I am a carpenter and have been in the trade for almost 10 years. The last two years, however, have been a little different. I started working as a trim/finishing carpenter and quickly began buying equipment to start my own business doing furniture, built-ins and custom millwork. But it’s a struggle, because I don’t have the experience in the fine woodworking industry that I need. I can do what any other shop can do in terms of quality, but it takes me too long to build anything to make a living at it. I have also fallen more in love with the craft, and have desired to go to school to further my skills, but there seems to be no school near enough for me to attend without leaving my wife and four children for an extended period of time. I have tried getting into cabinet shops, but nobody seems to want to hire me (yet), although I still would much rather go to school for a fine furniture and design course or something. Do you have any suggestions? I’m like a dry sponge that wants to soak up any bit of advice or knowledge I can get my hands on.
Michael Dresdner: I can relate to your situation. It was more than 30 years ago that I found myself working as a finisher, but wanting to make the move to become a guitar maker. For what it’s worth, I started by reading every book and magazine I could get my hands on about guitar making, and talking to everyone who would speak to me about the subject, all while keeping my various day jobs. Obviously, there is far more written on cabinetmaking and woodworking, so you’ll have to pick and choose. On the positive side, there are better, cheaper materials on the subject, including this eZine and its sister print magazine. Read, practice when you can spare the time (speed comes with practice), join a local woodworking guild, and ease into it gradually. It is frustrating, but you will be getting better and closer to your goal each day, even though it may often seem like you are treading water.
For what it is worth, I built my first guitar on my kitchen table in an apartment in New York City (Flushing, Queens, for those who know the area), but I eventually ended up owning my own guitar company, working as head of research and development for C. F. Martin Guitar Company, and eventually became CEO of Tacoma Guitar Company. I never did go to any guitar making school. It may be slow going, but I’m sure you will get to your goals as well.
Rick White: Definitely try the school systems in your area: tech colleges, even high schools that might have night classes. You could even talk to the instructors at the schools individually – sometimes they’ll do some training. Depending on where you’re located, there’s different classes offered at stores like Rockler Woodworking and Hardware. Ideally, you would find a good cabinet shop that has the skills you’re interested in – not one that’s all automated and set up like an assembly line – and tell the foreman you’ll work at a reduced price because you’re there to learn.