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Attend a Class or Watch a Video?
(Education vs. Edutainment?)

by Travis Remington

Over the past few years, there has been a shift in the availability of woodworking content. Originally, if you wanted to learn woodworking you had a limited set of options that included a handful of schools, project specific classrooms, or books and magazines. In a perfect world, we could all take a few months off and attend a couple of semesters at the Vermont Woodworking School or the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. For many, these traditional school options are impractical for a variety of reasons that include location, time, and money.  

The project specific classrooms can be found in most major cities. Retailers like Highland Woodworking in Atlanta, Woodcraft, Rockler, etc. all offer weekday or weekend classes to learn a variety of woodworking skills such as wood turning, joinery, all the way up to more complicated projects such as building furniture. Like schools, there’s a time commitment (though significantly shorter), what classes are available will be location dependent, and pricing can vary from less than $100 to over $1,000, depending on the material and tool needs of the class.  

Books and Magazines  
Last on the list of the ‘old master’ methods for learning woodworking are books and magazines. For years, they served as a ‘cheap’ go to source for project plans, technique insight, tool reviews, and so on. Historically, Wood Magazine, Woodsmith, Popular Woodworking, and Fine Woodworking filled this niche. However, quality has changed for some of them over the years as they’ve been supplanted by online content. Books from old masters like Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking, A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook, and Japanese Woodworking Tools are augmented with new masters with a more modern perspective on woodworking like Foundations of Woodworking, the Chris Schwarz Anarchist trilogy (Tool Chest/Design/Workbench) and The Complete Illustrated Guide to Joinery.   

The Internet  
Over the past ten years, I think it’s fair to say the internet has turned learning upside down. Through the internet, learning has generally become more egalitarian, and over the past five years, the availability of good online woodworking content has skyrocketed. Whether free content on YouTube, or pricier online learning options, the barrier to getting into woodworking has never been more surmountable. YouTube offers a variety of content creators (of good and poor quality) that cover things like tools options and usage, specific project builds, and tool reviews. For paid online courses, you’ll likely find a more professional and honed approach to learning. To evaluate what content is good, look for reviews or the comment sections of videos. You’ll quickly find out what the general consensus is for the content!  

Where to Start?  
I think the best place to start these days is with YouTube; a HUGE caveat though is to start there to see what appeals to you about woodworking. Use that free content to find out what kind of woodworking looks most interesting to you. Woodworking is a very broad topic, filled with all kinds of specialties, and the tools and techniques for those specialties can be very different. The major subcategories are hand tool, power tool, and digital woodworking. Under those are things like wood turning, carving, cabinetry, instruments, furniture, finishing, CNC, Laser, etc. Once you start watching a variety of videos, you should be able to narrow it down to what interests you most. Once you find that one thing, now it’s time to learn. While you can keep working with YouTube videos and a lot of trial and error, our advice is to look for an in-person class in your area that can really get you up and running. In-person classes offer the one thing no other path does: immediate feedback. Take a spokeshave; almost anyone can pick up a spokeshave and, through persistence, shape a board. However, in a classroom setting, you have an instructor peering over your shoulder, able to make corrections, and see you through to developing and honing correct technique. For power tools, if you have limited or no experience, look for an intro or basic woodworking class. These typically run a couple of days, but coming out of it you’ll have experience with a variety of equipment, and have the confidence to go back to your workspace and not have to waste time (or potential injury!) trying to figure these tools out yourself.   

Putting It All Together  
Once you take a few in-person classes, you’ll begin to extract even more value from the other learning resources. Woodworking books & magazines will start to make a lot more sense and become more useful, online courses will open up more advanced options because you have good technique, and the free content will become less enthralling as you see steps skipped and hurried workmanship that someone starting out might not catch. Regardless of which path you choose, woodworking is a hobby that takes time to learn, and a lifetime to master! Enjoy the journey!  

Travis Remington is Director of Education at Highland Woodworking. He can be reached by email at tremington@highlandwoodworking.com.

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