Finding a College-Level Woodworking Program
Educational choices versus the school of hard knocks. June 18, 2005
I am taking the wood finishing program at Dakota County Tech College. When I am done I will be looking for a cabinetmaking college. Can someone recommend a cabinetmaking college that is well known? I want a college, not just week classes here and there.
While you're stuck in "cabinet college" learning the basics for however many years, everyone else will be journeyman when you graduate. It would suck getting a job knowing everything, but not knowing anything. If I were you, I'd just get a job, make money while I learn, and after 4 or 5 years start my own business (even if you have to do built-ins and what not to get started). You can go to school all you want, but by actually doing the work, installing it, etc., you will gain your own way of building, not the book way. Wouldn't that make you feel better?
Even if you go to school for it, you will still need to be retrained, as every shop does it differently... no matter how much you know and how long you have been in the business.
On the job training is valuable to learning woodworking. That is how I started out. But I have crossed paths with woodworkers who were born and trained in England where they served a formal apprenticeship and training and these men are among the finest craftsmen I have worked beside.
I don't have info on a cabinetmaking college. There are quite a few fine woodworking programs out there. Here is the telephone number for the North Bennet Street School:
(617)227-0155, www.nbss.org. They teach furniture making, but they may be able to direct you.
If you go the on-the-job training route, read, read, read everything related you can get your hands on, learn the operations at a particular shop and then move on. If you stay in one shop, you will not learn everything the boss knows - you will only learn about the products he is producing at that moment. I got a well-rounded woodworking education by reading and also by working in some 15 different woodworking houses.
If you want to move to California, there are programs at Palomar Community College and Cerritos Community College that I have been impressed with. I know that at one of them, I forget which (maybe both), they will even teach you to use Cabinet Vision and the CAM link program for their router. Those are skills that would make you more employable than just learning to install and shove sheets through a panel saw at the School of Hard Knocks. I know of a shop in Florida that is currently looking for someone just to run their Cabinet Vision. I can guarantee you that whoever gets that job will make twice, at least, what a new hire without experience would get just to throw boxes together, plus it offers benefits. I mean financial benefits in addition to the benefits of not getting splinters. :-) The School of Hard Knocks is good, but in this day and age with technology taking over, I would not belittle getting 'learned up' at one of these programs.
Do a Google search. Mt Wachusetts College has a technology for wood program and they are linked to other colleges that have such programs. You'd probably start out in management if you took the right program. You will want to learn CAD and CNC.
I took a two year course at Algonquin College, Perth, Ontario before starting in the industry and would highly recommend it (might be very inexpensive compared to an American school). The benefit to me was that it kept my interest and when I started in the industry, my employer quickly saw that I had some skills, so again, I was on to some of the more interesting jobs. Sure, any employer has his own way of doing things, but a basic skill set can help to get you started in the right direction. I would have had a hard time starting out on a panel saw all day or some such thing. Of course, we're all different. The right employer might take you under his/her wing.
If you do decide to go full time to college, definitely take CAD and CNC courses along with standard woodworking, although I would think that any college specializing in woodwork would have them as standard courses. In addition I would highly recommend a business minor.
Utah Valley State College has a good program in cabinetry and architectural woodworking. They have one to four year degrees that can be earned.