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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.

— Megan Fitzpatrick

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Showing 81 comments
  • yellowhill

    Megan, Im with you on this. Paul demonstrates great skill. He also demonstrates a need to continualy remind us he has 50 years of experience and is quick to criticize others . See Pauls blog May 2012 re. Jeff Miller. Maybe Paul should ssssssssssssssssstay behind a bench . Paul may need reminding he is not the only woodworker that deserves high respect. Tom Allen at Yellowhill

  • ElSteverino

    Looks like I’m a little late to the show but I just wanted to share my experience.

    My daughter’s Girl Scout troop of 11 and 12 year olds wanted to “upcycle” an old cabinet into a bench/coat rack. They needed to make a base and a place to sit. The girls came over to use my workshop. One of the dads talked about the tools they were going to use and the rules the girls needed to follow.

    One by one the girls went over and nervously approached the chop saw, followed instructions and made their cuts. You could tell by their posture and body language they really weren’t comfortable around the saw. Power sanding and the drill/driver was a little better, but not much. They didn’t like the suddenness of the machines, the noise or all the safety gear they needed to wear.

    The girls started to get restless standing and waiting for their turn so I decided to introduce them to some of the other tools in my shop. I went over the different machines and their uses; the jointer, planer, scroll saw, drill press and then compared them to their hand tool cousins.

    They weren’t shy when it came to the hand tools. Both girls and mothers were interested in the different hand tools and their history. What is that? How does that work? What do those different initials mean? How old is that one?

    One by one they tried the different tools. First the hand miter box, then the cabinet scraper and finally the bit and brace. The hand tools required some instruction, but they were much more approachable. The girls were relaxed as they approached the miter box, the mothers were even more relaxed.

    The first thing the girls said when they came over the following week to finish their bench project was “can we use the hand tools again?”

    I suspect that if my daughter’s troop takes on another woodworking project, hand tools will play a large part of it.

  • Rob Porcaro

    Hi Megan,

    I know I’m coming in late here, but I thought of this little tempest when viewing this short video about Sam Maloof:

    Hey, nice chairs, don’t you think?

    ‘Nuff said, I’d say.


  • Sawdust

    Megan –

    Would you please share the meaning of the word “Codswallop”? Not even Wikipedia can help me!

  • joshfrey30

    I must say I am quite disappointed with this post. It is very clear that you are writing out of irritation and not knowledge. Now as one who has done the same, I will not judge however I must advise that you consider your motivation before making a post like this again. I am a subscriber of your magazine and also a subscriber of Paul’s web video series. What is funny is that it was this magazine and its former editor Chris Schwarz who led to Paul’s blog and then his videos. It is clear that you have respect for Paul and his work, but what is also clear is the you do not know much about him, the way he works and the fact that he advocates very strongly a blended use of both hand and power tools. As an editor you opinion and voice has sway and reach over a lot of people, and I ask that you please exercise a little more self control before insulting someone else in the way you have done here.
    Thank you,

  • winboxes1

    Megan, regardless of what the gentlemen said, whether he did or not phrase his words properly is no reason for you nit-pick. Paul is trying to keep the craft alive and in my opinion contributes most to woodworking than any woodworking writer. Paul has heaps of knowledge on the craft and eagerly wants to past it on. You could the least contribute something by not being so negative. Let him continue teaching and if you pay a little attention you’ll learn heaps and understand where he is coming from.

  • MikeyD

    “The statement that people have taken issue with is this: “You cannot use a machine to work wood and call it Woodcraft.”
    I have been puzzled why the reaction had been wrought with controversy but I think that I now understand. If I had said ‘You cannot use a machine to work wood and call it Woodworking.’ then I would understand the reaction, but that’s not what I wrote.
    Woodcraft and woodworking are not synonyms.
    Woodcraft is a combination of the two words wood and craft. Craft means: ‘An activity involving skill in making things by hand.‘ (see here)”
    So he manages to slam an english major and editor for not understanding the language. I guess it’s fitting, as an amateur woodworker was trying to slam some one with decades of commercial experience and who also has made a living teaching others after that career, and does so as a personal mission.

  • dzj

    Both sides of this argument have their own interests in mind when discussing this issue.
    One has hand tool schools on both sides of the Atlantic, the other sells a lot of advertising space
    to power tool manufacturers.

    And both are in the business of selling a dream.

    Yes folks, you too can build heirloom furniture!
    Just buy these planes, take my course, read my magazine, buy this chisel, router, jig, planer, DVD…

  • Clay Dowling

    I’ll tackle the feminist aside directly: Right On! My own mother was a woodworker, as a job rather than a hobby. For some reason this seemed to amaze a lot of people, especially women. The only thing keeping women out of woodworking is social ideas that tell women they can’t do it. They’re perfectly capable of woodworking, and as the SAPFM event in Detroit showed, there are women doing some amazing work.

  • Oldtoolseeker

    Megan, I was at this woodworking show on Saturday and sat through all of Paul Sellers sessions that day. I feel that a couple of comments are needed to add some perspective. Paul commented that if his sessions were in England he would have 43% women and children. In America it is 3%. His whole session was about teaching skills with a minimum of tools much like Chris Schwarz does. He is all about educating the next generation to learn the fundamental hand skills required to do good woodworking. On his website he allows free access to video’s that are skill builders. I feel he has the heart of a teacher. All during the sessions he spoke of developing and using all five senses to work the wood by hand. He showed us how to and why to sharpen a saw with a progress pitch. There is no doubt that he is a hand tool guy and is very passionate about it. He made a distinction between professional woodworkers and hobbyist. He feels the professional has time constraints forcing him to make projects with machines to meet deadlines. He said it would be up to the amateurs to help encourage the next generation of both generations. One issue we discussed was shop classes being eliminated from schools and the impact of developing young folks skills. We are fooling ourselves if we don’t recognize one of the reasons shop classes are being eliminated is because of the chance of young folks being injured on machines and the lawyers all to ready to sue the school boards in court. It is kinda hard to get hurt in computer lab and cause lawsuits. I asked him about how he goes about getting young folks involved with the laws in place today protecting children. He said he made sure he got the parents involved. In summary I feel he was trying to motivate us all to share our woodworking skills with others before the skills are lost. Did I see him as elitist and arrogant ? No. Passionate about fundamental woodworking skills? Very much so. Ironically at the show he was set up near a Legacy booth with computerized woodworking.

  • dpaul

    Well, I see a lot of smug elitist back-slapping in these replies to Megan’s ridiculous rant. I’ve read and watched Sellers quite extensively, and elitist he is not. He is just one man, with one opinion. So get a life.

  • exyle

    Selecting the right blade for a job, aligning beds and pullies, sharpening and all of the general tuning that needs doing to assure flat, square, parallel lumber requires focused attention and practice to maximize the results. Orienting the lumber as it passes through the machine, knowing what speeds will give the best cut…I’ve certainly never been able to pop a tool out of the box, plug it in and carelessly jam a piece of wood into it and expect good results. I don’t know where everybody else is getting their stationary power tools; none of those I’ve purchased “does all the work” without my focused attention….Megan, you’re Irish, do you think it might be leprechauns some of these folks must have in their shops?
    All of that machinery use benefits strongly from a thorough grounding in hand tool use….most of the operations mentioned above are simply extensions of the same processes used in and informed by competent handwork. The machine and hand tool processes are complementary; any method one chooses to do their work would (ideally) be done mindfully and enjoyed. There is no production mentality inherent in machine use. Focused production of wooden objects didn’t take place before the advent of machinery? Craftsmen were just languidly shuffling about their benches, working when it suited them, without a care about getting that set of chairs out the door so they had a means to feed their families? Using the lumber we’re lucky to have to its greatest potential with the least amount of waste seems like an ideal worth striving for with hand tool, machine or both. After all “woodworking” is what its called; not “tool using”.

  • Jay Pettitt

    Gotta say – I think Mr Sellers is more right than wrong.

    Not that I disagree that Machines, or at least Power Tools ~ the difference between a machine and a tool is that a machine does all the work without a person, where as a tool enables a person to do work ~ can make the craft accessible by removing barriers.

    But the the thing is, not all people are afflicted by the same barriers.

    And power tools bring barriers of their own. Expense. Danger. Space requirements. Production methodology.

    It’s getting better (not least thanks to your mag and staff) – but when I started getting interested in woodwork jus a few short years ago there was only one way to work wood. Via a Credit Card and a fully equipped machine shop. Thank goodness that particular nonsense is getting slapped ~ and may it continue to get so.

  • Tico Vogt

    Hi Megan,

    I share your frustration with the superior attitude of many hand tool purists. Not one of the highly inspirational craftsmen who drew me to woodworking fitted that category. The system of apprentices and guilds is long gone. Historically jointers were among the first tradesmen to expire from shear exhaustion.

    Take a look in the parking lot at woodworking shows and at woodworking schools. Do you see many old beat up cars? Are those in attendance really worried about whether it costs more to sharpen on stones versus abrasive paper? They will be gone from this earth before it could make the least difference. My point is, it’s a hobby for the vast majority of participants. Have fun learning and reaching for excellence, but don’t get up on a purists’ high horse.

  • MikeyD

    You’ve gone off the rails here, Megan. The title is accurate. Codswallop. Only it applies to you, not Paul Sellers. Please try to remember where he is coming from. The man is one of the last generation of apprentices in europe. He has witnessed that system fall by the wayside, with less than great results. Being from europe, he has also mentioned the realities of woodworking there. Most do not have the space for machinery, and if they do, they still cannot make noise without disturbing neighbors. He has watched manufacturers of hand tools consistently reduce the quality of their product due to price pressures, or go out of business. Yes, he sometimes calls them to task, and to some that may sound like he is raging against modernity. Yes, he is raging against the machine.
    Your example of surfacing lumber is total BS. If you read his site at all, you would know he spends time explaining how to pick lumber at Home Depot or elsewhere, and advocates using wood that is surfaced already to avoid this whole problem. Your rant that his advocating hand tools requires years of training and scares people off is exactly the opposite of his position and methods. His point is exactly the opposite, that hand tools can be used with some dedication and practice, that they represent much less of a bar to getting into woodworking than the cost of machinery. He spends time explaining good low cost tools, both used and new. Your own example contradicts your argument about all the training and years of practice. You’ve been using hand tools for how long now? and have learned to prefer them? Right?
    Anyone paying attention could see this fight coming from a long way off. Sellers has picked a fight with most of the woodworking press. He doesn’t like the new planes coming out of Lie-Nielsen (they’re too heavy). He picks on what a lot of writers produce, saying they make things unnecessarily complicated. I would not doubt he is the guy who took a shot at Chris, because Chris has never actually worked as a carpenter/cabinetmaker.
    Just read some more of the guy’s blog before you take the shot. I don’t think you have. You’re doing yourself and your readers a disservice. And I think you are the one throwing bombs to attract attention, not him.
    The argument of hand vs. machine work is old, he hardly said anything revolutionary.
    PS. Theres a reason classes aimed at women and children fill up fast. They want to master the machinery and work safely. Sometimes it’s because it’s cool to use all that power, sometimes, it’s mastering fear. My wife worked in a storm window factory, using saws, punch presses, etc to make aluminum frames. Work with the machines at home? No way, not until she got instruction. I think the fear is there, and sensible, and give women credit for not having the macho mentality of men who seem to think they can do anything without reading the directions.

  • captainbandana

    Addressing the comments about young people and their interest in becoming ‘woodworkers’ I would direct you to the program at our local HD big box store that sponsors Saturday morning ‘kids and parent’ carpentry classes. Kids are given an apron and a few other little freebies connected to woodworking and then are guided in making small projects. Maybe some of them will not go on and use these new found skills but maybe, just maybe, some of them will become carpenters and join the ranks of ‘woodworkers’. My hat’s off to HD for this program.

  • BLZeebub

    Geez Meg, did you open up a can of wigglers or what? I would ask Mr. Sellers this, “If Sam Maloof made his rockers with only hand tools would we think less of him?”

    Keep up the good work, Megan. You’re a champ in my book.

  • jerrysats

    This is my favorite line “Tools don’t build things; people build things ” well said Megan !!

  • xMike

    All Right Megan!
    One of the things that first attracted me to this magazine and it’s predecessor was a focus on the blended workshop.
    You have restated that focus just marvelously!
    Mike D

  • David

    I like to ride my bicycle to the bar for a couple of beers, but if I am going to buy a case I will probably drive a car. That doesn’t mean the case of beer is less valuable because it was acquired by machine. I use hand tools and machines in my shop depending on time restraints and how well my arthritic hands will tolerate the job at hand. Our job, as woodworkers, is to provide an opportunity for those interested ( regardless of gender and age) in the craft to join and learn as much or as little as their desire requires. We can only provide opportunities for others to participate and not analyze why others do not have the passion for woodworking that we have. Contrary to popular belief ( at least among those of us who butcher wood) there are many other activities with which woodworking is in competition. Don’t believe me, ask your church staff why the church programs have become so poorly attended. They will tell you there are too many other activities: school programs, dancing, soccer, piano lessons, karate. Those interested in becoming involved in woodworking, will find a way. Have you checked to attendance at the local sewing circle? Bet you won’t find many men. Do you think those ladies are concerned about the lack of men in attendance? Well, enough soapbox. Except. I am sure if Roubo and Moxon had 18″ bandsaws, 20 inch planers, and the latest dovetail jigs, they would have surely used them without reservations or apologies all the while crying out ” Halleluia-Thank you Jesus!.

  • Prostheta

    Hi Megan,

    It must have been a difficult decision to write such remarks on the writings of another given your position. However I do think the milksop journalistic style many seem to have adopted of late has blunted critical journalism so your post was refreshing and I spent a few bit of the day thinking and how I actually feel about it. I applaud it. I just hope that the target of your ire can take the blow on the chin 🙂

  • jerryolson19

    Right on Megan your comments are on target. In the days of all hand tools the craft depended to a great extent on the labor of the apprentice whose job it was to plane down boards and resaw out veneer. The benefit of power tools allows us to enjoy the craft with out the drudgery.
    In my work if the surface is not hidden the machine marks are all removed with hand tools. In some instances the marks of an aggressively curved jack plane are added for effect.

  • mbholden

    Just finished the SAPFM demo at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I was demonstrating how to carve a ball and claw foot.
    Had a lot of males say that they “could not do that” , not a single female. In fact, I had three that asked how to get involved in woodworking and learn. One lady even accepted my invitation to come around the table and give it a try.
    There is hope!
    To paraphrase: Don’t let the misogynists grind you down! (grin)

  • I forgot one thing. You go, girl.

  • peppersvnv

    My shop is a blended shop. I like a hand saw over a table saw simply because it gives me more pleasure; a plane to finish the surface because I enjoy it and because wood planed to a finish leaves a better surface than a power planer and abrasives, IMHO. My dovetails are hand cut because the noise of a router plus vacuum is obnoxious, and I enjoy cutting them by hand. Time in my shop is not for making a living. Hell, it’s not even for making furniture given my under developed skills. My shop is for my pleasure, period. Keep your eye on the prize.

    One of my other pleasures in life is playing with words. “Obnoxious”. Using hand tools is less noxious, and the noise is less much less obnoxious. I’m going to look up the origin of both “noxious” and the prefix “ob”. It give me pleasure to learn. hmmmm, maybe that has something to do with my preference of hand tools over power tools.

  • KenCanDO

    (Remind me to never get on Megan’s bad side.) I agree with everything you said. 🙂


    Megan – You are right on the money. I love to make furniture and I love to use hand tools. However, I have third stage Lyme Disease and, as a consequence, am chronically fatigued. If i limited my “woodcraft” to only hand tools I’d accomplish very little. So when I have the energy, I use the hand tools, but I mix it up so that I don’t run out of steam early in the day. An attitude like Sellers’ is elitist BS.

  • Brian Greene

    Well said Megan. Paul Sellers is a very talented woodworker and teacher but there is an underlying attitudinal tone (elitist) that has always bugged me. These attitudes should be called out and you did it well.

    As a woodworker I use, embrace, teach and promote both power and hand tools as the most expedient approach. One without the other means your tool kit is missing something, in my opinion. I’m also tired of the one is better than the other discussion. As for women in woodworking, I teach the craft at a beginner level and my classes usually have men and women. I know there is nothing inherent to the craft that prevents them from taking it up or doing well. It’s societal, cultural or personal interest that keeps them away, but it’s not anything to do with WW. Sellers is totally wrong. Once in, women are as capable as men and have the common sense to ask for help to lift stuff! If you are a man with an attitude, get over yourself. There’s my feminist rant!

    Brian in Ottawa

  • thesylvansmith

    I think this is what Paul was attempting to say in his blog post…

    “This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster; an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.”


  • gazpal

    I think the points made by Paul regarding the use of machinery and it having a tendency for youngsters to be sidelined and kept from being introduced to woodworking for the sake of their own safety – due in part to both age related aptitude and insurance liabilities – are very real ones and encompass those facts. Not the high handed approach you imply. The drive within education systems, during past years, has shifted from hand crafting and onto basic machining, so yes a lot is at risk of being lost, with many youngsters entering other fields of endeavour – other than woodworking. It will continue unless we find ways of re-introducing hand crafting to school curriculum. The crafts – in general and not only woodworking – are suffering from a severe lack of new blood, with apprenticeships few and far between and much of the reason behind such a lack of input revolves about the lack of interest generated at secondary/high school level.

  • exyle

    Remember the saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”? Before Ms. Fitzpatrick’s blog post I had no idea who Paul Sellers was and next thing I knew there I was on his website. Well played Sellers….well played. I do not believe Mr. Sellers is a fool… but he may think others are.

    Hmm, let’s see…My income is based upon teaching traditional woodworking skills through videos, online subscriptions and hands on courses. What could motivate me to make a seemingly gratuitous blog post decrying the Machiavellian schemes of the “machinery manufacturers” to exclude half the population from their potential sales? Forgive me, but that seems like a poor business model. In an era that sees the fairer se…ahem, women participating at all levels of athletics, industry and society generally as never before it is curious that the “invasive (?!)” and “aggressive” presence of machinery would produce in them such a state of antipathy. In what is probably the relatively modest community of on-line woodworkers this is just the sort of posting that would be likely to generate a tempest in our teapot.

    I write as a professional woodworker of over two decades, someone with experience selling woodworking supplies and a lecturer at our state college. I spent several years facilitating and instructing classes at a national retail woodworking outlet and true, most students who attended were as we expect, men. When we chose to offer classes specifically for women, these usually filled. We used machinery and no one had a nervous breakdown in the process. When we offered parent/child classes those seemed to go well. All this mind you, while a posse of industry reps stood outside our entrance menacingly firing up routers, chop saws and belt sanders in an effort to deter the attendees. As an aside, there were very few African Americans or Latinos at our store generally and few if any at our classes and given our location there was no shortage of these populations. Perhaps the Machinery Manufacturers have devised methods for deterring all genders of these groups?

    Years after I left retail I worked as an adjunct lecturer in the 3D sculpture area of our University system (Art Dept.). The majority of the students were female and not a few under 21 years of age. Inexplicably, with safety training and practice these young women worked no better or worse than any young men I had ever instructed and were largely successful with their projects. It was remarkable that even the battleship grey and swampy green colors of the machinery failed to intimidate them. I found that demonstrating the use of earplugs seemed to lessen the frightful impact of machine noise that might discompose the students. The only notable distractions the crew of manufacturer representatives peering in through the windows tugging the fronds of their curly mustache and crying “curses!” and “drat!” This notion that women and children are being deliberately excluded from woodworking seems….poorly crafted.

    If Mr. Sellers has a specific definition of “woodcraft” on his site I did not see it. I’ll submit one: Wood“Craft” is not about the tools that you use; Craft is a holistic understanding of your field of endeavour. It implies a depth of knowledge that visualizes the standing tree and sees its processing through to a piece of useful and durable workmanship…er…workpersonship. You need to understand grain direction to hand plane or machine a board well. Beyond this basic, you also have to know, given the grain and characteristics of the wood how these boards will behave as an assembly over time; choose joinery that will allow the most practical result, ensuring that they will stand up to their intended use. You need this level of understanding to produce good craft with a machine or an axe. “Hand” craft is no assurance of good design or proper utilization of materials any more so than machine craft. If you’re a hobbyist enjoy yourself, if you’re a professional do good work and (if possible) enjoy it.

    Admittedly, hand work does provide a level of immediate feedback from the material that the attentive worker will find useful. In a perfect world I would train a prospective woodworker on the competent use of hand tools before introducing them to machinery; they would have at least a greater understanding of what “sharpness” is. Ideally, these methods should be allowed to complement one another when practical and utilize material and energy in the best possible manner.

  • tms

    Hey Megan,

    Many of my own views are echoed by the majority here, so I won’t reiterate the popular view. I would like to add a couple of observations and a personal philosophy.

    Years ago, while walking through a woodworking trade show with my wife, we passed the ShopBot booth, and a large CNC machine was working away independently on a demonstration project. My wife watched briefly, then turned to me and said,
    “That’s not woodworking, that’s wood machining.”
    Now, my lovely bride is not a woodworker, and is admittedly not a creative person; her remark was strictly off the cuff. Yet, often the candid truth of a first impression is conveyed by the casual remark. To that particular lay person, CNC is not woodworking.

    I once built a handsome bookshelf from the plans of a well known competing magazine (forgive me). The author of the article gave instructions on how best to cut the mortises for the complex corner joints, both by hand and by machine. He then opined that what he built was for his customers, but how he built was for himself.

    Finally, as a personal practice, like most of us, I use a mixture of machines and hand tools. And, as I’m sure most of us, I enjoy the hand work the most, but use the machines for expediency.
    But some day, if I’m lucky enough to live so long, I will be too old to safely use machines. And given that women generally outlive men, my wife could potentially be left with a shop full of machines and equipment that she has no idea the value of. Therefore, my personal goal is to improve my hand tool skills as I age, gradually giving up my machines, and paring down to the essentials (sound familiar?). Eventually, I hope to die with only one chest of exquisitely chosen hand tools to pass on to some lucky heir, and save my wife the stress and bother of liquidating my shop. Because, if life’s a journey, when you arrive your dead, so it’s best to enjoy the trip. And this is a journey I look forward to.


  • msiemsen

    Can we discuss the difference between art and craft next?

  • fltckr

    Oh man! I was OK until I read this post. A while back I decided I needed a bandsaw to help with the long rip cuts, etc., so I built one. I built it with hand tools from a kit. Now I have a machine for working wood that I made with hand tools. So I’m not a wood craftsman when I use the bandsaw but I was when I was building it ? Hmmm, too deep for me. I’m going to continue like I am with my hand tools and my machinery and just enjoy using all of them. I even enjoy making special items for myself and my daughter’s hobbies on my metal lathe. The way I see it, if you are making something using your individual skill, then you are a craftsperson, period. That includes hands and brain and any type of machinery or contivance. Megan, I enjoy your articles and show them to my daughters. I plan to renew my subscription when the time comes.
    Oh, what is a “codwallop”? Does it imply use of a fish as a weapon? We don’t have cod here, but we do have some large, nasty fish, so maybe we could say “garwhomp” out here. Just a thought : )

  • mikema

    I also agree with what you are saying. After reading his post, and further down reading his comments, was really amazed at what he said. Don’t get me wrong, I watched him at the Columbus show and find him to be a very skilled woodworker. I do disagree with his points on keeping those under 21 away from machines (not in the primary post, but in his comments) and that using a machine negates a piece from being considered woodcrafted or handcrafted. In my opinion, if I am using my to hands to make piece, it qualifies as being handcrafted. Except for the planer, I am using my hands in direct control of the work piece. Why doesn’t that count as handcrafted? Pushing it even further, most of the fine tuning of a work piece is done with hand tools after a power tool operation. Does that make it anymore or less handcrafted?

  • BarbS

    Now, wait. So far, Megan, you’ve said Paul Sellers has done a ‘massive disservice’, you find it ‘breathtakingly arrogant and irresponsibly divisive’, and that ‘statements such as Paul’s help to build nothing.’
    I had to go find the link to his actual words ( and what he actually said was, “”Yesterday I saw two girls and one boy in the whole show and only a handful of women…this is directly attributed to machine manufacturers who do indeed hog the market and have nothing to offer to balance out the problem. Since machines dominate the market of woodworking and in fact invade sanity at every level, we will never see this change….Eventually this situation will be sealed and woodworking could one day become a machine only form of making and no longer a craft…You cannot use a machine to work wood and call it Woodcraft. The machine substitutes for the very thing we call skill and art, but it cannot replace it.”
    There is more, but he seems to be attacking the predominance of machine-advertising to new woodworkers, which he sees as putting women off from starting as beginners. The old ‘hand vs. machine’ argument is absolutely eternal, and I see no reason to get so het up about his comments.
    And Megan, you claim it is not a feminist rant, but really? “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.” I am 63, and I maintain there are no more Patriarchal Norms; at least not like there used to be. If you feel you have to mention Patriarchal Norms at all, you’ve made it a feminist rant. There is no industry or craft or hobby with as many experienced men willing to mentor, advise, share and gladly encourage women and children into the fold. Patriarchal norms is not the problem. Their own human interest is the problem. Most women are simply not interested in woodworking. We are not the same, and never will be. The solution is merely to expose more women and children to the craft (or ‘art’ as Paul would have it.) I recently encouraged a woman to start with spoon carving. It won’t be long before she is quoting your famous column, “I Can Do That,” which is one of the biggest encouragements to beginners I’ve ever seen.
    My gripe here, is that it’s okay to criticize Paul Sellers’ opinion, but nailing him with the harshest of terms is way over the top. He’s just as entitled to his opinion of the hand tool/machine debate as any of us. It will go on, and on, and those of us Doing the work will just keep doing it, our own way, and hopefully, sharing our methods with anyone who will listen, regardless of gender or age.

  • billmurr

    And I see it as; not needing to be focused on the tools, but of the act of creating.
    When my grandsons want to cut, drill, nail and glue up some scraps in my shop; they are woodworking. They use only handtools (because Granda says they are too little). Soon they will be older, and some of the power tools may get used, after some instruction. They have assembled a few of those kits from the Big Box Home improvement centers, but mostly they want to make something of thier own design.

    My Young Neighbor and his wife are expecting thier first child, and a frantic rush is underway to do some repairs, renovations and remodeling. I have helped, but have focused on teaching, rather than doing.
    They needed a door casing replaced; I showed him how to cut down 1×6’s on the table saw, and how to smooth the edge with a #3 smoothing plane. I then handed him a router to radius the edge, after showing him how it’s done with one of my radiusing planes and the router. Then how to scribe the edge of the casing that met the corner wall. Then let him plane it down with a Jack Plane.
    She wanted a headboard, they knew what it should look like, and were unhappy with the choices at the furniture stores. They came to me for help in the design and construction. Some Pine and plywood was all that was needed, and they had exactly what they wanted in an afternoon. He did 90% of the work. They are happy with the results.

    I have made some pretty nice stuff. Been at this a long time. But, my grandsons and my neighbor are woodworkers too; they create what suits them, either out of need or desire.
    I’ve watched (and enjoyed mostly) all the TV woodworking shows, some are better than others, but I hesitate to judge, as much as I would refuse to judge thier religion or politics. Some of the things I’ve seen built do not suit me at all. Some of the ways they choose to design and construct are methods I would not do. The same applys to the articles I read.

    I design and build what I want.

    I was reminded of the addage, ” To a hammer, the world looks like a nail”. My interpritation has always been; ask a Carpenter to build you a wall- It’s made of wood. Ask a Bricklayer…
    So we have what some might consider to be the great sages of woodworking, espousing from on high, what “WE”,( I suppose, the unwashed masses ) are. I say we are all woodworkers, woodcrafters, or artisans.

    I agree with the poster that asks us to plant some seeds. I do.
    I just can’t fathom how Mr. Sellers fails to connect the dots between the lack of growth in woodworking, while at the same time calling some of us weeds.

  • robert

    See what happens when you go off and give a cod a light wallop. Come to think of it that does sound kind of appealing; this might be the wrong blog for that particular sentiment.

  • Woodworkingformeremortals

    Have to chuckle when people talk about understanding the “true joy of woodworking”. (Sounds like a religious tract!) I talk to people every day who are thrilled and proud to have made something out of wood. How they made it is irrelevant. Enjoying the process is what matters to most of us.

    Can’t say I’ve ever heard of Paul Sellers, but he looks like someone out of my league. Woodworking is too fun too take too seriously!

    Steve Ramsey

  • gentledragon

    I too usually let things I disagree with on the internet fade, but I am compelled into chiming in. Our craft has been evolving since the time when man realized he could make no changes to wood with his bare hands. (Unless you happen to be trying to craft with only your fingernails and teeth, in which case I applaud you and question your sanity.)
    When native Americans were burning out the middle of logs with hot stones, then cleaning them out with axes made from stone shards lashed to sticks, that was truly “hand made”. So, in my opinion, it comes down to how much of a purist someone cares to be. Anybody can say “My stuff is handmade, because I don’t use any power tools”, but odds are the plane they used was made by somebody who does.
    So, my question as a student of fine woodworking, do I need to poke around the earth with a stick until I find iron ore, become a mason to build a forge, become a blacksmith to form a blade before I can become a woodworker who will be respected by the woodworking community? And, if that is the case, how in the world are we going to convince the teenagers of today, who thrive on the technology of today, to become craftsman if they find out they will be looked down upon by old school elitists who think any chimpanzee can be trained to press the start button on a table saw?
    My main point is, please don’t quench the spark that I’ve seen so many young people when they discover what they can create out of wood using the tools of today. It may be considered cheating to carve with the help of a CNC, but people who know how to program one are likely to make retirement more quickly than those who choose to feel the old ways are the only legitimate way of doing things.
    Sorry about the soapbox rant.

  • Christopher Hawkins

    Maybe Paul was just trolling to drive traffic to his site, I hope so. His words were arrogant and pompous. I agree with the sentiment that it is your life, so do woodworking in whatever way makes you happy.

  • Bill Lattanzio

    I agree absolutely with everything you’ve just said. I’ve been very opinionated in the past on my own blog, I try not to do it on others pages of forums and I hesitate to write this here. But this guy is everything that is completely wrong with what some people are calling the woodworking community, which I use loosely. Firstly, he is a professional woodworker, not a hobbyist. He has absolutely no right to bash the work of amateurs on a professional level. I’ve always said, woodworking takes good planning and prep work, careful layout, and solid joinery; how you obtain those things is a matter of personal preference.
    Guys like Paul Sellers are elitist snobs who cry because companies like Ikea are “killing” woodworking. You know what, I don’t really care all that much for Ikea either, that’s why I try to make my own stuff, not just wimper about it on the internet. In truth I don’t really have a problem that he or others like him share their opinions, but when other amateur woodworkers use those opinions and take it as a chance to bash somebody because “Paul Sellers says that you suck and it’s killing woodworking” then I do have a problem with it. If you want to do that, first try to develop an original thought, then try it face to face next time you are on the woodworking circuit. Other than that keep your mouth shut if you aren’t prepared to back up whatever whacked out statement you might want to make.

  • philm

    Hi Megan,

    I was inspired to become a woodworker after I started watching the NYW. Bought a bunch of tools to fill my garage. Read woodworking magazines voraciously, looking for the tool recommendations to buy and become as good as I possibly could. I was and still am appreciative of Chris Schwarz.

    Until I came across Paul’s work and blog, I never realized what it was about woodworking that was really appealing to me. I am not into woodworking for making money (my other skills are way more in demand) and I don’t have to screw together a table using Kreg’s jig (which I have done) and call it woodworking and feel proud of it. After having followed Paul’s blog, I now realize that I was just trying to imitate professional woodworkers and quite poorly at that.

    I don’t know if you give Paul any attention other than when he comments on the manufactures or magazines. He really seems to care about woodworking but no so much about his interests. He is not shy about his opinions and even FWW didn’t escape his wrath. Given how much your magazine must fear his unvarnished opinions, your reaction doesn’t surprise me at all. I am a current subscriber of your magazine but it will not get my renewal. Paul has truly taught me (and many others) what the true joy of woodworking is all about.

    Hope this helps your perspective a little bit 🙂

    With regards

  • Back to the Wood

    When I started all I had were hand tools. Now I use mostly power tools. I like to play with machines as well as create wooden items. I may go back to using more hand tools, but for now, I’m having too much fun.

    By my own definition, I’m not skilled enough to call myself a craftsman and I don’t know if I ever will but I work with wood so I’m a woodworker. BTW, I don’t call my creations hand made, I call them custom made. Just semantics.

  • Eric R

    Megan, I kind of got the feeling, after reading most of your articles and posts from the past that you were much more pro-hand work then machine work minded.
    Especially when you worked under and along side Chris Schwarz.
    Have you changed your method or philosophy on woodworking?

  • schenher

    Things to think about.

    Peter Ross is a Blacksmith & Whitesmith.. A person who uses machines to form metal is a Machinist.

    SO , why is a person who uses machines for 100% of their wood work called a woodworker and not a machinist?

    This pointless argument has been had for decades. Everyone has their own thoughts and at the end of the day they need to settle it within themselves. What makes them feel comfortable.

    Me for instance. If I make something using my power tools, I don’t call it hand made. I can’t . My conscience will not let me, I consider it machined furniture. If I mill, cut, and form the raw wood into something. Then to me that is hand made and I call that hand made. I don’t consider one type of woodworking better than the other. Which I think is what gets people the most heated up when it comes to this argument. They are just different and we all need to come to grips with that in our own way. No way is better or worse, neither is better or worse for the industry or the hobby. They are just different approaches.

    I am a glutton for pain and hard work. That is just the way I am. SO, I use hand tools. I mill all my lumber from the saw mill by hand. And, currently I don’t even have a band saw, so I literally cut , chop or plane everything to size. For some that sounds like pure hell, to me it is hard work, but I enjoy every bit of it.

  • billsias

    That’s even more annoying if you are aware that Mr Sellers uses machines to mill his lumber.


  • mysticcarver

    I agree Megan. I love hand tools. I am a woodcarver as well,and use a lot of hand tools for that purpose. I also build things as well,and since I have a VERY limited time to spend in my shop I don’t always have the time or inclination to use all hand tools. If I were to use only the hand tool route I would get very little done. I find it more important to complete projects that satisfy me than to spend 3 months on the same project.
    Well said and I approve this message 🙂

  • gamcnabb

    Well said Megan. I totall agree on all the points you made.
    I think we are as a group are failing our young people. They need to know that quality wood products don’t come in a box and the only tools you need to assemble them are a screw driver and an allen wrech.

    If every reader out there would make an effort to teach just 2 kids to love woodworking, that will make a huge difference. Plant some seeds and watch what grows.

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