On my way to Europe this month, I was summoned on the intercom to the airline’s desk at the gate. The attendant asked me to switch seats so a husband and wife could sit together. I agreed (of course).
Then the attendant said: “I know you. You’re on Ray Underwood’s TV show – ‘The Woodsmith’s Shop.’ I love your work.” I thanked him. And for two seconds I thought he was going to upgrade me to first class for the coming nine-hour flight. But no joy.
And that moment is the most famous I have ever been.
I think I’ve been on six or seven episodes of Roy Underhill’s “The Woodwright’s Shop,” and working with Roy has been one of the highlights of my career at Popular Woodworking. Several times I’ve been asked: How did you get on the show? My answer: Roy telephoned me.
It’s a short, flip and disingenuous answer. The real answer is that I worked my butt off for a couple decades and eventually Roy and a few other people took notice. Most people don’t really believe that, however. The assumption is that if you work at a woodworking magazine, then fame and fortune will follow. It’s hard for me to write those words without cackling.
I suggest this exercise: Without using the internet, try to name six people who were editor-in-chief of a woodworking magazine and are still active in the business. Most people can’t.
This is a frustrating fact even for editors at woodworking magazines. Several employees of mine during my 16 years at the magazine thought they would become celebrities and get flooded with offers to teach all over the world after I hired them. But they didn’t. Why? Because they didn’t use the tools they were given – blogs and access to 200,000 readers. They didn’t freely give information, preferring to dispense it only to people who paid them in a classroom environment (if even then). And they were occasionally just lazy.
Writing every day is work. Freely dispensing what you know (or think you know) opens you up to criticism. Having a blog makes you a target for trolls. Being continuously curious and chasing leads is emotionally and physically exhausting. Answering emails from readers for 18 years will make you crazy. Being asked to do things for clubs – donating your time, work and end product – will make you feel used. Having people show up at your house unannounced will make your wife feel unsafe. And on and on.
But it’s always been worth it for me. Not for the money – there is no money in woodworking journalism. But because I love the craft so damn much that it makes me crazy. Woodworking gave me a purpose in life. And I am grateful to the thousands of people who have taught me bits and pieces of the trade since I first picked up the tools in 1993.
So no, you won’t get a first-class upgrade if you take this path. But you might get a call from Roy Underhill. And that’s worth a lot more in my book.
— Christopher Schwarz