Fair Woodworking

November 25, 2016

That’s How We Do

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 6:17 pm

I learned my trade from my father in Hungary. It was a pretty rough going because after I start apprenticing with my father, I had no more father, I just had a master. The first time I made a drawer he threw it in the corner. He told me, “That’s no good. You gotta be a lot better than that”. Once I learn how, then he told me, “It has to be a lot faster”, because the good craftsman not only do things well, but do it with a speed.

Frank Klausz 

This quote is from the DVD Dovetail a Drawer, available from Lie-Nielsen

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For a multitude of reasons, very few of us have a story even remotely similar to Frank’s. Apprenticeships of this nature are very rare, and few of us have fathers that are at a high level of skill to teach us. Far too many of us are Google apprentices.

By that I mean that we search for woodworking nuggets and try to add them to our woodworking from an international cesspool of woodworking knowledge/anti-knowledge. The problem is that while even if every answer Google gave you was correct, they still would lack the context of your shop, and your workflow.

For example, toothing a bench top. I’ve never tried this, but it comes from a respected source, and I would love to test it. I even bought a plane specifically for toothing, but my current bench is made of soft wood, and is wondrously grippy. With such a soft wood, I suspect that the toothing wouldn’t really add anything, and the toothed ridges would be so fragile they would simply break off. My last bench was maple and working on it was like walking on ice. Hey Brad? Be a good fellow and tooth my bench and get back to me on how it works will you? That’s a good fellow.

What I am saying is that a toothing plane has very little value in my shop.

So if Google or the forums is not a good teacher what should we do?

I really think the best thing ever would be to have a highly skilled woodworker with at fully equipped shop, that would let you work along side them, but for most of us that is a pipe dream that will never ever come true.

For the rest of us, I think the best compromise we can find is to sort through all the mess of opinions on the web and from all of that, pick a master to diligently follow. Edit – Not because they know everything. Simply because you have to start somewhere.

Pick someone you respect, one that has a proven track record of work history, especially one that shares your woodworking interests. Finally, find someone that has well documented their work so you can get an exhaustive view of their shop life, their work flow, and techniques. Edit – Someone accomplished in works, and prolific in sharing what they have learned from their works.

Pick one, and strive to follow them as closely as you can. If they use wooden planes, learn to use wood planes. If they use a bench that is pinky high, build yours pinky high. If their bench is nipple high, well…. ya, give’er a try… chances are it will work with whatever other techniques they do. Pinky high techniques will not work with nipple high benches, and nipple high techniques will seem ludicrous on a pinky high bench. Edit – Once you are well established, you will easily see a good idea that will fit your work flow. As a beginner any hair brained idea can lead you astray. 

Don’t mix and match. DO NOT MIX AND MATCH! And for heaven’s sake, avoid the recommendations of other beginners even/especially if they seem to make more sense than those of more experienced woodworkers. Edit – See edit above. This is a lesson I’ve learned over the past 10 or so years. Many of those years wasted chasing contradicting techniques.

Choose your master wisely because it will be a large investment of time and money, but so is buying tools that won’t work with your workflow.

There are not many choices that you will be able to find. I personally, would fall short on pretty much all of the criteria, but if you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, it should pretty obvious who I have chosen to follow. If this is your first time, I pretty clearly laid it out HERE, so there is really no need to rehash it.

From there, take whatever classes you can get your hands on, and apply whatever you can that fits to the base of what you have learned from your adopted master.

Do your level best to not get distracted. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing, and as you learn you will find others that will supplement fairly seamlessly to what you already have learned.

These days there are three guys that through all the white noise out there I strive to listen to. They don’t all agree on every topic, but they do for lack of a better term, “harmonize” nicely.

Chris Schwarz obviously is the first. (Resisting the urge to break into a Barry White solo…)

Frank Klausz is the second because while he is not as prolific Edit – prolific in his teaching, his down to earth and simple opinion Edit – based on his accomplishments, cuts through all the mumbo jumbo. His father said do better, so he did better. His father said be faster, so he got faster. There is no discussion about talent or natural aptitude, and I suspect that while we see him as a woodworking god, really he is just an average guy that chose to develop his hand skills. Skills that first felt foreign, diligently practiced into second nature movements, in hopes of avoiding the wrath of an impatient master. The first time I watched his videos I thought they didn’t apply because he was so matter of fact with what you as a beginner should do, that he must have forgotten what it’s like to be a beginner. Now I can see that he hasn’t forgotten a thing. In my words I’d say “we can’t, because we won’t”.

 

Thirdly is Konrad Sauer. Konrad is more than a pretty face, in pretty boots with long flowing hair. Konrad to me is an extension of what I’ve learned from Frank. There is almost no limit to what we can teach our hands to do. Perfection is not flawlessness. Perfection is the opposite of compromise. And no matter how skilled you get, to achieve your very best work, it will still be a little terrifying. If you don’t follow Konrad on Instagram you should.

That’s how we do!

Edit – It may seem like I’m selling myself short by narrowing who I chose to learn from. I think there are two ways to look at this. I have a limited time on this earth to learn what I’m going to learn about woodworking, so I can choose to learn almost nothing about everything in woodworking, or I can learn as much as I can about a few things in woodworking. If that means I’m selling myself short so be it. One of us is the reining Dovetail World Champion, and the rest of you are not… I’m laughing as I type this. It just never gets old, Well at least not to me. I’m such a dork! Ha, ha, ha.

And now to help the non Barry White fans get my attempt at humor…

For the rest of us, here is a great chance to watch one of the great tenors of our time die a little with every lyric he sings.

 

 

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5 Comments

  1. Frank Klausz is not as prolific as Schwarz? Frank Klausz is a career woodworker with a vast range of work. As you mentioned, he did an apprenticeship in the field. Chris Schwarz is a journalist who is a good woodworker but with a rather narrow body of work. You will have no trouble getting opinions and research out of Schwarz since those are his main product. The trouble is, for career woodworkers there isn’t a lot of time to post blogs on how to do things.

    As far as your stance on mixing and matching woodworker’s contributions, I have to disagree. There are many ways to do things, many different workbench designs, many ways to set a plane or sharpen a chisel. I don’t think I have seen anything from any of your examples on turning. You may enjoy veneering if you try it – then you would want to check out Steve Latta. There is no shortcut to become a woodworker. Don’t be afraid to gather ideas from a variety of sources to see what resonates with your experiences. If you have a bench that isn’t working for you, use it to make your next bench.

    If you consider Chris Schwarz bibliography, he’s not afraid to mix and match. He does research the field rather extensively to show the history of woodworking and seems well liked by professional woodworkers. He’s also very generous about sharing his findings. His offerings are already a mixture of French, English, Estonian, Roman, and more ways of doing thing through his personal filter. You won’t have the same conclusions necessarily by reading from the same source material.

    There are so many talented woodworkers who have been published over the years, whose first business is woodworking, that I feel you would be shortchanging yourself by picking one who has “the answer”. A great musician would be someone who listens to everything, not someone who singles out one musician to follow.

    Best of luck with your quest.

    BW

    Comment by Bruxist Woodworker — November 26, 2016 @ 4:45 pm

    • Wow. And just like that you have shown me that this post was not very well written.

      Hey BW, thanks for your comments.

      It seems my use of the word Prolific was not very clear. Yes Frank is far more prolific in works. Let’s for argument sake call that accomplished. However information on Franks accomplishments are not as well documented as say Chris’. Chris is less accomplished, but more prolific in teaching what he has learned in his accomplishments. You will get no argument out of me that career woodworkers don’t have time to post, I get it, I’m not putting Frank down, I’m saying it’s hard to get a full picture of him from what is out there. However, if you were to hear what Frank says shortly after the quote I opened the post with, you would have heard this.

      *When I was apprenticing with my father, and I watched him work. I asked him, “how can you do that so fast?”. He told me, “After 10-15 years your gonna’ be a pretty good beginner yourself”. After 20 years I’m still learning. How more you’re doing, how better you’re getting.*

      After 10-15 years you will be a pretty good BEGINNER!!! 10 to 15 years of 8 hours a day 5 days a week you will be a pretty good beginner!

      With that in mind, the wisdom of Frank sharing some of the wisdom of his father, who even comes close to being a “pretty good beginner”, that also regularly shares what they have learned over the years along with what they are now learning? I can count them on one hand.

      I get a kick out of calling Chris a journalist, because I know it bugs him a little, but really, 10 years ago he was a far more accomplished woodworker than I am today. Just his completed works at Popular Woodworking make him more accomplished than most woodworkers will ever be. And that is what I failed to make clear in the post. Learn how to do something well one way. Once you have learned is down solid you might be ready to try a different way but most of us “are not afraid” to jump from one method to the next without ever learning any of them.

      I’m not really afraid to try anything. My fear is that trying too many things may keep me from learning anything at all. Turning is great, but I’m only mildly interested, veneering doesn’t interest me much at all. Not for now anyways. Not so much that I’d rather learn it over mastering the basics every hand tool woodworker should know.

      I’m also not saying anyone has “the answer”, Just imagine if Frank, 5 years in, went to his father and showed him a great new idea he found on the from another woodworker. What would his father have said? I Even if the new way was better, Franks dad probably would have said, “that’s nice. You can try that once you master the way I taught you”.

      That’s not selling yourself short, it’s learning one thing, THEN learning another thing.

      Most woodworker don’t learn one thing before they move on to not learn another thing.

      What I would call selling themselves long…

      On a side note.
      Considering the 10,000 hour rule, a hobbyist that gets 4 hours a week in the shop will take 48 years to become a master.
      8 hours a day 5 days a week will get you there in under 5 years, but according to Franks dad that gets you half way to being a pretty good beginner.

      Your millage may vary.

      I’m sure we are both somewhat arguing the same point, but thanks all the same for your input!

      Comment by fairwoodworking — November 26, 2016 @ 6:19 pm

  2. Frank is a good story teller and I think this was his advocacy of lifelong learning. I’ve been reading Frank’s articles long enough to know he didn’t take 20 years to master his work. Still, Frank does what works for Frank.

    I’m not saying you can’t learn anything from Schwarz, but there are a LOT of true masters out there that share their knowledge.

    What if RunDMC only listened to one kind of music and ignored Aerosmith?

    Comment by Bruxist Woodworker — November 26, 2016 @ 8:16 pm

    • Dude! I’m not saying to ignore the world and only ever listen to one person! I’m saying listen to one person until you have a solid understanding of what they are teaching. Once you have a solid base to work with go ahead and blow your f-ing brains out with a cornucopia ideas if you want. RunDMC learned to rap before they approached Aerosmith, and George Michael had to wake up before he Go-go’ed.

      Comment by fairwoodworking — November 26, 2016 @ 9:08 pm

  3. Just last week I put that benchtop through the works to flatten it. Afterwards I was tired, sweaty, my no.5 an extension of my right hand like Wolverine’s claws. It was a good workout.

    Glad I’m not the only one who could care less for turning and veneers.

    Keep up the good work, Champ.

    Comment by holleywoodshop — November 27, 2016 @ 11:09 pm


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