The Master and the Apprentice 1: Look Who’s Talking

Editor’s Note: First, for a bit of housekeeping. There was a great amount of diversified feedback on this article. I so appreciate the time you kind folks took to write up responses. It shows that people care about what is written here and the ideas conveyed.

When one or two people differ from the rest on the article, it’s perhaps a matter of their opinion. But when it’s in larger numbers as the last article, it generally falls on the writer not conveying his ideas well – his intent not being clear. Allow me to attempt a bit of that now.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of citing solely one “celebrity,” and thus unfairly setting that person up to then have to be right about every process. It’s also easy to only watch one or two “celebrities” only and then assume they are correct in every process they teach.

Diversify your sources. Someone may seem a “master” because of a marketing effort, and likely they do some techniques exceptionally well. But balance that by seeing what other people say about a particular process, both on YouTube and in your online and offline communities. Generate conversation and discover new sources. Often times, “masters” aren’t immediately found in a Google search. Now, on to the article.


In our woodworking world, “celebrity” woodworkers are often cited, shared, and their techniques rehearsed. Individuals are propped up to be masters of their craft, regardless of their technique. It’s often because they are also the ones with the marketing effort.

Cosman and Sellers. Schwarz and Underhill. The list is long and ever increasing. Forums and message boards have their own individual celebrities. And fan clubs will fight vigorously for their particular hero, sometimes simply because that hero was the squeaky wheel which got the grease.

It’s not all a sham; some “stars” are rightly there. They not only convey ideas well, but the ideas conveyed utilize good technique. They work with skill, care, and respect, and usually aren’t propped up by sponsorships.

And it’s not the fault of the “stars” that the people who gravitate towards them tend to be those who are searching for & learning a new skill, and are eager to share that new skill with others.

But I find more often that the real masters are the ones who aren’t propping themselves up as such, or are put on a pedestal.

These are not mine.
Richard Arnold / Boaz Zeffertt / Bill Carter / Rusty Tchernis / Adrian Britt

As a dear friend once told me:

There are those who do, and those who talk do-do.

The real masters will tell you they aren’t that, but their work speaks for itself. They’re the ones who are making more and talking less.

They’re the ones who tend not to focus so much on the quantity of their online posts, but let the quality of their work speak forth.

(So meta for this website, right? Take your own advice, Quackenbush!)

Real masters I’ve encountered will happily answer your questions, and often pull you aside privately to give input and feedback. I don’t usually care for unsolicited advice, but a real master will present it in such a way that it was almost like you had asked for his opinion.

Perhaps most importantly, real masters are always seeking to learn more themselves, and never call themselves masters.

Be careful that popularity of an individual does not become a litmus for good woodworking technique. But balance that knowing that those who are popular rose there for a reason. Life is a balance and we must be discerning.

As you ingest woodworking information in this media-rich internet world, pay more attention to the quality of work, the techniques used (and cross-reference for what you don’t know), and not necessarily the ease of following their YouTube channel. Or blog.

Editor’s Note: By naming the individuals in paragraph two, I am not pushing their “master” status one way or another.

Part 2: Join the Conversation

Author: Jordan

Jordan Quackenbush is a hobbyist tool restorer (focusing on moulding planes) and 100% unplugged woodworker. The tactility of woodworking contrasts perfectly with his mostly-digital day job, Creative Director for a Video Marketing Agency in Atlanta, GA, USA. He lives in metro Atlanta with his family. He is on the admin team at the Unplugged Woodworkers & Antique Tools Buy-Sell-Trade Facebook groups.

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