What did your skill progression look like?

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Forum topic by mcg1990 posted 03-31-2015 12:33 PM 1514 views 1 time favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View mcg1990's profile


159 posts in 1656 days

03-31-2015 12:33 PM

I’ve only been wood working a short while now (~6 months) and, personally, I feel overwhelmed when I consider the talents I’d like to possess vs what I can actually do right now. I think having access to the Kreg Jig has made me sloppy and lazy, and even though I own some decent tools I have procrastinated on fully exploring all of their capabilities because… Just Kreg it.

I need to push myself out of my comfort zone if I ever want to achieve anything worth achieving. I need to throw aside the fear of failure and accept the fact that I will inevitably, painfully fail, many times, on the journey to carpentry.

So what type of projects did you start out with? If you had a timeline on which you plotted the first time you attempted a joint, the first time you were happy with it, and when you felt you had perfected it, what would that timeline look like?

27 replies so far

View PaulHWood's profile


454 posts in 2616 days

#1 posted 03-31-2015 12:38 PM

shop furniture and storage, I am still in the afraid to ruin good wood phase.

starting several small interior projects soon

-- -Paul, South Carolina Structural Engineer by trade, Crappy Woodworker by choice

View Earlextech's profile


1162 posts in 3054 days

#2 posted 03-31-2015 01:17 PM

#1 – Sell a job #2 – Learn to build said job #3 – Make mistakes, but learn from them #4 – Get paid for job #5 – Sell a job #6 – Learn to build said job…
See where I’m going? Just do it!

-- Sam Hamory - The project is never finished until its "Finished"!

View lateralus819's profile


2243 posts in 2253 days

#3 posted 03-31-2015 01:31 PM

Just push yourself, you can do it! I’ve always tried something new (and at the time, what seemed to be quite hard and almost impossible.)

My first project. Learned a lot on this. Not too much going on, used a dovetail jig.

Little bit harder, glueing all those giant timbers together, breadboard ends. Not perfect, but it was a good learning experience.

Third. This one i did a lot of different things to push myself to the next level and it paid off. I learned a ton, and continue to follow the same practice.

No matter what just try something. I’ve failed miserably so many times. Just have to get back up and proceed. There will almost always be failure at some point. The best way to learn is to just do it, if you fail, well at least you tried and know what to do and not do in the future.

I think a big thing for me was to not accept “sub-par”. I couldn’t settle for an Okay joint, or an okay finish. I kept pushing to make it that much better. Good luck.

Another thing I’d suggest is to just read and watch as much as you can. I started off reading LumberJocks and other forums on joinery and general construction, finishing etc. There are a number of good videos on youtube. Paul Sellers is great for learning practically anything joinery and woodworking related.

View JayT's profile


6162 posts in 2574 days

#4 posted 03-31-2015 01:44 PM

First projects were in 7th grade shop—a clock, a rolling pin and a striped edge grain cutting board. The shop teacher then had a very good approach that I still follow. Each project builds/improves existing skills and adds one or two new ones.

In the shop class we did the cutting board first. Learned how to square boards and glue them up. Everyone did that together. After that some of us did the clock—had to glue up the boards (with less input from the instructor this time) then cut out the shape on the bandsaw (new skill). The others did the rolling pin—again, square and glue up the boards, then learned to use the lathe. If you successfully completed those, there were other projects he had that continued to build skills. If you struggled on those projects, you were allowed to redo them. Some in the class went home with five or six projects by the end of the year, others only three, but all were better woodworkers than when they walked in.

Nowadays, the process is a bit different—and I hope a lot more advanced than 7th grade shop :-) The overall concept is the same, however. Each skill doesn’t have to be complicated, just always strive to add one. When I built my workbench, for example, I wanted to work on mortise and tenons, so picked a design that utilized those. For a recent end table build, it was simply a desire to improve on grain matching glue ups for a more seamless appearance.

The key, for me at least, is not to overdo it. Trying to add too many skills too fast leads to poor results and a lot of frustration. One of my next projects is a hall table that will need to utilize both M&T joints and grain matched glue ups. Attempting this project before completing the others would have been an exercise in futility. The workbench got me started with M&T and a couple projects since have improved the skill to where I am comfortable attempting the hall table. That plan for that table will now add two more concepts/skills I have never done before, but those build on previous projects.

So what type of projects did you start out with? If you had a timeline on which you plotted the first time you attempted a joint, the first time you were happy with it, and when you felt you had perfected it, what would that timeline look like?

- mcg1990

That timeline is ongoing—I’ll probably never feel like I’ve perfected anything. My hope is simply that each time I do the joint or other technique, it is better than the previous one. As long as it looks good and is secure, then it’s good enough to show, use or sell, but that’s not the same as being “perfect”.

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

View SirIrb's profile


1239 posts in 1594 days

#5 posted 03-31-2015 01:47 PM

Pocket hole jigs are great for production work. We used the PC jig when I made cabinets. But that was all about the cash. They work for stile and rail construction on face frames. But I do think you will find it lacking on most anything else. If this is not about production then I would forget the jig and get a hollow chisel mortiser and work on good solid construction. Also it depends on if you are all power vs all hand vs hybrid.

For me, I never knew how good I could be until I had the proper tools at my disposal. I went to work on weekends and evenings and had the whole shop available to me. It took my game up a few notches.

-- Don't blame me, I voted for no one.

View bonesbr549's profile


1581 posts in 3430 days

#6 posted 03-31-2015 02:16 PM

I ve only been wood working a short while now (~6 months) and, personally, I feel overwhelmed when I consider the talents I d like to possess vs what I can actually do right now. I think having access to the Kreg Jig has made me sloppy and lazy, and even though I own some decent tools I have procrastinated on fully exploring all of their capabilities because… Just Kreg it.

I need to push myself out of my comfort zone if I ever want to achieve anything worth achieving. I need to throw aside the fear of failure and accept the fact that I will inevitably, painfully fail, many times, on the journey to carpentry.

So what type of projects did you start out with? If you had a timeline on which you plotted the first time you attempted a joint, the first time you were happy with it, and when you felt you had perfected it, what would that timeline look like?

- mcg1990

I started in High school and my family comes from woodworking background(carpentry). I’ve learned by doing mostly and learning from any resource possible. A lot free some I’ve paid for.

I’d reccomend starting from the basics. Learn to dimension material square from rough stock. My earliest challenges came when I neglected that!

The second most important thing I did was learn to build to finish. In my early days I’d just get it together then think about the finishing. Big troubles and a lot of frustration! I now sand and prep as I go along so minimal finishing required at the end and the quality of the product in creases dramatically.

Projects, I’d start small. Do a stool I’ve got one in my kitchen now that’s ugly as sin, but it was firs project, and you will learn something from every build.

Do shop projects. I got out of woodworking for about 10 years. To get back in full swing, I made a router table, from Norm’s plans. It got the juices flowing, and I made a few mistakes that I just covered and went on.

Finally LEARN to SHARPEN! I hated it and it impacted my skill progression for a long time. Sharp tools are a must!

One to grow on! Learn from anyone you can. I’ve help people for free just to watch them and learn and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Remember there are no mistakes, only design changes


-- Sooner or later Liberals run out of other people's money.

View HornedWoodwork's profile


222 posts in 1578 days

#7 posted 03-31-2015 06:03 PM

I started out just like you “cheating” with a kreg jig. But I was building things and learning to love the challenge along the way. Learning to think differently, to think about structure and function and form all at once. These principles will come into play every time you start a project, and remain important at every phase of the build.

I say get ambitious, tackle a big build. Dedicate some time and resources to something grand. Buy plans if you feel that will help, but modify the plans a little. Add or remove elements, change a dimension. Explore some basic joints, there are tons of joints you can cut with a router and/or a table saw.

If you need a hand, reach out to us, this forum is full of solutions and inspiration. Mostly you need to challenge your skills, say yes to something insane, unthinkable even! Then set yourself to doing it one step at a time.

The very first thing I built on a wobbly jobsite plastic and aluminum TS was a pair of 8 foot tall bookshelves. I used screws, I cheated, I changed things, whatever worked to get them to stand up and hold books.

-- Talent, brilliance, and humility are my virtues.

View barada83's profile


88 posts in 1550 days

#8 posted 03-31-2015 06:34 PM

My two cents:
1) Just do it – and cheaply. In the beginning everything is complicated, too many decisions. Work with what you have before jumping at every opportunity to buy something that promises to do it better.
2) Practice on scrap – Woodworking is too expensive to try your first time on large pieces of nice wood. Made that mistake once.
3) Make stuff from scraps- If you can turn that bin of cutoffs into useful, you have saved yourself money and learned some skills.
4) Don’t expect perfection – ever. You’ll get hampered by it. In my experience, there is very few things that go exactly right. 7/8 of woodworking is getting it close enough so you can hide inconsistencies, mistakes, and other nonsense. You gradually get better as you go -see number 5.
5)Learn from your mistakes and learn to hide them. If you can’t beat it, highlight it. If you can predict it, then you can design around it.
6)Wood moves just to screw with your perfection – Its dead but alive, and predictably so. Deal with it.
7) When you do buy tools, don’t waste your money or time on cheap tools. Tempting but never worth it. A cheap tool in my shop has always had a short life span. Either because it dies in infancy of natural causes (preferably within the return period) or because I kill it with a high velocity wall impact in a hulk-like fashion in a frustration induced change to superhuman strength. Cheap tools are always underpowered, die 100x faster, lack functionality, are imprecise, and more dangerous. And in my case- fly against walls unpredictably.

I pick a project and make it happen and worry about the details as I go. It makes the challenge fun for me although I can understand that being a challenge with someone not like-minded ie big picture.

-- Mike

View mudflap4869's profile


1925 posts in 1822 days

#9 posted 03-31-2015 07:49 PM

Lots of shucky-darns and worse. It can be salvaged to make something smaller. And think it through firsts stupids. I have progressed from making pure crap to producing nice looking firewood. IT AINT NEVER GOING TO BE PERFECT because wood is devious that way. So give yourself a break.

-- Still trying to master kindling making

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 3053 days

#10 posted 04-01-2015 12:15 AM

I took up this sport late in life with NO previous experience and some really low end tools. I started out making jigs, storage, etc for the shop from inexpensive materials. I practiced as many types of joinery as I could on the shop stuff and experimented with different finishing techniques. This approach allowed me to gain a lot of experience while building things I needed. Then I moved on from there. Still have a long ways to go!

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View JAAune's profile


1864 posts in 2680 days

#11 posted 04-01-2015 12:20 AM

Get good at planning and drawing either by computer or by hand. If you can’t do that well enough to resolve details prior to building, learn to make prototypes with junk wood.

After that, feel free to start more complex projects. Remember, complicated projects are just a series of simple steps – each of which is easy to do.

I took an apprenticeship so my skill progression was straight-forward. I just did whatever the boss said to do until I mastered enough skills for him to hand projects over without explicit instructions.

-- See my work at and

View Sandra's profile


7207 posts in 2439 days

#12 posted 04-01-2015 12:28 AM

For me, all my initial projects had plans and instructions except basic shelves.
I bought books and read up on every tool I purchased.
I didn’t even know how to read the fence on my table saw.
I leaned on my LJ friends A LOT.
I started with shop carts and garage shelves.
My workbench was my biggest, most complicated, scared poopy project yet. I watched the video instructions over and over again. I went from complete newby to building this in 2 1/2 years.

Click for details

Completely and utterly because of the support and guidance I got from this site.

Good luck

-- No, I don't want to buy the pink hammer.

View Robert's profile


3374 posts in 1844 days

#13 posted 04-01-2015 12:30 AM

The very first project I ever build was a pantry of pine. It had real raised panel doors and a beadboard back. 25 years later we still use it even though I’ve never attached the top.

I learned dovetailing by making several letter boxes, like IN/OUT boxes you might find in an office. Simple hardboard bottoms. One is sitting in my office now as an inbox for the mail. Made of fir.

Another one was a bench grinder stand I build as an exercise in lap or bridle joints. Its still in my shop and it still has the original grinder bolted to the top 20 some years later.

The biggest project I ever did was a very large, complete kitchen build for my wife. That was the biggest dollar investment and I’m sure the biggest potential return of any project I’ve done, but it was a HUGE amount of work.

25 years later I found myself “regrouping” and desiring to turn my ww’ing up a notch. So I really set to learn the things I’m about to list below. Once I understood wood, I have alot less problems with cupping and warping wood taking the wind out of my sails.

Off the top of my head its a multi-step process. You can self teach or you can take some classes or watch videos.
There’s some really great WW’ing videos out there.

Just remember the masters didn’t become masters overnight and neither will you. Just keep striving to better your skills.

One of the biggest things is learning how to fix a mistake or how to turn a mistake into a design element. As Bob Ross (Joy of Painting) used to say: “in art there are no mistakes, just happy accidents”.

1. Wood

I would start by learning the basics and the first thing is to study about wood, its characteristics, how it behaves, how to store it and acclimate it, etc.

2. Basics

The second thing would be how to process and prepare wood for a project. If you don’t start out with uniform, acclimated and properly milled wood, you will struggle through the whole project.

Learn how to look at wood, read the grain, and get a plan of what goes where in the project. For example, you would save your most highly figured or desireable grain wood for a table top, not the legs or aprons.

3. Milling wood

Learn how to create your project stock pieces from the rough using either hand or power tools. Planing, jointing, squaring, etc. Very important skills that are the foundation of your project.

4. Laying out/Cut Lists

Learn how do sketch a decent drawing and learn design, be able to use drafting tools and draw to scale. This actually comes first, but I’m not going to edit the post.

5. Joinery

Mortise and tenon, dovetails, dados, etc.

6. Assembly and final touches.

7. Finishing

Not meaning to be too long, but finally one thing I’ve learned doing this for 25 years is ww’ing is an art and we do not work in machine shops. There are ww’ers out there who I call “wood machinists” because they wouldn’t use a hand tool is their life depended on it and their work suffers for it.

If you really want to say its “hand crafted” then by golly hand craft it. The tools can’t build the project for you.

You’re gonna throw a bunch of stuff in the wood pile.
You’re gonna be scared to use expensive wood.

Get rid of the Kreg jig and learn some real joinery!!! Good luck sorry its long but I’m passionate about it.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View CB_Cohick's profile


493 posts in 1614 days

#14 posted 04-01-2015 12:50 PM

Right now, my skill progression is hung up on trying to make a router template to cut a inset for Incra T-tracks. It should be simple enough, but I’m going to have to start attempt #3 once I get some more 1/2” ply. Used up all my scraps. Once I get it right, it will be used to finish up the fence installation on the router table I’ve been working on. I don’t want to screw it up now, lol.

-- Chris - Would work, but I'm too busy reading about woodwork.

View DaveHaughs's profile


11 posts in 1524 days

#15 posted 04-01-2015 01:18 PM

I sympathize with you. I tend to be a perfectionist and over think things. I can’t help it, I’m a type A OCD engineer.


Just have fun with it. My time in the shop is therapeutic. I’ve been doing this off and on since I could hold a hammer. But it’s only been in the last 10 years or so I’ve really gone over the edge of pushing for perfection. It can take the fun out of it. Don’t be afraid to experiment and take chances. If you make a mistake, chances are that you are the only one that will ever know!

Shop furniture is a great place to push your skill level because it’s just shop furniture :)

Like babies learning to walk and talk, we all learn things at different rates. Some people are naturals and many of us struggle at it.

To answer your question on timelines? My whole life, almost 40 years :) I’ve only recently accepted that I need to learn hand tools and mortise and tenon. Pocket holes made me lazy too. I’m about to venture down the road of hand cut dovetails as well. Like you said it’s all about stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things and not being afraid of making firewood. In fact my neighbors with fire pits love the never ending supply of kindling I make them :)

showing 1 through 15 of 27 replies

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