Become a Learner

by Dale on February 26, 2013

When I began teaching woodworking classes for another school – now closed, I noticed something that just didn’t make sense. A typical class might have one or two seasoned, experienced craftsmen, some DIYers, and some absolute beginners and maybe a few in-betweens. The classes were great, everyone got along and it was a good atmosphere.

Due to the size of the class we would move through the project at a good clip to complete it by the deadline. Some good natured competition sometimes came to the surface. Who would finish first was always in the mixed, real macho stuff and lots of fun.MB_clock

Usually the more experienced students would take the lead. Maybe a few mistakes would occur, especially if I let my guard down a bit. But I always enjoyed this because we had a chance to really learn how to deal with mistakes just like everyone who builds custom furniture for a living. You fix, hide, or start over with a new board or my favorite – “design change!”

But the thing that baffled me and didn’t make sense was that the beginner student would consistently build the best furniture in the class. They didn’t finish first but they almost always finished best. When I thought about this I could only come up with one reason why.

The beginners came to learn something they didn’t know. They didn’t have any old bad habits to unlearn. They did exactly what the instructor (me) taught them to do. When they were not sure about something they came and ask about it and listened to the advice and instructions.

The new guys learn the most, take home the best furniture, retain the most information, and generally have the best experience. Not to say this is always the situation but it was consistently happening.MB_shakerboxes

When I planned my own shop I limited the students to a four person limit to prevent this from happening. With four students or less the “ego” of more experienced students isn’t so necessary and I believe it is easier for everyone to learn.

Honestly that is the reason I started my school, so I could teach the many things I learned from my father’s experience (that he learned from his father) and to teach students the many practical techniques I’ve learned in the many years I have been a professional craftsman.

In my life I was taught to learn the best way to do a job, develop the process until its perfect, and then do it as fast as you can. Working every day in custom woodworking, meeting deadlines, with the stress of supporting your family as a craftsman could cause quality to slip if you do not learn the best techniques.

Usually the best techniques are the simplest. These are the things I want to teach and it has taken a life time to know them.MB_become a leaner

So in these small classes you can come prepared to learn something you have never known whatever level of student you are.  Even when you know how to do something it is nice to learn an easier way. That way everyone takes home the best piece of furniture in the class.

Let me know how you best learn. It will only make me better with my students. Leave your comments.

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