Thanks to Popular Woodworking Magazine, I was invited to panel discussion on saving woodworking at this years’ Woodworking In America conference in Northern Ky. As I suspected, my perspective on this issue was a bit different from the others’ on the panel and I suspect from my friends in the room (it was held at the Hoffbrau Haus in Newport, Ky).
The woodworking I’m interested in slipped into obscurity 180 years ago or so. For the past 10+ years, I and others have attempted to resurrect what we could of a manner of woodworking long gone. We had to re-learn the techniques, re-make the tools and re-design the projects. Today, period woodworking is immensely more popular than it was just 10 years ago and tools and information are both more readily available. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together as a community and the broad acceptance for our output (not just furniture or tools but values, approaches, work styles and build philosophies).
So, perhaps predictably, when the facts were put to me about the rapid decline of woodworking institutions and industries, while sympathetic, I remain confident and optimistic about woodworking in the Americas. After all, the U.S. woodworking industry has never done a particularly good job of retaining it’s traditions, quality, craftsmanship or wages. From the beginning of the 19th century, the U.S. woodworking industry has done its level best to destroy the woodworking that I know and love. In no small part, the industry sought to destroy the practitioners as well.
From my knot hole, institutions, governments and big business aren’t the answer to preserving our craft. You and I are. We preserve woodworking with each project we build.
For me, a large part of the enjoyment I get out of woodworking is the development of new skills and the honing of old ones. I’m sure like all of us, I also enjoy a design challenge.
I just want to let you know that I’d like to focus on “boarded” (i.e. nailed) furniture for a while. I have no intention of abandoning fine furniture. And while this may look like a change to you, it doesn’t to me. My core mission remains unchanged: to encourage the practical use of hand tools and 18th-century style approaches to building things with wood.
Simpler nailed projects allow me to focus on core skills, think of it like weightlifting. It’s not football, it’s what you do to get ready for football. I think these simple projects are an excellent on-ramp for woodworkers interested in hand tools.
The charm of the finished pieces is not lost on me. I look at them as all that IKEA furniture should be: cheap, decorative, functional, and well built. I hope to make a few pieces to give away. I can’t think of a better way to influence the next generation than to have handmade furniture in their home. To some extent, I may even play up the compatibility with IKEA furniture.
I was interested to read Megan suggesting that my nailed furniture craze is just a hyped version of the I Can Do That column. From the inception of that column, I have always wanted to add these sort of projects to its pages. Clearly the mission is similar: To engage beginning woodworkers. But I’m also hoping to challenge you seasoned woodworkers to push the machines aside, put aside the nail and screw guns, and see if you can make a nailed box with hand tools quickly. That last bit means I’d prefer you saw straight and not rely on shooting every sawn edge.
So before I start blogging (much more often now) about this subject, and hopefully publishing some magazine articles and even a some video, I wanted you to know what my intentions were so you can talk me out of “jumping the shark” now.