My biggest arguments while at Popular Woodworking Magazine weren’t about hand tools vs. power tools, Shaker vs. Arts & Crafts, Grizzly Industrial vs. everyone else. Instead we fought about a question you might not think about: Isn’t so-and-so woodworker full of crap?
When you get experienced woodworkers around a table and throw them an article from someone new, the reaction is: This dingus doesn’t know how to cut a dado. This is the most ridiculously made dado ever. (Yes, those words have actually been spoken.)
The other side of the argument goes like this: The “dingus” has been cutting dados like this for 20 years and makes a good living at it. Don’t you think his method is worth entertaining?
For me, the diversity of voices is the most important part of teaching woodworking. Yes, diversity can confuse a reader – 21 ways to sharpen an awl and 43 ways to make a rabbet. It’s easy (and lazy – sorry) to think: Wouldn’t it be be better if magazines showed readers the best way, based on the staff’s decades of experience?
To which I say: No.
Strict rules are for factories and defusing atomic bombs. Woodworking doesn’t have many “best practices” because we all have different tools and goals. As an editor I’ll entertain any operation that’s safe and well-considered. (Yes, you can cut a rabbet with a marking gauge and chisel.)
Even techniques that seem on the fringe can rescue you in a tight spot. When I first read about “former gouges” I thought: Yeah, I’ll never use those. But then I had to remove a huge amount of material from an isolated area that was tricky to get to. And I thought: Ha! Former gouges – my new best friends!
And so I’ll make a statement that will get me in trouble. When I hear woodworking instructors say they teach only the best techniques, I think they really mean that they teach only the techniques they are intimately familiar with. In other words, they haven’t opened their minds to the all the wild ways we can transform a tree into something useful.
Being flexible makes your shop time more enjoyable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered woodworkers who are making a jig that will be used to make a jig that will accomplish the desired task. And my response is: Uhh, take this gouge and remove the wood that needs to disappear.
— Christopher Schwarz
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