Woodworking Overseas is a Rocky Road | Popular Woodworking Magazine
 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Woodworking Blogs

This week I’m headed to Germany to teach a couple classes at Dictum in Bavaria. I don’t teach much anymore, but I make a grand exception for Dictum for several reasons. The biggest reason? The woodworkers overseas are much more hardcore than those in North America.

Amateur woodworkers in the European Union (EU) have an uphill battle for the following reasons (and many more):

  1. Wood is much more difficult to find and is more expensive. Many lumber operations in the EU cater to professionals only or are indifferent to amateurs.
  2. Tools are more expensive. This is for a variety of reasons too complex to explore here. Taxes, historical trading relationships and market demand are a few good reasons. Bottom line: Getting started in woodworking in the EU is more expensive.
  3. Getting instruction can be difficult. There are fewer schools, and some trade organizations discourage members from teaching amateurs.
  4. Space. Many home in the EU are far smaller than a typical home in North America. There’s little room for a workshop.
  5. Masonry. Most homes in the EU are built using masonry construction. In North America, most homes are framed from wood. This makes a huge difference. Amateur woodworkers in North America usually start by doing basic carpentry in their homes. EU woodworkers don’t have the luxury of a system of home centers designed to help you work with wood.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. The interesting result of all the above limitations is that woodworkers in the EU are deadly serious. Perhaps because of the limitations listed above, when I get a class full of students in the EU, I know they are there to soak up every minute of instruction.

Teaching in the EU is also a huge challenge. While the students are enthusiastic, there is sometimes a language barrier. I’ve had classes with six nationalities represented. And there is an enormous difference in the woodworking culture to overcome. Many European countries have a different tool kit and a different approach to the craft. I’ve had to become adept at using a bowsaw and planing with wooden-bodied planes that are quite different from ours.

But in the end, it’s completely worth it. It’s a bit weird for me as an American to teach ancient woodworking methods in the countries that invented the techniques, but I’m thrilled to do it.

Look for more posts on international woodworking in the coming days.

— Christopher Schwarz

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