In Search of a Great Hobby: Can You Learn Woodworking on Your Own?


I did a bit of woodworking in school and really like it. Even though I had the help of a teacher, you can learn so many things yourself these days, especially with the internet. But, I often wondered if you could learn woodworking on your own, so I looked into it and thought about it and put together this helpful article to explain what I found.

Learning woodworking on your own by reading books and watching instructional videos has been done by many woodworkers, and is more efficient. But, working alongside an experienced woodworking who can evaluate your projects and point out how you can improve will also assist you in your learning.

When you learn from books and instructional courses you can learn at your own pace, and learn anytime you want. Which means you don’t have to rely on the schedule of a woodworking teacher.

Some courses and books, however, aren’t the greatest so below I will explain what to look for in some good instructional materials about woodworking so you learn the right things and don’t get misled.

Ways that most people learn woodworking

Although many people learn on their own, it’s helpful to know how the options that are available to learn woodworking so that you can make a more informed decision about whether learning woodworking on your own is the right for you.

Some people learn woodworking by first doing a carpentry apprenticeship, where they work alongside a qualified carpenter, and hone the fundamental skills of:

  • Sawing
  • Hammering
  • Measuring
  • Drilling
  • Leveling
  • Gluing
  • Planing
  • Ripping apart wood joins
  • Sanding
  • Varnishing

They get exposed to a wide variety of projects, problems, and their solutions, and over the three years or so of full time practice they develop the necessary skills they need to be a professional carpenter. But, all the skills are also transferable to making woodworking products like tables, and desks.

Others may work alongside a woodworker who runs his own woodworking business. These companies can often be looking for someone to make their woodworking work easier.

For example a quick search of Indeed.com, one of the biggest online job boards shows that there are more than 5 pages of companies looking to hire entry level woodworkers/carpenters to learn the skills on the job.

Carpentry though not exactly the same as woodworking has all the same skillset, such as drilling, sanding, and sawing. These types of roles typically involve moving pieces of wood around, doing minor tasks, and keeping the wood shop tidy.

Along the way, they will pick up one skill, then another, until they have a wide array of skills to complete most any woodworking project.

But, the emphasis of the wood shop owner isn’t necessarily on turning you into a good woodworker, and in some cities they are few and far between. Meaning it’s difficult to find one who will take you on.

So, when many people who want to learn woodworking, they decide it’s easier and faster to just get stuck in themselves. By reading books, taking courses and practicing at home, or with a friend. Doing it this way they can decide exactly what they want to learn.

However, you often need a bit of guidance around what skills to learn first, and in what order. Because everything is new to you. For example, how to saw something seems incredibly easy for someone who has done it before.

But, to an absolute beginner you need someone to show you an easy to do it. So, once you understand how to do it safely you can experiment a bit to see why it’s the best way to do it.

To illustrate my point, when you saw with the blade facing more vertically (up and down), rather than more horizontally (flat), you get more power when you saw. Which means you can cut wood faster.

Also, many of the machines and electric tools used in woodworking are very dangerous. So, you need expert supervision, or need to thoroughly read through the instructions or watch a bunch of videos before you feel comfortable doing it.

When you have to bother your teacher every 5 minutes, unless they are waiting around to teach you, it starts to irritate them. And you feel shy to ask, and that you should just get it on your own. But, a lot of this comes down to the teacher and not you. Which means you need to do a bit of research into what courses and teachers have a teaching style that resonates with you.

Some people like a teacher that yells, and gets angry. While others prefer one who is more patient, and has a caring approach. Either way, finding a good teacher or course is very important to learning woodworking on your own.

You can learn woodworking on your own. But, you will have to sift through a bunch of courses, and you won’t know which ones to do. So, based on my research I found the below courses to be the most helpful.

Also, some courses are way overpriced, and won’t teach you everything you need to know.

The difference between woodworking, carpentry, and joinery – do you need to learn all 3?

Woodworking is generally considered to include making things out of wood from start to finish. And includes, tables, chairs, desks, and smaller and more intricate items such as boxes to store cigars and jewelry. These are items that you keep in the home.

Carpentry on the other hand is more used to describe building houses. Such as the building frame and staircase. But, what you build and how you build it are the same skills that you use in woodworking. So, a carpenter will be an excellent woodworker and vice versa.

Joinery is joining the pieces of the wood together. Which occurs in both woodworking and carpentry. But, it is considered separate due to it being somewhat of a specialization. Although the designation somewhat causes confusion. There are aspects of joinery that are a unique skillset, especially in specific types of carpentry where no nails are used.

The highest levels of skill involved making buildings without nails that stay upright for many hundred of years such as famous works by Masaharu Takasaki, and 300 hundred year old churches that are located in Russia. An interesting video these ancient churches can be found below:

But, there is a lot of overlap between the different specializations of each, and almost all the skills you learn in one are transferable to another. So, in my opinion you should decide on one you like the most, and go with that.

What your ultimate goals are when learning woodworking

I would say most people run into the issue of TIME – finding enough time to learn while doing their job, or going to school.

Some folks pursue woodworking as either:

  1. A side hobby
  2. Making a career or business out of it by selling their work

1) Doing wood working as a side hobby

When this is your goal for woodworking then it makes the most sense to learn woodworking on your own. Because it isn’t make or break for you whether what you produce is up to market standards.

You can also be relaxed about it, and you’re probably content to read a book slowly, and do a little bit of woodworking here and there to clear your mind, and recharge your batteries. Also hammering on wood is a good way to relieve your stress and anger. But, also produce some awesome stuff.

You can still sell what you make, and create a small side business if you want

Even though you’re only doing it for your own enjoyment, it doesn’t mean you can’t sell what you make. Many items you produce can be in high demand, especially to friends, acquaintances, and family.

Handcrafted wooden products add character to a home, and will also have sentimental and emotional value. So, you can give them away as a gift. Not only will you get to practice your craft, but you will save money on expensive holiday and birthday gifts.

Supplementing your learning by joining your local woodworkers guild

Whether you are doing woodworking as a hobby or side business or are doing it as a career, it’s a good idea to join a woodworkers guilds. They are an ideal way to learn woodworking because you can intermingle with experienced woodworkers. You could maybe have a few craft beers. By doing that, their mindset that they have developed over the years will rub off on you. And you will become better at woodworking. It’s also a lot of fun.

Even if you’re aren’t physically doing any woodworking yet. You can also bounce ideas of each other, and they can give you help and suggestions about how to approach certain projects. Or, what areas of your skill you might want to develop.

To find a woodworkers guild simply do a Google search for “woodworkers guild city” and you will be easily able to find it. When I took a quick look I found this website: Woodwest.com. It lists guilds in:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Northern and Southern California
  • Colorado
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington

You can use that as a starting point and do a Google search if you live in a State that isn’t listed on their website. If you are having trouble you can always contact one of the guilds in another State and ask them about your State. They will point you in the right direction.

That way you combine what you are learning on your own with any advice they give you. But, generally if you do it all on your own you will miss out on extra information and expertise that will greatly expand your skill set.

Although woodworking is a mechanical skill that is more science than art. There is still some art aspect to it, and you can pick up a lot of tips from other woodworkers.

Mostly free places to learn woodworking

Other research I did recommended starting by doing courses at Home Depot, and your local Art Center. Home Depot and other stores that sell products related to the trades such as plumbing, carpentry, and tiling.

But, the courses they offer are in general do it yourself (DIY topics), such as installing some basic plumbing, and making your own raised bed. Although learning some of these skills such as making a raised bed is technically woodworking.

If you take this route you will make very slow progress and you won’t learn what you need to know to make anything other than what they teach you.

Also, you will have to work within their schedule where you will have to wait sometimes months before you can actually take a course that is on woodworking. For these reasons, I generally wouldn’t recommend them. But, for some people it will be a good option.

It’s a similar case when taking courses at Art Centers. You might get a chance to learn some small skills here and there. But, most Art Center will mix in other classes such as pottery and painting, and like Home Depot it will take a long time to develop your skills.

The way you approach learning woodworking can matter more than whether you learn it on your own or not

Lee Grindiger who is a retired professional studio furniture maker from Montana has recommended for new woodworkers to view learning woodworking as a learning individual skills. Rather, than as a step by step process.

I tend to agree with Lee because in woodworking each project is unique. For example making a small table is very different to making a set of drawers. Although, your skills in cutting the wood, and measuring the wood are mostly similar, putting it all together in the right order required specific knowledge that is unique to the project.

For example you will need to put the base of the table on the workbench and attach the legs of the table to the underside. Whereas, with a set of drawers you will need to put together the frame and sides first, and then create the drawers separately.

You will see this in good quality courses that take you through the specifics of certain types of woodworking. For example, a course on making cabinets, and a course on making tables are taught separately.

You can see his Twitter account by clicking here, and some articles he has written on Woodworking by clicking here.

In my opinion, learning woodworking as a side hobby, or to start a small side business is better suited to learning woodworking on your own. You can learn exact skills and projects to make that are suited to what you like. And those that you think will sell well, or that you can give away as gifts.

The courses and books I recommend are:

1. The Complete Illustrated Guide To… series of books

Video and images are the best ways to learn woodworking on your own because you can see what they are explaining. Although, you can get some idea by looking at the end product.

Often, it is very frustrating to try to understand what the author means when you are mostly reading about in words. For these reasons I thoroughly recommend the ‘Complete Illustrated Guide To’ series.

There are a few different books in this series. The best for beginners to learn everything they need to know. And keep as a reference they can look up is:


The Complete Illustrated Guide to Woodworking: Joinery/Shaping Wood/Furniture & Cabinet Construction (Complete Illustrated Guides)

It is in a hardcover box set. It has over 10 positive reviews and all of them are a 5 out of 5 star rating on Amazon. A carpenter with over 20 years experience has said that he absolutely loves this set of books. If you click the link above you can go to Amazon, where you can see the reviews, and also buy the book set. It’s only $39 new for the entire set.

The other book in this series is the Complete Illustrated guide to Joinery. Also, thoroughly recommended.

If you are on a budget you might be able to find some similar book as these at your local library. The principles of woodworking are timeless, and don’t change so any detailed topic that will show you basics will help you when learning woodworking.

There is also a complete video series on Woodworking 101. It is an 8 part video series, and covers the core tools you will use as a woodworker and also the last video has some safety tips.

You can watch the introduction absolutely free, and he covers the tools and what they in a lot of details:

When it comes to putting together things like tables, and desks it’s a good idea to use existing plans.

Sprucecraft.com put together an excellent summary of the best woodworking courses. They concluded that Udemy.com was the best overall. However, be a bit wary and select courses that have the most reviews. You can filter the courses they show for woodworking by popularity. Which courses that sold the most, and also their average rating.

You should use this feature before buying a course. Another excellent website for learning woodworking on your own is Taunton Workshops. They offer very clear, easy to understand, and thorough books from the basics all the way to expert level books about woodworking. Most of them are reasonably priced for under $20 each.

Although they are excellent, you will want to combine the knowledge together with specific plans, and Taunton Workshops only offer one of two specific plans.

The best woodworking plans I have found are available at Woodsmithplans.com and the good news is they are also free. They have a bunch of useful plans that aren’t just stuff you will want to make for your wood shop.

2) Doing woodworking as a career

If you are more going the career route and are much more excited and passionate about it, then usually you will want to quit your job, and take a full time course. And in my opinion you shouldn’t learn it on your own and you will need expert mentorship. So, doing woodworking as a career is a way of learning woodworking that involves learning from someone else.

So you should first take a look around at what options are available in your city, and State, and maybe even out of State that look good to you.

Many schools offer 2 week intensive courses, where you can plow through the skills you will need in a very short amount of time.

Then it is up to you to continue to hone them down until you become a master. But, if you do this you will often be out of a job, and won’t have a necessary ability to support yourself. So, seeing where you can get in at an entry level position may be better suited to you.

According to Study.com the best ones in the USA are:

[top woodworking schools is an excellent Response post topic by the way. Add it to your list for later]

Often, employers are willing to train you on the job, and require no experience or training. But, when you do this, you won’t have as much flexibility to learn what you want to learn if you started it completely as a business. For example, you couldn’t specifically specialize in making handcrafted benches or tables.

But, in the beginning you would be doing odd jobs such as removing nails from wood that had been ripped out during a demolition to put in a skip. And measuring up and cutting some boards.

If you really are interested in woodworking though it is my opinion to do it wholeheartedly in most cases to learn the necessary skills. Then in your part time you can craft your own unique pieces. And start a business selling your works on the side until it becomes a full time income.

This is a separate skill set to woodworking on it’s own. Which includes learning about marketing, business operations, and payments. A lot of these skills you may have already developed by working in a shop such as a retail clothing store, or ice cream stand. It is beyond what I cover in the article to go into how to start a successful woodworking business.

But, you essentially want to decide on a product that seems to be in demand, and then sell it online on an online marketplace such as Ebay.com. But, there are many others.

The courses and books I recommended will help you when you are learning woodworking for the purpose of doing it as a career. But, if you learn it at a school they will generally give you a core book or a list of books that they recommend. And some schools which teach a curriculum that is based on a book.

Conclusion

You can learn woodworking on your own. But, whether you decide to learn it on your own or at a school and with others depends on what your goals are for learning woodworking. If you are learning woodworking as a hobby or side business it’s a good idea, generally to learn from books and courses.

Because most courses taught at schools are during the day. And your schedule won’t allow you to attend both. Also, if it’s a hobby you’re likely more relaxed about it, and will enjoy learning about it at a slower pace.

Sources

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