Sunny Tampa and The Woodworking Show – but No Women and Children

DSC_0143Yesterday opened as usual right on time and my booth started filling two minutes later.  It seemed to me that from that opening things never really slowed down for me.
Sunshine makes all the difference to any day and although I couldn’t see outside from the hall, people seemed happy and engaged. For me the demonstrations are more the means to engage people so that openness is critical and often hinges on the interest they have in the possibility of becoming competent with hand tools. It is unfortunate that most peoplemseemmto know that they cannot gain mastery in hand planing or sawing and I know that they can. Unless you have that faith that you can, you won’t and so my goals are different than most people at the show.
DSC_0019Today I am going to start making the workbench from scratch. It’s quite a challenge for me and means additional hard work. I plan to plane chop and saw some hemlock/fir into a decent bench and then who knows what we will do with it. The exercise will be good for me, that’s a lot of hand planing, but I do want people to get off the conveyor belt a little.
I am still very concerned about children in woodworking issue. Yesterday I saw two girls and one boy in the whole show and only a handful of women. That is no fault of the show,me or the other vendors. I think this is directly attributed to machine manufacturers who do indeed hog the market and have nothing to offer to balance out the problem. Since machines dominate the market of woodworking and in fact invade sanity at every level, we will never see this change. No one seems to be responsible for bringing about change and so the problem goes on. Eventually this situation will be sealed and woodworking could one day become a machine only form of making and no longer a craft.

This next comments will indeed get me in deep, deep water. You cannot use a machine to work wood and call it Woodcraft. The machine substitutes for the very thing we call skill and art, but it cannot replace it. Anyone that says a machine is a tool can never understand the art and craft of woodworking. As long as we think and express this, we will never see children and women in the wood shop working with their hands.

24 comments

  1. We have become slaves to technology. We text rather than call and actually speak to each other. We email rather than write a letter. In fact, many schools have ceased teaching cursive writing. We have taught ourselves to depend on machines for “perfection”
    Lately I have found myself wanting to do more hand work rather than listen to the machines whine all day. I’m sharpening my chisels, used your recommendations to sharpen my hand saw, and bought a Stanley #4 made in 1939 from ebay and spent a couple of hours bringing it back to life. I want to bring my grandchildren into the shop and teach them what I’ve learned over the years.
    Take heart my friend, your work is keeping the craft alive.

  2. I’m glad you wrote me about this. Dialogue will help address the issues of imbalance and at the same time help resolve the problem. Traditionally women haven’t worked in any of the wood shops I have worked in and I never saw women in photo references of wood shops before I began. Realistically, women are not likely to find work as a woodworker in this day and age any more than a man will because the jobs don’t exist as they once did. You have to be pretty good to get a job on hand work to get a salaried position. I asked in each of my seminars over the weekend how many of the people there earned any aspect of their living from woodworking. No hands went up out of 10 seminars with 60 people on average in each one. I ask at every show and the answer is always the same. Woodworking shows and magazines generally cater to amatuer woodworkers because professional are in so small a number these providers would collapse without that audience. That being the case, in essence, my question is valid and so too my concerns. Because no one can responsibly put anyone under the age of 21 on an industrial machine like a bandsaw or a tablesaw or a router, planer, jointer, radial arm saw or chop saw, and any machine that has an electric motor falls in this category, we have lost children simply because it’s become an adults-only craft if of course you only use machines. Most woodworkers do indeed do most of their woodworking using only machines. A few use machines and hand tools and some, a very small percentage use hand tools seriously and with genuine skill. So my point still stands. We have lost our children in woodworking. Prove me wrong, anyone. That does not mean there are no children at all, but you show me how many. I think there has been a gross injustice done to young people by removing hand tools from the world of woodworking and it is a sad reflection of the 60-80’s when most magazines, schools and industry providers failed to present balanced perspectives, options and alternatives.
    I think too that many women feel intimidated by many things surrounding woodworking when there is no reason for them not to work wood outside or inside industry. I think that they are right to feel intimidated by highly dangerous machines but so too men today are unused to the physical and mental demand-requirements it takes to work with woodworking machines. This is not gender specific, although I do think that women show higher levels of respect for machine woodworking and shy away from it because it is so highly invasive and aggressive. I was raised with machines, worked with them for 49 years, and I find them invasive. We should find them invasive.
    Again, I really appreciate you giving balance to the discussion.

    • cheryl says:

      That is really very interesting, thank you. Until you put it like that, I never thought about how the current absence of hand tools would eliminate children and adult women from getting more involved with woodworking. And yet, I have lived with those same fears of giant screaming cutting tools all my life, so really what you said should be nothing new. I tried taking a class once, many years ago because I wanted to learn how to work with power tools safely, so I could make affordably nice things without cutting off my fingers. But the class only taught us how to use… massively expensive professional shop type machines, and those were far too pricey to ever wind up in my garage.

      I just wanted to learn how to make my own box. There’s an awful lot you can do with boxes. Those chinese stairs, for starters. :-) http://www.houzz.com/photos/2893979/Step-Tansu-asian-storage-boxes-san-francisco Always seemed like if you could make a box in your garage then you could make anything. A bathroom vanity, a bed. Since the couch I want is $5,000 and all it is, is a few boxes with foam and springs and legs, I have decided that by god I’m going to learn how to make a box.

  3. Paul, I disagree with your assertion that the use of machines negates the ability to call a piece handcrafted. I don’t know many that don’t use machines as their corded apprentices. The fun part of any project for me comes with the fine tuning to fit joints. If your assertion was true, Sam Maloof’s work was not truly handcrafted, nor Krenov, nor Frid, and the list of masters goes on and on. Yes, I believe you must master all the tools you use, but not only the hand tools.

    • Here is what I actually said, and this follows a longer dialogue surrounding my concerns:
      “This next comments will indeed get me in deep, deep water. You cannot use a machine to work wood and call it Woodcraft. The machine substitutes for the very thing we call skill and art, but it cannot replace it. Anyone that says a machine is a tool can never understand the art and craft of woodworking. As long as we think and express this, we will never see children and women in the wood shop working with their hands.”
      Now then, who said that the people mentioned above are not “masters”. They used the bandsaw to rough-cut material to remove waste but then shaped the remainder by eye and hand. It is not semantics to say that shaping with an angle grinder is different than using a rasp. Or that using a router and dovetail jig is the same as using a dovetail saw, chisel and mallet. This is not apples for apples in any way. one is a machine that replaces skill, the other is a machine that takes the donkey work out of sawing. It’s all about balance.

      • Then we do agree. I don’t feel you can make a really good piece on machinery alone. I don’t feel they allow the finesse it takes for all the finer points. Thanks for clarifying, Paul.

  4. I think that you will find that i have been addressing the imbalances for twenty years and more and that what you said above is exactly what I have been both advocating and doing. So, we are not really on a different page, just, as i said, concerned that women and children are left out because you cannot put a nine year old on a bandsaw or a 16 year old on a tablesaw without being utterly consumed with concerns for their physical strength and mental acuity and the reality they are likely to at some point get a kickback they cannot control because they never experienced it before.. My concerns and thoughts are open and balanced in the reality of my experience and we need to undo what people in the industry have done to woodworking.

    • Not a nine year old, certainly. But a sixteen year old? By sixteen I not only knew how to safely operate a table saw, but firearms as well. By any realistic measure, automobiles are more dangerous than either one, and many 16 year olds are operating those, at least under supervision. Give the young people some credit, they aren’t stupid or feeble. Teach them correct principles, give them some supervision and they’re no less able to safely operate powered tools than an 21 year old with similar training. I’m not suggesting being cavalier, but the lengths to which we go to attempt to “protect” young people from the real world is becoming a bit pathological, and it does them no favors. I don’t think I personally know a single woodworker who wasn’t operating power tools before the age of 21. All fingers present and accounted for.

        • Okay, buy you just said “no one can responsibly put anyone under the age of 21 on an industrial machine like a bandsaw or a tablesaw or a router, planer, jointer, radial arm saw or chop saw, and any machine that has an electric motor falls in this category” – so which is it?

          • Paul Sellers says:

            My comment tied in with the legal position under Federal ruling for commercial set ups and not for home shops. I haven’t looked at this for some time but if you dig around there are age limits and so I suggest 21 as a protective age in general. Here is a link to get started if interested. I should have made it clearer.

          • I think it is best to take Paul’s stance and watch closely for kids who are exceptions you can nurture into safe, responsible machine users. My high school had me on a lathe, disc sander, band saw and welder in grade eight, but the table saw was teacher only. Probably a smart choice for a room full of 13-14 year olds.

          • Jason Pettitt says:

            “so which is it?” ~ Bradley Gawthrop.
            That question, and I believe this is part of Paul’s point – he can correct me if otherwise – is answered by insurance companies.

    • Dan Oelke says:

      I do put my 16 year old behind a table saw. Actually – I don’t “put” him there – he goes out to the garage and makes things using the table saw, jointer, planer, lathe, etc. etc.

      I trust him to drive thousands of pounds of steel around at deadly speeds. I also trust him to use other machinery safely.

      It makes me proud to know that he loves to makes things and is the guy that a lot of his friends turn to when they need something made. Maybe it is a plaque to mount horns on, or a ice-fishing house. (Now if I could just get him to put my tools away…. he is still a teenager)

      No – you probably can’t safely put every 16 year old behind a table saw – but you also can’t safely put many 20-something, or 30-something, or even 50-something people behind a table saw. Some people just don’t think about what is safe.

  5. Justin, Thanks for taking the time to bring balance to this and i agree with you and others who have taken the time and trouble to write me. We have these in hand. We do offer woodworking for women as a beginning woodworking course because it evens out the unfair disparity of our modern culture and the needs of women are different to men in many but not all cases. The difference between the US and the UK is a hard fact. 43% of my course attendees in the UK are women, in the US that figure is remarkably different. In the US it is less than 3%. No one addresses this kind of disparity except to accuse, ridicule and undermine the fact that there has been a demise caused directly by mass manufacturing and sales of machines to an unsuspecting society. I ask the questions at my bench at the shows and in my seminars what holds women back from woodworking. The answer is pretty clear; most women are very fearful of machines and rightly so, a percentage of men are fearful of machines and rightly so. They are not used to them and until you have a series of near misses you cannot know what i am talking about. I am thankful that i still have all of my fingers. We tend to gloss over the effects of becoming a machine only world of woodworking. Have you ever noticed that those demonstrating the use of machines in wood craft stores or at shows, rarely wear any self protection. I saw a six year old watching someone turn on the lathe 12″ away from the first-time woodturner this weekend and there was nothing between the child, wood being turned and the gouge being used. In this case, the girl turning was unaware of the danger of the child facing her, but worse than that was the fact that the man teaching her and overseeing her did not see the danger either.
    The idea is not to show the danger, but everyone will say, “No, we took the guards off for clarity and we took the faceshields off for clarity and the dust masks, well we have extraction. Fact is, skilful machine operators not usually woodworkers, try to convey the ease of the machine, the precision of the machine, the cool, laid back simplicity of the machine. It’s bad for sales to wear dust masks, face shields and ear defenders. I am afraid it is an unreal world of great danger to people. There are times when it takes great effort to resist kickback a Sawstop doesn’t stop. Until that happens to you, you don’t know what the right response is. These are the core issues.

  6. Kevin Fitzsimons says:

    If it were not for machines, I’d bet there would be a fraction of people, men or women, involved in woodworking. Machines make planing lumber, cutting to size, dadoes, etc. possible for newcomers to the craft. If they were given a scrub plane, jointer, and a smoothing plane, they would last only hours, if that long learning woodwork. I would say most of us have “progressed” from power tools to using many hand tools because we want a challenge having mastered our machines.

    I also think most people get into woodworking because they had to, or wanted to make some item for their home. They are not going to begin with all hand tools. I think you’d find a very natural progression from home improvement projects to gaining an interest in wood craft in most enthusiasts. I do know a few young woodworkers who had a parent who taught them or they took shop in high school.
    One still needs to use a machine with great skill to make a piece of fine furniture. The results are the same and to say otherwise is just plane wrong and arrogant.

  7. Paul,

    I’ve read your post a few times now. I have to say that I find the last two (2) paragraphs to be the kind of divisive statements that hurt the community of woodworkers. To suggest that machines are hogging the market and have nothing to offer to balance out the problem ignores the fascination with machines that children have and the safe experience using machines many teenagers have had.

    It’s the last paragraph that I find truly offensive though. “You cannot use a machine to work wood and call it Woodcraft. The machine substitutes for the very thing we call skill and art, but cannot replace it.” With that statement you’ve effectively called out almost everyone practicing woodcraft as a fraud. I take offense to that and I know others do too.

    In your comments you’ve said to take you statements in context. As a fellow blogger, I’ll remind you that you cannot expect your audience to read all of your other posts in order to bring meaning to the current one. There is nothing in the context of this post that diminishes or explains away the insult of those statements regarding machines.

    I have used my own blog and made my opinion of your statements clear. Essentially what I’ve said here, but in more words. I have also been part of a discussion on twitter regarding your comments. Most have concurred with me that they are divisive and offensive.

    It was mentioned to me that the conversation should occur here, in your comments. I disagree with this because your blog is essentially a publishing platform you control. I chose to make my response on a publishing platform I control (my blog) and the discussion occurred in a forum we both belong to (twitter). I see that as meeting on neutral ground.

    That said, you don’t seem to do much more than push content on twitter and you do certainly deserve to know how your statements have insulted me and so many others. So I’m leaving this comment on your blog.
    I’m not looking to troll or drum up traffic for myself, so I’ll not reply to any more comments (unless you explicitly ask me to). I simply wish that next time you decide to make bold, attack statements please consider that you’re insulting and dividing your fellow woodworkers and that’s the best way to hurt woodcraft.

    Dyami

    • Jason Pettitt says:

      Hold on kiddo.

      The difference between a machine and a tool is that the machine does the work without the person, where as the tool is a thing a person uses to do work. It’s not a power tool versus hand tool distinction. It’s a machine vs tool distinction.

      If you’re doing craft (as opposed to say industrial design) then the input from the person doing the making is by definition important.

      Paul’s obviously an enthusiastic advocate for hand tools and work benches, but
      I’m sure he’d agree that plenty of people do good wood-craft with a router or a
      chainsaw.

  8. Eli Cleveland says:

    Mr. Sellers,

    I am not familiar with your work or perspective, but I am intrigued by this idea that manufacturers are hindering demographic shifts in woodworking. Are you referring to the tools they make or the advertising, marketing, and market forces surrounding them? Perhaps both?

    Also, could you briefly explain what your mean by “woodcraft” and “the art and craft.” If you have written about it before, a link would be plenty. I will try to go through your archives, as well.

    Also, in case you were not aware, this blog produced some strong reactions around the web at Popular Woodworking (“Codswallop”), the Penultimate Woodshop, Tom’s Workbench, and particularly on Twitter. (I was not sure the etiquette on outside links, but the articles should be easily found just by a web search).

    Thanks for the thoughts,

    Eli

  9. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for all the content you have on this site and for sharing it. I have very much enjoyed the sharpening methods (of which I have adopted myself) and the affordable tool guide. Could I just clarify one thing? Does the statement “Anyone that says a machine is a tool can never understand the art and craft of woodworking” really help or was it to provoke both a reaction and a discussion? I would agree that hand tool work is a joy but if I use my planer thicknesser to prepare boards for a project rather than using hand planes and I call that machine a tool do I not understand woodworking? Perhaps it might be nice to concentrate on getting a balance? Preparing all stock by hand for a large project would be off putting to many, especially when we only have fleeting moments at the bench. In that case I would see power tools or machines supporting the crafts person.

    In response to other postings I would also like to reassure you that there are still many good apprenticeships out there blending both power and hand tool work. I have had the pleasure of working with apprentices and time served crafts people each with their own approach to working with wood. One thing I would not be prepared to do is label any of them as unable to understand woodworking if they picked up a power tool

    I Look forward to more good content on your blog and website.

  10. KB says:

    As a woman who teaches women to use a wide of tools I can tell you exactly why there are not more women in woodworking.

    Just this week in a forum that is primarily women one member told me that she knew her fear of using tools such as saws, lathes and planers was irrational. I replied that I thought fear when using tools was a completely rational emotional that helped to remind us to work safely and to stay focused on task. Even just the acknowledgement that beginners are often nervous of failure and injuries makes a difference. You also need to realize that boys almost always get taught to cope with fear but that this is not always taught to girls. So if you want to see more women in woodworking it has to be addressed but not of course in a demeaning way.

    Another thing that does not get discussed is that holding and moving tools does not always feel natural or comfortable when you try something. We have to teach the students to expect those feelings of “this does not feel right” and teach them that feeling will go away with practice. Second to losing women at their first woodworking attempts to fear of tools this is the next biggest stumbling block for them. This again goes back to childhood and early lessons that are mostly addressed in sports training. Not everyone realizes that our brains will adapt to accept new body positioning movements and that with repetition it will memorize them so that the movements then feel natural. That they need to focus on holding the tools as the instructions show and that they must resist that urge to change to a position that feels more familiar to them.

    Most of the times the guest on woodworking shows are experts who have long since moved past the discomfort levels so this subject of how to cope and move past nervous fear and/or physical discomfort with tools is very rarely discussed. When we start to publicly tell people at the introduction of woodworking lessons that it is normal for beginners to have these inhibiting feelings and let them know how to move past it there will be more woodworkers of both genders.

  11. Raven says:

    I love how this stirred the hornets nest. Perfect choice of words Paul! It’s hard to believe we have a world wide free dictionary called Wikipedia in how many languages? and people don’t seem to use it. If machines are used for the majority of your work no, you are not skilled in woodcraft but you are no doubt a wood worker. Here is the definition from Wikipedia on “worker” “A worker is a person who works. This usually means a person who does manual labor, like manufacturing goods.” Lifting all that wood into machines I would call manual labor indeed. the word “Craft” has a definition as follows “an activity involving skill in making things by hand.” did you see the “by hand” part? Using a machine is not by hand and does not fit the definition of “woodcraft”

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