Perhaps I should say, “Who Are You?
Periodically I wrestle with the terms adopted to describe a certain category of woodworking and then other crafts generally too. Somehow it’s an effort to slot people into a more suited category, you know, to match their skill sets. On the one hand you have professional and master and at the other end of the spectrum you reach amateur and hobbyist. There’s no place in between the two extremes and yet there are different levels of abilities in all crafts and also various places of specialisation.
Whereas I have never really liked the word hobby or pastime I do understand why they are used. I often hear the term amateur photographer and the man or woman has spent 50 years transitioning from developing their own early black and white images from film, on through colour film and into photoshopping for the post millennial digital era we currently live in. The work they do, and I see wildlife photography from amateurs enough to know this, is stunning. It makes me ask myself is the word amateur photographer a higher level than mere professional after all, for most it has meant spending every earned penny on equipment to create with. Courses, training one on one and so on. As you will all know if you have been following me for any length of time, being an amateur woodworker begins as the explorers who took themselves off to climes unknown on a passage of discovering what they knew little about. I understand the US term, ‘I’m a Weekend Warrior‘ too.
In my early days living and working there amongst professionals and amateurs, I heard the term used by professionals disparagingly and then by the self deprecating amateurs on a more humorous positive note. On the one hand a little denigrating perhaps, a way of separating the two levels of expertise. Not now. Not any more. Though I might consider myself a master craftsman, I have met lecturers, graduates and other such people who finished a course or two of study and had been told that they were now the ‘experts in their field’. Yesterday I wondered if, when you think such things, you don’t really stop personal research and thereby personal growth because you might think you’ve already arrived. I don’t really know. What I do know is that for me I have yet to arrive there. I know of at least five graduate furniture makers, several woodworking teachers and a couple of lecturers too that were all qualified by degree courses. Most if not all of them ended up shoving stuff into and through machines and in some of those cases lamented the courses and the costs of them feeling more that they wasted money, time and effort because the brief period they spent pulling together some interesting pieces led only to them working for mass-manufacturing entities.
Then on the other hand, when my amateur friends walk out of the house into their garages and sheds as weekend warriors or whatever term they use, they disabuse themselves of any false assumptions by engaging in spheres others fear to tread. They have no illusions about themselves. They’ve converted the shed and the garage, bought in or collected wood, invested in tools, clamps, maybe a machine or two. This hour, 8am, could not come around quickly enough. It’s Saturday morning, the kids are still in bed, they can get an hour or two in before anyone notices they’re missing. Therapy is about to begin. Healing from their day jobs, in some cases exploitation. I do feel sad that the woodworkers I know, the ones I speak of above, have expressed how much they just dread the thought of putting on their dust masks and sliding stuff like MDF into a tablesaw and shaper for four hours before break. It’s not so unusual. It’s the Monday morning blues for them and they can’t wait until Friday comes. On the other hand my weekend warriors can’t wait for Saturday morning or Monday evening or even an hour at 5am to get out there making for an hour before the big commute. I don’t really know of too many makers that are making it, but I do know of men and women and teenagers getting out there that cannot wait to get started.
I started out as a rank amateur when I apprenticed. I could never wait till morning came to get started. I’m still a rank amateur. Just a working man. Yes, a craftsman. How do I know I’m qualified as an amateur? Because at 69 years of age it’s still the same. I can’t wait to get into the shop, pull out the wood and take down the tools to make!