I’ve found the best way to learn a craft is to see the created item in person. Taking a class is a good way to develop general techniques, but unless you have a good amount of time to study the finished objects for yourself, you will stagnate in your development as an artisan. You’ll never know how it’s “supposed” to look or discover other ways it could be made. I learned to build furniture with hand tools by studying the furniture that was made with those tools. Those objects became my standard and reference.
I’ve also taken this approach with the green woodworking crafts: spoon carving, pole-lathe turning, etc. I first learned the techniques by reading and by asking others, but I knew this would only get me halfway there. Every serious spoon carver has a collection of spoons from other makers. This functions as a reference library that contextualizes the work they’re doing.
And then there are those fantastic locking-lidded turned boxes. These can get pretty elaborate, and pretty expensive, but I knew that the only way I could begin to understand how they are made is to get my hands on an example myself. I recently bought a petite box from Owen Thomas, and it is a sweet little thing. I don’t need anything bigger or complicated (like these amazing triple-decker locking boxes!) to see how the lid mechanism is supposed to work.
I am a long way from even trying my hand at lidded boxes, but I’ve learned the value of allowing artifacts to percolate my consciousness for a while. I’d been eating from wooden bowls for years before trying to turn one. Now that I know what I like in a bowl, I know what to focus on making.
If you’re looking to learn a craft, there’s no better start than the artifacts themselves.