Woodworking Milestones?

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How is it that we, as woodworkers, gauge our progress from rank amateur to seasoned craftsman?
I realize that everyone's process is different, but I feel certain that every woodworker has certain waypoints on his or her journey. For beginners, it may be as simple as a straight cut with a circular saw. For seasoned veterans, perhaps the hand-cut full blind mitered dovetail.
For myself, I started in woodworking because I had an original idea for a coffee table, and was too frugal (i.e., cheap) to pay someone else to execute my design. Countless hours later, I had one hell of a sturdy coffee table. There came a tremendous satisfaction in finishing a project, even if it was nothing but a bunch of strips of plywood. That was Milestone #1: Completing the First Project.
Another milestone for me was my first decent set of hand-cut dovetails. It took 6 tries, and they still don't look 'good' but at least I didn't burn these. Oddly enough, to date I have not used a dovetail joint in a project I've built.
Some other milestones for me include first (good) M&T joint, first working jig, first improvement to existing machinery, first commission, first (good) panel glue-up, and first project SWMBO would allow me to leave in the house. I may be using the Milestone moniker a bit loosely, but you get the idea.
I hit another milestone today. It was this: "Dude, those are way nicer than what you see in the stores." That was my buddy, referring to a pair of end tables I made this weekend. Admittedly, he furniture shops at Big Lots, but the reverence was genuine.
Also, for some of y'all, there's got to be a point at which you don't reach many more real milestones. The learning curve has pretty well flattened out. I mean, is there ever a point at which woodworking becomes purely rote execution, or is there _always_ a challenge in it? For all the work I did on two end tables (and two accent tables last weekend), I figure I've got small tables down cold. At least, small tables with 2x2 legs and 4" aprons and dowel joints. :)
So what is the standard by which we measure our growth? First project? First dovetail? First commission? First cabinet? Or maybe Last cabinet, Mr. Watson? Anyway, I'm rambling a bit, and was curious.
-Phil Crow
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Way cool post!
Mastering Woodworking is a journey not some destination that we reach. The standard is some metric that you determine, so set a bar at the level you are comfortable with.
I've done pieces in my home that I have taken pleasure in burning (years later.) This is a milestone for me because I've learned with each piece I've built.
I've done pieces for others (friends only) that I wish I could get back. This is a milestone because I've learned that others asked me to build something for them, and many items are being displayed in their homes. Seems that my standards have gotten higher along the way, forcing me to get better.
I've built pieces for sale. 2 milestones here, "this guy wants me to make 60 chairs for his new restaurant, and will pay me money for doing it," and "I've never made a chair." Good outcome for me.
I want to stay focused on new stuff, with this comes new methods, new joints and best of all, new tools.

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It's a good question. I never thought about in terms of discrete milestones before. It's just been a continuous progression (usually forward, but sometimes not).
Thinking back I notice that there was a time when I started receiving the odd compliment, and one friend at least always asks my advice before cutting anything. I have been pleased about that, but I'm not far enough along to have people asking me to build very much for them.
My milestones seem to be more about the tools. My electric drill (my first) doesn't count because it was a gift and I was only using it to drill holes to hang things on drywall. So my first milestone would have to be the day I bought my first router, jigsaw, and palm sander. (Three power tools in one day, a record that has yet to be surpassed!)
My next milestone was my first stationary power tool, the drill press. I built the rolling base for it using only hand tools.
Then: The tablesaw. Major, major milestone.
My latest: The new 3-1/4HP router. I've stopped being a chicken. I now buy wood rather than trying to make absolutely everything out of scrap (for fear I'd just ruin good wood).
There's one milestone I'm looking forward to achieving: The day I finish a real, full sized piece of furniture that will be good enough to live in my house under normal use. All the bookshelves I've already done don't count. They're kind of invisible. The shed? It's full sized, for sure, but while it's nice, it's just a shed.
I'm just so slow that it's hard to talk about milestones. Maybe kilomilestones. :)
- Owen -
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First ball-and-claw foot. Jim Lemon
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The funny thing is that my first milestones went completely un-noticed by me. The first real project I did was to build a book case. I figured it was rather simple. Oak plywood with some shop bought trim. I used crown molding and actually got some decent miters (without a miter saw). I built a jig to route the dados. I didn't think about what I was doing, or the fact that I shouldn't be able to do it. I just did it. I am now looking at it across the room from me, full of books. I just hope I don't fall prey to the fact that I can't do it because I don't know how or don't have the right tools. Then I will have passed the milestone of self-destruction. So here's to you and here's to me... may we have enough milestones to build a workshop with them and may we never realize that it can't be done.
Rob Through the golden door our children can walk into tomorrow with the knowledge that no one can be denied the promise that is America. ~Ronald W. Reagan

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SWMBO says "I like it," instead of "that's interesting" when we show her our latest effort.
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Just this weekend, a friend of SWMBO asks me to make her a copy of a piece in our dining room (which I made). First commission!
Jeff

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I was thinking about that this week end showing my projects to one of my friend. And suddenly it strucked me : I don't really care about the projects : it's the fun to have/use tools !
Yes, it's a hobby for me...

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Today, looking back on my hobby,
The most memorable milestone from my past was getting an expensive set of bench chisels from Garret Wade which came,of course, in a wooden box. Then spending 3 to 4 hours after work every night for a week on each chisel to make the backs flat and mirror finished, and to sharpen them to the best of my ability with a bevel and micro-bevel. (as I recall the total time was about 2 or 2 1/2 months to complete the set. In about 6 more years my memory will have this up to 5 or 6 months for the set.)
After about 14 years of use in hobby work, I still marvel just how sharp these chisels can get, and how they will shave and pare wood exactly as I want. I have never needed to mess with the flat back, just the micro-bevel, and once the primary bevel on a couple of the chisels, as I recall.
It is difficult to explain, but the completion of spending a huge effort on my hand tools has linked them to me closer than any power tool I have ever owned. Even though I suspect that over the years I have spent more time adjusting my Delta Bandsaw than I have spent sharpening that set of chisels.
Phil

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I will have "arrived" when I can build fine furniture that would qualify to grace the pages of Fine Woodworking. Meantime, I look for progress in most every piece.
I don't know if milestone is the right term for the steps along the way of a long journey. Some of my first projects were doll furniture. Making a chair with all four legs the same length was satisfying. Making a rabbet and dado and having the parts fit was satisfying. Then it was on to m & t joints.
I try to do something different in each piece, be it a joint or even a different way to make the joint. If I can cut it on the tablesaw, maybe the router will be easier or vice versa. I then use the finished piece to be my gauge of success. Are all the visible joints perfect? Everything square? Is it something I'd be proud to show in my living room?
The other question I ask is, "did you enjoy making it?". If it was not fun, it does not matter how good it looks. I do this as a hobby and for relaxation. Ed
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I think you have arrived when your projects have saved or earned you more money than you have spent on tools. :~)
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com says...

How about first large piece not made from someone else's plans?
http://www.milmac.com/Furniture/CherryBuffet.JPG
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That's gotta be a good mark of achievement. Knocking off a large furniture piece when working from a plan is one thing.
But to build a large piece of furniture, of you own design, speaks volumes about your knowledge and craftsmanship.
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BCD wrote:

Sort of. I just mentioned this in another post on this thread, but I will mention it again:
http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Rue/5407/shop/plant-stand.jpg
That is a large piece of furniture (about 7' wide and 5' tall IIRC), but it didn't take much knowledge of craftsmanship. It fits the space, and it works. Those are two good things I can say about it. After that, I start to run out of good things to say about it. :) I'd do it a lot differently now. More glue and fewer screws for starters. (It has 237 screws.)
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Doing new things and doing them well. Recently, moved into a new house, new construction, and SWMBO wants built-ins in the room she uses for an office. More trim carpentry than furniture, but I brought a furniture quality to the bookshelves, cabinets and window seat across a full 16" wall with fluted columns, raised hardwood panels etc. Then did an 8 piece cornice and 4 piece chair rail to finish it off. I know where the mistakes are, but everybody who sees it is amazed. I still want to make that walnut chairside chest, but she's got me hanging french doors in the foyer now, and wants the same cornice in the foyer, living room and dining room (along with a built-in corner cabinet in the dining room. Another 7 months shot and still no chairside chest. Mutt.
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Wow,
Great question, great answers.
How's this for an alternative sort of milestone:
My dad has always had a shop with a table saw. Growing up I simply assumed that all houses had a shop of some sort. Although I only recognized this in retrospect, my dad was my inspiration for adopting this hobby.
The bittersweet milestone: Realizing that my I had eclipsed my dad's skills.
-Steve

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Stephen M wrote:

Having Dad come over for help or advice, yup. Me too. I think in my case the difference is that Dad has never been a craftsman, but simply a utilitarian, and a miser. Much of what he has done, he has done simply to save himself money. He's never been able to understand how I can pour money into something that doesn't save me money, and doesn't earn me money. He thinks it's all a completely ridiculous waste of time and resources.
Until he wants to use one of my machines or borrow some of my tools anyway. :)
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On Tue, 01 Feb 2005 01:11:48 -0500, Silvan

I think your Dad, who grew up during a depression and world war, is like most of his generation. They learned how to do things themselves. Everything from carpentry to auto mechanic to whatever. My Dad and Uncle were like that. They could tackle anything and do well with it. Jack of all trades but master of none.
Thunder
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Rolling Thunder wrote:

Who, me? My Dad? No, he grew up in the '60s. He's just miserly because he, well... I don't know, really. His family did better than average during the Depression, unlike Mom's family, which used to recycle wrapping paper and bows for years and years. I think maybe Dad just has a cheapskate bone. I know I sure do.
If they can do it, I can do it. Why should I pay them $50 an hour when I can spend $20 on a book and figure it out? Sometimes this strategy backfires, but it usually works very well. I enjoy being my own sort of JOAT for its own sake. I feel like it separates me on some level from the teeming masses of wussyboys who don't know which end of a hammer to use to open a can of paint. (The answer being, you don't use a hammer to open a can of paint. You use a butter knife. Duh.)
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Well slap meself on the forehead! After weeks of reading this newsgroup, I finally know what "JOAT" is. I was going to ask about it in December, but I just knew if I hung around long enough, someone would give me the clue I needed. Thanks, Silvan!

Depends on who you are, I guess. If you're my wife, you use my mirror finish sharpened chisels. <Insert sound of someone listening to Vogon poetry through an emotional enhancement device, here.> You just can't buy woodworking experience like that!
- Owen -
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