Well, is there a future for apprenticing? Not much of one. I lament the reality that many who would learn the craft and art of furniture-making must get the basics by spending £30,000 on a degree course often taught by people who never made a living from doing it themselves. Indeed, one college lecturer I know told his students that you cannot make a living from furniture making when I had just told them that they could and that I had done so throughout most of my career as a furniture maker. My designs now grace the Cabinet Room of the White House, the homes of President Bush, and then too the homes and offices of people like you and me. I have made for the very rich and then too the poor who might never own one of my pieces. There was nothing special about me. right place, right time. Something like that. I loved these opportune times in my life and I did indeed make a living from my work and raised a family of four on a single wage.
It has made more sense to many this last six months, perhaps even more I think than ever in recent history, for people to launch themselves off into trying for a new craft. But I love this though! There can be no doubt in my mind that most people can develop skills in their chosen sphere if the right instruction is available. The trick now is sifting through the straw for the needle in the ever-growing global haystack, which is indeed a major issue. Instruction search comes at a price — your time! Read but one online catalogue and you might well be forgiven for ending up confused. Look through three or four and you will realise the ‘copy-and-paste’ buttons are used extensively by the so-called ‘sales team‘ to flesh out the information put out. I can’t recommend a catalog anymore, and nor do I recommend a magazine either. I can’t.
I make a point not to copy anyone anywhere and when you write and ask me whether I watch this or that youtuber, blogger or vlogger I should tell you this and then ask you not to ask me: If I have watched 30 minutes of woodworking guru output since YT came into being 15 years ago I would likely be exaggerating 10 times. I now try to attend a craft show of some kind once a year or so, where I can see crafts like pottery, sewing, upholstery and glassworks, but by the time I have seen men hoisting themselves up poles with huge axes to chop them down a couple of times and chainsaw carvers with mini chainsaws and giant hoggers representing the woodworker’s section I am about done in. I don’t have ay desire to attend woodworking shows generally. Machines hog centre stage all the way. I find them just too sterile and dull. Mostly that’s because of the noise of machines etc. Spoon carving with knives and such take me along a journey in my mind asking when were spoons made with an ax and a knife and how long ago did itinerant farmers stop off at a farm for a week to make a dining set for a farmer’s family. I’m guessing that most chairs for the last 80 years came from Eastern Europe and at one time I saw only Romania branded on the undersides of chairs. The chief exporter of furniture today is of course China with an estimated 39% of the world’s furniture production coming from those shores.
It seems ever sad to me that we are indeed losing the system I grew up in as an apprentice, so my work has become all the more important in providing a egacy for the ensuing generations and those in this present age to pass on to their children and friends. It’s not a boast but I am pretty much the last of my generation who trained and apprenticed under half a dozen older men who kept me in check and showed me their ways. I recall one master telling me to climb on his bench and sit on the pad of a brace while he held it upright turned the handle beneath me. The added weight drove the bit ever deeper at an otherwise high and awkward spot and the result was a deep hole. It seemed a small thing but multiply this ten thousand fold and ypou will see things that might well be hidden forever.
So you see, I see that it is difficult to know exactly who to turn to for the right instruction. Is it possible that we might find all the instruction we really need online these days? Well, in my view at least, it is probably as good a way to learn as there is and especially if you have to find thousands of pounds, dollars, krona or francs or whatever other currency needed to pay for few weeks of instruction. In our endeavour we made it simple. Our foundational training, training about tool use, maintenance, projects that introduce you to woodworking principles and methods and techniques, is always free, be that in written form or video, on woodworkingmasterclasses.com or commonwoodworking.com. It is my belief that anyone new to woodworking that is willing to invest in a cluster of secondhand tools, some wood, and so on, can be a fairly competent woodworker within one year if they can give 4-6 hours a week to it through these channels.
Finding the Time
I know! Where do I find 4-6 hours a week? Well, for a man like me, at one time used to watching 6 hours of TV a day in my younger years, it was difficult. So in 1986, aged 36, I completely stopped watching TV and started writing, photographing, drawing, researching and studying attitudes developed towards work, the history and development of work, the Industrial Revolution, Consumerism and its bed partner Economics. It didn’t take me too long to realise every single thing people did had a price tag to it and that everything people did was to somehow make or save money. I also saw that most people lived very much in fear of losing what they actually didn’t have. COVID-19 has confirmed my point of view on this. If most people were buying furniture made no longer in Europe or the USA but Asia thern why was that and what could change it? For me it was different. I found tht there was and still is a clientele out there that is willing and able to either pay the double nd triple and more for handmade pieces or designs or that were willing to save the money because the wanted a one of a kind piece especially made for them. I also discovered very nice people who both wanted to support a local artisan and was prepared to save for the one special piece I speak of, that they could own for a lifetime, a rocking chair like this for instance.
Woodworkingmasterclasses.com has proven to be one of my great successes. Piggybacking my decades of experience in a background absorbed in full-time furniture-making, woodworking, and woodturning with my opening schools for woodworking led, Joseph and I to start to put together courses online. Remember I had been writing curriculum and how-tos for decades in my spare time in the evenings and such. My quest to train on an international level without geographical attachment became only possible through accepting and learning that technological changes need not be shunned but accepted as a viable apprenticing alternative to replace what was actually gone. I have students in colleges around the world write me and tell me how they learned more in a month of my online videos than they did in their three-year, tens-of-thousand dollar courses. I am not interested in padding out my income by teaching and training and seeing people struggle to find the cash and go into debt. My courses are different than most. Here I have an instance for you to consider. This cabinet that I just built might cost you about £12 a month to access 674 videos covering 88 projects from beginner to advanced levels and then all you ever need to know about buying, maintaining and using hand tools and such (the latter is always free as are many of the projects). Projects like this computer desk are tone skill level whereas the stool is at another. How about a beautiful keepsake box for Christmas and birthdays? So here it is. If you were to sign up as a paying member you would be able to access every single one of the 674 videos together with all the drawings and cut lists, diagrams, and much more. You have access to the forums and so on as well. And, importantly, not that we want you to, we make it so easy for you to cancel your subscription whenever you want to too. This means that you can cherry-pick what you want to watch or need.
So our success is your success. People around the world are finding my work as a master furniture maker an invaluable resource. We never copy the work of others because, well, my quest remains the same as it was from the beginning and that is to pass on all that I have been given and blessed with to the generations yet to come.