I know, I know. The best thing to do when a blog post annoys me is to ignore it – after all, if I engage, I give the author credence and send more people to his or her site. Much better to let it quietly fade away (and be replaced on an almost-daily basis by something new online that annoys me).
But sometimes, well, I just can’t help myself. And the person who’s raised my hackles (today) has more credence than do I; he’s an excellent woodworker who has taught a great many people a great deal about woodworking. And we’ve published his work. But in this case, he’s doing more harm than good. Paul Sellers, I’m writing about you.
In a post yesterday from a woodworking show in Tampa, Fla., Paul mentions his concern that there are few women and children in attendance. Now I agree that this is indeed a problem. All of us who work in woodworking publishing would like to see the craft expand to include more makers of both genders, and we need to find ways to cultivate a younger audience (in addition to altruistic reasons, it’s simply good for subscriptions and long-term employment). And yes, I would personally like to see more women enjoying the craft – but this is not a feminist rant.
No, what I take issue with is Paul’s assertion that women and children are not taking up the craft because of machinery, and, far more vexing, his statement that, “You cannot use a machine to work wood and call it woodcraft.”
Codswallop. On both fronts.
Hand-tool woodworking can be hard work. And in many cases, it takes more skill and practice (and more tools) to perform some operations by hand than it does to perform the same operations by machine. So what I hear you saying, Paul, is that one needs a much more advanced level of skill and far more practice to actually engage in what you would deign to consider “woodcraft.” The rest of us, well, we’re just pikers?
Surfacing lumber by machine, for example, is far quicker and less physically demanding than doing the same with handplanes. If you feed the lumber over the jointer then through the planer properly, you get good, predictable results every time (unless the knives need changing), and you can dial in the exact thickness you want. And most people need less than an hour of tutelage (including learning how to read grain direction), to use these machines. That’s a good thing – months of practice would, I think, be offputting for most men, women and children.
To surface lumber by hand, you need a series of handplanes (or blades for one plane) – and which planes, and how they should be sharpened, is a can of worms. Then, you have to know how to sharpen, know how to set up the plane and know how to use it. Plus you’d best eat your Wheaties before starting. And good luck getting a perfect 15/16ths board by handplaning, every time. (I know you don’t need to – that’s not the point.) It takes a much larger investment of time and practice (not to mention upper body strength and lung capacity) to wield handplanes well. You pick up handplanes because you want to, not because you have to.
There are many more examples to which I could point – but that would distract from my assertion that woodworking teachers and writers (and editors) perform a massive disservice to the craft by perpetuating a hard line between hand-tool woodworking and power-tool woodworking. And I find it breathtakingly arrogant (and irresponsibly divisive) to state that only by using hand tools can we call it woodcraft.
Machines have eradicated many of the barriers for all people to enjoy woodworking – particularly for those new to the craft (whom, as you imply, Paul, we need to cultivate). In some cases, machines lower the skill level and physical strength required to build something. In addition, machines used to fabricate tools (both hand and power) make those tools affordable to the home woodworker.
OK – one short paragraph of somewhat-feminist rant (instead of the pages and pages I could write); skip this next one if you like:
Did we see more women (or children) in the craft before the Industrial Revolution? Per one of Paul’s assertions, it’s the machinery that keeps them away. In fact, no; industrialization brought women (and children) into factory woodworking (albeit in horrible working conditions). Woodworking wasn’t a wide-spread hobby in the United States until after World War II. Traditionally, woodworking was a job – not something many people did for fun. Machinery has nothing to do with why more women aren’t involved with the craft. Patriarchal norms are why more women aren’t involved in the craft.
Sorry – had to get that out of my craw. Back to my universal rant.
Hand tools are great; I prefer using them for many operations. They’re quieter, and make less of a mess (or at least larger bits of mess that are easier to clean up) than do power tools. But if I were trying to make a living as a woodworker, you can bet your sweet Time-Saver that I’d learn how to use a router jig for dovetails (then decide when it’s appropriate to use it). And if you’re a hobbyist woodworker who uses a router jig for dovetails? Great. I’m glad you’re in the shop. You spend your time there however you prefer.
Does PWM print a lot of articles about hand tools and how to use them? Yes we do – because there’s less written about them in the contemporary record, and thus oftentimes more to teach and learn. Have we ever said hand tools are the only “real” way to work wood? No we have not, and we never will. Because that’s just flat-out wrong. We offer various approaches; you choose what works for you and your woodcraft.
Tools don’t build things; people build things.
And statements such as Paul’s help to build nothing.