your service buddy, from an old army vet. I can’t answer your question but if I had it to do over I think I would have stayed in. The economy was’nt all that great when I got out in 72, and I could have used the old GI bill to go to school. All paid plus a stipend. I was a fool. But I digress. There are Lots of schools across the country that do apprentice programs. The Northwest School of the Arts. I think Maloof had a school for apprenticess’. I am sure even though he is dead that the school still goes on. But a War is raging right now. Isn’t that going to affect you? You’re in my prayers as well as all troops.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View DrDirt's profile


4615 posts in 4982 days

#13 posted 12-01-2009 08:13 PM

There are quite a few programs – some with residency like Arrowmont in Tennesee or Anderson Ranch in Colorado but those probably cannot be paid by GI bill as I don’t know that they would meet the accreditation requirements. For the college route – the Northern Michigan looks pretty good. Typically going for a BA degree in Design, and some programs have woodworking emphasis like NMU.
Other possibilities would (Assuming you got leave) to take some of the weeklong classes at Marc Adams, or Kelley Mehler, or some of the other ‘Destination’ woodworking places. One nice thing is the variety in forms and instructors. The University will have a set faculty, with their own way of working that ‘Molds the students’.
Sam Maloof commented in interviews that it was always easy to spot the folks from College of the Redwoods because they were turning out ‘copies of the Krenov style’....Not to say that is a bad aspiration.
I like going to Marc Adams. Last summer took turning and embellishing from Graeme Priddle, from New Zealand.
The college curriculum can be a bit like High School…everyone knows to stay away from X instructor for this class, take it next term with professor Y instead and so on.
But on the upside, you will take a lot of other classes to fulfill your degree, and make a lot of contacts which is never a bad thing.
The recommendation I would make is to choose a school that is close to where you would like to live permanently. because most contacts are local. So if you want to live on the west coast, go to College of the Redwoods. East Coast, choose North Bennett Street and so on. In the lean times, it will be your network that keeps you going especially in your early years.

As others mentioned – I would get the retirement and medical from Uncle Sam. If you hang out your own shingle and start woodworking professionally….Your personal savings is your retirement plan, and no Health benefits.

Best of luck.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View KayBee's profile


1083 posts in 4486 days

#14 posted 12-01-2009 09:38 PM

CAV Scout, you’ll be more than halfway there when your enlistment ends. I had to get out of the Navy at 10 years with a humantarian discharge and still wish I could have stayed in. It feels like I walked out and left everyone. The paycheck would have been nice too. Something else to think about.

As for taking classes, you said that there are local weekend classes you can pick up. Ask if they’ll give you an active duty discount. All they can say is ‘no.’ Good chance it might be yes, think about all the pens for soldiers and shop supplies for soldiers programs going on right now. Pick up some english, history and math type classes on base, they’re cheaper and faster than off base. Pretty much every school has these core requirements.
If you go to a ‘destination’ woodworking school, your stuff does end up looking very similar in style to everyone elses. They also don’t teach much about how to earn a living at it. Just kind of repeat things you’ve already heard about marketing yourself, web presence, etc. ( I went to red rocks community college program.) You might want to look into industrial design type program. Lots of woodworking with metal and plastic thrown in. They force you to develop your own style and teach business end of finding work.

Take care of yourself

-- Karen - a little bit of stupid goes a long way

View lilredweldingrod's profile


2496 posts in 4346 days

#15 posted 12-01-2009 10:20 PM

CAV Scout
Welcome to LJ. Listen to the guys that have been there and done that. All I want to ad is don’t rely on the VA when you get out, get your own health insurance!
You get to offer your life for your country twice, when you enlist and when you go to the VA. Take it from this old Vietnam Combat Vet. And be sure you have a complete file from your service when you decide to get out.

Trust me on this. Best wishes on your decission, Rand Simpre Fi

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