Diminishing Craft Value

Do you see more at 70 or are you blindsided by thinking you do? Are you dismissed by the younger because you are 70 or do you just think that you are? These are real questions. Some younger than me think I cling to hand tools because I didn’t yet discover the power of power routers, tablesaws and other machines. Reality hits when I tell them I was using them 30 years before they were born. That doesn’t bode well for those trying to harness their agism skills, so usually I don’t do this. Be that as it may, agism is practiced and alive and kicking and it goes in both directions.

My first UK workshop class

Things I have noticed is just how much schools took woodworking in schools and totally dumbed it down to ground zero but never rebuilt much of any consequence with regards to the former benefits of learning to craft with your hands. I suppose the real ground zero was the ground after the nuclear bomb was its epicentre so it can be hard to revitalise as in bring back life to something so destroyed. But I saw it coming four decades ago when the classes we were offered started to transition to the new era in preparation for the birth of millennials. It’s funny how you see a generation pensioned off with offers of early retirement to usher in the new. I have seen it with each passing decade. Agism is alive and kicking and there are problems with older people, those in the mid-age range and then the young too, but it is not all negative. Personally I have worked with the younger age range throughout my worklife and I have seen just how remarkable they already often are and then too can be with the right attitude towards them. I cannot simply dismiss what has happened when I see what and how things are made in school classes today though, compared to the pre 1970s say. This is not an old-age rant. Young woodworkers in school, like myself, made oak coffee tables, bureaus, shelf units large and small and much more. What changed?

What came out of my six day foundation course followed by a six-day Craftsman-style rocking chair class.

I’ve asked myself this question for long enough. The reality is that as a generation that understood the effects crafts had on children who were nearing adulthood age in the range of 13-16 came to retirement from teaching, and a new generation of teachers and educationalists replaced them, we lost something. This generation started on the more technical route that was in its own right and sphere crafting too, it was not crafting manual dexterity in the same way metalworking and woodworking did though. It was much broader in that the training produced responsibility, craft ability, manual dexterity, how to work physically and much more. Training as a teacher alone does not lead a teacher to become skilled and reliant on the work they make with their hands but on their ability as a teacher. When the subject is more non academic, academics most often don’t always do too well. iTeaching from textbooks is one thing and a thing that never really changed through the centuries. Hands-on material training and the manipulation of hand tools leading to dextrous ability is an ongoing training bettered by regular exercise and rote repetition.

These guys all made their own coffee table, tool chest and a rocking chair in just three weeks.

I doubt we can see the return of true craft in schools that take the young emerging students into realms they may well never experience in their lives again, but working through my new book made me realise that it was not what I made that was so significant, and it was significant, but the three-dimensional critical thinking that cannot come any other way but working with your hands as you train.

The teachers in schools in those days had a considerable background working their craft before they taught. Whereas I truly enjoy the millennials, especially them, and generation x (1965 to 1980) may well have just missed the 50s and early 60s school crafting classes, I do see generations who know so little about hand work, hand tools, and the crafting of anything that it is scary. There is much more individualism to woodworking than making a bookshelf out of old scaffold planks, though that can and does have its place too, or an old pallet coffee table on industrial swivel casters. This rougher, more trendy (if that 60s word still fits) cannot and does not substitute for the discipline of developing skilled working be that whatever medium you choose. I have said it often and I will keep on saying is, dialling in numerical instructions to programme a machine delivery and power feeding the work is a wholly different sphere of working that’s entirely different from hand working.

My greatest opposition generally comes from the more technical era advocates who mostly dismiss the efficacy of mastering real skills and are the ones most often offended by what they might call my stridency over the denying of young people the entry into craft work of value as many older people knew it. For some, like myself, it was the inroad I needed for direction. As each generation is more and more distanced by the system from hand working of any craft type, the crafts themselves become less important and so too the dexterity of the human hand in the producing of anything. I may not be here to shout out about it but until then I will keep pointing the finger to the way out.

40 thoughts on “Diminishing Craft Value”

  1. Oh my God Paul, you have hit the nail on the head if I can use that. I am a long time reader of your comments and respect your work and what you are doing.
    We need more woodworking schools here in the US, and their excuse for not haveing them is safety and cost. I strongly believe our schools should do as you are and teach the hand craft and not waste time and cost on big expensive noisy power equipment. The young people would benifit from developing new skills working with their hands and feed the soul at the same time. I am 69 now and only wished I could have found someone like you to mentor me. I love wood but I went into engineering instead, and now retired watch your vedios and try different things in my small garage.
    Thank you Paul for your energy and wisdom you have given us!

  2. “Some younger than me think I cling to hand tools because I didn’t yet discover the power of power routers, tablesaws and other machines.”

    Paul, from one who switched from machines to hand tools I believe you have it backward: “Some younger than me think I cling machines because they haven’t discovered the power of hand tools.”

    Best regards, James

  3. What you “see” as you get older depends on you.
    Do you truly believe in self improvement or do you think you know it all.
    I’m not dismissed by the younger crowd, I show them what can be done to create and fix things and let them decide which is best. Mostly I find that the people my own age are the ones that just don’t comprehend what I’m doing. But then again that’s who I tend to associate with. I don’t have much opportunity to work with younger people.
    I just don’t care if someone thinks they have a better way by using power tools, I’ve never had to defend my methods though. At least they are trying to create something! I’ll never try to convert anyone and no one has ever tried to convert me.
    It’s like telling someone who drives miles to the local health club to pedal a stationary bike that being out in nature is better. They will look at you with a blank stare when you tell them you ride on trails through the parks and woods.
    Schools lost the trades back in the early 1970s. All the equipment has been sold or thrown into the trash. I own some of it actually, I was trying to salvage something I guess.
    They used to call the different shop classes “ Industrial Arts”. They were right to call it that because to be proficient you became an artist. It’s a very difficult path to take with all the barriers and little opportunity.
    I may be late to the party but thanks to you Paul I’ve seen a method to become competent in my hobby. I just need a few thousand more hours of practice……

  4. Correction” Paul, from one who switched from machines to hand tools I believe you have it backward: “Some younger than me cling to machines because they haven’t discovered the power of hand tools.”

  5. Bill Cleaveland, Cleaves

    I agree with all you have written, Paul. Like Ray, I too am 69 and I found myself aching with regret that I didn’t have someone like you to offer the opportunity to work with hand tools and to create pieces like the rocking chair, tool chest and table pictured in your article. Having said that, I want to tell you how grateful I am that I discovered your website several years ago. Even this late in life, your videos, and instruction have provided an opportunity to obtain a peace and comfort in solitude that only comes from putting a number 4 Stanley to a rough piece of wood and watching it come to life again with each pass of the blade! To then be able to cut, plane, dimension, fit, sand and finish that wood into a complete project all with hand tools has provided me with a satisfaction that can’t be duplicated with machines. Thank you!

  6. I have an anecdote from my childhood that might fit here. It starts off whimsically but gets a bit gruesome at the end.

    When I was in 8th grade in the Southern USA I had a shop class taught by the venerable Mr. Wilson. He was giving us a lecture on the importance of precision, demonstrated by the use of a try square on a piece of 1X8 (or so). Like it was yesterday I remember him saying “Now boys (we were all boys, the girls had to take home ec. Some things about the old days will not be missed) I’ve been doing this for a long time but even I need to rely on my tools! Now, I’m going to show you how important it is to have the proper tool and to know how to use it! I’m going to try to draw a straight line across this board, and boys I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’m going to do my best, but you’ll see! Without my try square it won’t be right.”

    With that he bent over, braced the piece of board across his thighs, and after a bit of a pause drew a line in one smooth stroke. He held the board up for us all to see and went on “Now boys, you can see that looks pretty good, but pretty good isn’t good enough. Now I’m gonna check it with this square and you’ll see how far off I was, even though it looks like it’s square!” He brought the square up to the board, approached the line and began with “Now you can see…well…” and he turned the square over and paused. Then he moved the square to the other side of the board and tried it again. And after a pause, during which there was not a SOUND in the room, he quietly murmured “Well I’ll be.”

    Yep. In front of a room full of kids, on his first try that day, the man had drawn a line across 8″ of board that was not only ruler straight but square correct. By hand and eye. It messed up his lecture a bit but I’m proud to have been there.

    They made Mr. Wilson retire after that year. I was angry about that but I can’t say it was unwarranted. He did have a tendency to take naps during class. But after a week or so into the new school year they asked him to come back. It seems the young man they replaced him with cut off four of his fingers while demonstrating the safe operation of a table saw.

  7. Thanks for your inspiring post, Paul.

    I recently retired from chiropractic in the UK, having decided years ago that this would be my time for learning greenwood skills with hand tools. I just wish I had started out at this point 40 years ago and put the hours in. I did work as a hobby carver but was unable to apply the full-time attention needed to become an expert. I now teach carving and hand tool work locally which has squared the circle a bit!

    But to me – the real joy is always in the learning – more so than the achievement itself! The one thing I notice now amongst younger people who come to do wood work, is that they seem to think skills can be learned by reading. The hardest thing to put over to people is the time involved in developing intuition with tools. At some point in the process, a light goes on and they suddenly realise this.

    I am often reminded by younger carvers that “…you didn’t have the internet so it would have been harder for you to learn skills as quickly as we can…”

    Hand tool superiority for careful and natural work is a mindset thing. You either understand wood or you use a power saw on it.

  8. Perhaps people rely too much on schools to educate their children and give them skills. I recall back in secondary school where our woodworking shop class (1985) consisted of fretsawing a puzzle out of plywood, at age 13. I considered it almost an insult to us to require us to do something like that. I had been building model aircraft (from scratch, starting only with a technical drawing) for years at home. Had started fretsawing at age 6 or 7, thanks to a grandparents’ gift of a woodworking toy toolbox (with actual working tools, some of which I use up to this day, including the fretsaw). So I considered high school woodworking shop class utterly childish. It only lasted a few months, fortunately. It was my father who taught me a lot w.r.t. woodworking and metalworking. Initially electronics too, until I quickly learned more about it than he knew and I surpassed him in knowledge in that field. Repairing and building my own bike, down to the last ballbearing ball and spokenipple. Later, in mech. engineering school, I realized how much I benefitted also from playing with technical LEGO in my younger years. Surprizing how much insight you gain about mechanical things as you play with it. I suppose for earlier generations, Meccano had a similar useful purpose.

    In conclusion, my school was a joke in those respects. Parents shouldn’t rely on schools to teach their children everything. Perhaps it would be wiser to consider school education as a supplement to the things parents teach their children. Of course, that leaves children who have parents without technical skills, inclination or interest out in the cold. I have been very lucky with my parents. I learned a lot from them. All practical building skills I got from my parents or learned on my own, not in school.

    I’ve watched this video from 1953 with envy. It’s primarily about safety when working in school shop with machines, but between the lines it shows the projects those children made, far from a fretsawed puzzle. And shows the responsibility that was given to them to operate such powerful machines:


    Finally, nowadays, over here at least, most teachers in primary and secondary education are women. Not good for the development of boys, in my opinion. Lack of male role models with accompagnying interests and skills. But that’s another discussion and one where one risks being accused of sexism.

  9. “but the three-dimensional critical thinking that cannot come any other way but working with your hands as you train.”—–yes

  10. I turned 60 last year and have been learning a little about woodworking over the last few years. I have worked as a automotive machinist, power plant operator, mechanic and welder.
    The thing I have found in woodworking using power tools is yes you can make useful items. But when using hand tools it becomes something very intimate. I also find I enjoy the lack of noise and sawdust.

  11. Paul you are absolutely correct in your in your thoughts of encouraging youngsters into developing hand skills. The best approach is woodwork to develop using hand tools but also having the finesse to know how to achieve the results with sharp and well maintained tools. Sadly the schools are not encouraging practical trades it’s all academic subjects. Until governments encourage practical trades and remunerate those who enter into these trades or similar. This debate will go on. Academic subjects are fine but should come after a good practical background.

  12. Carlos Alvarado

    Paul I am 76 and I am try to learn woodworking I first started in my fifty’s but quit because I moved and went to the city and thought I did not have time or place to do it. now I want to help others learn but it seems they do not have time so I am trying to do things myself and want to thank you for all you are doing to help me learn what I should have done so long age.

  13. Aloha Paul,
    As far as it goes, woodworking came to Hawaii whenever a ship’s carpenter ‘jumped ship’ and was captured by the kingdom’s guards. Thus woodworking styles of Europe suddenly ‘appeared’ in Hawaii using the native woods new to the Europian woodworker. Tables, chairs, rockers[or rug cutters], and cabinets needed by one and all, were adapted to the local woods. Of my own efforts in studying there early pieces, I was able to study these works and try to justify the way they put their skills to work and the woods in front of them to ‘craft these pieces. On a humorous note, I found an adaption that was most likely never going to be admitted [for fear of their life] the way a rocking chair for the Queen’s ‘Fat calves’ were made comfortable during rocking in the ‘Queen Rocking Chair’ by the craftsman making a ‘stylized’ double curve into the seat support of the front spreader of the rocker.
    Other features were noted but none as humorous.
    Most lasting and important, Koa was all owned by the ruling families. If you were to use such, you better have had permission first. Even the permission to build a canoe of Koa was very important and life-preserving.

    1. Pretty shameful when you think about colonialism. On the one hand you export skilled craftsmen and women and then they make the pretentious pieces and you get even more pretenders buying the pieces because they really think they’re something too. The colonial states of the USA suffered too. And then of course there is another colonising here in… and then there is… and then there is…

  14. “Until governments encourage practical trades[…]”

    I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the government to act. Most employees there are the last to appreciate practical skills, perhaps even to look down upon the trades. The thing that mr. Sellers observed about education (emphasis on theoretical knowledge, at the cost of practical skill development) can be seen in the economy as a whole. Over here, about a decade ago, the government was proudly trumpeting how we were a ‘knowledge economy’ and didn’t need manufacturing anymore. In my opinion, that was and is just an excuse for a rapidly disappearing manufacturing sector and a lack of vision or inability or unwillingness to counter it. But hey, if you just claim that, as a country, you’ve moved beyond manufacturing and progressed towards a ‘knowledge-based economy’, then everything is fine, right? Who needs manufacturing anyway, that’s for the poor chums at the other side of the world….

    To which I’ve always responded that knowledge will follow manufacturing. Where manufacturing goes, knowledge (research and development, engineering and finally, good higher education) will follow soon too, automatically. The countries that manufacture our goods start by copying, then building their own machines and eventually designing and developing entirely new machines and products. R&D and manufacturing go hand-in-hand or hand-in-glove. They mutually benefit from being close to eachother.

    Besides, if we need practical trades (bricklayers, plumbers, plasterers, road pavers, etc.) we just pull open a can of cheap Eastern-European workers (or Mexicans, if you’re in the US). Problem solved!, in the thinking of our governments. (for now, yes. In the longer run, no. I’m always surprized by the lack of vision and leadership and short-term thinking in governments and corporations. More leadership is needed, less managers).

    If you value practical skills, the only way I see it happen that your children will get those skills too is if you teach them yourself. Waiting for schools (or even the gov’t) to act… good luck with that. I’d say, start close and start with your own children (or grandchildren). Be the change you want to see in the world, start small and local.

  15. Paul, I am interested in your comment about three-dimensional thinking. As you may know deterioration of math skills is a serious problem in the U.S. I wonder if this can be linked to the displacement of erector sets, Meccano, Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys by GameBoys and the like. When I was growing up I had those toys and my environment included the opportunity to observe men in my extended family build and also to get my hands on some tools and random bits of materials and junk and make a coaster entirely on my own. It’s safe to say that the further concentration of population in suburbs and cities since the ’50’s has made that kind of experience less common. In school I was able in math though undisciplined at it. I returned to the university in my thirties and had a second, much improved run at calculus, and this after a few years of what might be called casual carpentry. I think I can tentatively say from my teaching experience as well, I may have seen a link in a negative sense between the dumbing down of geometry classes with the almost complete elimination of compass and straight edge constructions and proof exercises, and stultification of a sense of number. I say tentative because I was working in a remedial situation for the most part, and my data set is really just anecdotal. I would like to ask you two things: If you have heard in your personal experience anyone say they’ve experienced improvement in math skills after your training in building craft, and also, if you are aware of any studies linking any kind of building exercise with improvement in math skills. Thank you.

  16. Paul, I just read “Reflections on Starting Out” linked above. Since that thread is closed I reply here. I was thrilled and very pleased to see your mention of some of the sweetest and loveliest people I’ve ever met, Drew and Louise Langsner. I knew them a few brief years in the early ’70’s in San Francisco, before they moved east. Drew had already set out on the path of mastery crafting in wood at a time when I was very clear that was not my path even though I ws doing related work. It is gratifying to hear of their success and recognition. I easily see the kinship between you and them. Finding this link between them, you and this work closes a circle for me, though frankly, I cannot say I am serious about hand tool woodworking in the best way. The centrality of the link is in your comments about self-employment. Without question my work continues to be reading and writing; what I need is a change of pace and exercise–something not mind numbing–an activity very involving but nonverbal to complement all the sitting my work involves. Photography served for this while I was still teaching, but now rambling through the hills with a camera is too time-consuming. Alternating hours at the desk with a half-hour or hour moving about the shop and doing work with hand tools is suiting me for it now, so I’m afraid I have to be counted at the dilettantish end of the spectrum. I want to renew my appreciation for your making available direct and authentic teaching in handcraft. Thank you.

  17. – “Most employees [of the government] there are the last to appreciate practical skills, perhaps even to look down upon the trades.”
    Don’t make hastly generalisations and insult all civil servants.

    The voters have the government they choose.
    If they vote for the son of a former politician just because they know his name, they are creating a new aristocracy.
    The former prime minister, in my country has undoubtly been very busy but has never worked in the sense that he has never been neither an employee nor running his own business (or only extremely briefly [lawyer]) as he has embraced a political career even before leaving university.

    The representative system is not limited to voting. One can make petitions and demonstrate (pacifically). And nothing prevent citizens to contact politicians personally to push forward their ideas. Don’t leave it to corporations.

    – “if you are aware of any studies linking any kind of building exercise with improvement in math skills.”
    Doug Stowe has a blog about the benefit of handwork on education “wisdom of the hands” where he is pointing to various studies. Although I am not sure there is one specifically about math.
    Personally, I am convinced it helps with geometry, the comprehension of the measurement system and gives some reality to numbers.

    1. No hasty generalisations, but my long terms observation of the obviation of general politics overseeing education.

    2. A few years ago, I found myself transported back to 7th and 8th grade math class and refreshed my memory and added to it by studying “straightedge and compass” geometry. I find myself using it more and more to draw arcs (have to find the center of the circle first!), bisect angles, turn squares into octagons, mark off multiples of 60 degrees, etc. etc. I’ve also used trig functions to layout really odd angles (to prove it worked, I did a 31-sided segmented cylinder).

      It was 10 years later, when I was getting a graduate degree in math(s), studying an advanced abstract algebra class in Galois Theory, when the professor said, “And that’s why you cannot trisect an angle with straightedge and compass.” All of us in class had a bewildered look on our faces. That seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with geometry, but he went on to explain why.

  18. Yes, Paul! woodwork classes, a blessing in disguise for me.
    This takes me back to 1972 while attending Secondary school in Belfast I wasn’t one of the brightest students in some of the subjects but we had woodwork classes and I became very interested and quickly adapted to using the hand tools. We were given the opportunity to make coffee tables, jewelry boxes and turned table lamps on the lathe, etc. When I became aware that some of the stars of the other classes were struggling at woodwork it gave my self-esteem a boost, it gave me a sense of achievement and new inspiration. These woodwork classes continued for a further 3 years and when I left school this became my job as a carpenter and Joiner.
    Many times, of course, we had to be very efficient at using various power tools for productivity but my hand tools are more important to me and I use them on a daily basis it’s just a different ball game and without a lot of the noise and dust. I know everyone who does woodwork at school isn’t going to go on to be a carpenter but it can tap into so many other areas of employment as most of the guys here already know.

  19. Hi Paul, a really interesting observation. I think however in this world of Technology and high speed living people are craving using their hands. Gardening, Cooking, Woodworking all have their place in maintaining ones mental health. I also see a convergence with technology and making with an ever greater resource on line to help people learn and embrace new skills. There are community maker spaces with 3D printing, CNC Routing, electronics and yes HAND TOOLS 😀. People need the time and space to be creative, you and other on line content creators and teachers are essential in keeping the skills alive for ever and for everyone. Don’t worry about being 70 it’s not age but stage of life that counts and you still have the passion and wonder if a child in your workshop al be it with the skill of a master craftsman. Thanks for your continued inspiration.

  20. I know a little bit about this as I have been a design & technology technician in a large secondary school in north London for 28 years. Rather than move towards teaching more hand skills, the exam boards are moving further away from hand tools and machinery. The current AQA (2020) syllabus is all about design: including sociological aspects, fashion, research and compilation of data, surveys, pie charts or graphs to compile information, Modelling and modifying, modelling and modifying, modelling and modifying over and over again. This is known as ITERATIVE DESIGN. All modifications need recording and justifying. The exam boards are changing Key Stage 4 GCSE Product Design into a highly academic subject. Of course, this is boring the students (who have chosen D&T and thought that they would be making things) something stupid; I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them disapply and go on to another subject. The rational behind this, is that there are not many jobs in woodwork, engineering or metalwork, and we have to set the course at a high level so that students can go on to do A levels and then a degree. I wonder if this is the reason why there is a dearth of tradespeople out there?

  21. I sometimes think that complaining about what we have lost through haste and a search for efficiency and productivity is wasted breath. We need to proceed from where we are now. I was fortunate enough to learn woodworking and metalwork at school and then had a career in aircraft engineering. I came back to wooodworking five years ago aged 70 and am thoroughly enjoying it. I have a few machines but they get fewer outings these days. But I have been given a lathe which is nearly as old as me and am having great fun learning to turn. What more can we ask than when we make something that someone says “that is lovely, I wish I could do that” and I answer that they can, it just needs practice and patience, something our youngsters probably can never learn.

  22. James Chamberlain a.k.a. Jimmy Splinters

    Today’s craft perception is that of the archaic and cute. Those who truly master modern woodworking technology do so only with a basis in deeply rooted craft.
    Truly, we must embrace technology; the highest technological woodworking success will always be rooted in the deeply understood craft. So for me, it can’t be an either or proposition; rather, technological prowess MUST start with the basics.

  23. Isn’t it odd, my father, at the age of 14 undertook his 5 year apprenctice ship immediately after WWII with a tradesman of 76 at the time. The master’s name was Archie, A man who would have served his own apprencticeship and ultimately plied his trade in the Victorian era. My dad still recalls Archie’s favourite phrase “The boys they send me now- a -days”, although generally a term of endearment it was also a gentle rebuke should my dad make a mistake. Such was the level of expectation from Archie.
    Having finished his apprencticeship my father was called up for his compulsory two year national service (Malayan conflict). After returning to civvies street he returned to the trade for a few years but left in 1959 as he felt the training and skills were being dumbed down. Even today he still considers the 1960’s the decade when less emphasis was placed on skill and quality and more on profit.
    On that basis, does every generation consider the one before less skilled? Interesting!

  24. G’Day Paul,,Yep they seem to want it yesterday,I’m power person,,but my root are hand tools,If you can do it with a hand tool then a power tool is better(PFFTT),
    Nar I did my time as a fitter,turner before carbide came in to place,sure faster,but no good if you didn’t under stand the basics,
    Lrarning why we ground a tool this way,,able to get a mirror finish on a job,Cutting screw thread with very little clearance,on a manual lath converted to metric from the old imperial scale,With numbers like 0,357 mms re-=tamped on the dial and cutting imperial threads,
    learning to file a piece of steel flat square and parallel to a size +or – a tho,using feeler gauges and a sized Ground plug gauge to measure with out side calipers,
    any one cab drive a set of mics,,but to get the “”Feel””to know old gear was more accurate then the new stuff,
    Spent a lot of time making special tools for jobs,,cannot buy them off the shelf,and it made my life easy,and save job time,,but with out the basics,,Nah,,

  25. Just a fabulous essay, Paul. At age 65 I can only dream of ever making a tool chest, coffee table & rocking chair over the balance of my days – much less in three weeks. I can’t even imagine where or how to begin. I really enjoy your work and the beauty & function of all that you make.

  26. Robert W Mielke

    I’ve been at my woodworking for more than 50 years now. Recently my physical conditions and living quarters won’t allow me to continue. I contacted a shop teacher in a local high school and he has been coming over and loading up his pickup truck with Lie-Nielsen bench planes, chisels, hand routers and hand saws. I would guess there’s about $5000 worth of brand new heirloom quality tools in my collection. Today a return trip will yield his a table saw, router table, drill press and a larger variety of power hand tools.

    I know I could sell all this but prefer to play it forward and help others learn a craft that has given me more pleasure than everything else combined. I will gladly help Mike load his truck a second time. Smiling! 🙂

  27. As a retired teacher, I can tell you children have not changed. Evolution works by slowly changing the structure of organisms, over thousands or millions of years. Children still love recess, socialization, being challenged physically, etc. They also love whatever you teach them if you make it interesting. Today, computer games and social media are much more appealing and rewarding for young people that cast iron tools. I taught both computers and woodshop. Today we combine the two with CNC machines, but my sixth graders loved to sand the wooden toys I made to give away. Yes, they loved the feel of hand sanding. They pleaded with me to teach them woodworking skills, but their parents insisted we teach them computer skills. Parents want their kids to learn marketable skills. They also take up their kids free time with adult organized sports programs. There’s little time left for kids to be kids. Finally, fewer and fewer parents can afford homes, so more kids are growing up in condos and apartments with no work spaces where a kid can pound nails and saw boards.

  28. tayler whitehead

    i find the discussion around the youth of today and their practical skills interesting. i read in the aa magazine last year (here in nz) that over half of todays young drivers cannot change their own tyres if they get a flat. personally i don’t blame the internet etc as that can be a helpful tool (if you get off it occasionally) i am 62, but when i was young and wanted something done i tried to do it myself. admittedly i didn’t have a lot of money back then for tradesmen, but i was willing to give it a go. usually a group of friends got together to help each other with bigger projects which meant shouting a few beers afterwards. i never had a father to show me how to do things, but that didn’t stop me wanting to try and learn. even though i spent my life working in management i have always done most of my own maintenance for vehicles, house etc. there is a satisfaction in being self reliant and seeing a job well done. i always worked on the maxim if they can do it, so can i. i just need to figure out what the corrects steps are.

    1. Personally things were simpler back then, in spite of some fathers being around in some cases. I don’t think at all that young people are not willing to have a go but `i do think that they have been taught always to go to expert people and pay for the job. It is also important to note that many things car cannot be undertaken simply because we no longer have access to highly specialised wrenches and drivers and such. I had a flat battery on my newish car and a specialist came out, hooked up his computer to the car and located the sensor that was denying the flow of electricity to my car from the battery that had no lugs either to jump start it. Such is progress. Every young person `oi have encountered anywhere has always been willing to have a go. I think systems can render our young people disabled and that is not their fault.

  29. My dad started his woodworking career as a cabinetmaking apprentice in 1945 or ‘46, at an architectural millwork shop. His leadership skills quickly moved him to a supervisor and shortly later to a management position. As a child (born in 1950), I wanted to be like my dad and have my own set of tools. The first thing we made was a sanding block. It was, as I recall, 1½” X2¼” X 5 ½” long. It had a saw kerf in the middle of one of the long edges about 7/8” deep. This was just right for inserting a strip of sand paper cut in half from an 8 ½” X 11” sheet of sandpaper. One end of the strip was inserted into the saw kerf and the paper folded crisply and tightly around the edges of the block and the other end of the strip was inserted into the kerf, and the friction of both faces of the sand paper held it in place. No PSA available then, or at least not inexpensively and wide spread availability.

    Most of the time dad supplied me with 80 or 100 grit, and I sanded everything, even things I was not supposed to sand. As I grew older and acquired more tools, I looked down on the lowly sanding block, but kept it handy. I did not use it much as I, in my teens, bought a used Porter Cable vibrator sander. I was in heaven, or so I thought.

    Although I have been active in the millwork industry for about 50 years, and always had a “project” going, I actually never developed any of the real skills of a journeyman cabinetmaker, and not even those of a low skilled beginning appetence. I was always in the office, pushing paper, drafting, selling, or working in administration. Here I am an old man and in all these years, have only completed about 5 pieces that I would want anyone to know I built. Kind of sad, but that is the reality. Now, as I approach retirement, I am trying to learn skills I should have learned 40 years ago. When I was younger, about 45 years ago I knew a pattern maker who started his apprenticeship in 1923, with the ATSF Railroad. Bill Lewis was truly a master. He knew how to measure and work to a line. I saw him cut Honduras Mahogany and then sand and file to a line struck with a knife. He did pattern work for ATSF as well as a number foundries that had consignment pieces. I wish I had learned more from him.

    My brother Jim owns a custom moulding company. He runs 3 or 4 Mattison straight line rip saws, 1 or 2 Mattison 276 moulders and 4 Weinig moulders. After being in the business for 47 years, he knows more about lumber processing than most of his competitors combined. Over those years, he was always involved in the manufacturing process. Over those same years, I was always an administrator, so I never learned anything.

    Back to my sanding block. I never realized how important “flat” is, especially if you are going to try to polish lacquer to a “mirror” shine. I always thought running a random orbital sander was the best way to get something smooth, but flat is more important. That lowly sanding block, while removing material very slowly, keeps the surface flat. Being flat is sometimes more important than other times, but the sanding block makes and keeps things flat.

    My dad has been dead for 11 years now. Several weeks ago I made a new sanding block, as closely as I could remember to that block dad helped me make all those years ago. I have many of dad’s tools, Stanley 55, Stanley #80 scraper , several Stanley bench planes, Stanley #78, Yankee screw driver, push drill, hand saws (Disston D-23 and D-95, as well as dove tail and tenon saws) and other assorted hand tools. Brother Jim and I split his tool a few years ago.

    I wish I still had that original sanding block that dad and I made.

    There are so many aspects of any hobby that I think people are in error to criticize any one who gravitates towards one aspect and then may or may not move on to the other aspects of the hobby. The old tool collector, the new tool collector, the weekend warrior who refurbishes the old table etc. or of the old #7, or the power tool guy, or the guy who uses both. Many people have the notion that “it must be done their way” or it is an unworthy pursuit.

    People should let others “find their own way” and enjoy the “journey” without criticism.

    My $ 0.02

  30. I went to a grammar school in the Midlands in the 1960s. We had woodwork and metalwork in our early years but academic subjects pushed them out later as O levels loomed.

    How I wish I had paid more attention to both teachers as I rediscover making things with my hands. I lack the precision, the dexterity and craft knowledge that I would like to make things. However, I slog on and thank people like you Paul for sharing your knowledge and experience because there is so much pleasure to be taken out of making something with my own hands and I feel sorry for folks who do not have the chance to use their hands.

    1. It is so very unfortunate that if someone is particularly attentive in the academic subjects and also likes to work with their hands the then teachers will ALWAYS push them towards higher education, getting a ‘good‘ degree, pressing on to even a masters and a PhD as though the academic degree is the magic bullet to discovering their one and only success path, security and financial stability. “Why waste yourself with manual working; you’re so bright?” It’s still far exceeds my understanding when the majority of graduates I have met and asked ‘the right’ questions of rarely actually used the degree they trained for to use throughout their lives. As I understand it there are more graduates working after graduation and enjoying just finding any work that pays their living accommodation or indeed spend years looking for the right work. We need to educate teachers many of which rarely worked outside of education and hardly know about the kind of opportunities that could use the bright sparks to redefine working in more manual realms. In audiences of 200 and up I have regularly asked how many attendees here work in jobs they feel fulfilled in. half a dozen hands would go up. Asking then how many use their degrees in the work they do, the same response. ask how many actually felt they themselves chose their degree path, less that 60%. In this I see an unfortunate reality.

      1. I agree. Unfortunately it is jolly hard in the UK to make the type of living achievable elsewhere from a craft based occupation. Very few craftspeople are able to command the price for their goods that reflects the effort and time that has gone into creating the article.

        Which is why I ended up in the City!

  31. The issue with schools is that they only have so much time. They focus on what is the comming techno land what they can tech the student to be able to join the work force and get a job. What company still advocates hand planes and any hand work at all? They are all CNC and big machines. I took wood shop in high school I the kid 90’s and lived it but it was a hobby rather than a profession. And I only really knew how to do things with big power tools that only businesses or really wealthy could afford. Auto shop was the same way but I made a profession out of that for a while. I just learned hand working wood for you after all these years and am better off for it, but could I get a job at a company with hand tool knowledge? Probably not these days. High school kids are better off with CNC knowledge. Your style of work, and the work I love and feel most connected to, is more of a one off bespoke style that is more artistry than Main Stream work these days. I don’t disagree with you at all, but we are in the minority for sure.

    1. Oh, I know there are all kinds of reasons for not encouraging any craft work of any kind and not the least of which is something commonly called ‘progress‘. It’s what’s being dismissed and by whom and what that matters the most to me. Eventually of course there will be no need for the labour force as we know it. Even half the engineers will be made redundant by the very things they creatively design. But just as the future is so very unpredictable so will be the twists and turns people take along the way. It’s NASA scientists that used to attend my classes in the USA, along with lawyers, dentists and doctors who could afford to buy the finest furniture but wanted to learn their own appreciation of the art and craft of working by making their own with their own hands. They would rather not buy but make, you see. I’m not bothered about schools teaching woodworking per se, without skilled artisan teachers that could really be more devastating than helpful. No it’s more that they allow kids to learn to understand for themselves what craft work is and that they at least have the chance to try something to see if that might be something that they want to pursue rather than mere academics. I mean, also, perhaps they can become skilled and have a higher education too. It is not true that they don’t have time, it’s what they are mostly programmed to think they ought to be doing and that includes playing games, watching devices and being subjected to digital peer pressures.

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