Learning Woodworking: Classes vs. Self-Teaching

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Forum topic by ChicagoHiker posted 06-26-2013 01:07 PM 12216 views 0 times favorited 52 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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56 posts in 2811 days

06-26-2013 01:07 PM

Topic tags/keywords: education learning

I’m curious how woodworkers here have gone about learning woodworking. Have people taken classes, studied videos and books, learned from a friend/family-member, or just bought a few tools and started building?

I’ve taken a few classes over the years, but am still very much a beginner. Last spring I used the woodshop facilities through the Chicago Park District. While they provide a shop supervisor, you’re more or less on your own.

I’m in the process of setting up a shop. Am trying to decide on whether to take more classes, study videos and books (and the postings on Lumberjocks), or just plug away on my own.

What are people’s thoughts?


-- Paul Segedin, Chicago, IL

52 replies so far

View bondogaposis's profile


5949 posts in 3357 days

#1 posted 06-26-2013 01:18 PM

I’m pretty much self taught. I learn mostly by reading and doing. I think the various wood working periodicals are a great way to learn. Pick a project that appeals to you and have at it. Over time your skills will grow with your confidence as you tackle more challenging projects.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View jeffswildwood's profile


4835 posts in 2983 days

#2 posted 06-26-2013 01:35 PM

I had shop classes in school which was a little helpful, but covered an assortment of skills. Mechanical drawing, leather craft, woodworking and other items but not in depth on any of these. I learned (and am still learning) by doing and trial and error. I watch a LOT of videos, look at others work (on here) and read a lot of articles but mostly by doing. The biggest skill builder, I have found, is the basic box. From that I learned cutting skills, measuring, fitting and squaring and I expanded from there. I wish I could take some classes and study under a mentor but that is not possible for me. Most important part of woodworking (I have found) is just to have fun with it, and, for me, a great stress relief.

-- We all make mistakes, the trick is to fix it in a way that says "I meant to do that".

View Don W's profile

Don W

19889 posts in 3574 days

#3 posted 06-26-2013 01:36 PM

what Bondo said.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Shane's profile


294 posts in 2817 days

#4 posted 06-26-2013 01:37 PM

I watch Norm, and then try things out. Ask questions and learn by doing. I’m just getting started as well though.

View BilltheDiver's profile


262 posts in 3892 days

#5 posted 06-26-2013 01:47 PM

I suggest that you learn as much as you can about each tool you acquire as you obtain them. Then the projects you build will dictate the new techniques you learn as you go. Join a woodworker’s guild if there is one in your area and continue to watch videos on the net. You can also learn a lot at demo’s or woodworking expos if you have any nearby.

-- "Measure twice, cut once, count fingers"

View Don W's profile

Don W

19889 posts in 3574 days

#6 posted 06-26-2013 01:50 PM

I’ve learned an awful lot right here on LJ’s.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3873 days

#7 posted 06-26-2013 01:52 PM

It’s mostly been learn by doing for me. I can’t afford to go somewhere to take any lessons. However, I do learn from books, DVDs, and videos on the internet. I still believe that learning by doing is the best way. Books and videos can get you going in the right direction but when you do it on your own all kinds of problems crop up that you have to solve. For example, when woodcarving the best way to understand what carving with the grain is is to carve with a carving tool. Same thing about sharpening a carving tool. You had better learn how to sharpen by sharpening your tools when they need it. You’re dead in the water if your carving tools are not sharp.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View PurpLev's profile


8645 posts in 4655 days

#8 posted 06-26-2013 02:01 PM

while most people here are probably self taught – taking a class with an instructor that knows what to look for, and having a class that is focused on a specific aspect of woodworking is priceless and you’ll get much more proficient and much more out of it then self working on something.

if I had the money and time, I would take a class every once in a while even if not to learn something new per se and just to finesse my work.

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

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3873 days

#9 posted 06-26-2013 02:08 PM

I absolutely agree, Purplev. There’s no substitute by being taught by a good teacher first hand. However, it’s very expensive especially if you have to travel a good ways. If you don’t have the money or a lot of time it’s not very practical.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Bluepine38's profile


3388 posts in 4091 days

#10 posted 06-26-2013 02:27 PM

I started learning by helping my father build our home, then I took a couple of years of high school shop, same
mix as Jeffswildwood had. Then work and a family took over, now all the kids are moved out and I am using
the old skills and having fun in the shop fixing old tools and learning to use them, and occasionally I have the
money to buy a nice new tool.

-- As ever, Gus-the 80 yr young apprentice carpenter

View Guyton Stone's profile

Guyton Stone

5 posts in 2810 days

#11 posted 06-26-2013 02:43 PM

self taught – start with wood like pine ontil you get better at it, youtube have a lot of how to viedos…

-- Guyton Stone

View JayT's profile


6419 posts in 3217 days

#12 posted 06-26-2013 03:09 PM

One of my favorite quotes: ”Good judgement is the result of experience. A lot of experience is the result of bad judgement”.

Substitute “woodworking” for “judgement” and the principle still holds. Classes, videos, books and private instruction are the result of someone, once upon a time, making a mistake and then passing on the knowledge of how to avoid the same mistake to others, then that knowledge can continue to be passed down the line. That can be very valuable for avoiding common errors and really helps many people in their quest for better results.

At the same time, in order to improve your skills, you have to first use those skills and will make mistakes as a novice. How quickly those are overcome and improved on varies from person to person. Some craftsmen grasp a skill quickly and progress to higher levels, others, for several reasons, take more time. Those that do this quickly thrive as self-taught artisans.

The end result is still that we all learn from either our mistakes (self-taught) or those of others. The variations of how each learns best accounts for the wide array of answers. Personally, I learn very well by reading and demonstration and can apply those concepts much quicker than if I had to go through the processes myself from the beginning.

Which way do you learn best and will improve your skills the fastest? Once you know that answer, the original question will be also be answered.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View a1Jim's profile


118161 posts in 4583 days

#13 posted 06-26-2013 03:30 PM

I was self taught meaning I gleaned anything and everything I could from books,DVD’s,TV shows like Norm,Roy Underhill and any where else I could pick up information.Even though I had more than 20 years of woodworking I have in the last few years I’ve found a mentor in Charles Neil and now subscribe to his on line Mastering woodworking show. As to taking a class I’m a bit prejudice since I teach a community collage class on woodworking I highly recommend that you take any classes you can afford.


View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3873 days

#14 posted 06-26-2013 03:42 PM

Jim, I belong to Charles Neil’s website and get his DVDs and watch his videos. He’s a great teacher. However, if I had to travel all the way up to Virginia I’d be out of luck. The Internet is a great asset for woodworkers. BTW, I wish the college you teach in was right here in my town. If it were I’d enroll because I know that you are a fine woodworker. Traveling somewhere to a class is an expense that I couldn’t afford in money and time.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View a1Jim's profile


118161 posts in 4583 days

#15 posted 06-26-2013 03:51 PM

Thanks Charles
I always wanted to attend the North Bennet class in Boston but could not travel that far or afford the tuition.
Charles Neil’s classes and his other materials are a great way to learn with out the travel cost and high cost. I’ve only been in touch with Charles on line but some day hope to meet him in person.


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