Paying for Woodworking Training

Is it worth it to go to a "school of woodworking" (or send your employees) to learn skills such as veneering? October 18, 2011

I have a very limited training and development budget, and must invest it wisely. I would like some input from people who have taken veneer courses - such as at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. There seem to be some courses that are very relevant to issues we come across from time to time.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor A:
I don't know about the schools that are out there. I have never enrolled in one, but what I have heard is that they trend toward hobbyists. The best way to learn about the day to day skills you need in the industry is on the job.

From contributor M:
I agree. If you can't find a place to work (low pay for sure) and learn on the job, you can try reading all the books and magazine articles on the subject, then figure the rest out yourself.

With modern adhesives and backed veneers, it is a lot easier today than before. I do not think you will find any shops using the old techniques, except for antique restorations. As for repairs, I doubt that there is a lack of experienced guys capable of doing it. I suspect they just are not interested. I fall into that category. I have hammered hide glue when I was more of a hobbyist. But how could I spend three days fixing a piece of veneer now? In three days I could make two kitchens. Is someone going to pay me enough to interrupt that?

From contributor G:
What issues do you feel may be well addressed in a class? Marc Adams is a very reputable school, no doubt. The problem I have with any of these schools is they teach the skill set of the hobby, not the profession. Don't get me wrong, the more people interested in woodworking, the better, but a different education is needed for the professional.

Many techniques such as hammer veneering are simply outdated, and should be done for authentic replicas only in my humble opinion (or those without a vacuum press, or an iron). These methods were the best of their time... but their time has passed.

I remember working for a high end conference table shop years ago. On one particular job with some curved bases, a lead craftsman decided to try to hammer veneer them. He had the proper tools and techniques (had graduated from a famous school in Boston that shall remain unnamed). Watching him struggle with that made me decide it wasn't worth the effort. We could have made a form for a vacuum press and used it in less time.

Kind of like cutting dovetails by hand... It's fun (I still like to do it on occasion), but when you have to count on it for income, your perspective changes.

From contributor K:
You can find any reason not to do something. What you want to do is find the solution to your challenge.

If you contacted them, they might be able to put together a program based on what you actually need. Better yet, describe what you are looking to do in detail, find the instructor in their stable that can fulfill it, and instead of you and/or your guys traveling to them (and adding airfare, hotel, food, etc, to your costs), find out if they would be willing to come to you. Pay their airfare and hotel, and a daily rate, and have them specifically work with you and your guys on hands-on pieces from a junk-yard/yard-sale/consignment shop/flea market/whatever. Or price it out both ways (them coming to you, or you coming to them). Either way, be prepared by completely discussing what you want covered, and pick his brain (technique, pricing, industry challenges, etc.) while you have him. If you do this, you are not using him as a hobbyist instructor, but as an expert from whom you can learn relevant info regarding your potential profit center.

Then after practicing and building up some confidence, start taking in some pieces, do an excellent job, and get the word going. Become the local expert, and you never know what jobs can come of it. People love to brag on a good thing, and if they have their guy that specializes in something, they are more apt to spread the word. You'll know in short order if what people are expecting and what you can provide are a match.

From contributor I:
Want to learn about veneering? Start right here at WOODWEB's Veneering Forum and Knowlege Base. I love WOODWEB! I can read and ask specific questions, and receive a cafe selection of answers. I/you can then select what works for the situation. The scope of knowledge here is deep and thorough!

From contributor D:
The answer depends on what level of veneer work you wish to perform. If you are going to do a few tabletops and panels, with vacuum bags and such, then self-taught/WOODWEB/Adams is the way to go. I would add the Daryl Keil DVDs as essential. Restore antiques, then find a restorer or go to Adams. Schools will differ - some teach as if a classroom, teacher and students with notepads - and they get minimal hands-on. Others do it as all hands-on.

The only problem with self-taught is that you don't know what you don't know. If you are going to use a press, raw veneers, and employ one or more people full time at this, then you need to go to the industry and find training. Start with the vendors here at WOODWEB and work your way into the industry.

From the original questioner:
Thanks all for your input. I didn't want to be very specific with our current needs and skew the responses. I have taken several woodworking courses that really were geared towards the hobbyist, but even still found value in learning different perspectives and techniques from others. It's not that we don't know what we're doing here - our success rate is very good. But there are times when we succeed by bashing our heads into a brick wall until we get through, so is exposure to different techniques than the ones we use may give us quicker answers to the questions. As far as learning through WOODWEB, I couldn't agree more - this site is an invaluable resource.

From contributor J:
Don't be stupid, edumacation is never wasted. The mere fact that you've completed classes and received a certificate, diploma or degree is something that goes on your permanent resume (and not on the other job applicant's).

The trick these days is to get yourself employed so that you will have the opportunity to learn on the job (after that, you may go out on your own if you choose). Never stop learning or going to class if you're able. You'll be the one who knows more than a thing or two.

I've never met another woodworker, teacher or even hobbyist who couldn't teach me something worthwhile or valuable. In fact, I wish I had the opportunity to teach a class. Unfortunately, I don't have a degree or teaching certificate (I guess I should have taken a little of my own advice).

From contributor K:
Don't let that stop you... I went back to the Marc Adams website and read his bio. I don't see anywhere that Marc Adams is a certified teacher or that he even attended college, yet he apparently has made enough of a name for himself to be a consultant to the country and get published starting, from what I read, humble beginnings.

Point is... if you really want to teach, you can. Get in contact with a local pro/hobbyist woodworking store like WoodCraft, and get a class started. You can even contact local community colleges to teach courses during the summer. There are no education requirements to do this except experience and the interest of an audience. As a matter of fact, the instructors at that site are from many different skill sets within the woodworking community.

From what I've read on his site, Marc Adams went on to create a Masters program, so he knows how to create a class, which is another reason if you are interested in him customizing something for a company, my guess is he would do it.

From contributor B:
If you know what you want to learn, there are classes all over the country that are worth taking. Even a week long class with an expert in the technique you need to learn can jumpstart your knowledge and bring your skills up. I wouldn't just try Marc Adams unless you live near the school. There are lots of other options including taking classes in the expert's shop where you can see first hand how they work.

I have been trying to take one class a year to keep increasing my skill set and so far, the problem is deciding which class to take, not whether they are worthwhile. The cost does add up, but I see it as continuing education in my field, just like it would be in any other field.

From contributor J:

Just a follow up... I've corresponded with the Marc Adams School (as some of you have suggested) and it is clear that they are mainly interested in potential instructors with some national notoriety, such as published book authors, regular magazine contributors, exhibited artists, or award recipients. (This is totally understandable, since they must attract a large number of paying students). Just to be an accomplished professional yourself is not good enough (no matter how good you think you are). Fair enough.

This brings me to another possibility and certainly another option for the questioner. As suggested, why not bring in an expert consultant to work directly with you?

After reviewing the school's curriculum fees along with travel expenses, you probably could bring a consultant directly to your front door. As it concerns myself (and if I really do want to teach), I think it would definitely be a better deal for me to come to you rather than for you having to pay to attend an out-of-town group class someplace.

On top of the personal and tailored instruction, you'd also be at your own workplace still doing your own work (and with a personal instructor to help you). I guess there must be more than one way to skin a cat.

From contributor E:
Contributor J, I have followed your posts, and you're definitely a smart guy. Mark Adams is also a smart guy and I sat in on a couple of his seminars years ago. He does some pretty amazing work, but in my opinion, he probably appeals to the very serious weekend woodworker.

Your work is not something most weekend guys would want to tackle. From what I have seen, your work is highly specialized. I am sure you could find many shops willing to pay a fair price for your time if they were looking to either improve their work or wanted to start tackling projects they normally pass on. Good luck with that and I hope you do find a way to pass along your knowledge.

From the original questioner:
A lot of very interesting opinions. As far as the difference between bringing someone here or sending someone away for training, I see merits for both. But I think sending someone away makes the most sense.

First off - I personally would like to see how someone else does (insert task here) in their own optimum environment; it's a quick and easy way to pick up a few pointers just by looking at how the instructor is set up. I would not want to waste training time having the trainer trying to find equipment at our shop.

Secondly, as far as the travel and accommodations go, that would probably be more expensive per person for training. However, sending only one person would be cheaper than shutting the shop down for a week and having everyone trained at the same time. This would also give us an opportunity to reward dedicated employees. If a clock-puncher complains about never getting sent anywhere, a little progressive management in what it takes to earn those types of rewards can be given.

And like I said before, it's not like we don't know what we are doing here - we have a lot of talented craftsmen. It's just that my opinion is, the day you stop learning is also the day you stop breathing.