Chris Schwarz's Blog

‘This Blather Would Not Pass a Sixth Grade Assignment’

This blather would not pass a sixth grade assignment to write a ‘theme’ on something. ‘Make me ill’ is hyperbolic and repulsive and means nothing, and ‘You owe it to yourself, the tree, and the whole of human history” is hyperbolic, stupid, and pompous. Its even punctuated incorrectly. I want a woodworking magazine and don’t want to hear from a woodworker who thinks his philosophical meanderings are interesting.
Guy M. Cooper
Dallas, Texas

Why Furniture Stores Make Me Ill
From the April 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine

Poor Quality Furniture, Handmade Furniture, Tool ChestIn December I built a large traditional tool chest for my shop at home, and I couldn’t stop staring at the end grain of the wide pine planks I’d selected for the walls of the chest.

Though I work with wood every day, the annular rings of these boards – some of them 18″ wide – were mesmerizing. Before I cut the dovetails on one of the panels I stopped to count its annular rings, tracing the growth history of the tree for more than 20 years.

Before that board came into my hands, it had sat in a barn for at least 10 years. So when this tree was busy building the cells that would eventually become my tool chest, I was 12 years old and just learning to use a coping saw and hammer.

As I did this little bit of math, I put my dovetail saw down for a moment and tried to figure out what that meant. What other objects do we have in our houses that take so long to create?

When I visit tool-making factories, I am stunned by how rapidly things are manufactured. Once I watched an injection-molding machine make the nylon shell of a random-orbit sander. I then watched a machine wind the motor. I watched a couple workers assemble all the pieces. And at the end of the factory tour my host presented the sander to me as a gift.

That tool is a small miracle – a testament to human ingenuity and industriousness. But it is also a symptom of a chronic sickness that we have lived with for so long that we don’t even remember what life was like before we were infected and weak.

The ability to fulfill our desires in mere moments has cheapened our appreciation for the labor required to make anything. Because mass-manufacturing has made goods so inexpensive, we are willing to throw away once-permanent objects – such as furniture – when we grow tired of the way it looks.

So naturally manufacturers respond by making even cheaper goods that are designed to last
only a short time. Why build a bookcase to last 50 years when it will be kicked to the curb in five?

Honestly, I can’t live like that anymore. And I suspect that many woodworkers feel the same way, even if they don’t express it in the same way. By building things that are designed to outlast us, we make ourselves the last holdouts of a proud tradition of craft that stretches back to the beginning of civilization.

So when you pick up your saw and clamp up a board that is as old as you, try to make every stroke count. You owe it to yourself, the tree and the whole of human history.

— Christopher Schwarz

51 thoughts on “‘This Blather Would Not Pass a Sixth Grade Assignment’

  1. LVRascal

    Hey Chris!
    Keep on blathering! You have many loyal fans who enjoy your writing style. I just broke down and bought the new Workbench book (I bought the first one too and just convinced myself that I really needed one more book about benches) Guess I not only have a tool but a book problem! Did I punctuate that correctly?

    Some folks need to get a life! If ya don’t like it, don’t read it! No blinkin sarcastic commentary required. When did anyone respond in a positive way to sarcasm anyhow (anyway, anyhoo, whatever!) Speaking for myself, I love it!

  2. keajhand

    This reminds me of a woodworking magazine I subscribed to in the early 80s. One of their columnist was a guy who know nothing about woodworking. In fact one of his articles was entitled “How to Make a Board.” I couldn’t wait to get the next month’s magazine so I could read his new article. Similar to Guy’s letter, there were many letters from their humorless readers complaining about this column. Oh yeah, what happened to the writer of these columns? He became a writer for the Miami Herald with “some” success. His name is Dave Barry.

  3. Tom H

    Sounds like Guy has a splinter firmly lodged in an uncomfortable place. I’m not supporting Guy’s belief that Chris’ editorial is incorrectly written, since I enjoyed it and agree with his conclusion. At the same time, I notice grammatical errors everyday, often in writings authored by those that (I guess that should be “who”?) teach my children. But I never accuse them of being “hyperbolic, stupid and pompous.” I reserve those terms for discussions about politicans. Further, and solely from a stylistic standpoint, Guy probably should not have used the word “hyperbolic” twice in such a short passage. But I’m sure he’ll correct me if he reads this.

  4. aerobott

    I’m not sure why Guy’s so upset. He doesn’t have to read Chris’s blog, or any others if he chooses not to. It must have been a bad hair day for Guy.

    As for me, Chris’s ‘philosophical meanderings’ actually almost directly reflect the reason I’m getting back into woodworking. The desire to create something that outlives me, and may outlive other less expensive, throw-away cheapies.

    That’s a large part of the reason I read the magazine, and the blogs.

    Thanks Chris for confirming my choice.

  5. Brett

    Why does “43yearsateacher” assume that Guy is a conservative? My first thought was that Guy’s comments are typical of the many liberals who do not recognize in themselves either the faults that “43yearsateacher” attaches to Texas conservatives or their own hypocrisy.

  6. wortmanb

    “Its even punctuated incorrectly.”

    Now that’s just funny. Good one, Texas.

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