Woodworking for Beginners Part 28

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This is a section from A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects, which is available on Amazon. Over the next couple months, you will be able to read the entire book, and I hope that you like it enough to get tour own copy. Enjoy.

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Take a Live Class

a-complete-beginners-guide-to-woodworking-part-28Many woodworking stores and colleges offer woodworking classes. They can range in scope, like online classes, and they teach you about a certain aspect of woodworking in a classroom setting.

Depending on what you are interested in learning, classes can be found locally that will take your education to the next level. You may even find a new subject that you didn’t know about, and find your next favorite project.

One of the best places to start the search for live classes is the local woodworking store. Most of these stores offer classes that are taught by employees or local experts in the field.

You can typically get a list of offered classes from an employee, or browse a list in the store. From there, you can see if there is something that interests you, and if you can learn something new by taking one of their classes.

If you find a class that you like from the description, ask the employee some questions about it first. See if the teacher is available, and if they are ask to speak with them about the class.

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Since many times the teachers also work in the stores, you can get the answers that you are looking for right from the mouth of the person that will be teaching.

When you speak to someone about the class, ask questions about the style of teaching, what you will need, how successful the students are at completing the class, and how popular the class is.

You want to get as much information as you can so that way you know if the class is worth paying for. For example, if you are already confident in basic wood finishing, then you might not get much value from an Introduction to Wood Finishing class.

However, if through questioning the employee that you find the class covers finishes and techniques that you are interested in learning, then the class may in fact be worth the price.

Remember to not let the name of the class fool you into thinking that it’s a certain way. Ask questions, and don’t feel bad about being a beginner. Many times, the overview or beginner level classes are some of the most difficult.

This is due to the students not having as much knowledge, as well as the broad scope and everything that you will have to remember. These classes are not remedial or second rate, they are a challenge to new woodworkers and meant to educate them before taking the more advanced classes.

Another place to look is at your local community college or university. These classes can be a bit more of a burden to take, because you may be forced to enroll in the college, do a bunch of paperwork, and attend a class that meets up to several times a week for a few months.

In contrast to the one night classes that you find in most woodworking stores, these are much more of a commitment. They also tend to cost more too, since you are getting many more hours of education.

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However, if you have the time to attend a class like this, you can really benefit from the hours and hours of instruction that you will receive. You will also have access to a live teacher, and you can get some individual attention that may not be as possible in a single night class.

The nice thing about the way that traditional classes are structured gives you more opportunity to clear up any questions that you have about the technique or the topic. When you have a crystal clear understanding, you are in better shape to keep building upon what you have learned in the class.

Woodworking clubs also do classes in some cases, and the tuition varies based on how much the teacher will be paid, and how much of the cost will be absorbed by the club through the collection of dues.

In a very detailed club, like a lathe turning club, the demonstration can be worthwhile for nearly all the members. In a case like this, when you dilute the total cost over 50 people instead of 20, it can significantly lower the price for each member.

When you need to know something, and you are having a hard time learning on your own, a live class can be the answer that you are looking for. There are many places that offer classes, and you can find something that will help you get the information you are looking for.

You also get the chance to skip a lot of the self learning hurtles and go right for the knowledge that you need. The teacher will be someone that has already been through all the trial and error, and they can give you instruction that will help you become an expert faster.

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Look in your area for live classes, and see what they have to offer. If you find something that you like, ask some questions, and if you are still interested, enroll and enjoy learning about woodworking.

Learning From Books

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I love books, and if you have made it this far you already know that. Books are a traditional way of keeping information, and are still as important as ever, even in an online world.

When you buy books, and actually read them, you can advance your woodworking knowledge even farther.

In most cases, you can find the majority of the same information in any book online for free.

There will always be some nuggets that are buried in books that you cannot find, but in general the internet is so loaded with content that you can get an answer to just about anything. What a book really does is give you the convenience of having all the information in one place.

A book will be in a logical order, contain step by step instructions, and reveal in detail exactly what you need in order to accomplish a certain task. This is extremely convenient, and can save you hours and hours of digging through web sites and forums looking for the same information.

In most cases, the time that you spend reading a well written book will save you ten times that amount looking for the free version of the information.

Books are written to have logical sections, and often build in scope from the most basic to the more advanced as you move through the pages. This is great for a beginner, because you can learn the foundational stuff in the beginning and move on to the higher end stuff as you progress and feel more comfortable with the ideas.

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As you move through the book, you will logically build upon your skill set, and it’s a very natural and intelligent way to learn a new skill.

Books also become personal reference pieces that you can go back to as needed. Unlike a web site, that you may need to find again, books on the shelf are easy to pull down and open.

Once inside, you can find what you are looking for and keep your project moving. Over time, you can eventually accumulate lots of books on different woodworking topics.

These books will become your own personal woodworking library, and you will have a lot of great information right at your fingertips.

Some people like to collect books. While having books on woodworking is good, reading them is even better. If you buy a book and just pop it on the shelf, you have wasted your money.

Buy books on the topics that interest you in woodworking, and then read them. Don’t skim around unless you only bought the book for one particular thing. Read the entire book, and little gems will pop out at you along the way.

Books are one of my favorite resources for learning about woodworking. You can learn about a particular topic, or branch out and uncover a broader knowledge of the craft.

Books are a condensed version of what you can find online, and they save you the trouble searching. With any book you buy, remember to read thoroughly so you learn the most from it, and save it for future reference.

Finding a Mentor

If you are fortunate enough to have a mentor at the beginning of your woodworking studies, be very thankful and soak up as much information as you can.

Having a real live person work with you in a one-on-one setting is such an amazing benefit to your early learning. In one session, you can learn more than in days worth of online studying or reading books.

Finding a mentor can be difficult in some cases, but if you make it known that you are looking, you might have one come to you.

What I mean by making it known is that you start asking friends and family if they know anyone that does woodworking as a hobby or profession. As they encounter people, they will remember when they meet a woodworker, or they will tell you about a woodworker that they know.

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All you need to do is see if they are interested in showing you their shop, and you might end up starting a friendship that will be very beneficial.

With such a connected society, there is going to nearly always be someone that you know, or that knows someone else that loves woodworking. They may be a friend of a friend, or an uncle that you never really knew made things from wood.

These people are closer to your family and friend circle, so they are easier to approach, and they are more likely to say yes, because you are not a total stranger.

All you really need to do is make it known that you are interested in seeing an established woodworker, or anyone that does woodworking as a hobby. As your circle of friends and family wander off into the world, they may come back with someone that you can learn from.

Once you do find someone that is willing to help you, the easiest way to arrange a meeting is to ask to see their shop. Woodworkers love having people over to see their tools and their shop.

It’s like show and tell for grown-ups. A friendly woodworker will love nothing more than to drag you all around their shop and tell you all about what they make, how they make it, what tools they use, and what projects they currently have underway.

The information dump can be overwhelming on the first visit, though if all goes well there are surely to be many more visits in the future.

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Something that you can do in return for the help that a mentor will give you is to make them a small tool, or share with them one of your projects. Woodworkers love tools, so if you are still in the stages where you are trying to find your heading, start making tools.

When you show up with a small token for the person teaching you, they will really appreciate that you went out of your way to do something nice for them.
My favorite is to make them a sanding block.

Nearly every woodworker in the world can use a good sanding block, and they are easy to make even for a beginner. All you need to do is find a really nice piece of wood, which is really what sets off this project.

You can use the wood to make a really nice cork faced sanding block, and you will be able to give your mentor a gift that is both representative of what they are teaching you, and thoughtful as well because it’s something a woodworker will use.

I recommend 1-7/8” by 3-1/2” and 3/4” thick for your block, which you can sand really smooth, then cover one of the bigger faces with 1/8” thick cork sheet.

The wood you need is small, so even something really nice looking won’t be too expensive. Spend time sanding the block really well, and making it smooth. The gift will be greatly appreciated.

A mentor is such a wonderful resource, because they can answer direct questions. If you are wondering about something, or are unclear on a process, you can simply ask your mentor and they will most likely have an answer for you.

If they do not, they will be in better shape to effectively find that answer. Sometimes, it’s the oddest and the smallest of things that stops us from advancing. A simple question is the solution to the road block, and your mentor can help you get past them.

If you are lucky enough to find a mentor that is a professional woodworker, you might be able to arrange some kind of apprenticeship at their shop.

It works out for them because you are free labor, and it works out for you because you get to advance your education in woodworking much farther than you would be able to on your own in the same amount of time.

A good relationship where you can give back to your mentor in exchange for the information and education that you can get from them is ideal. In the beginning, you may not have much to offer in the woodworking space, but you may have other areas of experience that the mentor does not.

Finding these areas and offering your help when you are able to help is how you ensure that it is not a one sided relationship.

Again, the biggest thing that a mentor will do for you is alleviate worry and confusion. As a new woodworker, you can really become stressed over what glue to use, or what wood to use, or if a certain joint is strong enough for a project.

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This worry can seep into other areas of your woodworking and make you less sure of yourself. It’s really nice to have someone to ask, and they can tell you the right answer because they have been there before.

It’s like standing in front of a display in the store with a ton of different kinds of glue, and then having someone put their hand on your shoulder and tell you which one you need to buy to be successful.

That’s worth all the money you could spend on books, online courses, and instructional videos. It’s so valuable to have someone that you can get an honest, and trustworthy answer from, who has no interest other than to make sure you have great results.

If you can, make it known in your circles that you are looking for a mentor who can teach you a little about woodworking. There is most likely someone that you have fairly close to your group that will be glad to help, and the information and education that they give you will move you forward in woodworking very rapidly.

Become a Student of Woodworking

One of the best ways to advance your woodworking knowledge is to become a student. Treat the craft as if you were a student trying to learn. If you become a good student of woodworking, you will slowly add to your knowledge base, and over time you will become an expert.

A small learning session each day can add up quickly, and in a year you may have a couple hundred hours of learning under your belt. This is no small amount of knowledge, and will surely make you a better woodworker.

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People underestimate the power of slowly and surely moving forward. It may take a while, but that time is going to pass anyway. You might as well learn something each day, and see what it accumulates to over time.

If you were to spend just 20 minutes a day reading about woodworking, in a year you would have over 120 hours of education. That’s the equivalent of 5 whole 24 hour days of nothing but studying about woodworking.

After a while of studying like this, you will have much more knowledge than someone who is just occasionally dabbling in woodworking. You will have a lot of random knowledge at first, but over time things will start connecting and you will begin to form larger and more complex ideas about what you are learning.

Making connections is key, and that will happen the more you learn. This knowledge will propel you farther, and faster. It will also help you avoid mistakes, ruin less projects, and in turn crank out more and better projects even as a beginner.

The cycle repeats itself over and over, because the more you know, the less mistakes you make, and the faster/better you turn out completed projects.

Reading is just one of the ways that you become a student of woodworking. Once you accept that this is going to be a habit you create, and you are going to run with it for a long time, you can really use a lot of your down time to educate yourself.

Reading is one, but all of the other forms of education covered in this chapter count as well. You might watch videos of woodworking projects on your break, or take a lunch and watch how a certain project is made.

You can also watch videos at home on a smart tv, or listen to woodworking podcasts in the car.

Yes, even something as visual as woodworking has made it into the podcast world. A podcast is a recorded radio show that teaches about a certain topic. There are a few woodworking podcasts as of the writing of this book, and there are sure to be more over time.

The nice thing about podcasts are that you can make use of the time that you are spending in your car on the way to work and back every day.

The average American spends 25 minutes on their commute to work, one way. This means over 200 hours of driving a year if you work 5 days a week. If you listen to woodworking podcasts, you can effectively add 200 hours to your woodworking education every year.

Most of the time, people get in their cars and they turn on the radio. They listen to a few songs that they have heard a hundred times before, and they really never learn anything. If you were to listen to educational podcasts in that same amount of time, you could really propel your woodworking knowledge forward in a huge way.

Also, you can find other topics available that can help your personal life, and listen to those too. The 200 hours a year driving to and from work is going to happen either way, so you might as well make use of this untapped resource of time.

If you made it a point to listen to woodworking podcasts while driving to work, read 20 minutes a day from books and blogs, and watch 20 minutes a day of videos on your lunches and break times, you can effectively give yourself over 440 hours of education each year.

This does not even count all the times that you will go over that amount, because you are interested in what you are consuming and continue past your stop time.

In reality, if you are interested in what you are learning, you can cram 500 hours of education into your brain a year, and in that time you will become very intelligent about woodworking.

After a few years, you will be an expert on the subject, and you can enjoy paying it forward as you help other succeed at woodworking. That’s where it really gets fun, because you get to help others get past their struggles and have huge breakthroughs of their own.

It’s very rewarding, and you get to give back to the same community that helped you.

If you effectively isolate your down time, and the times that you spend either wasting time or not really doing anything productive, you can learn about woodworking without altering your normal routine.

It’s in the hidden times that you find your most productivity, and in doing so you don’t alter your life to the point where it becomes chaotic.

Imaging if you were to add a couple hours to your daily work schedule. That sounds awful doesn’t it? The same will happen if you just try to drop in your woodworking education right after work.

Eventually it will also become work, and you will stop doing it because your paycheck does not depend on you studying. Putting woodworking into the hidden times that are not being used to their full potential is how you really learn about the craft without making it seem like you are really doing very much extra at all.

Every one of us probably pulls out their phone and plays around from time to time. Most younger people, myself included at least for the time being, will pull out our phones several times a day to kill time.

Instead of killing time on facebook, or playing a game app, spend that time getting your 20 minutes a day of reading about woodworking knocked out. If you are in a place where you can listen to sound on the phone, use the time to watch videos too.

These areas of down time are where you maximize your day without creating additional burdens that you have to work into your schedule.

Likewise, if you are simply eating lunch on your break, then you have 30-60 minutes that you can watch videos or read about woodworking as well. You can prop up your phone, enjoy your lunch, and watch videos about the project you are thinking about making.

As you do this every day, or at least on the days that you work, you will build a foundation brick by brick of woodworking knowledge and understanding that will help you solve problems in the future that you don’t even know are coming yet.

Even the most random of woodworking information can come in handy some time in the future, and until you are in the situation you will never know how valuable that knowledge can be.

I challenge you to start now. You are already reading this book, so you already have at least some interest in being a better woodworker. Go on your phone and look for podcasts that have to do with woodworking.

Start from the beginning and download a bunch of them to your phone so you can listen on the way to work. Make a good habit of reading, especially in your down times, and in times when you would just be playing a game or doing nothing.

Also, videos on your lunch break will give you loads of education in a time when you were really not doing anything else.

Finding down time and maximizing that time is the way you become a student of woodworking, and do so in a way that does not wreck your normal schedule. Find the time, learn about your craft, and you will be very happy with all the knowledge you gain.

Part 28 – Wrap Up

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I hope you liked Part 28 of A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects. As you can see, this is a different kind of beginner woodworking book, and I encourage you to get a copy for yourself so you have it all in one place. 

Happy building.

Continue to Part 29 of A Beginners Guide to Woodworking Here!

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  • Bachelor of Arts Degree from Arizona State University
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