We need a real hand tool magazine

I bought two magazine issues in the past week or so, to help relieve a few dull spots in airports and taxis and as so often is the case I was soon disappointed by the very predictable content. With no real depth, I found myself skimming the content looking for something seriously different and then I recalled one editor once telling me that he didn’t really want project articles but technique articles. He also told me that he could make several articles from one project article by splitting it and bulking out each split section to become an article in and of itself. That way “readers would keep coming back.” Another editor told me that “cycling through repeat articles with the same content was OK as long as it didn’t occur more than every six months or so.” I always wondered why we see the same articles repeated with only a slight twist periodically. I began to see then that there is not really that much new that one needs to know about in using say a router or a tablesaw that wasn’t known throughout the decades. The outside casings of power tools need to change to become vogue and so too some extra torque, hammer and speed. I think that it would be good to put that R&D into lengthened battery life on lower end power tools myself. Of course there is nothing particularly wrong with any of this until after many years you realize that many editors have an agenda to keep you constantly reading the same stuff year in year out. Changing the wallpaper is what it’s all about and I think that perhaps it’s time to see some changes.

One of the issues is that many editors, especially in the UK, have very little actual woodworking background and are, regardless of what they say, answerable to their advertisers. That makes things difficult for them. Scratch the surface a little and you won’t find very much there. Obviously they have little to draw on from their own background or experience and they have no experience to solidly evaluate what they promote by way of product reviews. Content then has little depth.

I read two leading Woodworking magazines this week. It took me about ten to twenty minutes for each of them. I have to say that the US one has and always will be inspirational, mainly because of the excellent graphics and photography, not for the creative writing skills or indeed writing at all. The series of special projects offered quick easy items to make that woodworkers could make over say a weekend or a few evenings. Of the many articles presented only two used hand tools. This seemed disproportionately biased in my view and meant that the remaining articles were somewhat boring. Of course these magazines are heavily laden not with constructive articles but cloaked advertising. Product reviews and machine tests are in fact advertisements for the companies presenting their products for test. That shouldn’t need saying but anyone coming into the craft may not realize this so it’s best said now. For the main part, many magazine articles are more about how make jigs so that the machine can make what we should be making. They occasionally have a couple of token images using fancy planes and saws as window dressing, but doing little more than adding only an appearance of a balanced presentation.

In the UK, the magazine makes no effort to conceal its imbalanced perspective and so its no wonder its readership is so low. The highest readership of any magazine in the UK is around 10,000. Each month I thumb through this magazine on the newsstand to see if there is anything of substance there but there rarely is. This time I bought one so I could see what the imbalances were. Most of the content was the regurgitation of what the press releases gave them and this is what we see month after month after month.

In this magazine, 30 of the 100 pages was dedicated totally to advertising and self promotion. That’s because they know they have no substance and content in their magazine and therefore have to flesh it out. 17 pages were dedicated to product reviews of some kind, so about half of the magazine is of minimal value to seasoned woodworkers at all. The amazing thing is that we readers are now paying advertisers to advertise things to us that we don’t even want or need. How amazing is that?

I look forward to the day when we see a revival by a magazine not controlled by large companies with an agenda to sell only machines and related equipment. That will be a wonderful day.

32 comments on “We need a real hand tool magazine

    • I agree, I think the reduced overhead of a digital medium like the web has made a targeted magazine like you talk about a hard sell.

      • I wonder if it could mean an end to paper copies eventually. In many ways a really hope not. They may not really deliver the goods every time, but I do like a hard copy in my hands. I notice most of them are running toward digital media now, but I think that they might find it a harder market than the one the have cornered for decades.

        • Digital media also requires an internet connection. For someone without that, the only way to be reached is the one or two days a week in which they can make it to the library.

          I prefer hardcopy; I hate reading a monitor. To sit with a cup of tea in the living room in a comfortable chair (that I never get to sit in anymore) with a magazine or worthwhile book is a fantastic way to spend an hour or two!

          I’d vote subscription hardcopy every time. But – it has to have content worth the subscription cost.

  1. Hi Paul,
    A few years ago I bought a magazine and especially liked this one article on making a book stand. Two shelves that consist of two angled boards mortised into the sides that the books nestle into. I really wanted to make this project, so much that I bought the printed plans.
    I still haven’t made it. I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m not a jig maker and this called for making jigs to route the mortises. Essentially a person makes the sides for the book shelf before they make the book shelf… wow… it suddenly hit me, the incredible insanity of it all. So I shelved the shelf project and went off to culinary school without the two shelf “rack” that I thought would be so useful in my small apartment room at the time.
    Now… I’m armed with Sellers magic and I don’t need a jig for a router to make my cuts. Once again, this shelf has been on my mind to get to.
    Maybe one for each side of the couch? I think so. 😉
    BTW, the bench is coming along nicely during my holiday. The second apron is glued up today. I can taste the finish. Do you know how good that feels to someone who didn’t begin (let alone finish) a book shelf? Good, really good.
    P.S. the previous posters are right, this is our hand tool “magazine” and its creating results within its readers.
    P.P.S. if you ever put out a hard copy magazine, I’m one of your first susbscribers.

    • I do know how you feel and I have also wanted to try to get such a magazine together for some years. I think that the magazines do a good job really. It is disappointing that they are really little more than advertising mediums though, but I understand that too. Even advertisements are useful information if you know what to sift through to get what you want.

      • I totally agree that advertisements can be helpful, especially when comparing apples to apples or in our case No 4 to No 4. vs old No 4.
        You’ve tackled many questions that we’ve (OK, I’ve) had along the way by giving us the how, along with the nuts & bolts of these tools and techniques, which is something few are capable of doing objectively. Plus, you’ve shown the poor man’s technique for several applications.
        Thats objectivity that you just don’t come by often enough these days.

  2. What you say is true. I can see that fundamentals can be taught and then reinforced through projects that follow. That’s what we do at the schools; we teach the fundamentals of sharpening and layout and give projects to bring a relational meaning to what we teach, but then we flesh this out through projects and so on. It really works. Our students only spend about 35 days max at the school and we get them out on their own ASAP rather than dripping out drops of info and keeping them there for three days sharpening a chisel. They can always call me or email in for more info if they need it.

  3. Thanks HB,
    What if it was online first on a monthly basis and then print copied or downloadable in some other way bi annually, with specially selected articles for those who like a printed edition? It seems that whatever we did it must be free from the encumbrance of advertisers. You see the difference for me is that it would not be done to make money so much as provide the right sustainably conscious information. A board could see to that. I am not saying that it shouldn’t or couldn’t make income, simply that it would not follow the paradigm of current magazines where the primary goal is to sell advertising and make money based on the sale of machines and related equipment, maybe, but this would be to promote woodworking with hand tools with the ultimate aim of preserving the craft itself and also research and development for the future of woodworking. Just thoughts, but maybe addressing the current issues surrounding the protection of hand tool woodworking against the large machine manufacturers that so dominate magazines and their content.

    • Paul, I am not a good sounding board in this regard. But, my thoughts:
      Chris Schwarz seems to be a hand tool fanatic. I love reading his stuff, and he does drop names–soft advertising. I don’t care about the slotted screw dogma, but a square-drive really pisses me when there is no hand tool (driver) to go with the box of #2s. At least nearly any slotted driver can handle the next bigger screw size. I do want to order some Tremont nails, another name he dropped; and, a slotted screw source is good to know. [BTW, I hate slotted screws!]
      However, what we *don’t* see of his shop I guarantee gets more use than the hand tool jigs and shop corner we do see. But he does market the market and helps me in the process.
      I really need a 12-inch surface planer. The kind that plugs into the wall.
      I bad-mouthed a magazine and its tool store owner on WoodCentral. A response (reprimand) pointed out that Lee Valley does *not* want its customer-demonstrators to use their products, therefore, avoiding that stigma.
      Regarding a specialty subscription blog and print companion–what can I say?–go for it? The last subscription I bought (not computer utilities) was in 2004. A subscription works when the blogs and forums are not available. Or, it gleans from and parrots them, in my recent experience.

  4. Thanks HB,
    What if it was online first on a monthly basis and then print copied or downloadable in some other way bi annually, with specially selected articles for those who like a printed edition? It seems that whatever we did it must be free from the encumbrance of advertisers. You see the difference for me is that it would not be done to make money so much as provide the right sustainably conscious information. A board could see to that. I am not saying that it shouldn’t or couldn’t make income, simply that it would not follow the paradigm of current magazines where the primary goal is to sell advertising and make money based on the sale of machines and related equipment, maybe, but this would be to promote woodworking with hand tools with the ultimate aim of preserving the craft itself and also research and development for the future of woodworking. Just thoughts, but maybe addressing the current issues surrounding the protection of hand tool woodworking against the large machine manufacturers that so dominate magazines and their content.

  5. 15 years ago, I subscribed to Woodsmith and Woodworker’s Journal. I amassed a few years worth of issues and called it quits. I even bought the Time-Life Woodsmith book collection. The magazines theses days aren’t unlike popular “Men’s Health” or related magazines. Instead of promising “rock hard abs”, they feature projects that they know very few will produce, but maintain the illusion that the purchase of that magazine will let you in a some secret, that somehow with their recipe, the time and labor involved are somehow reduced.

    I get my woodworking knowledge these days mostly from books and blogs. I have an app on my iPhone for RSS feeds, and it presents them nicely, without the distraction of website design or advertising. I also buy alot of books.

    I know Cook’s Illustrated manages to publish without advertising. They do offer reviews, and they’re recommendations are highly sought after. So it is possible to produce a magazine without advertising.

    I don’t know if the hand tool following is large enough, no doubt there are more cooks in the world than woodworkers.

    If you haven’t seen it, Joel Moskowitz has been providing issues from the old magazine, “Work” on his blog. Like many older works, it’s not solely woodworking, but all sorts of trades. It is interesting however, and I’ve enjoyed them.

    • Thank you for taking the time to write and also for your input. If costs can be covered that is all that’s really needed I think. Woodworking is never boring except when by machine only methods and I like the perspectives different people have. Nick Gibbs has a decent magazine or two now in the UK and I like many of the articles he brings to the table. Still got lots of ads but they can as I said be useful. Most editors are not woodworkers with any substantial background but some just tell you straight that that’s the case. Obviously we woodworkers are not the best editors and writers so we need help from others on that score. I don’t care too much about perfectly manicured articles but depth and content I do care about. I find so called “power tools” boring at best and so too many of these things that should really be called machines. I love them for what they do best though and that is dimensioning my wood. That’s when they come into their own. What I look for is what real woodworkers do with their hands not jigs and jigged machines. There are a lot of woodworkers, professional and non professional, who have levels of skill we can all glean from. If people would just write something we could help present it I am sure.

      • Paul, if yourself and maybe other colleagues came up with a business plan, Kickstarter would be a great way to fund it. I’d definitely contribute.

  6. Paul,
    I totally love the idea of a hand tool magazine. That would be great. However, do to the size of the audience and the cost of printing, I don’t think it would be possible without a huge advertiser support, which would be kind of counter-productive to the orignal goal of providing unbiased information.
    I do have an idea though. Make it totally electronic. It could be read online like this blog, but it could also offer the option of downloading it for printing or use on reading devices like the Nook, etc. This could be done by also converting the content to PDF format and making it available.
    Readers that like a hard copy to cary with them, or to able to take to the shop to do a project, could just print out a copy or required pages and off they go.
    I would be willing to help in making this happen.
    Dave

  7. Paul, reading some of the comments, I thought I’d pass along a similar thought.
    I belong to an orgnization that has reenactments of the old west. They offer a periodical that can be hard copy or digital. I opted for digital and it works great but I always wondered about people that didn’t have easy or unlimited access to the internet. In these cases I think that a digital medium that can be printed would be great. They can print it on a limited time basis and take only what they need with them. My issue with my current digital publication is that the ads get printed too, which increases the time/cost factor of printing it out. I’m a cook/baker these days, ex firefighter… long story, and I like how some of the cooking/baking sites give a print method that leaves out the ads so we can basically print a 3×5 or 4×6 recipe card, or even full page. They even have an option for the pictures. That might be something to consider working on with a good IT person.
    Like I said before, whichever way you go, I’m one of your first subscribers!

  8. that is totally true, I would rather read a magazine based on hand tools and techniques rather than that of commercialism of power tools.

  9. One of the frustrating things about wanting to be a hand tool woodworker is the lack of plans that support this. All the magazines present plans that include biscuits, dowels, plywood, etc. the plans aren’t really for quality furniture… Just easy to make furniture.

    • The amazing thing is this! Did you know that, for centuries before, we didn’t need biscuits and dowels. They just clutter up the whole process of working wood and add no real value to what we make at all. Somehow we ended up embracing biscuit joinery and called it joinery. So too dowels. It was really nut when I think about it. These items were developed to substitute for proper joinery not become what was there. How amazing is that? Instead of someone saying, hey, that’s a counterfeit, we said, wow, that’s neat, I need that. Then that becomes the traditional and we think we improved what was a failure when what was wrong was that woodworking required skill we decided had no value, yet we had no basis for what we were deciding.
      Keep pressing in and you will develop real skill. The money in much of this is what drives engineers to tell us woodworkers what we need. The difference is we still feel we are cheating when we use a biscuit joiner or a dowel maker and we certainly feel like we are cheating when we use a dovetail jig and a router to cut a dovetail. Rightly so! Why? Because deep inside we know that the router cut it; we didn’t do it.

      • Funny/sad thing is that all this machine ‘joinery’ came up to be less expensive for the furniture industry (there wasn’t any furniture-industry at all in earlier days; the furniture was crafted by hand) and now we ended up having way more expensive furniture and poluting our planet with waste. People buy their ‘furniture’ at IKEA and the band , the longest wood fibres are in the package and the instruction manual and after a few years you have to buy a new one because the old one is broken. This way you end up paying for 10 tables in your lifetime and never having had a real table at all. It would be way less expensive to pay an artisan once. I have tables and cabinets that my grandmothers mother has got as a wedding gift from her brother who was a cabinetmaker more than 100 years ago. They are more sturdy than anything you could buy today. The only needed restoration were some strokes with the smoothing plane and a new finish on the table after decades of use.

        Not earning money with woodworking I have the luxury that i don’t need to be efficient in terms of time use (and I don’t have to be good in anothers eyes; I do that for my pleasurement and recreation and I have soooo much to learn but that doesn’t matter). I don’t get paid for my time and I don’t have to pay for my time so I take all the time I want. For an amateur woodworker it is way cheaper to use hand tools. You can have a set of good tools for less than 1000 €, $, GBP. What do you really need to start: 1 or 2 planes, 2 or 3 saws, a couple of chisels, measuring and marking tools and a few other items. For that money you can buy yourself just one (or not even one) good machine. AND: using machines is not always faster. In my opinion it is faster to use machines the simplier and more repetitive the task is. Cutting two dozen of legs to the same length is very fast with a machine. But I have seen people spending more time building and setting up their jigs than actually using their machines.

        And a hint for Antkn33: Don’t rely too much on others plans. Better try to learn the basics. If you know how a cabinet, a table, a cupboard or whatever is constructed you can make your own plans and build exactly what you want.

  10. Paul,
    I’ve just started to recover old planes, braces and auger bits and would really like a magazine dedicated to hand tools. If you do go ahead with this, can you index it such that we could search for the information we need over all the magazine issues. e.g, techniques or back saws etc.
    Thanks,
    Keith

    • The specifics would be out of my remit as this is a separate entity to me as such. I am sure the format will be structured though. This is just my blog and has no commerce or advertising and actually has no structure and intentionally so on all counts. The search box really works well for finding stuff and that’s the only way I know of finding things to retrieve so that’s what I do.

    • I’ll try to keep this brief. First I love the idea of a web – based magazine with either a semi annual periodical or printable format. If necessary, I think advertisers can be useful to some degree as long as we guard against them influencing the publication. I think most would admit that being made aware of retailers and high-end and tool manufacturers that meet our needs can be valuable.

      I agree with Paul that using dowels, biscuits, and dominoes are cheating. Even before I became enlightened to hand tool Woodworking, I always felt that these sorts of purchased shortcuts were cheating. I think it was the traditionalist in me trying to come out and causing me to avoid things like dovetail jigs. It always felt wrong to not have skill involved with woodworking. After all, how could I had take pride in making something if anybody could be taught to do it in a few hours?

      Finally, the current issue of a US magazine with the initials FWW published a letter I wrote to the editor in which I praised the small section they have on hand tool Woodworking and encouraged them to do far more. Among most of the mass produced trash that is out there I think this magazine is the only one that seems to hold any value anymore for me even though it does suffer from some of the problems mentioned in this thread.

  11. Hello Paul,
    Almost everything I have been able to learn about the use of hand tools has been from your YouTube channel. I would like to see a magazine dedicated just hand tool use. I work in a very noisey environment and the sound of load tools is difficult to listen too. Thanks for all you do for us.
    Pat

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