Mitch Kohanek: My First Woodworking Mentor


Because it’s National Mentoring Month I have to say that the single biggest influence in my professional development is without a doubt Mitch Kohanek, founder and instructor of the National Institute of Wood Finishing. Although I first learned sharpening and basic hand tool skills during my time at luthiery school, it was Mitch who introduced me to historic furniture and conservation. His contagious enthusiasm for furniture set me on a trajectory from which I’ve never recovered. In that program, I learned furniture history (especially through weekly book reports), joinery methods, repair techniques, inpainting, spraying, brushing, French polishing, color matching, conservation ethics, and even basic organic chemistry. But Mitch was one of those teachers that brought more than lectures and bookwork to the classroom- He was a father to the dozen or so of us in my class. That year studying under his direct tutelage was so inspiring, in fact, that I credit him with single-handedly cultivating my interest in historic furniture.

There were a number of things that Mitch drilled into us students. The most often quoted one is “In finishing (and woodworking), there are no ‘tricks’ – there are only ‘techniques’.” Although it may sound like semantics to outsiders, we students saw how this principal was imbedded in everything Mitch taught us. Mitch never wanted us to proceed on with work in the dark. He reinforced time and again that figuring out ‘why’ and disciplined “perfect practice” was the path to success. “Techniques” are developed skills. “Tricks” are shallow.

So here’s to Mitch, my mentor and friend. If it were not for his enthusiasm and generosity, I don’t know that I ever would have paid any attention to old rickety furniture.

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How about you, readers? Who are your mentors? If you didn’t have a face to face mentor, who have you learned from through books or videos most? Give them the honor they deserve. Write your own post on social media about what they’ve done for you. They deserve our admiration and praise.  Please tag your post with #woodworkingmentors so we can see them all!