Advice on Article Sought

I’m working on an article about making nailed (boarded) furniture. The new format at the magazine has restricted columns like mine to 2 pages and I’m having trouble getting the job done in 2. It could be that I’m naturally wordy. I’ve been teased for this in the past and I’m self conscious about it. What I can say is that Americans are particularly succinct. And Americans like Chris Schwarz, educated and trained as a journalist, make revealing a lot of info in a few words look easy. I clearly lack those skills.

(I was recently sitting in an apartment in Rome reading the back of a box of corn flakes. First, the entire back was filled with print. No toy giveaways, no picture of a soccer player, just a lengthy description of how great you are going to feel after eating the contents. And the words were positively gargantuan! That would never pass muster in the US.)

I think there’s more to this than my personal wordiness. I read a lot of woodworking magazine articles. And many or most don’t go into half the depth and detail that I do. There’s an expression (that I never understood) about the devil being in the details (I certainly hope not).

Here’s the part I need your help with: When I I read an article involving a build, I don’t see much detail on how to push the wood through the planer. I guess there’s a technique to that, where you stand, how you avoid dismembering yourself, etc. Does everybody just know how to do that?

I guess my sense is that when I write about cutting a quick dado by hand, I’m not sure if everybody knows how to do that, that there’s a plane for that or how that plane works.

So the question I have for you is am I wasting your time explaining these sorts of processes? Tell me honestly what you think. My sense is that in print, I’m not wasting anyone’s time. You can always skim. I think I’d feel differently about the subject were it a class or a presentation. Of course, in those situations, I often look to provide even greater detail.

Adam

P.S.  I don’t find Chris personally succinct like say, a Texan.  He’s just a skilled writer.  Even his lengthy tomes have 10 times more info than I could put in as many pages.

55 thoughts on “Advice on Article Sought

  1. watermantra

    You’ve already received a ton of comments. I personally think there is room for both kinds of articles. When it comes to old ways, though, certain key words with regards to ergonomics do help, because we have very few places that we could watch these techniques. Sometimes seeing the action happen is all we need. Case in point: When I was figuring out how to use a plow plane, I would have never gotten it so quickly had it not been for ALF’s video demonstrating the technique. It’s a bit counter-intuitive. On the other hand, I loved your recent, fairly short article about chisels.

    I suggest you lobby for more space, perhaps once a year or so, to go into greater detail about an obscure action, and do your best to keep to the entry limits otherwise. You have a leg to stand on, as hand tool woodworking is getting more popular every day, bringing people in who otherwise might have given up from all the dust and danger of power tools.

  2. bubbainmiss

    Give us the details. I have been frustrated much more by the lack of information in woodworking magazines than I have been by an excess of it. I am gravitating toward more hand tool use, but I want to know as much as possible about how a more experienced user did something.

  3. adrian

    I find detailed descriptions of hand tool methods valuable. I think there hasn’t been enough of this. Even if I think I know how to perform a particular task, it’s likely that your approach is different. I encourage you to find some way to include the details, be in multi part articles or online supplements.

  4. rjb37

    I would rather get a little more information on a technique and have that spread out over several issues then scratch my bald spot trying to figure out how you did that.
    Two pages is a moot point. How you get what you want to the reader is what matters. That may take a couple of two page issues to do.

  5. jamrine

    Adam, I have always found it frustrating that magazine articles say thing like “ok, now we will cut the tenon. First set up your dado stack…” What if I don’t have a dado stack, or prefer other methods? I am not looking for specific instruction in how to cut the joint. What I am interested in is what method you used, and other plausible methods. Then you could have a reference to online content about the different methods and how to actually execute them. So, for your dadoes, you might say “I cut mine with a dado plane, but you could also cut the dadoes with a back saw and a chisel or a router plane. For more information on how I cut the joint and some other ways to do it, visit popwood.com,” or something like that. The other information that could be interesting is how you think the original builder might have cut a joint based on the tools typical of that type of craftsman’s kit – i.e. the historical context stuff that always makes your columns and blog posts stand out.

  6. mitchellm

    As a subscriber to PW I appreciate detail on tasks that I do not know how to perform. There have been some great articles specifically describing some of these in the past. I think there is also a balance to attain as the more detail in one article the less space for other material. As a writer I think using your words effectively to convey and idea is the first step in striking this balance. The next challenge is to determine what the readers need more detail on. I think somethings you can leave out and some you should cover in detail. There is a middle ground of material that I think can best be covered here on the website. I appreciate the little boxes in the magaizine that point to this information and where to learn more about the techniques used in an article and think it is great approach. If there isn’t anything out there to point to then you should include it in the article.

  7. corgicoupe

    When my wife came to this country from former Yugoslavia 10 years ago and began writing her dissertation, she cam to realize that her style was what she came to call “Upper Baroque”. She realized that all Balkans seemed to write with a lot of detail, some of which was probably superfluous. Chris has become very efficient in his writing but let’s be straight about the fact that much of the technical stuff has been refined [not sure that's the word I want here] because significant portions of text have been reused several times. That allows one to cull out the unnecessary. I think details do add to the story if the detail is something many/most folks have never thought about before. If you had an Aha! moment about cutting a dado then it’s probably a detail you ought to include. But if it’s somewhat routine you can safely leave it out.

    1. Adam CherubiniAdam Cherubini Post author

      Corgi, you got right to the heart of it. ALL of it is routine to me. That was my goal: To develop the skills of a mediocre 18th c cabinetmaker. And I’m close. Problem is, what I do isn’t routine to everybody. The question was how much of that to include.

  8. Bill

    I think the readership should be questioning the PW publishers & editors why you are being limited to just two pages. I miss the days of the larger and multi-page articles about the joint form and carved chair. Like others have mentioned, I consider your column one of the better ones in the magazine. I was very pleased to see your return a few issues ago but have been a little disappointed by the size of the articles.

    Bill

    1. Adam CherubiniAdam Cherubini Post author

      Thanks Bill. The article I’m working on is 3 pages. I’m not being limited by some Draconian Elizabethan Editor. I phrased the column size comment poorly. And every article I’ve ever submitted (to my recollection) has always been longer than the space we have. And Bob and Megan edit and help me focus. That’s a good thing.

  9. josephproth

    while i grew up watching shows like New Yankee Workshop, I have always been frustrated with the fact that his first cut is always perfect and I spend on hour on test cuts. Of course we all know that it is edited for time, but how much useful info about set up is edited out. I am not opposed to more depth.

  10. DonP

    If the New Format forces you into a specific size every time the fault is with the format not with you.

    One of the things that makes PW so good it is a very dense magazine. I stopped subscribing to the ones I could read cover to cover on the walk from the mailbox. I became weary with 2 page articles that just repeated the photo captions. It appears the intent is to pull in the news stand buyers rather then inform the subscribers.

    As to content on the internet that’s ok but will it be available years from now when I do research for a new product?

    1. Adam CherubiniAdam Cherubini Post author

      Sorry, I may have misspoke. The format isn’t the problem. I can get more page space when I need it. The problem I have is I want to write about hand tool projects without covering ALL the techniques in every article. On line content is one solution, but it’s a capitulation if you follow. If additional content is required, I’d rather it be in the article where it will be useful.

  11. Gary Roberts

    Adam: when deciding to renew or not to renew, your articles, along with a handful of others tilted the windmill for me. In particular yours as they are always well thought out, well written, biased when needed and unbiased when needed and typically tell a distinct story rather than filling space.

    I’m a wordy type as you are so I’ll suggest to you what I fell back on when I had to write histories for inhouse stuff of limited space: serialize it. If it worked for Moxon, it will work for you. Plus it will keep the readership coming back for more. Those one shot articles that end on the last word are not enough to instruct a complex topic.

    Photographs and line drawings are very useful but a good text followup is essential in explaining why a process is performed as it is, what options there are and what the history is behind the process.

    The basement stairs in my house are held together with cut nails. They’ve been there for just over one hundred years now. Enough about dovetails already. Let’s talk about dados, cut nails, rabbets, old growth, riven wood and all that stuff, aprenticeship, etc. Serialize your writing and tell the powers that be your readership is asking for it.

  12. wmedina@pragmatiq.com

    Adam,

    Your article is always the first thing I look for when I get my PW in the mail. What you may think is obvious is normally something many of us may just not have realized. For example… At WIA a few years ago, I saw you take 1/2″ of the edge of a board in about 10 seconds with just a chisel. I was stunned. I know I wasn’t alone. If I recall, someone else in the crowd even wanted you to do it again because he couldn’t believe his eyes. Your articles always bring that experience for me. Perhaps its because I am a beginner, but I don’t think its just that. I think its because you have a great command of the material and have a fantastic way of teaching it.

    I also spend a lot of time studying your photos. I learn a lot just by seeing how you arrange your photos. What tools are on the bench? How are you holding the tool? How have you secured the work to your bench? What’s your overall posture? What’s in the background? What similar work may also have sneaked into the photo? I take it all in. It’s amazing how much I learn just from looking at the photos.

    So, my advice to you is… Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken. I agree with what has been said by many folks above – I like the level of detail you bring. Of course, this doesn’t solve the problem you face right now… How do you fit that level of detail into 2 short pages? If it helps, I think the web content should support the article, but the magazine content should be able to stand on its own. What value is the magazine if you have to go to the web to get the rest of the story?

    I don’t know how helpful that is. Just my two cents.

    Woody

  13. TWDesign

    Using the dado for example, pictures could go a long way towards describing the setup. Assuming one is interested in boarded furniture, they might have a dado plane, or be familiar enough with hand tools to figure it out, Now if the picture shows clearly the nailed batten and arraingment for cutting that would be fine. In a power tool article they don’t explain how to install a router bit in the router, set a fence on a router table and cut, there are other resources (like the manual, books, internet) for showing the procedures for using the tools. The article is about assembling those tools and operations into a piece of furniture.

    Articles that are too step-by-step detailed make it seem like they are aimed at people who don’t woodwork, I’d rather a writer presume a higher level of competency and really show something. I can deal with doing research on this tool or that technique if it means a more advanced article.

  14. Jonathan Szczepanski

    Adam –
    I think that if the article is about approaching a project with a specific technique, nails for example, then you should go into depth about those techniques. If it is a more general article about building a piece, then you can leave out the specifics on the techniques of a particular task. However, why not use the web for that. Add some identifier that tells the reader go to the website and read or watch more about how to do this specific task. That’s the great part of a magazine having an online component, you can always go into more detail online if needed. I would almost think that more content online would be encouraged.

    One of my pet-peeves about woodworking articles are those that do tests on materials, joints, or tools where everything is subjected to the same test. Three-quarters of those articles talks about how they setup the test. Who cares?! Tell me the results, and any surprises that came from them. Put the specifics of how the tests were conducted online.

    Jonathan
    =========================================

  15. froglips

    I’ll throw myself under the bus.

    Personally, I find most magazine articles to be too vague to be useful. For those who care, that is why I dropped all but Popular Woodworking Magazine (and would drop it in favor of Woodworking Magazine).

    Problem (as I see it) is you cannot teach how to “Build a Queen Anne Lowboy” in only two pages.

    When I see “cut this, measure that, glue up and apply finish” I move on.

    Were I in charge (and no one is that foolish), the topic of nails could be a year long focus with multiple pages. One month its all about cut nails. Next its wire nails. An expose on just how the heck nail gun nails work. When to use a wire or cut nail. How the heck does a nail work with respect to wood movement?

    Yes, I could go on.

    Dig into the details. Write about a very narrow focus. Keep in mind and reference the dearth of material on the ancillary topics.

    Not by expanding upon aspects of techniques, but rather focus on minutia. Give us something we can work with.

    I highly regard your works and writings. So I submit this with the utmost respect for what you bring to the table.

    Ah, here comes that bus… right on time :-)

    Jim

  16. tsstahl

    I like the detail. I may be bored to death by something I long ago mastered, but so what? There are many tasks and wood work philosophies with which I have no experience whatsoever.

    I write technical documentation. I learned many years ago that unconscious assumptions will kill you–sometimes literally. I notice these same mistakes over and over and over again in the many woodworking magazines I read.

    I was given advice in the Marine Corps that has mostly held true in my life since then: speak to 20% of a live audience, forcing people to ask questions, but write to 80% of an audience, so their questions are always answered by you.

    Magazines in general rely on reader self-selection. Finding that 80% mark is difficult, but not impossible.

  17. karincorbin

    Magazines frequently publish articles about how to get the most out of tools and machines such as planers, planes, saws and routers.

    Therefore you don’t have to mention the ergonomics of how to do such work unless you are writing that specific kind of article.

    What you do need to write about is what unusual techniques are needed to do the project you are presenting. Using your example, how to stand in front of a planer could not be considered a unique or unusual method needed for the project you are presenting.

  18. Adam CherubiniAdam Cherubini Post author

    Thanks guys. Good suggestions

    I thought one reason PW didn’t rely more heavily on online content is that Chris wanted the magazine to stand alone to some extent. For me, part of the fun of reading magazines is that I get to escape my computer. But I think that changed recently. I recall Chris blogging about it when they stopped doing “Woodworking”.

    I know Megan and I pulled some of my sharpening articles apart and added stuff online that appeared on this blog. Maybe we’ll do the same here.

    1. MarkSchreiber

      But then again, I remember Chris having several short videos online. I do not know if they are still there or maybe they were just a precurser to his more indepth videos for sale. I think I would like to see some of your work in video. Perhaps try a couple of short videos and see if you feel comfortable making them and measure our reaction to them.

  19. tropicalww

    Mark hit the nail on the head….sorry couldn’t resist.

    Popular Woodworking could really start to pull away from their competitors by using their online content hand in hand with print or digital subscriptions. You could have your shortened articles in the magazine with links on key terms. Any time you refer to a dado, there is a way for the reader to see how YOU cut that dado. Refer to a dovetail…links to YOUR way of doing the dovetail. This allows the author the ability to focus on what’s in the article, but knowing that a reader will be able to get more information if they need it. Most importantly, if you accomplish a task different than another author, you can both have your own ways explained and documented. That could help many people new to the craft.

    The one thing I miss the most about Chris not being at the magazine were the short videos that would help to explain or build buzz about an article or future article. I hope this is something that will start to come back.

  20. MarkSchreiber

    Maybe, for tasks like cutting a dado, you could have an online extra explaining this task. This could be done for many typical and routine tasks. The online extras could be written as typical and routine tasks so they may be used by future articles. But then again, I would rather read many pages of your articles. It is too bad that you are kept in a tight box.

    1. Adam CherubiniAdam Cherubini Post author

      I don’t know if I’m in a box. I just don’t have free reign. The new format also took away the router bit or CNC router ads that appeared along side my 18th c stuff. That never upset me. But I like the uninterrupted layout of the articles. I think our massive photoshop department (aka Linda), appreciates that too!

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