This is How to be a Modern Renaissance Woodworker, your complete guide to being a versatile woodworking boss that can make anything. It’s a fun path to take, and it can last a lifetime. Enjoy.
A Definition of The Renaissance Man
In a time long ago, a high value was placed on a person that could do a large number of things really well. They were people of importance, and skilled at making a living in many different situations in the professional world.
The idea of niching down and getting really deep into one thing was still around. These people knew the value of understanding something fully, but also understood the value of knowing many things.
A renaissance man or woman is someone that is skilled at being skilled. They are technical, intelligent, and they understand one of the most sought after skills in the world is simply the ability to do many things and to pick up things quickly.
They are masters of learning. They rely on their past experiences and confidence to take huge leaps forward in new skills that may take others a much longer time to learn. They build on each skill with new skills, and their confidence grows.
As a woodworker, the more you know about the craft the better. You can become a renaissance woodworker by simply deciding to learn, apply, and grow on a constant basis. It will take time, but eventually you can become the woodworker that can do anything.
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Here are some things you can do to get the process started. Add some or all of these ideas to your routine, and the habits will take you very far.
See Also: 50 Awesome Reasons to be a Woodworker
Examples of Great Renaissance Men from History
There have been many examples of the universal genius throughout history. The most famous is Leonardo da Vinci, but there are many others. Ben Franklin, Isaac Newton, and Galileo are all hailed as Renaissance Men due to their universal knowledge and understanding in their fields.
Don’t think that because of the fame and virtue of these great figures that you cannot become just as important and respected in your field. Woodworking has so many different facets that you can become a champion of the craft if you make the choice.
Start here, and read through the secrets of becoming a Renaissance Woodworker. They are all important, and they will all help you get closer to your goal.
The Secret is to Learn a Little Bit of Everything
One secret to becoming a renaissance woodworker is to learn a little bit of everything. Don’t linger in one place, and instead actively search out new things to learn. The nice thing about woodworking is that there are a lot of those opportunities.
Woodworking is a huge field. Essentially since anything to do with wood and making things from wood can be considered a form of woodworking. This means making furniture, carving, wood finishing, and toy making are all woodworking.
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On top of that, there are different skills in those areas that you can learn and apply to many other projects. Joinery can be applied to any project made from more than one piece of wood. Carving can be used to make one piece projects and to adorn other larger items as accents and details.
To become a renaissance woodworker, you need to actively broaden your search to include more than just one facet. Even so, don’t think you have to do it all at once. It’s also important to learn something well before you move on.
Focus on One Skill at a Time
In the path to learning many different parts of woodworking, you should think of the journey as several stops on a long train ride. Each stop can vary in length, and each stop stays in the station until you learn the necessary skills.
Follow your heart to each stop in the beginning. As you do, you will find that the interest you have in the project or skill will keep you coming back and learning more. It will also get you through the initial learning phase, and into the intermediate skill level quickly.
Once you understand the skill or project, and you can successfully produce examples of it on demand without any major challenge, you should think about pulling away from the station and going on to the next project.
Follow your heart again, or follow the best logical step. Sometimes, one project lends itself to learning something else really obviously. For example, you might find that after making a couple chess boards that you want to learn to make chess pieces.
This is a logical extension of the craft, and something that will also broaden your skills. It will require different tools, techniques, and ideas to make the chess pieces than to make the chess boards. This is the path to becoming a renaissance woodworker.
Having A Main Focus is Still a Good Thing
On the path to a wider skill set, don’t feel like you cannot have a main focus. You can, and in fact you can even have several. Several main focuses might sound diluted, but you can still expand your skills while maintaining a larger focus.
For example, lets say you make guitars, and you want to adopt the renaissance woodworker philosophy. All you need to do is follow the natural progression of learning about making the different parts of the guitar.
Follow from one technique to another, and each time you increase your skills. You can also branch out from guitar making to include other skills that are not required to make a guitar, but can enhance the look.
Wood carving, wood burning, inlay work, and marquetry are all woodworking skills that can be applied to a guitar to make it look even more amazing. Imagine a well inlaid guitar with a marquetry design on the back.
It might also have some accents added with a wood burning tool, and some light relief carving on the base of the neck where it meets the body. While none of these skills are required to make a guitar, they make the final instrument far better.
See Also: Acoustic Guitar Making For Beginners
Practical Steps to Becoming a Renaissance Woodworker
The following sections represent practical steps to broadening your skills and becoming the kind of woodworker that can do anything. Each is important, and you can easily incorporate them into your routine.
Nothing is quick, but nothing is difficult either. All of these are long-game, slow and steady ways to make yourself a more rounded and more able woodworker.
Pick up a few of these habits and tactics, and when you have them fully in effect, add more.
Build a Woodworking Library
You are only as good as the books you read, and the information that you consume. This is true of life, and true of woodworking. Even if you don’t have woodworkers to teach you in person, you can glimpse at this kind of training by reading books.
Think of every book as a personal lesson from one woodworker to another. You literally hold in your hands the answers to the test. The woodworker that wrote the book will show you everything you need to know about the subject, and all you have to do is listen.
When I write by books, I do it exactly like that. I share what I know, and teach you to do something. It’s almost like having me in your shop, just a lot less expensive and it involves reading.
The easiest way to build a woodworking library is to commit to buying a woodworking book once a month, or once a week, and actually reading it. Over time, this will build into a massive woodworking library that you can use as a reference.
If you want to jump start the process, I recommend this little trick to get the ball rolling without breaking the bank. Go to a second hand book store and look in the clearance section. In most stores, you will find a huge number of books that can get your collection started.
On top of that, the books will be really inexpensive. You can find titles for sometimes less than a dollar, and most will be in the three to five dollar range. For that price, you can afford to buy several and get a nice head start.
It’s important to remember to continue the weekly or monthly book buying habit. It should be a treat, and done in a way that you have time to read the book. You may not need to read it cover to cover, but you should know what’s inside so you can reference it later.
It’s the habit of reading the books and consistently adding to the library that makes this process work. Don’t buy a huge pile and just put them on the shelf. Make sure to read them, and add to the library on a consistent basis.
See Also: Woodworking Library
Keep a Thorough Notebook With Ideas
Another great way to become a renaissance woodworker is to record all of your best ideas in a place where you can get them later. Ideas are fleeting, and if you don’t record them they will be lost forever.
Your brain is an idea generating machine. That’s what is does. Do not clutter your mind with trying to remember data as well as create ideas. The brain functions best as a factory, not a warehouse. Taking notes moves the storage to another area, freeing up your brain.
Not only does this free up your brain to be more creative, it also is far more reliable than trying to remember things. You are busy, and you have a lot going on. You cannot possibly remember the ideas you have throughout the day.
Instead of working with an unreliable system, try instead to develop the habit of taking notes when you think of something. Carry with you a small notebook, or create a note file on your phone. When you have an idea, write it down.
If you are one of the people that thinks they never forget a good idea, try writing down one idea a day for a month. After the month is over, review your ideas and see that happens. I can guarantee that you will read something you forgot.
For woodworking, write down your ideas, things you learned, and techniques that you want to try to figure out. Add these things daily, or even several times a day as they come to you. Over time, you will develop a nice list that you can go through to mine for bigger ideas.
The think about good ideas is that you need to have lots of ideas in order to pick out the good ones. Writing down your ideas gives you the raw material you need to come back later and mine the good ones.
Make it a Point to Write One New Idea Every Day
This is a fun exercise. Get a notebook, and write down one idea a day. Just one. this might not sound like much, but after a few days or a few weeks, you will start to struggle. When this happens, that’s when the good stuff starts.
If you commit to writing down one idea a day, when you run out of easy ideas you will have to spend time thinking about more ideas. The time you spend thinking about your skills and about woodworking is where the real magic happens.
Forcing yourself to think about woodworking on a daily basis makes you a better woodworker and helps you create new connections and ideas. You only get better at things that you actively think about. Thinking develops curiosity, and the cycle repeats itself.
It will be a little difficult at first, but just spend time thinking about woodworking when you would normally spend time thinking about random things. For example, the shower is one of the best places to get new ideas.
You have down time, and you know the routine so you can do it on auto pilot, so this is prime thinking time. There are lots of other times too, like your lunch break, the ride to work, and in between tasks.
Use these times to think about your project, a new skill, or anything to do with woodworking that you are trying to improve. Over time, you will generate more and better ideas for your notebook.
Then, you can start adding two ideas a day.
See Also: A Woodworking Notebook
Learn About Woodworking Daily
A slow and steady renaissance woodworker technique to learning a lot about the craft over time is to learn something about it daily. It doesn’t have to be something earth shattering, it just has to be something.
For example, did you know that a wood glue joint is actually stronger than the wood itself, and it will break the wood next to the joint before breaking the glue? If you didn’t, then you just learned your one thing for the day.
Repeat this practice daily, learn just one thing about woodworking every day. Of course you don’t have to stop at one, but the minimum is at least one. Also, no cheating and learning seven things in order to take the week off.
Part of this exercise is to bring you into contact with woodworking and academic learning about woodworking on a daily basis. The daily repetition is important, so don’t manipulate the rules to make it easier. If you do, you will also make it far less effective.
The easiest way to learn about woodworking daily is to find a reliable woodworking website (like this one) and bookmark it. Come back often, and read the newest posts. Also, read through the older stuff because there are a lot of gems in the archives.
Each time you read about woodworking, you will learn something new. Especially in the beginning, when everything is brand new, you can learn a lot in a few short minutes and get your daily education requirement knocked out.
Schedule and Keep Shop Time
The renaissance woodworkers spends time in the shop. This means you need to spend time in the shop as well. Academic learning is important, but unless you take all of that brand new information out into the shop, it will not be as effective.
The easiest way to ensure the right amount of shop time is to schedule it. You tend to do more when you schedule things. It’s much more predictable, and far less random than just saying you want to spend more time in the shop.
A schedule lets everyone know what you are doing, and it also helps remind you where you are supposed to be. For example, if you schedule yourself to be in the shop on Tuesdays from 6-10 pm, you are far less likely to agree to a night at the pub.
If you did not schedule the time, you can end up having the week slip right by without any shop time, and it will happen quickly. Schedule the shop time in advance, and stick to your schedule to ensure you have the most hands on learning time.
Don’t Get Stuck in One Type of Project
Part of being versatile and learning how to do anything involves not getting stuck in one type of project. This is a warning against not branching out, not a warning about finding different facets of a single project.
For example, if you really like traditional joinery, and only do projects involving traditional joinery, you will have a hard time becoming rounded. Though traditional joints are far more difficult than shooting brad nails, you may not be able to do it.
Even if one type of woodworking is your favorite in the world, find other ways to extend your skills while remaining somewhere inside that main project. They are out there, all you need to do is find them and learn them.
Intentionally Add Projects that Challenge Your Abilities
If you can’t find adaptations and closely related projects, then force yourself to work on projects that challenge your abilities. Intentionally seek these out, and schedule them into your normal shop time.
When you do, you will discover something interesting. The project or skills that you were once apprehensive about will suddenly shrink once you try it. Fear goes away when you take action, and trying something new is taking action.
Try something that you might have been a little worried about, and see what happens. You will be pleasantly surprised that the size of the monster shrinks pretty quickly.
A real life example of this is when you work in a large building. At first, the building seems so big that you might never find the end of it. You get lost easily, and don’t have a really good mental model of the layout.
However, after a while, and with a little exploring, you suddenly find that the building is not as big as you once thought. In fact, the mystery is kind of gone, and the layout is very familiar. This is because you took action, and the building is not new anymore.
The same thing will happen with a new woodworking skill or project. It will seem like a lot in the beginning, but after a while you will shrink it down to size with action. The task will become easy, and you can focus your attention on slaying the next monster.
Find Projects that You Might Not Like
Another interesting way to make yourself a renaissance woodworker is to intentionally pick out projects that you might not really like. These can be techniques or projects, and as long as you don’t immediately think you will enjoy them, you are on the right track.
Why pick out something you won’t like as a hobby? That’s because you really don’t know what you don’t like. You might think you don’t like something, and you might have a huge list of reasons. However, until you try it, you really don’t know.
This is like not trying a new food. You can’t say you don’t like something unless you try it. How do you know that pasta is not your thing when you have never eaten pasta? Try something in woodworking that you think you might not like, and you may be surprised with the results.
Are You Ready to Write Your Own Woodworking Book?
- Do you need a place to organize your ideas?
- Have you forgotten some of them?
- Need a safe spot to record your projects?
This notebook is your personal journey in woodworking, and in the end you will have a volume of knowledge that is uniquely yours, and a personal treasure.
In this Notebook You Will Find:
- A place to write the important details on 20 of your woodworking projects, complete in every aspect.
- Each project is given six pages, covering materials, finishes, cut lists, project notes and more.
- A special area to attach a picture of your completed project at the end of each section.
- A large notes area with lined paper so you can capture your best ideas.
- In the end, you will have an heirloom volume of your woodworking life that you can pass down to future woodworkers, or publish online.
Capture Your Best Projects and Ideas Before You Lose Them!
You might also be surprised that you end up liking and even pursuing the craft. It can happen, and it can hep you stop avoiding things based on your thoughts, instead of really working with them and trying them.
Look for Overlapping Skills from Other Trades and Hobbies
Another easy way to increase your skills is to look for overlapping skills. If you have some experience already, look for ways to broaden it by taking one of those skills into a new area that you have not gone before.
If you make cutting boards, maybe take that joinery skill and make some laminated pool cue handles. You could also make laminated guitar necks, game boards, and other projects revolving around joinery.
This is like dipping your toe into renaissance woodworking, and is a good starting point for someone that is new. Find the next project that you can make using similar skills. Even though the initial start is the same, you will still learn new things along the way.
Join a Club or Group to Benefit from Group Learning
A group is a great place to learn, exchange ideas, and grow. You can grow quickly in a club, because you will benefit from the members and their knowledge. It’s like having a group of experts right at your fingertips.
Woodworking groups are a great way to meet new people that are also interested in the same things you are. Many of them have gone through the same troubles, solved the same problems, and overcame the same challenges.
These people are a wealth of knowledge, and they can help you leverage the power of a group to accelerate your learning. After all, why experiment for a year with a staining technique when you can just ask someone?
There is something to be said about experimentation, and it does have virtues. However, most beginner level stuff is better answered with a question. You are not pushing the envelope at this point, so you might as well jump ahead to the edge and then you can experiment.
You can compress weeks or months of learning into hours with a good group. Search online for real life groups or online groups, and find one that you fit in well with. Invest in them, and they will invest in you too.
Join a Forum and Become Active in the Discussions
Online forums are a wealth of knowledge. You can leverage the same type of accelerated learning as in real life groups by joining a forum. You also get to meet new people, and ask questions about woodworking.
Find a forum that fits your specific project or a general woodworking forum if you can’t find anything else. Then, joint it. Spend some time reading, and become active in the comments and in assisting others.
One of the best ways to become successful is to help others become successful. Spend time answering the questions you can, and providing good information. Even if you are new, there will still be someone you can help.
Just wait for the opportunity, and then jump right in. When you are not helping others, read the archives and it will be an information explosion. You can learn a lot from real people and a host of different projects all in one evening.
Stop Watching Tv and Dedicate That Time to Learning
If you really want to learn about woodworking, then commit. Stop watching tv, and stop playing with your phone. From this point on, your woodworking education is number one, and every other distraction can go away.
Face it, tv and cell phones dominate your day. If you are like the majority of people, it can take up a lot of your time, and you might not even really know how bad it is. Even a couple hours of tv a night, and another hour on the phone is more than 20 hours in a week.
That’s a part time job! You can literally waste a part time job worth of time on the phone and watching tv. Instead, spend that time learning about woodworking, making projects, and reading to improve your knowledge.
Listen to Woodworking Podcasts in the Car
The drive to and from work is a wasted time. You end up listening to music, and somehow you end up at work without much memory of the trip. Instead of doing the zombie commute, do the renaissance commute.
Find some woodworking podcasts, yes those are a real thing, and listen to them. Use your phone to play them, and either send it through the speakers or put your phone on speaker and place it in the visor.
Spend that commute listening to podcasts and learning about woodworking. You have down time anyway, so put it to good use. The time you spend will be far more productive, and you will increase your woodworking knowledge.
For most Americans, you can enjoy about 40-50 minutes of round trip podcast learning each day of the week. This means over 4 hours of free education a week, and all while doing something you have to do anyway.
That’s the real beauty of listening to podcasts in the car. You have to be in the car anyway, so this is free time when you use it wisely. You lose no extra time with family, friends, or for work. It’s all completely free.
Share Your Work to Inspire Others
The Renaissance woodworker shares knowledge with others. You should understand that a rising tide lifts all boats. Making someone else better will not make you worse. It will only make you and every other woodworker better.
With that in mind, share your work. Even better, share your ideas and your techniques. You can do this really easily online, and you don’t even have to pay anything. You can post to social media, blog, and more, all for free.
If you want to take your sharing to the next level, you can start a website yourself. There are some costs involved, but in the beginning they are small. If you share a lot of value, and you are really helpful, you can end up with a pretty nice audience.
Help others, and it will make you better too. Remember the times when you needed answers and you looked to others for help. There are newer woodworkers doing the same thing right now, and they can benefit from your help.
Even if you are new, you can share. Don’t think you need to get to some point in your career before you can share. Also, don’t listen to anyone that tells you otherwise. Share right away, and you can start enriching the lives of others.
See Also: 7 Easy Woodworking Joints for Beginners
Spend More Time Listening than Speaking
The renaissance woodworker is a sponge. You need to spend more time listening and taking in ideas than letting ideas out. The exception is your sharing exercise form earlier. When you are around other woodworkers, spend more time learning from them.
Even if you are the best woodworker in the room, there is always something you can learn. You need to look for it, find it, and absorb it. The more you do this, the faster you will become a more rounded woodworker.
We all love to talk about ourselves. It’s not a bad thing, it just means you are proud of the work that you have done. When you are proud of something, you share it. However, you never learn by sharing. You only repeat what you already know.
The next time you are in a group, make it a point to listen more than you speak. In fact, try to listen twice as much as you speak. You will find that you learn more in the end, and over time this will make you a better woodworker.
Eventually You Will be Able to Do Just About Anything
Eventually you will be able to do anything in woodworking. While this is a broad statement, and you will never truly know everything because it’s just too much to learn in a lifetime, you will have the confidence to accomplish anything.
It’s about having the confidence and the initiative to pursue something new, and to do things you have not yet done. When it comes to woodworking, you will eventually be at a point where nothing really scares you anymore.
This is a fun place to be, because you will be able to do a lot of awesome things, and you will make a lot less mistakes. Your projects will be better, your ideas will be better, and your changes between project types will be smoother.
Progress builds on progress, and every new project will be easier than the last new project.
Don’t Rush This Process
The worst thing you can do is rush this process. If you have stuck with me this far and you missed that point, then you need to read this post over again. The way to become a well rounded and confident woodworker is through consistent effort and steady growth.
Steady growth is not as sexy as instant success. It’s a lot more predictable though, and far more reliable. While slow and steady rarely makes the news, it nearly always succeeds. It’s easier, more reliable, and less stressful than trying to cram it all into a weekend.
When you feel like you are getting behind, or you feel like you are not going forward fast enough, remember that this is a journey. The path to becoming a seasoned woodworker is not a short one.
Keep on working, and don’t be discouraged. It’s in the time you spend in the shop and learning about woodworking that you make your advances. Take these times seriously, and learn everything you can. One day you will look up and you will be there.
Your Action Assignment
Now that you know all of these great tips on how to become a better woodworker through consistent and simple action, it’s time to actually do it. Don’t read thousands of words and take no action.
Pick out at least one of these ideas and put them into practice right now. Don’t wait until tomorrow, don’t put it off. Pick out something now and decide that you are going to add it to your routine.
After a couple weeks, pick another. Then pick another. Repeat this process until you have enough habits that you are seeing an improvement in your woodworking. Don’t overwhelm yourself by taking on too much. Start with one.
If you incorporate some of these into your process, you will become a much better woodworker. Happy building.
More From Westfarthing Woodworks
I give away the majority of my woodworking, wood finishing, and guitar making tips, but I also have several books if you want to take the next step.
You can see them in my Book Store, and they are all on Amazon.
Also, if you want to Join the Facebook Group, you can do that as well. We are just starting to grow a fantastic community and I would love for you to be part of it.