Answers behind the Questions

I think that it is no small thing that so many people ask questions of me that tell me what is on their mind, or, perhaps more relevant, what is on their heart. Now this is a good cross section of the general public, not so much woodworkers but them too. These people would naturally be interested in history, conservation, culture, workmanship in craft (as distinct from hobbyism) and so hold concern for the future and good management of resources and so on. Now this makes my perspective different than say someone going in to the tyre (tire US) depot or the printing suppliers, Home Depot or B&Q, where there is no dialogue beyond buying and selling. Somehow, my workshop breaks down all barriers and I mean every and all barriers, to the point that they feel confident that they can ask honest questions and I have a point in saying what I am saying.

In my view people are concerned about the future. They are misguided by false prophets, bad teaching and people preaching wrong messages about materials, methods of work and so on. For instance, TV, as we all know, has done much to draw people to the screen for entertainment. If you can hook people into being entertained and at the same time sell them a router, jig and bits then more power to you (sarcasm intended). Those good at using power equipment with plugs and batteries create a stage and blast their message of freedom from the drudgery of hard work, new speed and efficiency, accuracy, mastery and before you know it everyone has jumped on the industrial bandwagon in pursuit of happiness. In reality these gurus have done more damage to real woodworking than any other medium and we are left with a society totally persuaded that mass manufacturing methods for cutting a simple dovetail is the only answer for woodworkers. This has so dumbed-down what woodworking was that we have spent two decades and more trying to reverse the damage and I am not convinced that we will ever recover from the damage caused by the giant manufacturers and their bought presenters.

Here are the types of questions I fielded today:

“Do you use local woods from around here?”

“Is this school for youngsters to learn in?”

“Do you apprentice people?”

” Can you sell what you make?”

People say things like:

“The smell takes me back to school.”

“I love that smell.”

“The smell drew me in.”

“This is the best smell I have smelled all day.”

Children with parents are:

Silenced.

Intrigued.

Fascinated.

Blown away.

Reluctant to leave.

All of this tells me what’s going on in people’s hearts.They cannot understand why we can’t apprentice young people without compromising our livelihoods because of Government legislation and lack of help, health and safety and so on. I could stop what I am doing and apprentice 20 young people tomorrow and make them highly skilled woodworkers in just a few short months; to the point that they could be making a living. “The problem is that we cannot produce products as cheaply as Asia.” I hear people saying. That’s true, our expectations are so high we cannot live up to them any more. But let’s not worry about that yet. Can young people be trained and are we listening to the questions behind the questions. What will happen to our young people and the next generation of woodworkers if we do not turn the tide to embrace methods that inspire them rather than preclude them. There is  not a machine manufacturer in the country that can put a young and aspiring woodworker on any of their commercial machines without admitting that the dangers are too high. Governments legislates against it and I am so glad that they do. We woodworkers must listen to the public who are equally concerned about the future of young people. We must come up with a solution, otherwise woodworking will always be an adults-only craft controlled by mass machine makers like Dewalt, Makita, Powermatic, Delta, Bosch, Rikon and dozens more. Obviously there is a place for machines and hand held equipment, but it seems to me that these megagiants have a responsibility to support hand methods that will enable young people to get back in the woodshop with teachers who can help them. Instead of seeing machines as something to aspire and mature into though, they should accept that hand tools are as valuable to today’s woodworker as they ever were. It’s all about balance and we all need to play our part and we need help.

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