Woodworking author and instructor Tom Fidgen is the mastermind behind the Unplugged Woodshop web site, the online hand tool woodworking school An Unplugged Life, and author of two bestselling books: “Made by Hand” (currently available at ShopWoodworking.com) and “The Unplugged Woodshop” (Taunton). He teaches woodworking with hand tools internationally. This September Fidgen will be teaching at Woodworking In America. His sessions will cover the kerfing plane and resawing by hand and handsaw essentials (both using hand/panel saws and backsaws). Fidgen was kind enough to spare a few moments from his busy schedule to answer a few questions.
As a woodworker, book author and instructor, your approach to the craft is multi-faceted. What aspect of your woodworking life would you say you spend most of your time on.
These days, most of my time is spent creating content for my new membership site, AnUnpluggedLife.com. Working in this medium, I still do all of the things you mentioned, except I’m doing them in front of a camera! To be perfectly honest, this year has been a bit of a juggling act as I learn the process of working wood, filming the process, and then editing and uploading the content. After that, my time is pretty much split between teaching and designing and making some new furniture and hand tools.
Your two books “Made by Hand” and “The Unplugged Woodshop” both cover hand tool projects. Was there anything different in your approach to the two books?
I suppose the second time around was a little easier or perhaps, less stressful would be a better way to say it? That’s probably due to it being the second book. Understanding the process and the sheer amount of work that goes into a book was a real eye opener the first time around. On a practical level, I filmed almost all of the work that went into “The Unplugged Woodshop,” which in turn provided me with just under 100 YouTube videos’ worth of content to share and help spread the word about the UW.
Even some really basic things you’d never think about, like sharing large files has changed so much over the past seven years. “Made by Hand” came out in 2008, so when I was writing it in ’07, apps like Dropbox or Google Drive weren’t available for me to easily share large files over the Internet. It’s amazing to think how those seemingly insignificant details can really alter the way you work on a daily basis.
How has your woodworking approach evolved over time?
It’s always changing and evolving – if it wasn’t, I’d probably stop doing it. I think any creative process has to continue to develop and move forward; not only for the sanity of the creator, but for the work itself. In the past – and hindsight being 20/20 – I would build furniture using historic examples, or proven methods of construction, aesthetics and/or techniques and methods. These days I don’t follow as many “rules.” I tend to allow each piece to dictate the path I’m on and that can mean freedom in design, method, tools used, style … everything really. Once you have a basic understanding of how wood behaves, and what you can ask of it, there’s a freedom that comes. You’re able to work on the fringe a little more.
What are you currently working on?
As mentioned, the membership site is my main priority right now, but I’m also teaching in Germany, the U.K., Australia and all over North America this year. Here in my shop, I have a few private commissions on the go. One is a desk for a local writer; the other, a piece for the Library of Parliament here in Ottawa, Canada. I’m also very interested in developing my own hand tools and by the time WIA happens in September, I’ll be able to share some more exiting news about that!
Are you still making music? What correlations do you draw between the artistry of woodworking and songwriting?
Music, like woodworking, is a lifetime obsession. It isn’t something that stops. I pick up a guitar everyday and I’m always writing. In fact, I’m making plans to record a new, full length album either in August or by next winter at the latest. Writing, working wood, making music – they all come from that same creative place inside. When I’m able to blur the lines and combine these mediums, is when I’m most happy. I thoroughly enjoy editing my woodworking videos, adding my own music to the landscape [and] creating something that I hope is unique in the genre of how-to, woodworking videos. A guitar is also on my bucket list of things to build, and one of these days…months…years… I’ll no doubt get around to making one!
What are you looking forward to most at WIA?
An event like WIA is about the experience. It’s about sharing a passion with like-minded people. I look forward to spending a weekend with individuals who love the same things I love, they get excited about the things I get excited about. As creatives, we tend to work alone most of the time; being able to spend a weekend surrounded by peers, is really what it’s all about. At least that’s my take on it. Seeing a pile of hand tools will also be pretty sweet!
Don’t miss Tom Fidgen at Woodworking In America, September 25-27, 2015. Click to learn more about WIA.