My Journey to Becoming a Woodworker

I started on my adventure as a woodworker early in my life, my first project was converting a basement coal bin into a bar for my mom. I collected pop bottles to buy a Black & Decker jig saw and drill them an old key hole saw and a hammer were my whole kit, I was eleven and I was hooked. I would stay up late at night reading popular mechanic and dreaming of the day that I could own my own shop smith, hey I was eleven. 
At fourteen I got a summer job hanging drywall for $2 an hour and by the end of the summer I was also doing some taping which I had a knack for. I did that for two summer and after school and weekends. 
High school came and I got into the carpenter Vocational program and work experience program which let me go to school in the morning until 11:00 am then go to work the rest of the day. The summer before I started with an older semi retired carpenter who was the father of one of the guys I was drying for. 
I was lucky in many way to get that job even at the time I didn’t know it. The old carpenter that I started working for was semi retired and in his 70s, his father was a jointer and a carpenter, and his grandfather was also a craver and a cabinetmaker who came from Europe to Cincinnati in the 1880s to work as a carver. He was a tough and demanding employer who was a wealth of knowledge that influenced me more then I would have admitted at the time. 
I was one of three that he hired that summer and the only one that lasted for the all summer. I knew to keep my mouth closed and my eyes open and only ask questions when I didn’t understand something. For few months I wasn’t allowed to touch a power tool, I had to use a hand saw to make any cuts I had to make and he made me cut quite a bit more than you would expect. He showed me how to sharpen that saw only once and every friday I had to sharpen it and after he thought I got fair at sharpening saws I had to sharpen all the saws that needed it plus the chisels and planes, let me tell I hated it! 
I wanted to be a carpenter, but I gave my word I would work for at lease two years for him and I was going to keep my word. After about eight mouths of grunt work he started letting me start doing other type of work and it all started out of the blue one afternoon when he asked to build a set of stairs I was flabbergasted this was the first time he has asked to build any thing and it was a set stairs, now they were not a particular hard set only 4 rises going from a garage to the kitchen. I knew I could do this I had helped him make several set and watched carefully plus I did well on this section at school, so I got all the lumber I need and an hour later I had them done and called him over to see if they passed mustard which they did and it  was the beginning of more serous training. I asked him later why he had me start with a set of stairs and not something easier and his reply was that by this time in you’re training if you couldn’t build them steps you were  just be wasting my time to try to teach you anything else and you would been better off finding something else to learn to do for a living. He told me that day that a lot of people can build, but not every one can be a true craftsman it is something that gets into your blood and becomes part of your life a carpenter or cabinetmaker isn’t just what you do for a living it is who you are. Its how you see and interact with the world, and to this day no truer words have ever been said to me. I worked for him for a year and ten months until I enlisted in the Army He passed while I was in the army and I think of often he was the foundation of my career and I couldn’t had a more solid well rounded education even if I couldn’t have known it at the time. 

One thought on “My Journey to Becoming a Woodworker

  1. Very good post. Here in Portugal that used to be considered a normal entry to almost any profession: the Apprentice. I worked 20 years as an EMT and the difference was that i had to learn first the theory and then, two years after riding ambulances as a newby doing "hard work" (cleaning, washing, replacing, etc) i would be considered a full EMT with permission to learn more and given serious responsibilities.Today, I'm a wannabe woodworker, but cannot find a master or a tutor. Less and less "old time" woodworkers exist around here. The few still working don´t accept students unless they are very young. For an "old" guy like me (I'm 40), all i can do is learn alone, with the help of the internet and a few other amateurs.Thank you so much for sharing your memories.Ricardo

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