Which pro do you know?

Make no bones about it… woodworkers love woodworking. A simple bookshelf. A dining table that a family would gather around. A complex chair with challenging joinery.

Just as every shop is different and every project is different, what motivates every woodworker is unique. Yes, there are as many stories about how woodworkers got their starts as there are woodworkers. And there are all different kinds of woodworkers. Cabinetmakers. Turners. Chair builders. Luthiers. The works.

Ultimately, though, you can break woodworkers into two broad groups. Those who enjoy the product of woodworking, and those who enjoy the process.

I think the vast majority of woodworkers start off as product woodworkers.  The first move into woodworking is usually to satisfy a need for a piece of furniture. I wanted to build a blanket chest for my wife. I’ve spoken with woodworkers who started off with a side table. A picture frame. Something to make their spouse happy. A special gift for a child.

You’ll typically find product woodworkers using non-traditional ways of making joints. Dominos. Biscuits. Dowels. Router-jig cut dovetails. Believe me, there’s nothing wrong at all with this type of woodworking. This does not mean that we want to build cheaply or anything less than brutishly strong. It’s just that we see the steps involved in the process as milestones to pass on the journey toward completion.

Heck, I know I’m still a project-based woodworker, and I’m totally cool with that. For me, the big charge comes from moving that project into place at the end of the build and listening to the sounds of delight from the recipients.

Process based woodworkers, on the other hand, find that the journey is the most enjoyable part of woodworking.  You can find process woodworkers reveling in the thought of enjoying the challenge of traditional methods. Want to make a board four-square?  Hand planes are the way to go.  Hand cut dovetails?  Even on utility cabinetry?  If it was good enough for the masters, it’s good enough for them. Mortises by the dozen cut with hyper-sharp mortising chisels?  You bet.

Process woodworkers tend to fall into the rhythm of the most mundane tasks. Hone a plane iron to razor sharpness? While it’s not the most enjoyable task in the shop, they’ll tackle it willingly. Build a hand-rubbed finish on a completed piece?  You betcha.

That doesn’t mean that process woodworkers are exclusively hand tool woodworkers.  Sam Maloof was definitely a process woodworker who was one with his bandsaw. You can add Michael Fortune to that list as well.

Process woodworkers tend to evolve into their role. I don’t normally run into woodworkers who started out saying, “Gosh, darnit, I always wanted to cut three dozen dovetails by hand.” But, once they see the amount of skill required to do accomplish feats such as these, the time put in working like this is seen as a wise investment.

Oh, and at the end, they get a beautiful piece of furniture.

Why make this observation? I dunno…  But, I am sure I’m gonna get a few comments on this one!


4 thoughts on “Which pro do you know?”

  1. It’s hard for me to fall in to one camp or the other.
    I enjoy the heck out of the final product I’ve built, (usually…lol), but more and more I relish the process of learning a new technique, or refining one I’ve already learned.
    When you do some particular aspect of joinery extra, extra nicely, in a spot that no one will ever see, and only you will ever know about, I think that is when the “process” satisfaction really starts to become noticeable.

    Cool topic you’ve chosen for today’s article Tom.


  2. I always like to try new and different ways of doing things. Especially joints on boxes and table saw techniques and finishes.
    The challenge is important to me but I like usefull things and responses from those receiving the items too.


  3. I think you are right on. The end product is important but the real enjoyment for me is the journey! This observation is from someone what does not have to “produce a product” to get paid, but does travels on the craftsman “highway” knowing that it is a privilege to follow in the shadows of true craftspeople.

  4. I personally think that woodworkers can not be titled or taged as a certain group of woorworkers. each person is different in the way they work. Personally myself iam a mixture of modern and old ways. i prefer to do alot of work by hand but sometimes there is a reason why some one invented that powertool. I myself love making the piece and seeing the piece in my customers hands.

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