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All hail the headmaster of the Fancy Lad Academy!

I love to look at websites of woodworkers – amateurs and professionals – and see photos of their work. But when they describe their work using the following words, I think:

This person is a pompous wee-wee head with a fake underbite and who walks like they are carrying a corncob without using their hands.

You might disagree – that’s what the comments are for. But here is my list of dumb words that are overused on the websites of furniture makers.

Atelier: It’s a fancy French word for “studio” or “workshop.” Don’t try to teach your customers how to speak another language unless you are a language instructor. I love the French language. It’s gorgeous. Ham-mouthed Americans should keep their gums off it.

Artisanal: I knew this word was done for when I saw it being used thusly: Artisanal Urinal Cakes. It doesn’t mean anything, except that you posit yourself a fancy lad.

Bespoke: An old word, usually used in tailoring, that is sadly on the rise. It’s somehow worse than “artisanal,” like you got a PhD from the Fancy Lad Academy & Atelier.

Curated: Gag. Just gag me with a bespoke spoon. If you don’t work for a museum, you don’t curate squat.

Upcycled: This means you build stuff out of garbage.

Purveyors: This means you do something better than “selling.” Perhaps to “purvey” means your store’s receipts and shipping boxes are festooned with ruffles? Or you work in the shop with a powdered wig? Or you call to your customers: “Perchance mayest I help you?”

Boutique: (see atelier) You are not qualified to use French.

Master: If you use this word to describe yourself, and you don’t have a certificate that explains your qualifications, then you aren’t a master. You are a wiener. “Master” is a real word that has been made meaningless by self-important fancy boys.

Award-winning: I’ve been on tons of panels that hand out furniture and writing awards, and I know these are stupid. Let your work speak for itself. Getting an “award” means you paid a fee to have other people applaud your prompt fee-payment.

Artist in Wood: You build stuff. Let others decide if it’s art.

Hand-selected, hand-whatever, handmade, handcrafted: These words are unnecessary. Do you build stuff with your feet? Your elbows? Until our robot overlords run the Ikea MDF slave factories, all furniture is made with the assistance of hands. If you don’t use electrical tools in your work, you probably should find a different way to describe what you do.

Giving your pieces obscure names: If you call one of your chairs: “Inchon and the Fox Philanderers, No. 12,” then maybe you are qualified to teach at the Fancy Lad Academy and Bespoke Charcuterie Boutique.

— Christopher Schwarz


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Showing 94 comments
  • wendyjo3

    May I ask what a post like this is doing on an otherwise respectable publication that is intended to INSPIRE and UNITE those passionate about the beloved craft of woodworking?! I’m not sure what makes Mr. Schwarz feel he has the right to belittle others in the trade, regardless of how they choose to describe their goods. If one feels that there is an artisinal element to their work that differentiates it from the mass-produced sea of particle board, assembly-required furniture, then by all means they should own it proudly when sharing their work with others.
    Unfortunately, Mr. Schwarz clearly has no experience in marketing and therefore, he should not lend his unsolicited advice as to how others should market their goods. Mr. Schwarz, I encourage you to do some research on basic branding fundamentals and, as others have mentioned, digital marketing and SEO. This may enlighten you to why other makers and large companies alike have become so successful in our market economy.
    Further, the words you describe can be used to describe any good; be it coffee, clothing, etc. So, instead of making this an attack of woodworkers, your post would be better suited on a blog for general negative opinions that nasty people have about the world. For the record, based on your gate leg table- I can see why you would never want to use any of these words to describe your work. My husband and I think that ‘useless’, ‘awkward’ and ‘deformed’ might be better terms to add to your own vernacular.
    I will be cancelling my membership after reading this article.

  • WilliamRichardMorris

    I think you’re driving at something deeper than the words they’re using. The words a guilty by association to phenomena much more odious than the words themselves. I’m not talking about the woodworkers (or their webmasters) who misguidedly feel they need to use the terms to market themselves better. I’m talking about the reason why this frilly, fussy verbiage proliferates in the first place. At best it’s fill, taking up space where their thoughts should be. Chris is begging them to stop robbing us of their thoughts on their work. Unlike in chris’s Case where every word he uses is thoroughly unpacked in his books, these words are just misguided SEO where actual content could be. We all wanted woodworking to become more common, but we see what’s happening. A growing number of woodworkers are desperately trying to market themselves to a small and shrinking, yet increasingly rich, set of consumers. 15 years ago the Paris Hilton’s weren’t looking for woodworkery pieces of furniture. Now they are and “purveyors” have popped up to give them what they’re looking for. Only the most bespoke will do. In another year or so, they will have moved on/back to shiny fiber glass or carbon fiber and resin “sleek” box furnishings with “clean lines” and “modern” looks. (“Modern” is the most meaningless term of all these days, I claim). Meanwhile the consumer markets will churn out mass produced versions of the bespoke stuff the rich people are buying so that the rest of the consumers can try to be like them while they refurnish their homes with more disposable stuff they’ll be discarding in 5 years. All the bespoke woodworkers will turn into carbon fiber and resin “sculptors” with new empty wank all over their promo until wood trends again.

    The words make us barf bcause they remind us of these processes. If you’re a woodworker to your very core and you believe in the place of craft in a more just, fulfilling, deliberate and sustainable society, then liberate yourself from the mindless language of catering to bored, detached, fleeting, conspicuous wealth. Stop robbing us of your unique or illuminating, or amusing thoughts. The Hilton’s will not even notice the difference. If no words come to mind, let the pictures speak.

  • GBProf

    Surprised that this gem is not yet been mentioned. Artisanal Firewood. Oh they nailed it.

  • T-bonehags

    I go here when I need help expressing myself

  • Okie

    Oh my! Thanks Chris. Made me laugh once again, and I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment expressed.

  • Brian Egras

    We should all listen to Chris. After all, he’s a self-proclaimed “hand-tool enthusiast”. It says so right at the bottom of the article!!! Apparently, he is not so enthused about foot tools or elbow tools.

    He without sin, …

  • rwyoung

    I didn’t choose the Fancy Boy life, the Fancy Boy life chose me!

  • allwood

    Great read Chris, Reading forums can make you projectile barf one example, I hollow grind my cheap jap chisels and don’t on my expensive ones out of respect to the maker ,come on! Another one, I’m selling a power tool because I’m prodomantly a hand tool guy, i think his hand is on something else. Who gets involved in comparing Narex chisel against expensive jap chisel Forums = Barf Barf Barf.

  • Ejh

    I get the point of this article but a well written article (humor or not) would also explain why the use of many of these words are necessary. I look at the analytics of all my websites and selling sites and determine what words were used most by potential clients. These words must be used in an age where little spiders crawl our descriptions and help people find us. Using a word for no reason is one thing but the analytics tell me without “handmade” in my description I will lose about 100 visitors a month. Good or bad I want people to see and buy my work.

  • kc0dxh

    These days when store-bought bread is “artisanal” and canned soup is “homemade”, it’s no wonder those actually making custom pieces are looking for ways to communicate this effectively to their intended audience. ConglomCo has dissolved our language in a solution of hyperbole.

  • MikeV

    Mine is less about buzzwords and more about bad advice. (but I do hate buzzwords. My day job is filled with things like synergy, value-add, outside of the box… you know, corporate bullshit bingo).

    “with modern HVAC and adhesives, wood movement matters less”

    Totally wrong. I argue it matters more. Modern HVAC creates a kiln-like environment in winter (70F/25%RH), causing huge movements between summer and winter if you live in 4 season climate. In fact, back in ye olden days, houses were likely much colder in the winter, and wood sheds water much more slowly in cold temperatures. In fact, I think most antiques (made with air dried materials) got FUBARed when someone moved them into a “climate controlled” kiln, uh I mean house.

    And I would rather have a glue joint fail due to stress than have a part crack or split. Hide glue is great for that reason, it allows joints to fail and be repaired. PVA pushes the stress to a part of your furniture that is less repairable.

  • tothemoonn

    I seem to remember some t-shirts recently, “Lost Art Press: Hand Tool Woodworking”. I guess those were strictly for profiling purposes. Now you’re telling me I’ve been sold a shirt that outs me as a fancy boy…but I thought we were all cool with that round these parts? I mean, the first time “hand plane” came out of my mouth in conversation I knew I was a fancy boy, but I figured fancy boys were your bread and butter in business. A necessary evil even. Surely those of us who take up woodworking as a light hobby, only completing a single project a year, are allowed a pass when we point out to friends that we made it all “by hand”. That said, I agree with the rest of the list of no-no words…hah!

  • toddcg

    I would like to add to the list the phrase: Locally sourced.

  • Thomas

    As the French say, wee wee, poo poo, caa caa.
    Man Chris, you know how to amuse and start some trouble at the same time.
    I am one of the amused. Thank you!!

  • BobStev

    Don’t you want to buy my bespoke artisinal urinal cakes made from repurposed upcycled high quality materials? They are made in my high end boutique atelier by master craftsmen sourcing curated award winning hand selected urinal cake material.

  • Paul Johnson

    Oh yeah, one more thing: Thanks for ‘barf’, made me feel 14 again. Seems barf went out about the time sk8r talk came in, you know; barf = hurl, and old fashioned became old skool. Gag me with a back hoe.

  • Paul Johnson

    I was going to just say thanks for saying something I have muttered under my breath from time to time. But ‘WOW’ needs to be included as in “Wow, this triggered a lot of responses for something so benign”.

  • john2t

    I have really enjoyed this. I have always wished for a world of plain talk, but enjoy the 10$ words.

  • Fair Woodworking

    I’d also offer the word “Maker”.
    Gad I hate that word!

  • drm

    As soon as I read the heading I figured it was a post from Chris. So amusing. It occurs to me the worse someone’s vocab the more likely the wrong word will be used. While attending school I doubt I was actually present, so it wasn’t until I left school, I realised how important all that “rubbish” was. 40 years later, I’m still catching up! I think it’s good now and again to have a reality check, thanks Chris.
    Cheers, David

  • EternalApprentice

    Gather around, kids, Old Man Schwarz is going to come out on his long and wave his cane at the damned kids with their hair and their clothes and their high-falutin’ “hand tools”. What next, foot tools? Just stay off his lawn.

  • keithm

    What I see a lot is “Luxury” I’m convinced it’s just a way to get 30% or more cost. Luxury apartments, Luxury Condos, Luxury Townhomes, Luxury Homes. You can get even more if you call them “Luxury Estate Homes.”

  • themavericktexan

    It seems many of the commenters today need to also know your thoughts on tongue-in-cheek.

    Perhaps a refresher course in it.

  • Todd

    Will the REAL pompous ASS please stand up?

  • bedrock608

    Wow! Chris!
    On the first read through I was thinking to myself there is a lot of wasted rant going on, here! After the second read through I was in agreement with the underlying concepts of this rant, i.e. pretentiousness by many folks trying to sell themselves or their product! But has that not always been the case in advertising? It just seems that the insidiousness of it has finally invaded woodworking circles as bad as all other areas of commerce and livelihood! Its similar to the “sudden” political correctness that women are unrepresented in woodworking so we all are guilty of being men!

    I know many women woodworkers, have taught and have learned from many! Why do I suddenly need to be bashed over the head that there are not enough women on the covers of magazines or in wood working articles! I do not care the sex or race of the person doing the woodworking or who is teaching me or learning from me! An inquiring mind and a good attitude is what counts for me! I do not really care if I see anyone on a magazine cover, so, show me a tool and you have my attention, show me quality woodworking and you have my attention, teach me and make me question the nature of things and you have my attention! The content inside the book, magazine, or person that furthers the goal of woodworking and crafts”man” ship is what is important!

  • jerryolson19

    How do you describe hand cut dovetails other than as hand cut dovetails ?

  • elithian

    I think there is some fancy lads here! Especially the guy telling me I can’t speak French even if I can’t! It is reminiscent of discussing the measure of woodwork in thousands of an inch! Real woodworkers don’t even think about this crap; especially the ones who are making a living at it!

  • bbrown

    What we need are more master purveyors of handmade anarchist clinch nailed, staked aumbries.

    Award-winning Artist-in-wood,
    –Wm. Brown

  • zeeboy

    Thanks for including artisinal, my most disdained “word”.

  • DKane16

    I agree with all but “handcrafted”. If I make stuff entirely with no power tools, I reserve the right to call it handcrafted to all those who will listen. Usually just my wife, but I suspect she’s just pretending most of the time…

  • lancestuch

    I used to work in a museum and nothing sets a curator off like saying things like “man, that is one well curated tumblr!”

  • jglen490

    It’s not the word, it’s the person.

    All words are useful, some people aren’t so much.

  • riverbum

    I believe you are judging we “Artistes” rather harshly. How else may we distract your attention from our mediocre “Hand Craftsmanship”, purloined “Creativity” and outstanding “Innovativeness” other than the words or a juggling act. And you know we’re not very good with our hands.

  • AlinNC

    Ashamedly and unbelievably (stretch, Ahhhhh) you got me to read all that gobblygluke. Admittedly that may be something learned woodly it escapes me…….lol

  • LongLeaf

    I would add “ethos’ and ‘old world’ to the list.
    Especially when used together.

  • ffhyatt

    I understand if you use all the words at once a man bun appears on your head

  • Barquester

    I’ll just have to quit using so much bois d’arc and use more Osage Orange.

  • gtrboy77

    Dude, good material. Laughed my ass off. This is getting posted in my shop.

  • mikeybudd

    Bwahanhaha! Good one Chris!

  • pirollodesign

    This is nothing compared to the visual art world. I am occasionally an abstract artist and so interact with the art world, galleries, artists. Participants in this world often go out of their way to find a complex way of expressing something. I get caught up in it myself. Even amongst artists, there are jokes about “Artists Statements” being so convoluted with massive doses of art speak that they are often unintelligible. Norman

  • comboprof

    Well I don’t know about this. It seems to me that it is not the words per say that make you barf, rather it how they are used or overused. I would hate to see the nuances of language cast aside just because words sound fancy. In particular on your list I find purveyor. A purveyor is a business that provides goods or services, it does not mean someone who does something better than “selling.” I would contend there is nothing wrong with it use, if used correctly.

  • markyourwaste

    This is another kind of bitter blog post Chris…I hope you’re not losing faith.

    Personally, if someone’s work is good, I don’t care how big a wanker they are. If it’s crap, it doesn’t matter how down to earth they are. Of course, the down-to-earth incompetent is probably better company in the pub, but I won’t have much interest in their opinion on woodworking.

    The one I’ll agree with you on though is ‘master’. Anyone who has to tell you they’re a master probably isn’t. A real master won’t need to tell you.

  • Bdbozyk

    Build a Hand-Crafted Bookcase with Christopher Schwarz: .

    If using good joinery and techniques, call it whatever you want. If you are pocket hole screwing breadboard ends on, stop calling yourself an artisan.

  • manitario

    Super disappointed to find out via Google that the “Fancy Lad Academy” is not a real place. Had my powdered wig and pantaloons ready to go.

  • keltor

    SWMBO should be acceptable as long as you actukkay watched Rumpole of the Bailey.

  • Phil S.

    Anarchist says what? It is all marketing wank.
    Who is calling whom a “pompous wee-wee head”?
    Check your own sites for “Hand finished”, “From scratch”… all from a french bench with french holdfast, using french curves written about by some french guy in a big french tome.
    Such haughty rhetoric from a guy who is also seems always to be selling something.

  • DLawson

    I must disagree that “artisanal” doesn’t mean anything. It just doesn’t mean what they want. I can’t help but smile every time that I recall Artisanal Pencil Sharpening. It never gets old.

  • thekiltedwoodworker

    I think I use hand-selected when I’m talking about lumber? The distinction being that I don’t just grab the first board that’s the right size; there is wood more righter than other woods. It isn’t a pretentious use of the word; just a description of action.

    More than ANYTHING else, I can’t stand it when people use the acronym “SWMBO”. It’s just such a slap in the face of what a healthy relationship should be. I have zero respect for anyone who says it.

  • jeffschrader

    When I make stuff that has no functional use, I frequently preempt the general public and call it art, even though others are compelled to call it crap

  • dstev008

    I like Bespoke, Up-cycled, Purveyors and all the Hand… words. I don’t think they are snooty.

  • Edward Hopkins

    Populist Woodworking

  • Jason

    If handmade and handcrafted are unnecessary words, isn’t “hand-tool” also unnecessary? Everyone is a hand-tool woodworker following this logic. Can you operate a power drill or bandsaw without hands?

  • kevinwould

    Here are a couple more: exquisite and impeccable. Yuck.

  • cmtasch

    Huh. This is familiar. If you had been interested in cycling about 10 years ago you might recall these same sorts of rants popping up using very similar vocabulary. One work that used to really bug me was “colorway” to describe the different paint options for a bike or bike part – usually one from a “boutique” provider. Anyway, it means the hipsters have infested woodworking. If cycling was any indication, they’ll focus on the hand tool only stuff with a focus on wooden planes and more obscure tools from bygone eras (the fixed gear bikes of woodworking).

  • Adumbiam

    I love this so hard. Speaking of which, not sure why, but this stuff makes me barf: ✊

  • jurgen01

    I love it!

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