Today I received two emails that made me realise that we are indeed WINNING! It may not be easy but it has been so worth it. Many years ago, nearly three decades ago now, I thought to try to help woodworkers return to their roots and the wonderful world of doing things yourself and especially through hand tool woodworking. Back then we were up against so many giants and it was indeed a very daunting future for real woodworking. My work seemed slow and sluggish at first, a few people gathered around my bench here, a few people there. People scoffed and mocked and especially this “in the industry”. Today I consider my work all the more successful when industry continues its scoffing and those “professionals” who consider my efforts old fashioned or mere nostalgic reenactment; two words I never use nor care for particularly. Nostalgia has a ring of regret and reenactment that sense of playing at something when in reality my work always was real and rewarding and I never really longed for the past days but chose to live a way of life in the todays of life that simply provided for my family.
I looked through a trade publication this week that struck me because looking through its 36, 30 cm (12″) x 42cm (16 1/2″) pages I saw only engineered boards and machines and only two very minuscule nods to wood at all. So, why call a publication Woodworking News if it’s pages are crammed with adverts for monstrous machines and a mass of equipment used to feed the machines.
I also noticed one software supplier use of the word “bespoke” when describing its software package. When everyone uses this word in the description of a business of course it loses meaning and so I wonder what worth it has and especially if a machine is the maker and not the man or woman. Of course bespeak means to speak out and in times past the workers work spoke of the quality of the maker handling the needle and the thread or the plane and the wood. Hence the word bespoke.
Of course to be fair we are not really talking apples for apples here. Because the mag is not really a woodworking publication it would be wrong for me to expect anything different, but snatching back what the world of mass making has indeed corrupted and robbed us of is critical to the work we do as a major educating entity. To me it is funny seeing ‘Woodworking’ as a part of a title and then trying to reconcile men working in hard hats and hi-viz garb. This uniform does indeed do what all uniforms are designed to do and that is, in part anyway, to identify who owns the workers. Whether threading the end of a stick or beam into an angular box skirted by 20 feet of track to convey it into and through multiple cutterheads is actually woodworking or machining I will leave you to decide for yourselves. I have made my decision. It’s not!
So what are we doing?
Well, we are enjoying success now. This week I received an email from a man who was surprised when his five year-old sank into his lap and sat and watched some of my videos. The youngster continued to watch on a tablet long after the father went take care of other things. This goes beyond my wildest expectations and despite opposition along the way we are equipping families to reengage in real family woodworking. Why is it that I hear from many women I meet that they would love to learn woodworking but never had the opportunity? I know the reasons now and it’s remarkable that culture today can still make change very difficult but it has and still does. Machines are very intimidating and rightly so. Hand tools on the other hand open the door and if you get it right and early enough it can be the single most impacting influence on engaging youngsters. Forget CNC developments in Design and Technology (D&T) classes that are programming your children for “the workforce”. Yes, they may have to comply with school requirements and it will have some qualification for when the enter the workforce but spending a few evenings and weekends working in your home shop will have amazing ramifications but, I urge you now, don’t miss the narrow window of opportunity. Leave the smart phones outside the garage door and off the bench and pull out the spokeshave and start engaging them with you in the shop. Real woodworking begins with parents learning alongside their kids. It’s a gentle thing not a macho issue and learning to work with wood is made all the easier if you follow my tube videos or subscribe for free to WWMC. The way we change the world view of woodworking is by taking charge of our lives and our families and not relying on state schools who unfortunately are defined by the needs of industry not creative arts like woodworking and pottery, blacksmithing. Imagine you son and daughter making a tools like these. What about metal working skills using a barbecue pit and some barbecue charcoal. You can teach them about molecular structure changes in metal this way and then you can talk about the trees the wood you use comes from. Let’s take back what 50 years robbed us of as families. Start with some hands on stuff. make a cutting board and wooden spoon. stay one step ahead of the kids and soon you will spreading the good news about more natural ways of sustainability through relational knowledge and work. It’s all about physical and mental aptitude and development. Don’t rely on schools for everything. They can never give your kids what you can.
Let me close with this. I have reached a point when I can no longer answer every email because many of them begin and end with a very big and emphatic Thank you! The mid sections are filled with how lives have been changed, how we have indeed dismantled attitudes and false impressions from a world that until recent years went quite unchallenged. We answer around a 1,000 emails a month these days. We have the same number of staff and it does indeed stretch us all the more but all emails are read from start to finish. In a given month we reach many many thousands. Real woodworking is still proactive and thriving in the lives and hearts of real woodworking enthusiasts who do it because they, well, just love it. THANK YOU!