Questions answered – Which woodworking magazines?

Paul,

I hope that you never tire of reading or hearing someone say this:  Your willingness to share information and techniques is an extremely valuable gift to all of us. Thank you.

I have a question which no one has been able to answer with any direct knowledge. Are there any woodworking magazines published in England (or any other English-language magazines) that have substantial woodcrafting content?  

As a retiree just starting in the hobby, I enjoy reading one of the forums from England and participate sometimes. Ahhh- humane and civil discourse.

Thanks again,

 Ray

I wish I could report differently but it’s a sad thing to see woodworking magazines struggle for survival in the face of declining sales. In some cases this could be attributed to content quality too, something I think is critical for readership, in that case that’s not so sad a loss.

Off the News and Supermarket Shelves

There was a time when all the supermarkets carried more than half a dozen titles, but competing with new-tech, fashion and personal body development mags leaves little room in the lineup for what people see as more ‘old-fashioned’ crafts like woodworking. Certainly mainline newsagents in the UK and the USA once carried them all, but without our support, I am afraid that this could possibly be another of those irreversible issues and we may well see most paper copies disappear, which would be a sad loss because of the diverse information they bring us. The magazine world is indeed highly competitive and so I also see the advertising magazines working hard to capture online dominance with more and more content coming via the web. I think this will gain greater ground as my generation passes on, so I am sure more and more woodworkers will be content carrying their smart phones and tablets to the workshop for instruction and a good read.

I noticed that I could not find either of my favourite US magazines on the Hudson News shelves in the airports I travelled through over this past three months (about 24) and so too the supermarkets – magazines that once were indeed always found there. I found the same in Britain, where magazines are generally known for somewhat different content than their American counterparts. You asked about a UK or ‘English’ magazine with quality content of substance, but for the main part I find magazines of all kinds here once went through a phase of higher advertising and less and less practical content and with quite dramatic cover shots. A lot of people including myself find it irritating when sometimes magazines replicate the same feed-line when they receive a product from a manufacturer. I realise this is usually gleaned from a press release but ‘copy-and-paste’ doesn’t quite cut it for me. That said, I do find magazines are very useful for finding out what’s happening, where to get things and keep me current on new products and trends in a presentable way that I might not otherwise find out about. Buying a magazine subscription works for me without breaking the bank. The best thing is to send off for a free copy, which many magazines do offer. Look through them and decide which ones may best suit what you are looking for. Choose one and then consider adding another as you can afford or simply buy a copy now and then rather than subscribe.

Internet intervention

As the internet has indeed become increasingly more super-navigable, most information is just a fingertip away and so too the bargains of internet source and supply. Of course, as I repeatedly say, searching through mass-information means you have to discern which is misinformation too. I think now that most people buy tools and equipment online, the purpose of magazines has indeed shifted somewhat and in the UK this makes sense because many suppliers provide the internet buyer with competitive prices, good customer service and an extremely wide choice to select from. Also, in most cases, online suppliers (in the UK anyway) give free shipping on purchases over £50 and most purchases can be ordered even after 4pm and have nationwide delivery the next day, even before 9am, and that without any special delivery.

Ten years ago, catalogs and magazines held good and I still find them handy, inspirational and much more pleasant to read from than my laptop or iPad. I keep magazines for years and have them for reference and research, but I cannot help but say that I think one of the greatest developments I have seen that’s taken place has been the tremendous amount of woodworking instruction coming from a wide range of resources, and this is because there has always been that admirable spirit of generosity between woodworkers that has for the main part been freely given. Inevitably, when someone says, “Can you help me?” a zillion hands are there to steer, guide, pull and shove. I see that every single day of my life working wood and workng with woodworkers everywhere. Amazing!

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UK Magazines

I recall a time when a dozen woodworking magazines swelled the pre digital years with a wealth of good reading. Those days are long gone, yet there is as much valid information available post millennia as there ever was, providing you are internet connected and moderately tech savvy. The UK magazines I once thumbed through on the newsstands seem to be more and more available with online content so you can actually see if the content is something that might pique your interests.  The main UK magazines I once followed moved more and more toward reviewing machines, power equipment and tools and may I say more gimmicky items than I personally take interest in and that can sometimes seem take up a large part of the magazine content. Add that to the advertisement features and content equals advertising and interest can soon dwindle. Editorial advertising for the manufacturers and the reviews by on-staff reviewers does help to make a more educated decision on something otherwise unknown and so there is practical value. What I would like to see is reviews repeated after 6 months and 12 months  because machines tested at entry level don’t cover a proper racecourse where real life problems are truly encountered. Reviews would have much greater value if they based on true field testing, but I realize it’s mostly about selling straight off the bat.

DSC_0103Currently, I think there are now 5 UK magazine that are worth checking into in the UK. Nick Gibbs is an entrepreneurial  free spirit who actually started two front place woodworking magazines one of which was Get Woodworking and the other Good Woodworking I think and took them to the height of success in the transitional pre-digital days of magazines. Following his passion to own his own woodworking magazine, he bought Traditional Woodworker, a magazine I wrote for for many years when Allison Bell was the editor. Amazingly, he bought the magazine for a penny and in 2007, transitioned it from Traditional Woodworker to become an established and popular magazine entitled  British Woodworking. A year later he saw a niche in an untapped area of woodworking and created a hitherto unknown magazine, Living Woods, that gained a new following from those interested in woodlands, conservation and woodland woodworking. Nick did not find it easy going with so little a base to launch from and even now it’s still an uphill pull for him to make it prosper, but like me as a lifestyle woodworker, Nick is a lifestyle publisher with a passion to see woodworking work for everyone. Considering economic pressures, he’s done well to keep these two magazines progressing forward. You might also consider GMCs (Guild of Master Craftsman, nothing to do with the Guilds at all) publication  Furniture and Cabinetmaking. This magazine is very different than the typical UK magazines and I generally like what they offer too. Try a copy first and see if this works for you.

It can get costly with too many magazine subscriptions and so I don’t take a subscribed magazine, but I do like to pick up a copy to read now and then. When I do…

In the USA

…apart from the above, US magazines like Fine Woodworking have the best thought-through content and have been world leaders for over four decades (?) with an exceptional range of contributing authors, too many to ever think of listing. They also have exceptional graphics, and art work by people like Mike Pekovich is very inspiring and in my view the most impressive of any wood magazine anywhere. Even then, it’s generally unlikely that this magazine is going to be on but a few of the UK newsstands these days, so a subscription may be the only reliable way to go. At about £70 for a three-year subscription  of 21 issues at present, it represents good value for money. I think that Fine Woodworking would be a first choice for any woodworker worldwide looking for very consistent quality of content, art work, graphic design and balance. So, wherever you are globally, skill-level wise or interest direction, finding a recommendable magazine has its challenges because we all have personal biases. Fine Woodworking has always been the one I would be most likely to recommend over the decades. I read my first copy of it in 1985 and ever since then I have seen only consistently great work that sustains the art and craft of woodworking. Take a look at 25 pages here. There are several other magazines in the US but considering the size of the US, surprisingly few. US mags have high circulation numbers, 10-20 times that of the UK even though the US with Canada is only about 5-6 times the size of the UK. Again, subscription is likely the only practical way to approach seeing the variety of content and so it may not be quite so easy to get an examination copy. I use to write for The Woodworker and Popular Woodworking occasionally, when I had time, but time escapes me nowadays.

It would be nice if we could support these magazines as they all have so much to offer and they are all different depending on the authors and editors. Your letter has prompted me to make a decision and subscribe to one from each continent. Now I too must decide. Apologies for the length of this. I found it quite difficult to work on because all of the magazines work so hard to provide us with a platform for woodworking and I for one would not want to lose what they bring to the world of working wood.

15 Comments

  1. Joshua Latham on 2 April 2013 at 7:02 am

    Paul, that was a great response to one of the most asked questions across all the woodworking forums. I myself have been contemplating which magazine to subscribe to and your response has solidified my thoughts on Fine Woodworking. Thank You.

  2. Eddy Flynn on 2 April 2013 at 11:36 am

    thanks for asking that question Ray its one i’ve wanted an answer to for a while now great answer Paul once again not just a list of currently available titles but a thought out and explained process roll on the online Masterclass magazine 😉

  3. Peter Evans on 3 April 2013 at 12:20 am

    In many ways the best approach is to pick up old issues of “The Woodworker” published in the UK since 1901 and particularly good pre-1980; and “Fine Woodworking” (US), especially the early B&W issues. Readily available in 2nd hand booksellers and online, and usually cheap. The content is outstanding.

    Magazines work on the basis that the readership lasts around 3 years, hence the recycling of articles. Local libraries often subscribe to many magazines, mine to 3 wood working, and worth following up.

    Pop Woodworking is without the production quality of FWW, but probably has better hand tool content – and cheap subscriptions.

  4. david on 23 June 2013 at 11:00 pm

    what year did woodworking magazine first start to be published

    • Paul Sellers on 24 June 2013 at 7:10 am

      Most magazines started just after I was born in 1950. Throughout my childhood and even up to recent decades woodworking teachers from many backgrounds would teach courses using school facilities in the evenings. This was a wonderful opportunity to keep an interest with minimal investment. Of course all the schools in Britain have pretty well dumbed everything down in metal working and woodworking now. It’s about bathetic as it can be. I say all that to mark the demise of interest by educationalists and politicians neither of whom can possibly understand how magazines have filled the gap. Fine Woodworking is still the worldwide leader in magazines and sets the standard for the advertising industry in a very specialised field. They came on the scene in the mid 70’s in the US. It’s pricey, too pricey, but they are in business to make money. I always respected what the founders brought to the table. The new kid on the block in the UK has no stable name is called British Woodworking. It’s about five years old and knocks the socks off of the other UK magazines out there. I am often disappointed at the page percentage dedicated to adverts in most mags but thankfully that has dropped dramatically in all magazine these days, since the world has realised it’s dream is illusional.

  5. Mac Simmons on 19 April 2014 at 7:04 pm

    Hi Paul
    I am on the other side of the big pond, I enjoy you candid website and your sincere advise.
    I also write some finishing articles, some here in the states and in the UK and Austrialia.
    Yes, many magazines have changed there policies because of the magazines sales, and with selling less magazines and more on line reading.
    They also reduce there staff, and freelance writers, and most magazines have on a few that run the entire magazine.
    Well Paul, keep writing there are lots of woodworkers who enjoying your thoughts.
    Regards,
    Mac Simmons

  6. Ian David on 15 June 2015 at 1:31 pm

    About ten years ago their was an article about a wood carver who carved a bow tie, a chair with a pair of jeans across the arm all carved out of wood and he carved a pair of curtains they were exceptional, I would love to know what issue they were in

  7. Graeme Cook on 9 February 2016 at 2:12 am

    Good Morning Paul

    For anyone subscribing to the American Fine Woodworking magazine I would suggest that they also buy their DVD containing the entire forty years of back issues. For US$99, about £69, it is an incredible resource.

    Fair Winds
    Graeme

  8. Carl s cooper on 24 May 2016 at 9:43 pm

    What is it that you wipe your planes on that is in a can?

  9. Mark on 29 December 2016 at 10:51 am

    I’m an absolute beginner so wanted to know if the above is a good option to help teach me the ropes.

    • Paul Sellers on 29 December 2016 at 2:54 pm

      Nope. I can’t recommend any of the magazines to learn from because generally they are advertisement companies and their lead line is about promoting for their advertising customers. That stands to reason and we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that all they do is about making money––expect no more and you won’t be disappointed. As I say, generally they have shifted a little to give hand work a little plug but mostly they are always to promote machine woodworking and use real woodworking as a bolt on to enhance their image (whereas in my view it should be the other way around). They are losing ground bit by bit thankfully and the advertising world is shifting and will soon be all online, so they too are slowly shifting from paper to online. It will not be too long before paper copies disappear altogether. They certainly don’t present any kind if systematic course. On the other hand one or two mags do offer inspirational images and content, perhaps 10% of the mags, so I wouldn’t altogether dismiss them. They really are not as expert as they might give the impression of so when you read, read between the lines that’s all. Mostly they push the same stuff and review the same products as one another, so you’ll always get bags of of crossover and then an excess of stuff on power routers, but most of it is regurgitated I’m afraid. So, yes, read them for a few issues and then cancel and look for real woodworking wherever you can. Learn from friends and mates, take a short, punchy course, that way it’s always fun. You will soon learn that you don’t need a long course of months. You can learn a lot even in a few hours––then it’s practice, practice, practice, which you don’t need to pay for because you can do it from home.

  10. Mark on 3 January 2017 at 10:45 am

    Thank you very much Paul for the in depth reply.

    Saved me a few bob.

  11. Jim Beach on 7 February 2017 at 2:14 pm

    An interesting topic and I suppose the answer depends on what type of woodworking we are doing.
    I used to subscribe to British Woodworking before it ceased publication.
    I now subscribe to Furniture and Cabinet Making but find that some months it is in the recycling the next day because there is nothing of interest for me, not good.
    I also have a online subscription for Fine Woodworking and find this the most useful for me.

  12. john james potter on 13 October 2017 at 9:25 pm

    Excellent Paul
    Thank you

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