Learning a craft
Vic Tesolin believes that a good teacher inspires you and makes you want to learn, but beginners should be careful who they learn from.
When I started woodworking, the internet was supposed to be a fad that was destined to fizzle out in a couple years. This means that before I attended Rosewood Studio for formal education, anything I had learned about woodworking I learned from the printed word. Books and magazines were the only options available to me…that and actually getting into the shop and working wood. Reading about and studying the theory of woodworking will get you about 20% there. The real learning comes from doing. Long before me, in different parts of the world, there were apprentices—people indentured to a master who would learn from them, then take their tools on the road to work for other shops where the learning would continue.
None of these budding woodworkers spent time on the internet in chat rooms or on forums reading about woodworking. They simply learned from someone who knew what they were doing and who was willing to pass on their knowledge and craft. They didn’t have in-depth discussions about wear-bevels or which sharpening method yields a sharper edge, and there were no grainy Japanese videos to draw myriad conclusions from. Nope, these folks just toiled for hours at a stone or a workbench and gradually got better at it. The results (or lack of) were quite apparent on the pieces they were working on. If they got tearout on a board, they would just go back to the sharpening stone to refresh the edge. Hard work and perseverance (and often a grumpy master) spurred them on to better results.
We are lucky nowadays. There are experts on woodworking, metallurgy, design, and technique on any number of forums, ready to give you the advice (or berating) that you are looking for. No proof of their abilities is required, no portfolios or experience. Just a bold voice in a small corner of the internet where they are lurking, waiting for someone to ask what they would consider a “stupid” question. Pages and pages of keystrokes, all to debate what a talented woodworker friend of mine would define as “how many angels can dance on the head of pin.” I’m not sure why forums are so adversarial. Perhaps it’s the relative anonymity they provide. In my experience, woodworkers are great, friendly people who are more than willing to spend time talking about their craft. Having open-minded conversations about woodworking is how new skills get learned and new ideas discovered. Nobody ever learned anything from dogmatic, single-minded vaporing that leaves no room for discussion. Let’s be real here: There are many ways to cut dovetails and if a technique yields good results, what’s the problem?
Teaching anything is not easy. A good teacher inspires and makes you want to learn. A good teacher can draw on years of experience to help a student understand the fundamentals of any skill or craft. A good teacher can see the look in a student’s eyes and know when they aren’t getting it and can instantly change tack and re-explain things to clarify the point. I was fortunate to have studied with some of these teachers, and they taught me more than woodworking. Some of the best woodworking teachers in North America have taught me about business, humility, patience, and marketing, on top of how to properly cut joinery or lay down a finish.
My advice to any beginner woodworker? Be careful who you learn from. Read books and articles from authors who have been published; this ensures that they have been vetted and edited by other professionals or their peers. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Keep an open mind and never stop learning. Most importantly, get into your shop and work wood.
In order to understand, you must do. – V