I know this about woodworking, something I’ve had to work with with people I’ve trained on a closer level, one minute you are not a woodworker and the next you are. It’s a strange phenomenon but a woodworker requires no qualification by diploma or degree, NVQ or whatever. It’s industry that needs it, not you. All you need is to be able do is demonstrate that you have the ability and the skills necessary to do woodworking competently and safely. In your own life in your own shop I am sure you will take all the steps necessary to establish good and safe patterns of working. I just love that. Yes, I apprenticed, was indentured, but all that meant was that I did a few years as an apprentice. Had I known then what I know now I would still have become a woodworker and a furniture maker but just by perhaps working alongside another woodworker with skill, not to get certification to qualify me because, well, just the decision to be a woodworker is all the qualification I needed. It’s no different than If I interview for a job waiting on in a cafe and never had experience before. The day I don uniform and apron I become what I was not, a waiter. At 15, when I started to work with wood, I became a woodworker.
Not a good one at all, but, foot on the first rung, raised head looking up, I knew which direction to go. I knew straight off that I was cheap labour and machine fodder for a rich snob that owned the company but knew nothing about my craft. It was my first step as a woodworker moving towards manhood with a penchant for a long term career in wood. Mostly I just liked being a woodworker and it paid enough for me to buy some tools and give some extra to the family income. Two key mentoring craftsmen then steered me in the right direction there was no graduation as such. I have and will always be grateful to them. Whereas I achieved some qualifications in my life, and they might have been interesting from time to time, it was after that that I really began to learn and grow. In the doing of or being a woodworker. A passion for woodworking and additional automatic self study and research put real flesh on the bones.
Here is the outcome of another persons work. She has about 250 hours of mixed work in the making and perfecting of it. Not totally dedicated to the one project, but machineless work in that all elements including most of the rip sawing and planing from rough sawn material was all hand work only. This is Hannah’s recently completed tool box. She hand picked her lime wood by visiting the timber suppliers with me and then added cherry from some of my offcuts. I think it’s very nice. The workmanship extraordinary. I have taught the classes on making this and it is a high intensity high demand course for anyone. In the courses I taught all the wood was milled to size and planed throughout. In hannah’s case she chose the harder route and she did it to gain the whole experience and to prove to herself that she could do it. Practical use of winding sticks and hand ripsaws and so on was something she had yet to master. This project gave her all the experience she needed for her future. It took great courage considering her level of working knowledge. On her first day with me as her teacher I informed her that she had just become something that before she was not, a woodworker. Self-deprecating, she shied away from the title a little, but become a woodworker is what she did. She never turned back. She has now made many things since day one and with this under her belt she is able to make anything she sets her mind on. No multiple year courses, just bench space to work, a little steering (as it was for me) and some self study, experimentation and research. Her knowledge of woodworking, woodworking tools, equipment and so on is now well along to the fullest extent. Like me, she knows she will never know everything, but she also knows that she is a woodworker.
Stepping into woodworking begins with a single decision. It’s simple enough because all you have to do is say it. Yup, I know, it’s just the first step, but when you say it, if only to yourself, you be come a woodworker. To do it though, you have to do it seriously. It’s not certificate dependent except for some industry enterprises. Even there, it is only a question of showing you are competent in certain skills surrounding work and safety. Common sense stuff most people already have. I know a barrister named Matt and a barista too who felt one day that they wanted to become woodworkers and the day they stepped into my class many years ago, I mean that minute at 9am, they became woodworkers, serious woodworkers.I know lots of people like that. Pole lathe turners walked into a wood with a teacher and they became pole lathe turners, another chose a machine-driven lathe and both qualified for the title of woodturner. Whereas turnery is only a small part of general woodworking, turning whether by machine or pole, treadle or whatever is not machining wood. What makes it different? In turnery you manipulate the tools to work the wood. With machine woodworking you have substituted such dextrous skills and art to channel wood inline or to curved guide or jig that then guarantee basic parallel cuts along a given path, plane or line. This makes the huge difference.
So, all in all, thankfully, there is no state requirement or qualification that qualifies you to become a woodworker of any kind, either here in the UK or in the USA, freely you can make whatever you want and freely you can sell whatever you make to anyone who chooses to buy from you and you choose to sell to. This is not the same for all countries, sadly.
I think it is important for people to understand that woodworking does not need qualifiers to become a woodworker or even be good at the craft at all. Those working in the industry will most likely be interested in any gained experience you may have to occupy a job. When you be come a woodworker, whether as someone purely interested in the craft rather than in pursuit of a career or indeed working for yourself you need nothing to qualify you except the outcome of your hands. Your reputation will go before you and word of mouth speaks volumes. Start out by making gifts for family and friends, work colleagues and such. Use this as the learning period until you become ever more confident and competent. In a year or two, repeating practice in the making of things, you will become more competitive and ultimately you will be making items for a wide range of reasons and, who knows, using it at first as a second job, it can become your main job if that is indeed what you want.
Don’t sell yourself short or sell yourself to some entity. At the end of the day, most good woodworkers I know only had a desire to become. Make, make more, make and give, make and sell, take the first step with a few hand tools. Make a simple but very decent workbench and join a sales promoter-outlet like Etsy to kickstart your energies. You are already a woodworker when YOU decide you have the freedom to be one.