Chris Schwarz's Blog

Words for Woodworking that Make me Barf

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


91 thoughts on “Words for Woodworking that Make me Barf

  1. 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, …

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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”.

  10. 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

  11. 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.”

  12. 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!

  13. 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!

  14. 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…

    1. Andy Jones

      Does that include hand-felled trees, transformed by hand into lumber, used to hand-make a project, all without power tools?

      Where do we draw the line with hand-made? Why does it matter?

    1. markyourwaste

      According to the Oxford Dictionary, that would be a correct interpretation of “curate”:

      Select, organize, and present (online content, merchandise, information, etc.), typically using professional or expert knowledge.

      ‘people not only want to connect when using a network but they also enjoy getting credit for sharing or curating information’
      ‘a curated alternative to the world’s most popular video portal’

      It might be wanky, but it ain’t wrong! 😀

  15. 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.

  16. 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

  17. 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

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

    1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

      I can’t control what other people write about me….

      …just like you can’t stop me from calling you a Fancy Lad. Does that make you a Fancy Lad? Maybe not. But now we can Google “Bdbozyk” (could your mamma not afford a few more vowels?) and “Fancy Lad” and you are connected.

    1. Mark

      My wife and I looked forward to every episode of Rumpole of the Bailey and enjoyed all of them. Hilda (aka: she who must be obeyed) was a well played character in this comedy that poked fun at the stereotypical (hope that word isn’t offensive) British upper class. The episodes are available on u-tube and are well worth watching.

      1. drm

        Bumhole was a great show. I don’t think John Mortimer was limiting his wrath to just the upper class, but he did seem to have a lot of patience for ordinary and down trodden folk.

  20. 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.

      1. elithian

        You are being a little arrogant in your lack of a meaningful subject matter! Perhaps you are loosing touch with your center? I suggest you stick to being instructive instead of being a “whiny fancy lad.” It suits you much better and protects your brand. Puke if you must but others have the freedom to enhance and protect their brand the way they feel is best for them even if it does bespoke words such as “Artiste” or Anarchist”!

          1. elithian

            Sarcasm is often the tool for those who have no meaningful reply or just lack the simple humility to say you are right! This is where the desire for commerce has clearly exceeded the desire for excellence. Go ahead and trash your brand, it won’t cost me a nickel. Eventually it will be clear who is an overpriced “fancy lad”, something I would be very reticent to say about a fellow tradesman, and who is just a simple woodworker.
            Sometimwas it is just better to say nothing. In the future I won’t comment because I know when my words are wasted.☺️

            1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

              I do not edit myself for mass consumption. This has always been who I am, from the time I started this blog until the time they turn it off. If I crash and burn, that’s fine. If everyone abandons me, I’ll keep writing somewhere.

              If you don’t like it, more power to you. Please start your own blog and add to the discussion of our beloved craft.


              1. elithian

                With “Fancy Lads” like you out there I am afraid I have little to add. I did not think, however, I would come across the day when your arrogance would exceed your talent and you would start insulting people for doing the cwry same thing you are doing; making a living. If it were not for fancy lads I think you would be less well off. I think it is time you get an editor because there are probably a lot more craftspeople out here who take offense that you’ll never hear from and I understand why. It is not these kinds of editorials that made you a brand. It is time for us to rethink your position and question your judgement; especially the Trumpishness of failing to respect others as is well demonstrated here by every response you made to legitimate disagreement and criticism.

                1. DaveS2

                  ” I am afraid I have little to add.”
                  Given that I have searched “the global economy and Information Age” and have found no sign of your woodworking or informative website(s), I fear this is true.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

      1. drm

        The use of SWMBO at one time would irritate (not sure why) but at some later stage it also occurred to me that I do the same thing. When I’m considering purchasing some expensive item I might suggest in conversation with a mate “I need to run it past the CEO”. I don’t actually consider her to be the CEO, but it is good to discuss how we spend our money and it acknowledges my best friend and partner’s position in the decision.

    1. BLZeebub

      What would the world be without SNAFU or FUBAR or SHISHO or KISS or YOLO or every other iteration of acronymic shorthand. Healthy relationships are a moving target. Fractal at best and hard to dope. Acronyms will get you closer to the target but holding steady is on us. Worth the effort though.

  23. 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

  24. 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?

    1. rackjack

      I have thought along the same lines. Perhaps one way to differentiate the tools is to identify them with their power source. That could give us ATP-driven or electron-driven tools. But I don’t think this will catch on.

  25. 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).