Making Things

I’m into making things. I always have been. That interest may very well place me in the majority of human beings alive today – not to mention throughout history. But interest is one thing and skills are another. So is activity level, or having the time and energy for doing the work.

It’s those last few components of making things – skills, time and energy – that turn the possible maker majority into what is almost definitely a minority.

Making Things – The Numbers

Here’s a rough analysis of the numbers. Let’s take woodworking as an example for the larger topic of “making things.” Woodworking as a career is on a slight upward trend. In fact, it was recently listed as one of the top 5 fastest growing jobs in my geographic area – the Boston area. But there are still only 202,700 total professional woodworkers in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is one tenth of one percent of the total U.S. workforce.

Somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of U.S. jobs are in the service sector, which leaves only 10 or 20 percent to distribute between farming, mining, fishing and – our focus – manufacturing, or making things. Recent estimates place the number of manufacturing jobs at around 12 million.

All the workforce statistics aside, we know there are quite a few people who make things as a hobby. There are about 10 million hobbyist woodworkers in the U.S., for example. But even if there are another 9 major “maker” hobbies of the same size – and I can’t think of more than 3 or 4 off the top of my head – the grand total of hobbyists making things is only 100 million. So whether you’re looking at hobbyists, professionals or both, the total is probably well under 50% of our population.

What the Numbers Don’t Tell You about Making Things

Again, it’s probably not the interest level that limits our numbers. It’s the combination of skills, energy and time. And that’s where a more qualitative question arises. Given the challenges of our fast-paced modern world, why do some of us continue to make things? I asked that question of our Twitter audience yesterday. Some of the responses are pictured at top. I hope you find them useful in inspiring yourself or others to get into the shop!

You may also have seen Megan Fitzpatrick’s eloquent response to the question in the November 2013 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine.

My favorite response, however, is a bit longer than a tweet or magazine article. It is Peter Korn’s new book, “Why we Make Things and Why it Matters.” The book sold out of its first print run, and currently our store is one of the few places where you can find a copy. Buy yourself one, and enjoy!

Please tell us more about why you make things in the comments section.

Dan Farnbach

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Dan Farnbach

About Dan Farnbach

Dan apprenticed and worked in two professional shops during the years after college. But sweeping shop floors only goes so far toward learning woodworking. These days Dan is online editor for Popular Woodworking, and is learning new skills every day. He divides his time between Boston and Maine.

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