Welcome, Gentles All - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Welcome, Gentles All

 In Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs

Below is an advance of my editor’s note from the May/June 2017 issue (which mails to subscribers April 12 and is on newsstands April 25). I want everyone (subscriber or no – but you really should subscribe!) to know that we welcome queries from any and all woodworkers, and that I’d love to see more diversity in our pages. But it’s a two-way street.

I’m about to break a self-imposed rule about keeping “politics” of any sort out of the magazine. Avert your eyes and turn the page now if that rankles.

A recent social media post from Laura Mays, director of the fine woodworking program at the College of the Redwoods (which becomes the Krenov School on July 1), called attention to the lack of representation in woodworking magazines of people other than white men.

She is not wrong – in this and the other mass-market woodworking magazines, the majority of the articles are written by white men.

I can speak only for myself of course, but I suspect at least most of today’s woodworking editors would agree:
We welcome queries from any excellent woodworker – women and men (cisgender, transgender, gay, straight, bi-sexual, asexual) of all ages, races, nationalities, religions and political persuasions. The queries we develop into articles reflect the best techniques and builds that are appropriate for our audience (and in our case, by those who can also supply high-quality digital photography, and a SketchUp model…or a good napkin drawing).

At every woodworking show or event I attend, I actively encourage queries from those who are underrepresented in our pages (as well as those who aren’t). I contact women whose great work I see on Instagram and other social media, and invite them to talk with me about a possible article. After that – and perhaps a follow-up email or two – it is up to that woodworker.

If someone doesn’t have the time and desire to write, I’m not going to beg. It’s not that I’m too proud – it’s that I’ve never read an inspired and inspiring woodworking article by an author who wasn’t excited about the subject. (I’ve read some OK ones by less-than-eager writers – but I want better than just OK.)

That’s not to say all of our freelancers are stellar wordsmiths in addition to stellar woodsmiths (though many of them are); my job is to take a raw article and make it sing – and I do compare it to music. I’d much rather listen to someone with an interesting voice or unexpected intonation or surprising approach or new sound than to a trained vocalist with a three-octave range who can hit notes perfectly but in a blasé or expected manner. (Why yes, I do like Bob Dylan.)

But for many people, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” That is, it is encouraging to see someone who looks relatively like you doing the thing you want to do – particularly if you feel unwelcome due to, say, eons of patriarchy or racism (or both). It’s been a long time since the first woman or first non-white maker was featured in this and other woodworking magazines – but it does remain relatively rare.

So if you’re an excellent woodworker from a group that is under-represented here, consider this your special invitation to step up…if you want. Again, I’m not going to beg.

We’re going to continue buying the queries that represent the best in woodworking – no matter who writes them. But it would be nice to hear some new, interesting voices.  PWM

— Megan Fitzpatrick

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Showing 24 comments
  • knothole

    I don’t care what Laura Mays thinks. Maybe most articles are by white men, and some women, because more white people have an interest in and participate in woodworking. How would you know the race or sexual orientation of an author unless they bring it up in their article? If I submit an article, do I need to tell you I am a straight white man?
    I want to learn more about woodworking, but when deviants start promoting their perversions in woodworking magazines, my subscriptions will be cancelled.
    Many other types of magazines have been promoting homosexuality, and I no longer look at them.
    Stick with quality articles about woodworking. Once the liberalism of “diversity” begins, ruination and decline are the results.

  • earthartinc

    It all started 50 years ago…
    Shop class for Boys and Home Ec for girls.
    Us boys loved what we did and always wanted more time to do it. Exposure at an early age is the key, you are willing to risk, try and fail and not have the ego to really care. So, I am teaching my Grand Daughter, well at least letting her try right now!

  • MickDouglas

    I am an old white guy who loves woodworking, but I also teach woodworking here in Australia.
    The thing I can say on this matter is that I always have a wide variety of students from both sexes, all races, religions, ages and sexual persuasions (no I don’t ask, these things come up in conversation in a relaxed happy class environment where everyone feels included).
    I applaud Megan for having the gumption to stand up and post this article and I do hope that more people will have a go at submitting articles. What we all need to remember is this is about woodworking no matter who is doing it.

  • ColonelEd

    We have some of the most talented women in our woodworking club. Since they can beautifully describe their projects in great detail at a meeting or workshop, I’m going to recommend they start writing articles for our newsletter. If I can get them to do that, I’ll try to get them to send something your way.

  • Kevin

    There are a number of admittedly older white men on here that seem incredulous that it could be somehow intimidating to write an article for a magazine or a genre that is dominated by older white men. Megan simply said don’t be afraid to submit. We want to hear from all of you no matter the cubbyhole you or someone else puts yourself into. She categorically stated that quality will be the guide for her decision to include new content but that she would hope for as broad an audience in her readers AS WELL as her writers. I see this as nothing but a win win win for those running PWM, submitting content for PWM, and those of us that enjoy reading PWM. One of the ways PWM expands into areas other than workbenches and tool chests (to use the comments of a few others in this thread) is to broaden in submitting base. And if in doing so, the readership broadens into inclusion beyond the older white male base, then bravo! Woodworking as a whole gains new talent and possibly new eyes and perspectives. I for one think you’re spot on, Megan, and that’s coming from a 50 year old straight white male with facial hair.

  • manitario

    The majority of WW mags could be renamed “White Guys with Tools”. Not that the gender or ethnicity of the woodworker matters but “White Guys with Tools” seems to equal Shaker and Arts and Crafts style projects. As styles go they’ve had a great run, but it’d be nice to see a greater variety in the woodworkers and hopefully a greater diversity in woodworking style with them.

    • MikeV

      What do Nakashima, Maloof and Krenov have in common? Yes, they were all men but certainly not men of your typical white WASP background building rectilinear furniture. They were all children of immigrants. Innovation is absolutely dependent on finding people with diverse backgrounds and opinions. I wonder if FWW or PW would even publish the work of someone as innovative today? Considering exhibit A mostly focuses on shaker and reproductions and exhibit B likes to look more to the past than the future (not a critique of either, just a fact) I doubt it.

  • Bill Lattanzio

    Before wondering why mainly “white guys” write woodworking articles, it has to be conceded that woodworking is a hobby and profession dominated by white men. Why does this matter? It doesn’t to me and most people I know but apparently it matters to some people.

    The real questions are: Have you ever purposely excluded/denied a submission because the writer wasn’t a “white man”? How often do you receive submissions from non “white men” and maybe most importantly, how do you know what race they are?

    From what little I know about your operation, I can’t imagine you or anyone else caring who wrote the article as long as you felt it was worthy of print. And I give you credit for at least mentioning this in particular because the original post wasn’t directed solely at PW.

    It seems to me that Laura Mays is in a much better position to facilitate her own request than you or any other woodworking magazine editor. She is in a position to advise her students to learn to develop writing and media skills along with their knowledge of woodworking. She could also begin by encouraging the people that she feels have somehow been excluded to take up both woodworking and writing.

    In my opinion, PW or any woodworking magazine, is in a sense the culmination of an aspiring woodworker/writers goals in the professional world. I’m not saying it’s the “end all be all”, but it certainly is a milestone. Of course that journey has to start somewhere, and where better than school?

    So if you want my two cents, you’re doing just fine. It’s Laura who needs to get to work.

    • MikeV

      It only matters to me because I like innovation, and innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. So my post above re: Nakashima, Maloof, Krenov. Arguably the 3 biggest names in 20th century woodworking. I doubt they would get published in either magazine today. Their stuff would be “too different”

      • Bill Lattanzio

        Whatever makes you happy. I’m only pointing out that none of us, including Laura Mays, have any real way of truly knowing if people are being somehow excluded, or if they just aren’t out there writing those articles and building those pieces in the first place. Whatever the case, people like Laura are in a better position, as a woodworking educator, to get the ball rolling so to speak.

        I would assume that a woodworking magazine is in business to make money and to do that they cater to a target audience. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I would also assume that the target audience is made up of mostly amateur woodworkers whose skills would allow them to make a Shaker cabinet in their spare time. I could say pretty much for certain that most woodworkers who read PW would probably love to have read some articles by Sam Maloof if it were possible, but I can guarantee that the magazine couldn’t concisely provide your typical amateur woodworker with the instruction on how to build one of his pieces unless they had planned on dedicating many months worth of issues to do so. There are entire books printed describing the construction of a Maloof style rocker and even those fall short of the mark.

        I’m hardly a magazine editor, but I have to think that part of the job of the editor is to chose content that fits the format of the magazine including size constraints. That all being said, I don’t see many people more or less objecting to different content. From what I’ve read in the comments here, some commenters, including myself, have an issue not with diversity, but with what appears to be an accusation of exclusion, not by PW, but in general.

        Rather than being concerned with why so few women are professional woodworkers, Laura Mays’ original post seems to wonder why FWW has so many white men working there, at least that is how I see it, otherwise she wouldn’t have mentioned the publication by name. As I said before, that is likely because most woodworkers and woodworking writers in America are white men.

        If Laura were somehow privy to the knowledge that FWW was purposely ignoring all of the work submitted by everybody who didn’t happen to be a white man IMO she should have also mentioned that fact, otherwise it comes off as little more than a subtle accusation of both racism and bigotry.

        I was merely trying to point out that in my opinion it isn’t necessarily the responsibility of the magazine world to make sure that their contributors are diverse for diversity’s sake. This article openly welcomed all comers, but that means nothing if few women or “non-whites” woodwork in NA to begin with. Laura Mays, as the director of an educational program at a university, is in a far, far better position to recruit and educate a diverse group of woodworkers and potential writers than any magazine is capable of doing.

  • MikeV

    Back in the 60s the hippies had a saying “if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem”. The whole theory of affirmative action and equal opportunity is that you absolutely need to go out of your way if you want to help. Yes, you do need to beg. Otherwise you are part of the problem.

    Look, the other magazine has the whole “old white guys building traditional fine furniture” thing covered. You have been running with the tool chest and work bench theme for like 10 years now.

    It seems to me this is your opportunity to differentiate. go out and find these young people and see what they are building out of wood, metal, glass and positively engage them.

    • robert

      I agree with Mike V. It is time to move on from the tool chest and work bench theme. There is more out there – take a look at Instagram for inspiration. Yes, the magazine is about building stuff primarily out of wood, but don’t be afraid to examine the potential of using other materials – metal, glass, etc. (e.g. “Welding for Woodworkers”)

  • snkenai

    Prime example of the new PC culture, breaking down our established culture. The question should never come up. Let the work speak for it’s self. I should only “see” the hands and the work. If this is what is becoming a “featured content” here, I’ll just bid you all “good day”, delete the site book mark, and drift on in my own small world. As an crotchety, old, tired, white man with facial hair, with a weak heart, I don’t need the stress.
    Steve Noel

  • rjhanby

    Trying to solicit submissions from everyone is a great and wonderful thing. The subtext (that I perceive) is that material from these “under represented classes” would be more desirable than better materiel from more traditional sources. That is also discriminatory. (Paraphrase Alert), I dream of a world where people are judged by the excellence of their skills and not by the color of their skin or whatever their brain has worked out is a good time on Friday night.

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      The point is that perhaps not everyone feels welcome to submit articles for consideration to the magazine, or welcome in woodworking in general; they are. There’s a stunning amount of good work going in the WW world – I’d like to have more choices, and from more people – that is all. We will continue to buy for publication only the best.

      • nellinghof

        How is it possible that anyone feels unwelcome? Has PW made any statements or done anything to discourage anyone? I agree with Bill Lattanzio, Laura has the problem. Its not Laura’s job to force other businesses make her feel good when they cave in to her demands. It’s disgusting and totally uncalled for. Tell Laura to mind her own business even if you loose her advertising dollars. In fact I encourage anyone who feels disenfranchised to show up at Laura’s doorstep and demand she give them free instruction at woodworking classes because we all know we “owe” them free everything for eternity for these imagined social injustices.

  • pmac

    That’s quite a can of worms you just opened. To take this to the logical extreme, in order to ensure that you are being inclusive, you will have to start asking submitters their race, gender and sexual preference and any other way you want to catagonize people and then report that as part of the article (via a biographical statement or a picture of the author) to show to the readership that, to extend your phrasing, “you can be what you see”. I don’t think that will be in the best interest of your magazine or readers. Probably not even legal. Personally I don’t think most readers care. They want an articulate author who can make the project accessible to their own skill set.

    I do think you hit the nail in the head when you said you will ask but you won’t beg. It is up to the individual to submit his or her work which to be quite honest is a way for most of them (the professionals) to market themselves and their own work or business.
    The real problem might be that woodworking and shop classes in general have been eliminated from most high school curriculums and when I was in shop class, it was all guys. So maybe the solution is to work with woodworking schools to expand the base or with local school districts and tool makers to get shop classes back in school. Just my two cents and I’m not trying to attack you in anyway I’m just trying to promote a thoughtful conversation.

    • erichlund

      “That’s quite a can of worms”…

      Well, not really. It’s still about the quality of the article or request. There’s no implied preference for gender/race specific items. The simple statement is that if you choose to participate, your submission will be given equal consideration to all the others. That’s the way it should be.

      • pmac

        I agree, it is about the article and content which is why I wrote what I wrote.
        She first defined the under represented groups as:

        “We welcome queries from any excellent woodworker – women and men (cisgender, transgender, gay, straight, bi-sexual, asexual) of all ages, races, nationalities, religions and political persuasions.”

        (How would she know any of those things from an email submission unless the author told her? Maybe the name could give a clue to gender but other than that, how? So the magazine can’t discriminate based on any of those.)

        She then encourages them to send in articles:

        “But for many people, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” That is, it is encouraging to see someone who looks relatively like you doing the thing you want to do – particularly if you feel unwelcome due to, say, eons of patriarchy or racism (or both). It’s been a long time since the first woman or first non-white maker was featured in this and other woodworking magazines – but it does remain relatively rare.
        So if you’re an excellent woodworker from a group that is under-represented here, consider this your special invitation to step up…if you want. Again, I’m not going to beg.”

        My point was that she didn’t need to say any of it. She just had to just ask for submissions. If she is trying to promote readership by having people “see” people like themselves doing a certain task in order to attempt it, then she will have to announce to people that so and so woodworker is gay, bi, straight, white, black, Asian, male, female, transgender, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, whatever, in order to promote the magazine to that group. Otherwise, trying to get past the idea of “you can’t be what you can’t see” wouldn’t work unless you knew what you were seeing: Gay woodworker, libertarian woodworker, atheist woodworker etc. That was the can of worms I was referring to. You really can’t ask those questions, nor should you care. As you said its the quality of the article.

        • jeffko

          With all due respect, you have a straight white man’s understanding of the situation.

          • mphelps

            Comments like this are unnecessary. The implication is that a straight white man’s understanding of a situation is somehow inferior or faulty. I am a straight white man. I welcome diversity and would love to see articles of quality submitted by anybody be they male, female, white, black, red, brown or whatever. I don’t care what religion or non-religion an author associates with.

            What I cannot abide is complaining. (I’m not referring to the previous post, or any other post on this article when I say this. I am referring to society in general.) I am thoroughly tired of hearing people from various groups complain about being under-represented in one thing or another. If you are a person from a group that you feel is under-represented then submit an article. I am very confident that the editors of Popular Woodworking and other woodworking magazines will be glad to receive it and publish it as long as it is of good quality.

            That is the solution to the diversity problem. I don’t think that the woodworking community suffers from any conscious bias towards people of either gender or any specific race or religion, but if you think it does then break the barrier by submitting your work. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the reception.

    • jeffko

      It’s not a can of worms at all—no need to be overly dramatic. Representation is important, and I’d love to see a more diverse stable of writers at PW.

  • mvflaim

    It’s not just white men, it’s old white men… No wait a minute, it’s old, grumpy white men. On second thought, it’s old, grumpy white men with facial hair. Yeah that’s it! Old, grumpy white men with facial hair write wodworking articles for magazines.

    • glennwarner

      I braced myself for the “politics” and prepared to be rankled. Didn’t happen. A very reasonable request.
      If any of us old white guys have any diverse friends, let’s encourage them to respond to Megan’s heartfelt offer. Wood don’t care who works it.

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