At this stage in my life, I cannot take woodworking classes. I have the will and the money, but I also have kids, a wife with a crazy job and my own endeavors – a publishing company, a custom furniture business and (oddly enough) a teaching schedule.
So until I can make our home life look like Lake Placid, I am always looking for other ways to improve my work. One of the best things I’ve tried recently is collaborating with other woodworkers. I have been building projects that involve efforts from people who have talents I don’t have (but that’s only part of the story).
You might be thinking: Where would I find other woodworkers I could collaborate with? A good source is your local woodworking club, of course. But that’s not the half of it. If you like handwork, go to a local Hand Tool Event put on by Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. These great (and free) shows are always stocked with attendees and demonstrators who are also looking for some sort of human connection in the craft.
If you hang out for a couple days, I can pretty much guarantee you will find like-minded people. And it’s less dangerous to your private parts than Match.com.
If you do casework, veneering, chairmaking, turning, specialty finishing, inlay or metalworking, find someone who doesn’t do that. Suggest that you work on something together – a tool, chest, bench, panel, anything. You do one part. The other woodworker does the other. And get a blacksmith involved. Or a fiber artist. Someone who has a skill that you think is impressive.
The project you make together is only part of the benefit. The real benefit is that everyone involved will take their work up a notch. After all, you don’t want to be the slacker in the group.
This year I’ve been working on a collaborative tool chest project with Jameel Abraham of Benchcrafted and blacksmith Peter Ross. I’m designing and building the carcase. Jameel is building the marquetry panel for the lid. And Peter is making the hardware.
I’ve built about 50 tool chests, most for customers. This project is different because of my collaborators.
You are going to be able to see the results of this three-way in a future issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. Editor Megan Fitzpatrick has been a huge supporter of this effort and will be publishing two articles – one on the carcase and the other on the lid.
Oh and one more thing: If you find people who aren’t interested in collaborating with you, don’t take it personal. I’ve found that some people are too ashamed of their work to deal with other people. Or they are too proud, which is really worse in my book.
— Christopher Schwarz