Pro vs Hobbyist - an attempt to get back on topic

There seems to be a major difference between a professional woodworker (one whose livelyhood is from woodworking) and a hobbyist who does woodworking for fun/therapy. There are a lucky few who make a good income from their woodworking, but they're few and far between.
Here's some of the differences I see. What are some of the differences you feel are significant?
Do you think the best work comes from the pro or a fanatic hobbyist?
To the pro, time is money
To the hobbyist time - in the shop - is also valuable, but only because there may not be much of it available, given all his/her other demands for time ( kids, spouse, job, friends, etc..) -============== The pro most often makes things for customers who have particular wants and needs and delivery/installation dates.
The hobbyist may also have people to satisfy but they're usually less demanding and the design is less constrained/ defined. Deadlines and delivery dates are more geared towards birthdays, anniversaries and a few holidays. ================== The pro is more concerned with the function and less concerned about nuances of the wood, the finish, the edge treatments etc.
The hobbyist may agonize for weeks over just the wood selection, another week selecting the grain of key parts and spend hours getting the edge treatment(s) to catch the light just so. ===================== The pro will optimize his sheet layout to get the most ouf of each sheet in order to minimize "waste" and increase profits.
The hobbyist may "waste" half a board to get that special grain pattern for a particular piece. ====================== The pro often specializes in a type of furniture, case work, solid wood construction, period pieces, a particular style.
A hobbyist will do all types of woodworking and may get pretty good at a range of styles, methods of joining etc.. =================== A pro's goal is the check from the client.
A hobbyist often sees the process/journey as the goal, the finished piece being just the end of a particular journey. ==================== To a pro, wood is just a material with certain characteristics which lend themselves to making into saleable pieces.
To a hobbyist, wood may be a magic thing that may even have its own voice and talks to them. ================== To the pro, efficiency means profit.
To the hobbyist efficiency may mean using the wood very well - or using the proper tools in the right order the right way and maybe avoiding tear out. Other than that the word has little meaning =================== Your thoghts and observations?
charlie b
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charlie b notes:

The pro, but, again, it depends on how you define pro. Do you consider Maaloof a pro? Of course. Frank Klausz. And so on.
I'm an amateur, for example, and Ernie Conover is a pro. Ernie can out turn me with him using a treadle lathe and me using the latest and greatest.

This time thing is probably an even split. The pro won't want to waste time, because it costs too much. The amateur won't want to waste time because it costs too much...in terms of lifestyle, and that is, ultimately, what happens in both cases.

will be able to finish something. The hobbyist often doesn't have a clue as to how long some process will take...and like too many hobbyists, is probably putting off building the 73 blurfls for Christmas because he (or she) hates doing that many of the same thing.

I don't think so. Pros are probably more likely to see right away how a piece of wood will best accept a project.

wood, IME.

Another even split. Efficiency certainly adds to profit, but very few pros are in woodworking JUST for the profit. I mean, hell, you can make better money dealing blackjack in Atlantic City for the most part.
I like the list, but like all generalizations, especially compounded generalizations, it's difficult to divine a truth from group. I've seen pros who do abyssmal work and amateurs who do even worse because they know even less. And I've seen the reverse, with both turning out great work. For most of us, the middle is where we're stuck.
Charlie Self "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." Disraeli as quoted by Mark Twain
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.comnotforme (Charlie Self) wrote:

I have been giving this a lot of though lately, more from the perspective of photography then woodworking, but there too.
I am not 100% some of these guys are really "Professional Furniture Makers". Many of the greats taught, wrote books, give workshops, speak, etc. Often they get grants to work. The fact is that many probably could not sell their pieces for a high enough price to warrant the effort and cost that went into them, even with the stratospheric prices. It really does depend on how you define "Professional" I guess.
I have had a lot of contact with pro's growing up (my father was a finish carpenter and I was a helper for some time). Most were very very good in an extremely limited way. For example, my father had a few guys he contracted kitchen doors from. They made nice doors. I have my doubts that any of them could raise a panel by hand, or make any door that didn't have a cope/stick set for it. I expect most could barely use a hand plane. But they could turn out lovely doors for a good price so long as they fit into a particular "mold". They weren't terribly creative. Of course, there are some pro's that were the exception, but not a whole lot of them. And most homeowners didn't really want something terribly creative or interesting or non-standard. Now sometimes we would work on a restoration; that was a whole different ballgame. The guys we worked with then could do some amazing things like doing bits of moulding to replace old bits, hand-build beautiful doors, all sorts of nice stuff. And they were very very expensive.
Look at FWW. Many of the authors obviously heavily supplement their incomes via other methods; workshops, books, tool sales, etc.
I think the real question is: Does it matter? There is no shame in being an amateur, none at all. There is no pride in being a pro. Either you build things you can be proud of or you don't, it doesn't matter who is footing the bill.
Incidently, in photography very little of the creative wonderful work is done by photographers who work for hire.
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Paul Kierstead responds:

I don't think that was the qualifier. Professional woodworkers are not necessarily furniture makers. Or not entirely so. Doug Stowe is a pro's pro, but he turns out as much small stuff as he does full scale furniture, with his boxes and similar items.

I'm not really sure that using hand tools is a sign of a pro. We slip into a classification problem in woodworking. Amateur. Professional. Artisan. Artist. And the few who are Artistes.
I'm not at all sure where the dividing lines lie. Obviously, a professional makes all or most of his or her living from woodworking and woodworking related activities. But an artisan and an artist may do the same.
Restoration is a lot of fun, as well as a lot of work. Replicating old moldings is a bit easier than you might think, but it is not easy. Developing the tools is harder than doing the work...but today, a great many of the tools are sitting right there on Ebay waiting to be bought.

But it's all woodworking related.

There should be no shame attached to being an amateur. Take the time to learn and do the best you can and who knows? You might become the Bobby Jones of woodworking, the all time greatest...and an amateur (course, it helps if you're rich to start with). Now, I disagree with you on the "no pride in being a pro". There SHOULD be pride in being a pro, being a person good enough to earn a living at a wonderful craft, where many people would love to follow, but few can. But, again, there are levels of professionalism in any such situation. There are cabinetmakers who should have stayed installers. There are furniture makers who would make a greater contribution in a millwork factory. But the top level pro, like the top level in any field, deserve to be proud.

I shoot a lot of photos for publication, but I am barely competent compared to a few pros that I know. I'm learning. I figure the day I turn 85, I'll know what I wish I'd known at 35. And the same with woodworking.
Charlie Self "An unfulfilled vocation drains the color from a man's entire existence." Honore de Balzac
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.comnotforme (Charlie Self) wrote:

Ugh. I was avoiding the term "cabinet maker" 'cause it has it own set of issues and promptly missed the box makers, turners (though that is another world altogether), etc. My mistake of terminology.
But my point is that ... oh, actually I don't really know what my point is :) Just that in some ways they are not so different from some amateurs or semi-pros; they are not "turning out" stuff but instead of other things to generate cash so they can pursue work they want to do.

Of course. Planman is obviously quite accomplished and I am not sure he knows about hand *power* tools :) (j/k!). I just have seen so many pros who basically have a very narrow skill set.

Well, presumably you make enough stuff, your going to have to sell it (or give it away to family, if you have enough, I suppose...), so you will end up being semi-pro at least :)

I guess the "good enough" part is where I take issue. I am shocked at the level of work that earns a lot of people money, and not just in woodworking. There are many ways to get people to part with their money; being good seems to be one of the lessor known ones. OK, I am cynical today, but still.
I guess I get depressed for what gets passed off somedays. I understand what is being sold at Wal-Mart. But I went around to one of our outlying communities the other day which is a sort of "arts community"; a lot of artists, craftsman, etc. Lots of "handmade" furniture by pros. 98% of it was crap. And this was not the first time. Even the stuff that didn't have awful joints and drawers with 1/4" gaps around it didn't have any grain matching or attempts to orient the wood in pleasing ways; ending up having things look lopsided, bowed, etc. But they had dovetailed drawers, oh yeah, that mark of quality. Of course a good bit of it was "rustic".
Ever go to a crafts show? Is the title a joke? You will find very little made by a craftsman. Now if you want a birdhouse knocked togather by some brads...
How about some really expensive custom kitchen cabinets? I have seen a lot. It is not worthy of comment.
Of course there is some great professional work out there. One local cabinet maker, for example, has made my mouth seriously water. I was tempted to plop the many tens of thousands he would charge. There is a local guy who makes wonderful windsor chairs and even uses a pole lathe...of course he teaches workshops too.
I guess I get occasionally a little discouraged at some people who think less of themselves because they are not pros and think someone who is a pro should be admired or -- in some cases -- even has a clue. I look at the work, not who is footing the bill.

They are extremely competent and lots of them could make almost any product look great. But would you hang it on your wall? That is what I was getting at by "creative"...just avoiding the dreaded word "art" :)
PK
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On Tue, 04 May 2004 01:11:13 GMT, Paul Kierstead
<snip>

<snip>
This post has reinforced my appreciation for the virtues of the simple declarative sentence.
Thank you.
Regards, Tom.
Thomas J.Watson - Cabinetmaker (ret.) tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (real email) http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1
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This post has reinforced my appreciation of postings containing useful comment.

Any time. How else may I help you?
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brought forth from the murky depths:

A simple request "Spreak Engrish, Troops!" would have sufficed.
----------------------------------------------------------- -- This post conscientiously crafted from 100% Recycled Pixels -- http://diversify.com Websites: PHP Programming, MySQL databases =================================================================
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This is partly true. Photography was so much fun, that I wanted to do it full time. I wound up with a BA in photography and a career - a dream come true. At first. I know I didn't do much photography for fun after my first few years in the profession. But there was always the need to have new pieces in the portfolio that made the art directors and account execs go "OOOOOOOOOOOH!" It felt good to be doing something creative, but it was hard to justify the extra time it took. And those pieces could seldom just be beautiful, or dramatic, etc but most of them had to have a commercial connection of some kind - artsy and commercial at the same time (think Communication Arts magazine). But maybe that's just me - I finally had my fill of art directors for whom everything was a life or death emergency. I eventually burned out, sold all my equipment, and got a job tutoring in a grade school (fun and worth doing).
I seem to have lost track of whatever point I meant to make here. I'm not sure if I meant to agree or disagree with Paul :-) Must have something to do with being a burnt out old fart. I know many other photographers with pretty much the same experience - photography was still fun but they would never touch a camera unless someone was going to get a bill for it. I guess the point is the warning to not let a good hobby be ruined by doing it for a living.
Connecting this to woodworking, it's really nice to go to my shop and not have to do everything perfectly. Not that I want my dovetails to look like I chopped them out with a screwdriver, but a little flaw here or there won't threaten my livelyhood.
Again: don't let a good hobby be ruined by doing it for a living.
David (not really dangerously disgruntled)
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Very nice to see someone come out with these perspectives, as a future hobbyist-slash-amature* (thanks to CF) I really appreciate seeing the working differences between the two types. And it teaches me how to think about being the new hobbyist, as about to become into the learning state, hence; I am "fetus of neander-tal" in this field.
Even if you may have intended a touch of arrogance, of which I do not know and am not the judge, it has still been a "teaching-read", so thanks.
Alex
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There are a few things I would like to say in defense of professionals in response.

Yes time is money and is also valuable. That is why I have certain equipment to do certain jobs that is not only cost efficient but also quality orientated. Also that is why I have taken the time over many years to learn the most time effective way of achieving these goals. As I also have other demands for time that are not shop orientated.


Deadlines are deadlines either it be for family and friends or for customers they do not change. I do not sacrifice quality for deadlines I would rather tell the customer ahead of time that I need more time on a job rather than sacrifice quality or not take on a job at all if I feel that there is not enough time in which to complete the project properly by following the original design.


On this topic I could not disagree more. I take great care and concern to take the characteristics of the wood involved to produce an astatically pleasing final product and for it also to be a functional product at the same time.


As a Pro I will "optimize" my cuts not for profit only. But mainly for grain direction quality and colour. The reason being is that I am able to use the off cuts in other places or in other projects where they are used in places less conspicuous. I feel it is quite the opposite where a hobbyist will use a piece of wood in an inappropriate place to save money because of budget constraints.


A pro should be versatile and knowledgeable in a wide variety of products and joinery methods. I have machinery I my shop that dose not get used for months at a time because it performs a certain function well and is only used for that function. while a hobbyist will usually have fewer tools that multifunction and do a fair job of many functions.


My goal is to produce a quality product first and foremost. And also to be cost effective in the mean time. I find that a hobbyist would rather spend $200.00 to make a desk that you could buy for $75 just for the shear pleasure of doing it themselves.


A pro is someone who is able to bring out the best of certain characteristics which lend themselves to making into saleable pieces not just material.


On this one I think you are confusing quality with efficiency. A pro should be able to produce a quality product free of deficiencies in an economically efficient time span or he should not be doing it as a pro.
In no way am I saying that the pro is better than the hobbyist or visa versa. But rather I am saying that there is still enjoyment in woodworking for both.
When a job just becomes a job and you stop caring about what you do it is time to move on.
CHRIS


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wrote:

The "pro" has 200 boards waiting in the stacks and can pick and choose. If there's half a board "wasted", so what ? The shop does enough volume that some job will turn up later that can make efficient use of it.
The hobbyist just doesn't have the storage space for this kind of choice.
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one analogy that may or may not fit...
you can work as a cook at a dennys or sherri's or whatever for 20 years. and you would probably be considered a professional cook. but you dont really have 20 years of experience. you have about 2 years of experience, 10 times.
so what im saying is if the pro makes nothing but picture frames, he may be a professional, but probably doesnt know as much about 'woodworking' as an enthusiastic hobbyist.
anyway, just an observation.
randy

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wrote:

Woodworking has been both my vocation and avocation over many years. As a professional I served that cruel master, Time. Time is the true difference between the amateur and the professional. The amateur has but one master; excellence.
The pro must learn to achieve excellence within the time frame. I remember reading about Toshio Odate giving a joinery seminar. He took his time, so that the folks could see how he went about things. Then he did the same complicated piece of joinery in about two seconds flat - because that's how fast you have to do it if you are a pro.
As I recall, the joinery looked the same - slow or fast.

Most pros that I have known, including myself, ultimately work to their own design. They meet with the customer to ask them what sort of thing they might want - but they are paying very careful attention to what the furnishings are in the rest of the room and the entire home.
Having gained an insight into the tendencies of the customer, the pro will create an initial sketch, based on what he has observed. He and the client will go over the sketch and then the craftsman will make a set of drawings and specifications. It is at this point that the design becomes "constrained". It is constrained and clearly defined to the benefit of both parties. But the essence of the design process is free.

It would be instructive to watch a pro sort through his lumber stacks. Let's say he gets in a mixed load of FAS and #1 Common Cherry. The pro is going to select the mild stuff out for his door frames and such, that has to be and stay straight. He's going to pick through the more awkward wood because it is often the case that the most interesting figure is to be found there. But he knows that this figure comes at a price - it can't be used for structure but rather for appearance.
When starting a job I would often stand every stick of wood that I had ordered (with a fifty percent waste factor) around the perimeter of the shop. Then I would move boards around and get them into groups, based on their final use. This selection process is one of the great differences between custom cabinetry and off the rack stuff.
The finish in my shop was almost always nitro lacquer. Will I experiment more with other finishes now that I have regained my amateur status? Yah, you betcha - but there ain't nothing wrong with that nitro finish.
The edge treatments are part of the jewelry set of the design. Mass and proportion are the underpinnings. Joinery and worked surfaces are the jewelry. They really can't be separated. I won't say that the pro will agonize over the selection of profiles - it's just that he knows, almost by instinct, what goes with what. A real pro is a great accessorize with the best of them.

A pro usually has some extra wood lying about. There's usually a mental inventory of just what is stuck in the nooks and crannies of the shop. Also, a pro will select out interesting sticks that come into the shop that aren't needed for a particular project - but will be remembered when it is time to give a little pop to something. When sheet goods are used, they are often Sequence Matched and Numbered - and the intent is to bring unity to a large installation. Highly figured surfaces are usually done in the solid or laid up with veneer.

Many pro have careers that span decades that can be broken up roughly into periods, wherein they do what suits them best during that period. I've made International Style stuff and Colonial stuff and Traditional stuff and just some plain old Wild-Assed Design stuff. A craftsman usually gets noted for a particular thing - but I've known guys who spend all day making kitchen cabinets and then make Art Furniture in their spare time.

Yes. The pro must earn his living through his work. But most of those I've known who were any good - could be making a hell of a lot more money by doing something else. Everyone needs money. Most pros have decided to accept a little or a lot less money in order to something they love.

Every pro that I have ever known got into professional woodworking so that he could spend more time with wood - and making things out of wood. Go into a pro shop some time and ask to look at the owner's private stash - the stuff that he saves for when he'll get a chance to make something for the people he loves. Watch the way that man handles the sticks as he shows them to you. Might make you wanna change your thinking.

Let's change the word "efficiency" to "optimality". The pro will optimize the use of his time, tools and wood. He follows the "least effort theory" in production but does not sacrifice final appearance and a general sense of design, proportion, balance, structural integrity and visual impact - on the altar of "efficiency". He designs, bids and builds in such a way as to hold true to the fundamentals of his creed - which is to say that he came up with a design, which he believes that the customer will like, and which he believes is worth lending his efforts to - he prices his work so that he can afford to incorporate the elements that will make the design sing - he will make enough money to support his family - but will never make so much as he could have, taking his artistic sense, his organiazational skills, his ability to work long hours in pursuit of a goal - on to some other venue.

Well, you got 'em. And they're worth just about what you paid for them.

Regards, Tom.
Thomas J.Watson - Cabinetmaker (ret.) tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (real email) http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1
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