Woodworking Abroad: Common or a Curiosity?
One of my favorite woodworking projects I saw in Germany: A hand-powered Ferris wheel at a Christmas street fair.
Whenever I travel abroad, I always ask the locals about woodworking as a hobby. More times than naught, I hear that building furniture for fun is about as popular as do-it-yourself knee surgery.
Is this really true? And if so, why?
I guess some of the reasons would be obvious. In poorer countries, people are too busy scratching out a living to engage in a hobby that requires tools, a workspace and wood.
But other reasons I’ve been given are more difficult to pin down and relate to culture, tradition and sometimes law.
When I was in Germany a couple years ago I got to tour a couple professional woodworking shops and talk to people who make and sell furniture.
The woodworking I saw there was excellent. The tools and machinery they used (much of it made in Germany and Austria) was higher in quality and price than what I see in a typical American professional shop.
And the country has a remarkable history of fine craftsmanship that stretches back many centuries.
Yet, woodworking for fun (with the exception of carving) isn’t terribly common in Germany, according to the toolmakers, professionals and locals that I chatted with.
This surprised me. The country has the tools, the traditions and vast forests.
One explanation I heard was that houses were smaller and were more likely to be masonry, as opposed to our stick-built wooden houses. So there isn’t as much room for a shop. And working on your house , a common way to enter the craft , is more difficult.
Another explanation I heard was that becoming a professional woodworker was a tightly regulated process in Germany. And that you have to be certified to sell your work. Other countries I’ve been to had a different set of explanations and challenges.
In fact, this week I heard from an American woodworker living in China who was having a heck of a time finding a way to purchase woodworking tools and machines , most of which are made right there in China.
He was contemplating having a friend in the States order the tools and ship them to him. So his trim router would have to cross the Pacific twice.
What have you found in your travels? I’ve found lots of woodworkers in Great Britain, Australia and other English-speaking countries where communication is easy. Or if you’re in another country yourself, what can you tell us about woodworking as a hobby? Is there a secret underground of Swedish chairmakers?
– Christopher Schwarz