To Learn Woodworking or Get Woodshop Ideas, Consider Football

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I watched my old high school get pummeled in their state football championship game last weekend. Two things were obvious to any keen observer:

1. DNA matters. The opposing team, Valor, featured two sons of a former NFL receiver. One of them scored touchdowns like it was his paid job, which I’m guessing it will be someday.

2. Success succeeds. This was Valor’s fifth consecutive state title. They have a certain momentum in their program that must attract not only great players, but also great coaching from a variety of volunteer and professional sources.

I think the second point applies to how we learn woodworking, even though it is easy to forget or ignore. Like high schoolers with their peer groups, we often focus more on our own shops and those of our immediate neighbors than we should. It often seems easier to get information from “nearby” sources than from the broader woodworking community, especially the professional realm.

When I decided I wanted to learn woodworking, I challenged myself by going straight to a professional cabinet shop and asking if they could use an apprentice. These days I realize how much there is that I still don’t know about the craft, but the time I spent on the for-profit side of woodworking definitely helped me leapfrog into an enjoyable hobby. Professional woodworkers are efficient, and some of their efficiencies translate really well to a home shop. My pneumatic nailers, for example, work just as well with a small air compressor as they do with an industrial-sized model. They make building a square case very easy, at least for my way of doing things.

Learn woodworking and get woodshop ideas from a pro

Think of Jim Tolpin's shop as an NFL stadium of woodworking. Great woodshop ideas will emerge.

Think of Jim Tolpin’s shop as an NFL stadium of woodworking. Great woodshop ideas will emerge.

I paged through a Jim Tolpin e-book today that reminded me of the value that professionals bring to hobbyists and amateurs. Jim is a veteran cabinetmaker who has the gift of making his ideas clear to anyone, at any level.

It's easier to learn woodworking in an efficient shop.

It’s easier to learn woodworking in an efficient shop.

When it comes to woodshop ideas, a picture really does say a thousand words, so here’s a picture of Jim’s woodshop layout. (Click on the image for a larger version.) This is a layout that serves the purpose of making money with cabinetry, but it applies just as well to making furniture for fun. One thing I like about this layout is that I can see a way to modify it for a one-car garage, if that’s all the space you have. You don’t absolutely need the carcass-assembly position as a separate space from the multipurpose work platform (or workbench). Also, in my opinion, you don’t absolutely need a table saw – but there are many who would argue with me on that point.

This is just the tip of the iceberg on Jim Tolpin. Check out our Jim Tolpin collection for a wealth of his knowledge at a tiny price. We just released it!

After all, until medical science invents a woodworking gene that functions somewhat like the football gene, I think learning from professional coaches is a great way to go.

Dan Farnbach

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Dan Farnbach

About Dan Farnbach

Dan apprenticed and worked in two professional shops during the years after college. But sweeping shop floors only goes so far toward learning woodworking. These days Dan is online editor for Popular Woodworking, and is learning new skills every day. He divides his time between Boston and Maine.

4 thoughts on “To Learn Woodworking or Get Woodshop Ideas, Consider Football

  1. schrocw

    Dan,

    Some updates from another Coloradan. Although I live in Estes Park, we have temporarily relocated to Port Townsend, WA — home of the Port Townsend School of Woodworking and Jim Tolpin. I have had the privilege of taking a class from Jim at the school — “By Hand and By Eye” — and have taken a brief personal class in his workshop. His shop has changed a bit from the floor plan shown — with his new focus on almost exclusively hand tools. I recall a band saw and drill press, but no table saw. Also, he is currently completing a new shop at his home.

    Excellent teacher and excellent books!!

    Chuck

    1. Dan FarnbachDan Farnbach Post author

      Chuck, thank you for sharing all these points with the community! Good to know. The pros are always evolving.
      I hope your home in Estes Park is recoverable. I know the floods were bad there. In grade school there near the Big Thompson canyon, they always told us cautionary tales about the 1976 flood.

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