Breaking in a Wood-Shop Apprentice

      Advice on structuring the workload of a new hire for optimal learning. March 12, 2014

What would be a good starter project for an apprentice woodworker? Something easy that takes more time in the way it looks and finishes and not build time.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor R:
Well, when I was an apprentice in the union many moons ago, we moved from one department to another department every six months for the total of 4 years. They always put the apprentices in the hand sanding department for the first six months. We started with over 25 apprentices, we graduated about 11-15. Starting in this department always taught us that there were many things throughout production and assembly that could be done to save time in the sanding department, as well as weeded out the weak ones who thought sanding was a meaningless task. These skills stay with you for a lifetime.

From contributor M:
I agree with contributor R. Inventing a project just to give a new guy experience is odd. Give him the crap jobs and the jobs he is least likely to screw up. As he learns you can find more for him to do. I am guessing you are in a small shop that does not have departments. So just having him as a second set of hands is the logical start.

From contributor D:
Anyone new to my shop learns to first sweep, then haul scrap, empty the shavings bin, then S4S. Making proper, predictable S4S stock is so basic that if they can't learn to do it quickly and efficiently, they will never work out.

From contributor I:
In a modern shop, I would suggest a project that incorporates the following program.
1. Proper lumber selection. Basic wood science, introduction to a moisture meter.
2. Start with basic layout techniques including use of a square, ruler, tape measure, etc. Teach awareness of grain direction.
2. Mill rough sawn stock s4s. (intro to planer, jointer, and tablesaw)
3. Incorporate one or more elements that demonstrate practical considerations related to wood movement. Have the student or apprentice demonstrate proficiency and understanding. (Critical!)
4. Incorporate basic joinery (dado, rebate, groove cut with router and/or table saw).
5. Incorporate proper use of screws.
5. Incorporate basic use of a template, and router for a curved part.
6. Incorporate at least one panel that must be glued up from multiple boards.
7. Mill a profile (chamfer, ogee, round over, etc. with handheld router.
8. Go over surface prep, and keep things simple and go with a Danish oil finish at this stage. Put an emphasis on how your surface prep will make the finishers day good, or bad.

All of this can be done with a small scale project, such as a coffee table. Afterward I would introduce more advance techniques and machinery (shaper, etc.). For a second project, I would also teach frame and panel, and veneer skills.

From contributor B:
I agree with sweeping and cleaning but if you want the apprentice to learn the business instead of learning to be a custodian, for starters I would suggest teaching them to sharpen a chisel and teach them to draw, slowly introduce them to the machines. This will ensure they understand that if they can't draw it, they can't build it either.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the comments. We were approached by one of our smaller clients to help them with this decision with regard to expansion and new employee trial runs. All comments were submitted back to them so I am genuinely thankful for all the suggestions.

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