Why Woodworking Shows?

These past few days have been long and hard. It’s a long drive 800 mile drive from New York to Indianapolis too, but it’s during this time of valuable reflection that I often find new direction inspired by current trends many might not even notice. For many decades we have seen TV personalities behind face masks lock down macho ear defenders, grip their skill saws and routers and present themselves like gladiators in the face of an adversary. These exponents stack up routers behind the scenes and make a fortune at the watchers expense as they show how effortlessly the machines make the task seem. In seconds dovetails are cut and skill saws slice through boards of plywood and OSB like a pastrami cutter through meat. Throughout these decades we had nothing to fight back with because we really didn’t know hand tools still had some real value in the work of woodworking. Well, this weekend and over the past three weeks we have been able to present a more balanced perspective and as usual, most of my demonstrations have been very full, but, you know, even the one or two that weren’t had real depth, meaning and value. Most people sat for up to two hours and watched a couple of demonstrations that empowered them in very different ways. At the end of it I knew we had made some solid connections and friends.

In the world of mass-information we find more and more increasing levels of misinformation. I will be the first to introduce woodworkers to hand tools simply because I have never been able to dismiss them as truly valuable to my work. Hand tool skills equipped me to enter realms no machine-only woodworker can ever consider entering unless he or she displaces a few concepts. This evening, as I was about to leave the show, a man came up to my booth and started to tell me he couldn’t sharpen his chisels and planes square without a guide to hone with. I told him that I hadn’t found anyone who couldn’t sharpen freehand and it made no difference to the work if the chisel was slightly out of square. I realized what I was up against after just a few minutes. The man had no desire to change.  He had no desire to master skill and really wanted something that would substitute for gaining mastery over even simple tasks such as sharpening chisels and planes. Furthermore, he told me he couldn’t cut a straight line with a saw and he couldn’t sharpen a saw. This didn’t seem so unbelievable to me because I know of many who have felt that way through the years. Knowing many who believe such things I realized again that he was basically left in a defeated condition and that in a defeatist condition there is very little hope. I know one thing I have  learned as a skilled, crafting, working-artisan woodworker developing any skill is that I must have a made-up mind. I have found that 99% of achieving anything is having a made up mind. When you have that, you cannot persuade someone to change. So, I concluded this one thing; just as it was basically impossible to persuade someone to believe that they can do something, it is equally impossible to convince someone that they can’t. I think that at the end of my demoes I was standing in front of dozens mounting to hundreds of people in a day who believed that they could master skills as a direct result of what I shared and showed them. They knew that they COULD do it. That’s why I was there at the shows and that was what I reflected on as I arrived in Indianapolis. Now that’s the POWER of REAL woodworking.

5 Comments

  1. hippo on 21 January 2013 at 10:52 am

    This post is so relevant. I wanted to fill my house with my own custom furniture, but I am also starting out with no experience, no tools. It was those TV shows with their fancy workshops, along with their fancy machines, that made it seem an impossibly daunting task. I didn’t have the space nor the money for all that! I almost quit before I started..

    That is until I stumbled upon your Youtube videos. Your videos showed me that I COULD do it, and I can do it without $20k in machines! So far I have been learning, made a side table, a shooting board, and am working on making the workbench. I think that one day (soon) I will be able to make whatever I want… Thank you for empowering people like me, showing us how to start, showing us that it’s possible, and showing us the skills, techniques, and artistry that seems lost in those TV shows and magazine articles! Thank you thank you thank you!

    PS – are there going to be more workbench videos on youtube?



    • Paul Sellers on 21 January 2013 at 3:00 pm

      So many times I just think we are making headway and then we seem to slip back to the old habits of chopping on the chop saw or ripping something really simple on the table saw when we have a permanent source of power provided we know how to sharpen and use hand tools. I think that’s how we humans are and we forget that,yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks if the old dog wants to learn.



    • Mark Pelletier on 21 January 2013 at 4:11 pm

      I believe the newest videos are being edited and will be added to his Youtube channel soon, I am not sure who does the editing but he was on tour in the US this month.



  2. Todd Johnson on 21 January 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and skills with us this past weekend. It was definitely worth the 3 hour drive from Lexington. I think one of the biggest barriers to hand tool work is that many of the foundational skills are difficult to learn and master without having an expert on hand to look at your work and offer advice. I have always found your techniques and advice online and in print to be invaluable, but a lot of woodworking involves knowing how something should feel and sound: the sound of the plane, the amount of force needed, a small change in stance or angle, and so on. If I am ripping and my saw is going off-course, an expert could immediately tell me why, but on my own I am left to wonder if it is my saw or my technique and how to correct it. The end result is that it takes me much longer than it should, but I enjoy the process so I stick with it, watch online videos, read, and attend shows to pick up more knowledge and techniques. If I lived near one of your schools, I would take the foundational course again, just to be able to work closely with experts looking over my work and offering advice. So thanks again for all that you are doing to revive and pass on these skills. Your efforts are much appreciated.



  3. Paul Sellers on 23 January 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Hi to both of you. I remember you both well and look forward to meeting you again. We (my wife is with me for a few days) had a wonderful time experiencing Indianapolis and of course visiting our son and his family in the evenings.
    Thanks for your encouraging contact.