The amateur is not bound by the same restrictions as the professional worker, and there is no reason why he should not make himself a good general cabinet-maker. He certainly labours under the disadvantage, and it must be confessed it is no small one, of not having sufficient opportunities of practice, but on the other hand he is able to take his own time in making anything. It is entirely his own fault if he passes a piece of work just because it will do, instead of making it as nearly perfect as possible. He can stand over a job as long as he likes without feeling that he is wasting his employer's time, or his own if he is doing piece-work. In fact, he is his own master, and should rather value excellence of work than consider how soon he can get a thing finished. Of course, in theory, the professional should do likewise, but in practice he seldom can, and sometimes does not want to. Still, I must say that the majority of those cabinetmakers whom I know do take a positive pride in their work, however much some people who know no better may be inclined to sneer at the British workman. Were it not so this book would probably never have been contemplated or written as a humble contribution to the literature of cabinet - making, a subject on which as distinct from joinery and carpentering work remarkably little has been written from a practical point of view.
It is, of course, impossible within a moderate compass to tell everything that might be told concerning cabinet-making, for among experts there are many ways of doing the same thing, and it is not reasonable to suppose that any one can possibly be acquainted with them all. Even if everything connected with cabinet-making could be told in detail the result would probably tend rather to perplex than help the novice, for whom this book is chiefly intended, whether he be amateur or professional.
The amateur, it is hoped, will find all necessary matters so fully explained that he will, if he follows the directions, be able to make any ordinary piece of furniture in a manner satisfactory not only to himself but to those who are competent to form an opinion of the quality of the work. To the professional cabinet-maker, whose experience may be limited, such a book as the present will doubtless be useful as showing him on what lines to proceed in making furniture other than he has been accustomed to. This last sentence will serve to explain that the construction and modes of procedure advocated are not of an amateurish character, prepared in a manner which purports to be simple for the benefit of the amateur worker. They are, on the contrary, thoroughly practical, and such as would not be objected to in any cabinetmaker's workshop in this country. Perhaps the amateur might have preferred to be told some easy way of making everything - to be shown, as it were, a royal road to cabinet-making in its entirety. I may as well say openly that I am unable to do this. The thing is impossible, for there is no way other than by downright hard work and perseverance of acquiring manipulative skill. The novice who thinks that he can right off make some piece of furniture in the most beautiful manner, nay, even that he can saw straight, or plane up a board true and smooth, will find himself grievously disappointed. He will find himself helped in the right course, or shall I not rather say started on it, by the hints in the following pages; but his progress must depend entirely on himself and his own aptitude for mechanical work. The same remark may be taken to himself by the apprentice or young journeyman who, if he follows his craft with enthusiasm, will find that he is never done learning. At present, that is while he is a young man, he may think he knows all about everything connected with the practical part of cabinet-making. He is, perhaps, on a level with his shopmates, and has learned all they can tell him, or fancies he has, which so far as his self-satisfaction is concerned is much the same thing. One day a new hand comes along and uses a tool, very likely some contrivance of his own, or does something in a different way from the usual one practised in that particular shop. Ah, young man, there is something new already for you to learn, and if you are wise you will at the same time have learned an even more useful lesson, viz., that there are still some things connected with your calling which you are unacquainted with. When you begin to find that out, you have made a distinct advance on your way to become a really efficient practical worker. I have known many youngsters who for a time thought there was very little more to be learned, but they found out their mistake sooner or later. I know I did, and I do not think I have ever known a middle-aged man who would pretend to know all about cabinet-making. There is always something fresh to be learned, for every man has some peculiarities in his methods, and the novice certainly cannot afford not to notice these and profit by them when he can. There are also new tools constantly coming forward, and sometimes one that is better than those which have hitherto been used is introduced, but as a rule one likes to use those he has become familiar with. Then there are modifications in the style of furniture, for this, like dress, has its fashions; and all must be noted by him who would excel.
The foregoing will to some extent serve as an answer to the question, How long does it take to learn cabinet-making? but in addition it must be stated that a novice of ordinary intelligence and dexterity will soon become fairly efficient as a mechanic, and be able to make plain and simple constructions. When he can do this he will, with care, gradually make progress till ere long he finds that he can make anything. He will, however, never be able to dispense with the need of care and accuracy in working, that is to say, the work can never become play. To the amateur it may become a pastime, but it can never be a frivolous one. With the artisan who pursues the work as a means of livelihood the case is somewhat different, no faithful workman finds his task a pastime.'