Chris Schwarz's Blog

A Voice You Can Trust – or 100

My biggest arguments while at Popular Woodworking Magazine weren’t about hand tools vs. power tools, Shaker vs. Arts & Crafts, Grizzly Industrial vs. everyone else. Instead we fought about a question you might not think about: Isn’t so-and-so woodworker full of crap?

When you get experienced woodworkers around a table and throw them an article from someone new, the reaction is: This dingus doesn’t know how to cut a dado. This is the most ridiculously made dado ever. (Yes, those words have actually been spoken.)

The other side of the argument goes like this: The “dingus” has been cutting dados like this for 20 years and makes a good living at it. Don’t you think his method is worth entertaining?

For me, the diversity of voices is the most important part of teaching woodworking. Yes, diversity can confuse a reader – 21 ways to sharpen an awl and 43 ways to make a rabbet. It’s easy (and lazy – sorry) to think: Wouldn’t it be be better if magazines showed readers the best way, based on the staff’s decades of experience?

To which I say: No.

Strict rules are for factories and defusing atomic bombs. Woodworking doesn’t have many “best practices” because we all have different tools and goals. As an editor I’ll entertain any operation that’s safe and well-considered. (Yes, you can cut a rabbet with a marking gauge and chisel.)

Even techniques that seem on the fringe can rescue you in a tight spot. When I first read about “former gouges” I thought: Yeah, I’ll never use those. But then I had to remove a huge amount of material from an isolated area that was tricky to get to. And I thought: Ha! Former gouges – my new best friends!

And so I’ll make a statement that will get me in trouble. When I hear woodworking instructors say they teach only the best techniques, I think they really mean that they teach only the techniques they are intimately familiar with. In other words, they haven’t opened their minds to the all the wild ways we can transform a tree into something useful.

Being flexible makes your shop time more enjoyable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered woodworkers who are making a jig that will be used to make a jig that will accomplish the desired task. And my response is: Uhh, take this gouge and remove the wood that needs to disappear.

— Christopher Schwarz

20 thoughts on “A Voice You Can Trust – or 100

  1. Marie

    Elegantly put Mr.Schwarz, as always, and I completely agree. When it comes to tools, everyone has a different opinion due to experience and overall feel for them. I do enjoy the hand tools and use them most of the time, it’s just extra fun and I can afford to put in the time. When it comes to sanding though I mostly stick to power-tools (you can figure why!). If any of you have a hard time picking these up, I recommend checking http://www.sanderscore.com as James (the owner) offers insightful opinions on various methods and tools. I look forward to reading more from you, and I take this opportunity to congratulate you on the excellent three-legged stool you just made!

  2. tmbridge

    You said it well in your Workbench Design Book:

    “There are always five ways to do everything in woodworking. Don’t get sucked into just one perspective.”
    Excerpt From: Schwarz, Christopher. “The Workbench Design Book.” iBooks. “

  3. Redbat

    My oldest son was helping me in the shop when he was about 16. All at once he said, “Dad, do you know what I like about working with wood in the shop?” My answer wa no. “He said, it doesn’t matter what saw, hammer, or plane I use to accomplish the job, the final result is what counts!” That sums up woodworking, it doesn’t matter if you use a bow saw, band saw, or the newest SawStop to cut up your project, the end results are what are important. Lets keep that in mind please, the end results are what count.

  4. SATovey

    “When you get experienced woodworkers around a table and throw them an article from someone new, the reaction is: This dingus doesn’t know how to cut a dado. ”

    YaHoo!
    I’m famous!!!

  5. whintor

    When I was still a practising surgeon and was training residents, my mantra over techniques was as follows:
    “I will show you the way to perform this task. This is certainly not the only way to accomplish this, but it is the way that I have fixed upon, after years of observation, to give the best results in my hands. When you leave me, you should investigate other methods to find the one that suits you. But while you work for me, my way is the only way.”
    Somewhat draconian I admit, but flesh is not wood…
    I should add that, throughout my career, I was always open to new techniques, but they were judged against my own established methods. I could and did change in the light of such analysis. You never stop learning, if you are prepared to be open to change.

    1. idahodale

      My father’s most used expression was ” THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SKIN A CAT”.
      For the uninitiated that means that there is more than one way to achieve the desired result.
      I adopted that expression in my life, and it has worked well for me over my 71 years on earth.
      One should always be open to new ideas and ways to do something or you will soon become
      stale. I love your magazine ….. Dale

  6. BLZeebub

    Ditto the sentiment. Too many budding woodbutchers are loathe to venture forward without some perceived notion of “precision” ascribed to their efforts. Balderdash! This is woodWORKING which implies some fudging and canoodling and general mismanagement. Embrace the heady joy of DOING whilst you whittle away your time. End products just beget more future end products. Better to enjoy the ride.

    1. Spoiler

      Either you are from the 18th century or you are wildly mis using the word canoodling. Your post is otherwise spot-on.

      1. Jerndon

        ca·noo·dle /kəˈno͞odl/ verb informal
        gerund or present participle: canoodling
        kiss and cuddle amorously.
        “she was caught canoodling with her boyfriend”

        I’m not going to call BLZeebub out on this one, sometimes I find myself canoodling (metaphorically) a difficult project in the hopes that it will respond with agreeable results. Perhaps cajoling is a slightly better term, but it goes back to begging and pleading for the best outcome in a tense situation. Glue ups come to mind.

      2. Redbat

        I love canoodling, until I went to college and was told not to use it any more. Then when I became an old man, I can canoodle all I want because I am not trying to impress people with my college education that was completed some 50 years ago. Depends on where you live and who you associate with as to what your vocabulary becomes in every day life.

      1. kweinert

        Whatever it is don’t leave it out in the purple rain. Purple Rust is really difficult to remove and will quickly dull your gouge.

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