Dying Arts and Mysteries? I don't think so.

Writing for PW is really cool. People I tell about it often ask whether I feel great about seeing my name in print or the validation of being published. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful but the answer is no.

I enjoy the challenge of researching articles and trying to bring something fresh to woodworkers. I enjoy the job of writing.

But there is one incidental benefit that I really like. I like meeting with woodworkers, getting emails about what you are doing, where your interests lie, and trying to help answer your questions. This has allowed me to be privy to the greater trends and market forces. Because this incidental benefit is inevitably paid for by you Arts and Mysteries readers, I felt it was my responsibility to share with you what I’ve learned:

I exhibited my wares at a craftshow recently. During a slow period, a few other crafters visited my booth to chat. Each bemoaned the demise of craft in America.

While I was sympathetic, I felt it was also my responsibility to share with them my perspective. I’m seeing a great resurgence in traditional craft. More and more woodworkers are using traditional tools, liking them, and becoming more interested in traditional techniques, traditional joinery, and even traditionally styled furniture. Never before has there been so much information available, or such high quality tools. 10 years ago, you’d have been hard pressed to find a good western dovetail saw. I count 3 or 4 extraordinary saws on the market today.

Woodworking is a solitary activity. Most of us work alone. But I have a different perspective. What I want you to know is:

1) You are not alone. You are part of a large movement of woodworkers exploring traditional techniques and discovering the lost arts and mysteries.

2) You have brought this about- by the choices you’ve made in books and magazines, tools and even the projects you’ve taken on. You are shaping woodworking’s future, and in my opinion, for the better.

And there’s something I would like you to do for me: I would like you to start seeing yourselves as part of a community. Don’t quibble with each other on the internet. Help each other. Also, recognize that the work you are doing is important. Take it seriously and share it with others. Share what you’ve learned and you’ll inspire others with your efforts.

I think in 20 years time, we’re going to see a return to craftsmanship the likes of which we have never seen before. I don’t believe the attitudes required, attention to detail, a certain process orientation, a pride in manual labor, are going to stop with woodworking. A new day is dawning. You are not only part of that. You are responsible for it. Enjoy it.

– Adam Cherubini

17 thoughts on “Dying Arts and Mysteries? I don't think so.

  1. Rob Porcaro

    Hi Adam,

    Thank you for the inspirational words. Awesome.

    When I think back to when I was in the early stages of learning woodworking – and make no mistake about it, I’m still learning and always will be – there is just no comparison from then to now in these areas:
    1- The quality and expanse of learning materials available – books, magazines, video, classes, etc.
    2- Tne wonderful mutually supportive relationship between high quality tool makers/sellers and woodworkers who understand and use these tools. (Yeah, I’m talking to you Joel.)

    But yes, as you seem to imply in your post, there is more to do in developing our sharing of woodworking experience. I’ve found in talking with other woodworkers that, because we largely work alone, there’s a bit of guarding early in the conversation. Then comes a moment of realization of the shared experience: "yeah, I have the same problem when I use a spokeshave" or "yeah, my board twisted after I planed it too", etc. Then the ideas flow.

    So, now that we know there’s more than one right way to do almost everything, and no one knows everything, I hope the third element in the advance in the modern woodworking renaissance will be more tendency for woodworkers to let down our guard: "hey, how’d you do that?…"

  2. Adam Cherubini

    Hi Amanda!

    It was nice meeting you and Jeremy.

    Of course you are right. The picture is a fake. I found that guy in a men’s fashion magazine and just photo-shopped him into a picture I took of my booth after hours. You can tell its fake because the model from the Men’s magazine is bald and as you know from having met me, I am not bald.

    Regards!

    Adam

  3. The Village Carpenter

    Adam, thanks for posting this shot of optimism!

    Since you’ll be visiting clubs in the coming year, I hope you will consider visiting the SAW-PA club (Susquehanna Area Woodworkers of PA), located in Harrisburg. We also have another club in York, so we can line up about 100 woodworkers if you would consider meeting with us!

  4. Amanda Moran

    Sheesh, Adam…How did you manage to get a picture from that day without my husband standing next to you? (Ha, ha.)

  5. Stephen Kirk

    I likely know who you are talking about. I am a member of the Lehigh Valley Woodworkers Guild (in my opinion, a good guild). I’ve taken some classes at Paul’s shop.

    I’d love to start some more personal meetings. My thinking is see who is closeby that might interested in informal meetings. Perhaps a chance for people to bring tools that others might not have, or show something that others haven’t done.

    Knowing a lot of great people is an inspiration to want to do more and make sure we don’t lose all this knowledge. I also want to join the Timber Framer’s Guild and learn to build really big!

  6. Adam

    Hi Stephen

    My friend Paul is a really great woodworker. He has a depth of knowledge that’s just really impressive. And while I think he’s naturally talented, he’s spent many years attending and volunteering at his not so local woodworking club. I think he’s really benefitted from the exposure to so many different approaches.

    These clubs are popular all across North America and are a great place to learn and share. If you don’t have one in your area, start one! There are more woodworkers in the US than golfers. Chances are there are others in your area who share your interests.

    In the coming year, I’ll be visiting local woodworking groups, giving demos, and swapping tips with fellow woodworkers. I’ll also be doing more with my own area’s recently assembled group, the Woodworking Guild of South Jersey.

    I really encourage you (all of you) to get involved with a woodworking club and don’t worry if you are the only galoot in the club!

    Adam

  7. Stephen Kirk

    I certainly think that craftsmanship is very much alive and growing steadily. You walloped the proverbial nail on the head when you said it is a solitary hobby. Also, John above noted that we are lacking mentors these days. I don’t know how well received this will be, but I think some of this is in part due to the fact that everyone wants to earn a buck for everything they do. I certainly agree that classes with materials provided and curriculums created need some sort of compensation. But, this isn’t the only kind of training. We all work in our shops and could talk about this stuff all day. I’d love to start sharing my meager shop and skill with others, free of charge. Sharing of ideas and good conversation is payment enough. I feel that we have a great virtual community, but not a good "hands on" community these days. And yeah, now you’ll have to hold me to this idea.

  8. Adam

    You know what I think Joel, owner of ToolsforWorkingWood.com? I think you and other suppliers are as much responsible for the resurgance of craft as anyone. You do a great job.

    I’m really hoping together we can do for traditional cabinetry what Mike Dunbar did for Windsor chair making. One of the things he did do is work with tool manufacturers to provide ready access to quality new tools. I dream of a day where someone can call you and order all of the tools from the Seaton chest. I don’t think that day is so very far off.

    Adam

  9. joel

    Adam,
    What is happening is that woodworking is more than ever an expanding hobby where people are using all sorts of approaches to making good stuff. Lots of traditional crafts are enjoying similar revivals. But on the other hand fewer and fewer people are doing home repair, DIY stuff, and things like that.
    Commercial furniture making is more removed from tradtional craft work than ever, although I think there is more and more of a market for expensive, high end customer work.

  10. John Quinn

    Wonderful and inspring work, Adam. However, the future of hand tool craftmanship still faces one great challenge: mentors. All the great woodworking traditions (American, European, Japanese, etc.) seem to have had a master/apprentice system to pass down ‘arts and mysteries.’ In our modern age, I can read dozen of books and blogs about how to do things, but as you said, it’s a hobby we work on alone. I’ve taught myself to four-square a board, sharpen and cut half-blind dovetails, but its taken almost three years of ‘independent study.’ We need a network were local hand tool folks can meet other hand tool folks and -work-, not just swap tools and jokes. My two cents. Thanks for being a wonderful advocate for hand tools.
    JQ

  11. Scott Hayes

    I for one appreciate your articles and bringing something fresh. I agree that there is more information available, but there could always be more. One area would be in the art of making the 18th century tools to do the woodworking. I know you make many of your own. That is one reason I can’t wait to go to the Working Wood in the 18th Century in Williamsburg this year since that will be one of the topics.

    Thank you for all your efforts in helping the rest of us!
    Scott

  12. John Borgwardt

    Thanks Adam. When I emailed you a ? you responded very quickly. I appreciated it. I enjoy your blog and enjoy reading about the style of wood working you do. Please keep it going. Thanks John Happy holidays

  13. Bob Demers

    I agree with you Adam, I do not see the ‘craft’ as dying but instead I see a resurgence in working wood the old ways, unplugged. I find it so much relaxing, no dust mask, no ear defender, you can actually hear the birds sang..while maybe not right now, its too darn cold, but..:-)
    Keep up your good work, I truly enjoy reading your work, an I do learn from it

    Bob

  14. roderick.drumgoole@comcast.net

    Thanks for posting! I wish I could have visited you at the show, maybe in January.

    Roderick

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