Chris Schwarz's Blog

Survey: What is (or Was) Your Day Job?

Trevor Smith, a high school teacher and hobbyist woodworker.

Whenever I teach a class or answer e-mails from readers, I’m always interested to find out what that woodworker does (or did) for a living. What I’ve learned is anecdotal, but interesting.

The ranks of woodworkers seems to be filled with engineers, machinists, doctors, computer programmers, firefighters and police officers.

I’ve met only a few attorneys who are woodworkers. And, even more interesting, only one fellow newspaper journalist. I’ve never met a politician who was a woodworker – though I know there are some out there, such as Jimmy Carter.

What does it mean? Probably not much. But I think it’s interesting how professions that thrive on conflict – journalists, attorneys and politicos – seem less likely to take up our craft. And those who build or serve – engineers and firefighters – are more common.

This might just be dime-store philosophy. So I prepared a quick survey. If you could take it, I’d greatly appreciate it. It’s just one question: What is (or was) your occupation? You click the button by your job and click “Done.” That’s all.

I’ll post the results when we have enough to say anything about them.

Click here to take the survey. https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/KFRMFSC

(Don’t leave your occupation in the comments… it won’t be counted.)

— Christopher Schwarz

81 thoughts on “Survey: What is (or Was) Your Day Job?

  1. firewood

    One profession stimulus that brought me to pursue woodwork was the satisfaction of “completion”. In my work the job goes on- some days you feel you made progress and other days you feel you fell back but you rarely get the feeling of completion. As a result, I pursued gardening and woodwork- the gardening lets me beat clods and weeds into submission and the woodwork allows me to “create” and “complete”.

  2. Mitch Wilson

    I am a retired dentist. So I am used to doing detailed work with sharp objects. I seem to see more blood these days then I used to, which, in the light of things, is probably a good thing. With much thanks to the good folks at PW, among others, I’ve been getting an intense education in a short time. One observation that I’d like to share with you. When you look at things under a microscope, working on the parts of a tree is really just like working on a really big tooth.

  3. TomHolloway

    Retired professor of history, after 26 years at Cornell U. and 9 more at UC Davis. My field is Latin America, especially Brazil, but my hand tool woodworking hobby has led me to focus also on the history of tools and crafts, also as avocation. I got into woodworking fairly seriously in the early 1990s when my wife pointed out, correctly, that I needed a hobby. I have also dabbled in traditional blacksmithing. I now volunteer in the reenactment woodworking and blacksmith shops at Ft. Vancouver (WA) National Historic Site, which tries for the look and feel of the 1830s-40s.

  4. Adam CherubiniAdam Cherubini

    I don’t know about the psychology of woodworking, but an attorney friend of mine suggested that engineers have advantages and it may be easier for them/us. As I look back on my woodworking, I’ve relied pretty heavily on my skills and education as an engineer. Basic mechanics of structures has been helpful, certainly materials engineering, I’m sure technical specifications of machinery make a bit more sense to us.

    I’m not suggesting folks without engineering backgrounds won’t be successful in woodworking. I think engineers also have baggage they/we need to dispense with. But at least initially, there are few things that are maybe easier for us.

    Adam

  5. Carl Stammerjohn

    I teach woodworking at Cerritos College near Los Angeles. My experience echoes yours: engineers and law enforcement seem to be the largest groups represented in our population, followed by the others you mentioned. As for me? Former mechanical engineer and custom furniture maker.

  6. Tim_Johnson

    Hmm. Tried to take the survey but not enough granularity in the selections. 25+ years in marketing and sales in the software industry. After a day of buzz words, propellerheads and user interfaces, I take great joy in the simplicity of making sawdust.

    Just to skew your results back towards the ‘conflict’ professions, I have a good friend (his Jet sharpening system is residing in my garage until he asks for it back) who is the Assistant District Attorney for Santa Clara County in San Jose and is a crackerjack wood worker.

  7. Mary

    Retired Occupational Therapist. As an O.T., I worked with people to increase their strength, range of motion and dexterity so that they could return to activities that were meaningful to them. The sweet twist to all this is that now Popular Woodworking, along with the books from MY favorites list, helps to increase the strength, reach, and meaning I’m looking for in my work. So thanks, P.W. for being not only about the work, but also about us, the woodworkers.

    (Speaking of which, this woodworker is proud of her title as “amateur” . While a hobbyist is looking to fill time, an amateur fills his/her work with the loving gift of time : )

  8. BillT

    Interesting to see several other attorney in biglaw practice. I am also – but I’m pretty much over it at this point. I need to get out of here and do something different with my life, because working in biglaw sure as heck ain’t it.

  9. markb

    I am an attorney/woodworker who works in a large firm. I also know a handful of other attorneys who are woodworkers. I think that the biggest issue with combining the two is time. Being an attorney is not your typical 9-5 job, so projects that others can complete in a weekend often take months. Especially with family and other commitments, the attorneys that I know seldom have time to travel to take classes or otherwise get involved in the larger woodworking community. While certainly not unique to attorneys, this may in part help explain the relative lack of representation of attorneys in the woodworking commmunity.

  10. rlaude

    I am an attorney. I would not say that I “thrive on conflict” but thrive on PREVENTING conflict, in my particular field of law. Moreover, my day job and my woodworking passion stem from the same seed… solving problems in creative yet practical ways. I see the two going hand-in-hand rather than being at odds.

    Way to stir stuff up with the attorneys, who do, by and large, like to argue! 🙂

  11. rwlasita

    Retired as a Raw and Packing Material Supply Manager, but spent 24 years as a Technical Packaging Design Engineer for Procter & Gamble.

  12. FineWoodworkerWill

    I’ve always been a remodel carpenter. When I began my own company it was an opportunity to add woodworking, so that built-ins of various styles could be offered… but I guess you could say my first love is being an independent businessman.

  13. greggc

    I am an attorney and I love woodworking. As bmac said, it’s a great stress reliever. I used to be a power tool junkie but in the last few years I find that I get more pleasure out of working with handtools. It’s much more initmate. You get a better feel for the wood. The sounds and smells that come from a plane making chips or a saw cutting through a piece of wood is soothing and it reminds me of watching my grandfather work with wood when I was a kid. I just wish I had more time to enjoy it.

  14. fusilier

    Professional biologist, living historian, and Galoot since 1996.

    I teach human anatomy and physiology at a community college in Indianapolis. My students and I are artisans, not academics – so we learn things through our fingertips. Wooddorking turns out to be a great way to introduce biology concepts. Holding up a routah and a pair of hearing protectors is a great introduction to the structure of the inner ear.

    fusilier
    James 2:24

  15. John Passacantando

    Chris,

    There is no category for me in your survey. I’ve been an environmental activist for 20 years. Maybe I should check “Protective Services/Other.” And I know a few others who are woodworkers.

    John

  16. KC Kevin

    My day job is a Bailbondsman. I’ve never met another bailbondsman that is an active woodworker though my boss was a one time woodcarver. That is till he gouged a deep gash in his hand.

  17. Liz

    Full-time housewife, part time polymath here.

    In my cubicle farm days, I was a corporate financial analyst, which is what I checked. But I’ve been a stay at home mom for 18 years, during which I’ve done graphic design, web design and mobile app building for pay, and a raft of assorted volunteer work: Freecycle group owner, leading kids on nature hikes, Girl Scout assistant leader, squire for a youth Morris dance team … I love making things, and woodworking has always been on my Someday list.

  18. Rob Porcaro

    Very interesting, Chris!

    For me, and I think many other woodworkers, the appeal of our craft is in the following characteristics, which are lacking in many, if not most, occupations:

    1) Woodworking produces a tangible, durable product that you and others can enjoy.

    2) A woodworker has responsibility for, AND control of, the full process and the outcome.

    3) There’s no BS in woodworking: If you do good work, you make a good product. If you do poor work, you and others will plainly see it. (Hmmm, maybe this one eliminates most politicians from even thinking about trying woodworking.)

    Anyway, it sure works for me!

    Rob

  19. dbakerko

    I am a Category Space Manager for a Budweiser Distributor. Before that I owned and operated three liquor stores in Kentucky.
    I have always preferred my power tools until I discovered Popular Woodworking.
    Then a few years ago I spent the day with my wife on the 127 yard sale. Now I have as many hand tools as I do power tools.
    To put the last nail in the power tool coffin Christopher Schwarz has now introduced me to Super tools.com

  20. stickwaster

    My day job was public accountant for many years. Now it is office manager for a roofing company.
    Sam

  21. Bill

    Chris,

    Retired Soldier, Instructor, mechanic, electronic tech, and now woodworker and full time grandfather.

  22. mdgarnett

    brief bio: 62 (on Saturday!), electrical engineer by training; my work is now more consulting on best practices for electric utilities.

    While I was exposed to woodworking by my father and continued it as a hobby, it has gotten more important to me over the years in two respects: 1) as my work moved from being less creative in the tangible sense, woodworking has become my creative outlet and 2) assuming I live long enough to recover from the economy and retire, I need something I enjoy doing to fill the time along with gardening and photography.

  23. bmac

    Hi Chris. I don’t usually reply to blogs but I had to for this one. I love woodworking (still have a lot to learn), love my woodshop and any time I get to spend in it, love your magazine (I read it cover to cover faithfully), and have been an attorney for almost 15 years in large firm practice. The time I spend working wood is a great stress reliever from the hectic world of law practice. You say attorneys thrive on conflict and therefore are less likely to take up woodworking. That may be true for some but not for me. First, as an attorney I don’t thrive on conflict. Quite the opposite–I try and help my clients avoid it. But conflict does occur and that is part of the job. Second it’s precisely because of the demands of law practice that I am attracted to woodworking. After working all day negotiating/arguing/writing/reading/researching etc., woodworking can be a welcome break where I can work with my hands building things that are more concrete as opposed to working in abstractions. I gotta believe there are other attorneys out there with a passion for woodworking…

    1. rlaude

      Agreed, bmac! I posted my reply before reading yours… I too am an attorney and a passionate woodworker.

  24. Ed Furlong

    Chris:

    Environmental Chemist-official day job, Habitat volunteer, Woodworker (hand/power, moving to more hand tool work), birder. Order of importance seems to change by the second.

    From my early perusing of the old tools mailing list, I developed the pet theory that many of the most fanatic hand tool folks came out of IT and other “knowledge work” (as if any worthwhile work can proceed or be produced without knowledge!), probably as a response to not producing something physically tangible. It is hard to hold the improved subroutine you’ve just coded in your hands and say, to one’s self or others, “look what I just made.”

    In a world where the products of one’s work is increasingly abstract, subject to revision, and never really “complete”, a table, chair, or cabinet that you have built with your hands, head, and heart becomes a touchstone in your life that is hard to equal.

    Enough coffee break philosophizing, and back to the umpteenth rev of this spreadsheet.

    Cheers,

    Ed

    1. Tim_Johnson

      Ed,

      (preemptively pardon the pun) You nailed it as far as I’m concerned.

      When I got into turning I was in system software sales with 6-18 month long sales cycles (now in software marketing). When my father in law described the process of turning a bowl from a green blank, I thought, “Why would I want a hobby that mirrored my job?” Fortunately my wife is a lace maker. I can go out to the garage and 30 minutes later have a pair or two of lace bobbins complete. Instant gratification and infinitely more satisfying than redoing a web page or writing a brochure.

  25. rsuper5499

    Hi, math major,IBM Manager,kitchen designer, finish carpenter, Habitat volunteer, woodworker, beach bum…looks like I did the slide to happiness!!!! Ha!

  26. seancphillips

    Programmer/Techie-type working on data storage systems and networks.

    I’m a noob, finding that where there are often several ways to accomplish certain tasks with software, a cut is either straight or it ain’t. Exacting, exhilarating, and maddening.

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

      Several people have noted that Andy Rooney is a journalist and a woodworker. I forgot about Andy. How did I forget about him? No idea.

      You ever wonder why journalists are so stupid?

  27. JanetB

    I wonder if female woodworkers fit the same patterns Chris proposes. My path, in chronological order, is flight attendant, lawyer, electronics technician, software engineer, retired.

  28. DrAngus

    Retired physician here. I think it more likely that lawyers, journalists, and politicos are highly verbal types whose spatial abilities are limited.

  29. Sleeping Gnome

    I pay the bills as an auditor with a state government, but consider myself a woodworker, writer, and photographer in that order.

  30. ChrisJ

    I checked ‘community service’ for lack of a better selection but I work for a non-profit land trust that protects the resource at the heart of our craft. In fact, I have two Adirondack chairs in my back yard made from Atlantic white cedar harvested on one of the working forests that we preserved years ago. Woodworking/carving (and homebrewing for that matter) are quite common hobbies in our field. There is just something about being able to give back to the resource that gives us so much.

  31. Halteclere

    Maybe Chris is looking at this the wrong way – maybe one’s choice of profession is related to the one’s enjoyment of mechanical problems, hands-on work, manual labor – the challenges of woodworking.

    I am a professional engineer, but chose my career because a high school teacher said “You are good with your hands, you like to build things and work on your car. You should go into Engineering”. So I did. I had developed my love for woodworking by always being around (and fixing) mechanical things on the farm, working for my dad’s construction company, and building benches and birdhouses long before I picked my career.

  32. options

    Andy Rooney would be upset about not being called journalist.

    He built the desk he broadcast from for 25 years.

    1. tsstahl

      25 years for one desk? Did he use stolen toothpicks from the cafeteria?

      *RIMSHOT*

      Sorry, couldn’t resist. 🙂

  33. options

    Wall street for 50 years. Trading and running trading desks. Money manager for the last 17 years.
    Never met another woodworker in this time frame.
    Spent a lot of time in some of the finest wood panel rooms in this country with some of the
    finest furniture in America.
    They would rather buy it than build it.
    Have only been working with wood for 22 years since my daughter was born.

  34. Jim

    I am a family therapist, and my wife is a quilter. She owns a quilt shop where she teaches quilting to women (only about two men in 25 years) and sells the supplies necessary for making a quilt. Her first love is making a quilt totally by hand. As you have done ,Chris, she has conducted her anecdotal and interesting research. She says that a large number of quilters are married to woodworkers. So I wonder what the spouses of woodworkers do? This may take your research much further than you would like, but maybe some folks would share.

  35. Joe Bulldog

    Just took the survey and wanted to comment that while I checked Attorney, I am originally a retired police officer and still consider that my first love and true profession.

  36. Mike Craw

    Four years a street cop and twenty-five years a Special Agent with the U.S. Treasury Department.

  37. tedpowerworks

    weirdly i didn’t see woodworking on that list of professions…maybe i just missed it.

    1. dreamcatcher

      Look again and you will see CARPENTER on the list… it’s the same thing.

      I saw someone else commented similarly saying that PW must only care about hobbyist woodworkers.

      Well, Duh! Of course hobbyists are PW’s focus; it’s really not a secret. However, there are many publications out there that pander specifically to professional woodworkers (carpenters). ‘Woodwork Magazine’ comes to mind as a pro-focused mag, ‘Modern Woodworking’ is another and more can be found depending on your niche. But don’t be fooled – the majority of WW books and magazines (including FineWoodworking/FineHomebuilding) are hobbyist focused. Deal with it.

      While I am a professional carpenter and a staunch supporter of professional woodworking focus, I cannot deny the fact that the hobbyist crowd controls the market. Sometimes it’s just the doctors, lawyers, engineers, and accountants out there who can afford the expensive, high end gadgets of the craft. It’s those well funded hobbyists who have the spick-n-span, fully decked out shops that we all drool over. They are the ones most often buying the Bridge City hand planes, Barr chisels, European combo machines, and Festool miter saws. We [pros] must be concerned about income and overhead. We cannot afford to stockpile cherry flitches or buy an entire shopful of a tool line at once. Instead (if you’re like me) you gotta plot and plan your way to a well appointed shop; a low-end tool for a one time job here, a used piece of equipment there, a small-biz loan for a new saw, and a year end tax deduction for another purchase. Woodworking isn’t always quite as fun and relaxing when your next house payment relies on it.

      But don’t expect the hobbyist mags to report on that side of the industry. It’s way more fun build exact replica workbenches, show off Doc Adkin’s brand new shop, and test $1000 handplanes.

      DC

      1. tedpowerworks

        @dreamcatcher

        i was merely commenting on the list not having say, cabinetmaker on there, didn’t see carpenter on the list like i said may have missed it.

        i was sort of joking,thinking to myself that a magazine about woodworking didnt include it on a list of professions. haha jokes right?!

  38. aerobott

    I’ll join in with those that complained about leaving out the general sciences, like physics. I mean, like ‘assume a sphere…’

    See how easy we can make woodworking?

    1. Steve_OH

      Physicist was in there; it was just buried under a more general heading.

      -Steve (electrical engineer turned physics professor turned software systems architect)

  39. gvancise

    Here’s a former paralegal.

    I’m also a second-term (part-time) Mayor and full-time pastor.

    It sounds like a joke. “So a paralegal, a Mayor and a pastor walked into the workshop…”

  40. muthrie

    No love for geologists? I had to settle for environmental scientist which works too.

  41. Jones Largent

    Engineer/Pilot
    You cannot argue with wood, wood is always right, hence no attorneys or politicians.

  42. Tom H

    I was a woodworker long before I was an attorney. Most (certainly not all) of the attorneys that I have known over the years have no mechanical aptitude whatsoever. Most have trouble using a screwdriver, let alone something with sharp spinning teeth or blades. Further, lots of attorneys don’t thrive on conflict – a good percentage of them shy away from it – but their taste for a good argument has nothing to do with their ability to work with wood, steel or in any other medium.

  43. randy

    Of course your poll will be biased since only woodworkers who visit your website (and thus demonstrate some affinity towards technology) will fill out the poll. That may lead to results that favor technology-based professions.

  44. CandL

    Engineer/Programmer here ….

    But I feel obliged to point out that Jimmy Carter was a Nuclear Engineer (Navy) before politics took over.

  45. robert

    Formerly a Toxicologist in the chemical industry, now an Auctioneer.

    Also, amateur baseball coach, fly fisherman, science fair judge, and Full Time Professional Dad to three young men (with all that entails).

  46. gdblake

    Hey Samson141:

    What is funny about your post is that you just proved Chris’ point about people in your line of work thriving on conflict. Keep in mind Chris put himself in that catagory as well. Also, he never called you a parasite, that was your own Freudian slip. Congratulations on being smart enough to pick a career path that is exempt from government stupidities that deepen recessions and tax what’s left into oblivion.

    1. samson141

      Really? I thrive on conflict because Chris says something, and I actually have the termity to disagree. I’m gonna guess that engineers and police officers disagree with other folks sometimes too.

      I used the word “parasite” and “noble” to clarify the underlying implications I was taking from his wording. He can tell me that he thinks “thriving on conflict” is a benign phrase and that those who do so ought to well respected in our society, if he wants to.

      You don’t know a darn thing about my career path or the effect of government decisions on my life.

      1. Niels

        Sheesh- Get over yourself!
        You are clearly implying far too much from his offhand musings. Your heated respond, however, is implying far more.

  47. samson141

    I find this post sort of offensive. Especially the paragraph that paints attorney’s and politicians as folks who parasitically “thrive on conflict” and engineers and firefighters as those who nobly “build and serve.” Politicians serve every bit as much as a firefighter – that’s why the call working for the goverment: “public service” and government workers “public servants.” Attorney’s help build all sorts of things like helping clients form and grow businesses. They also serve in that they protect our rights and assist in the enforcement of laws that protect us, our property, our environment, and on and on. You seem to have sort of cartoon images of lawyers and politicians. Whatever.

    And yeah, I’m a government lawyer and if I daresay, a very good woodworker.

    1. tsstahl

      First off, the inherent conflict of your post kind of proves the point. Unless it was subtle humor, in which case, good show.

      Secondly, who are you to comment negatively on his life experience? Chris isn’t even pretending that his life experience (anecdotes) is any kind of scientific data.

      Third, and last. It is smack dab in the work day all across CONUS. Quite wasting my tax money; get off your arse and work. Oh, and try to find a sense of humor while doing it.
      —-
      See how negativity breeds negativity? Seriously, please accept that stereotypes get that way for a reason and that humor at someone’s generalized expense is not an indictment of their individual worth.

    2. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

      Samson,

      I said politicians. Not government employees. Big difference. I’ve met lots of government workers who are woodworkers. Definitely a service field like police officer….

      But I knew I couldn’t win with this post.

  48. Woodmolds

    Only interested in hobbyist woodworkers? Strange as it may sound there are some who have always done woodworking and don’t have another profession.

  49. paphaddict

    Job title of engineer, educated in chemistry, likes numbers, orchid grower and hybridizer for a hobby, and men’s gymnastics coach because there is too much free time in my life. So we have covered engineering, chemistry, finance, genetics, and physics. Color me a nerd! Oh, and I play golf for the mental anguish/challenge.

  50. tsstahl

    Anecdotal evidence bears out the logical assumption: problem solving and visionary types are drawn to the tactile careers.

    Unlike seesawing jack jawing politicos, engineers compromise with bigger hammers or thicker structures. 🙂

  51. Jon Rouleau

    I was in Industrial Maintenance, the last 20 years at Kodak in Color Paper Sensitizing. I worked on everything from motors and drives and a monorail system to huge WDPF computers and PLC’s as well as HVAC with Kathabars and Cargocare’s and all sorts of valves and instrumentation.

  52. mtnjak

    I took the survey. I’m an engineer as well. This is an interesting topic. 12string says he is a guitar/piano music minister. That reminds me of a music artist who has also been an engineer and is a woodworker. I wouldn’t normally post a link to someone elses site like this if it weren’t for this subject being discussed and the fact that this guy has made some nice looking stuff that’s worth a mention. I wonder how many other music artist out there are avid woodworkers? Any of you that read PW? Perhaps John himself?

    http://www.johnwschlitt.com/fans/familywoodworking.htm

  53. KingArthur900

    My current occupation isn’t on the list; I’m a Homemaker (that makes my wife the Breadwinner). I’ve had three ‘careers’ so far, each lasting five or more years. Attorney (civil litigation), University Administration, and now Homemaker. Try to stereotype me, I dare you 🙂

  54. Guy

    Hey, Fellas, read the last sentence of Chris’s blog and click the word HERE to take the survey.

    Reading the complete instructions must not be a characteristic of us woodworkers.

  55. Pezdad

    District Attorney. Which makes me a lawyer, but prosecuting criminals is much different than other types of law.

  56. jbrinson

    Programmer – I wrote software for log and lumber buying, inventory and sales and timber cruising. (PC and handheld) gave me some good contacts and friends! John

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