Last night I couldn’t sleep, so I turned to our modern past time of searching the internet to keep my mind occupied. I checked out woodworking sites and blogs, on wordpress and other sources, just to see if something caught my eye. One of the things I noticed was that most woodworking blog writers, like myself, often have photos of their tool sets, or photos of their tools in action as a prominent part of their blog. That wasn’t a surprise to me. I’ve yet to meet a woodworker who wasn’t proud of his or her tool set/collection. It is one of the fun parts about woodworking: getting a tool set together and slowly watching it grow. But one of the things that did surprise me was not only the amount of tools that many of these bloggers had, but also the high quality (meaning cost among other things). I’m not a tool pricing expert but I can usually come pretty close to the mark when it comes to pricing an off the shelf woodworking tool. Many hobbyists more than likely can say the same, after all, we all probably spend a little too much time looking at tool catalogs to begin with. Even if we aren’t necessarily trying to remember tool prices, some of it gets absorbed by osmosis. So this did get me to thinking about my own woodworking tool set, and how pitifully small it actually is. To put it in perspective, I came across several hobbyists blogs where the writer, who was an amateur like me, had sets of rasps that cost more than my entire tool set. I’ll be the first to say that I was and am a little jealous. My wife and I both make a decent living, but there is no way I could afford to own tools such as those. One other thing I did notice was that few of these bloggers posted any photos of furniture they were working on, or if they did it was generally a workbench. So this led me to believe that more than a few of them were new woodworkers. I would guess and say that I checked out around 40 different blogs, give or take. The big suprise to me was that many of these bloggers had basically complete tool sets, like they were purchased from a list, but had failed to really start using them as of yet. Nearly all of these blogs had one other thing in common, but I will get into that later.
Last year, 2012, was probably my first “full” year as a woodworker. I had definite ideas for the furniture I wanted to build and I managed to get just about everything I had planned on making built. I completed five pieces last year: a side table, a Stickley magazine cabinet, a TV stand, a bookcase, and a wall cabinet for my garage to hold stains and other supplies. I will not say that these were all perfect creations, but I think they turned out damn nice. Of the five, four are in my living room right now, looking pretty good and functional as well. Even better, I’m happy to say, is that they are well made; I didn’t build any junk last year. With all of that said, here are the woodworking tools I can remember purchasing last year into this year: a carvers mallet, a 5/8 chisel (to replace my other one), a new sharpening jig, a router plane, a jointer plane (a vintage one), some vintage bits for my brace, a spokeshave, and my recently completed Hock Block Plane kit, and a new jigsaw. I probably spent around $700 last year on woodworking tools. The good news, for me, was that much of the money didn’t actually come out of pocket. I had sold some instruments and music equipment that I had taking up space. This allowed me to not only purchase these tools, but the material I used to make my furniture. I thought I did pretty good. I was able to woodwork, pick up some new tools and the materials to use the tools on, and do it without hardly taking a dime out of our bank account.
So up to this point you are probably thinking: “I’m basically reading a post by a jealous ego maniac who claims to make more furniture with less tools.” Maybe, but I am getting to my point. As I was saying earlier, almost every one of the blogs I read last night had one thing in common: they all referenced The Anarchist’s Toolchest in one way or another. Many of the blog writers made claims such as: “I will never slay electrons again!” or, “I just got rid of my Kreg jig!” or “No longer will the table saw be the center of my shop!” You can pick just about anything that Christopher Schwarz put in the book and it was somehow quoted on one of these blogs. Often, the header of the blog had some such proclamation as well. At least half of them made claim to be “My Journey into Handtools” or something to that effect. And of course just about all of these blog writers had purchased much of the tools from the “recommended” tools listed in the book. So before you start thinking that I am bashing Christopher Schwarz, rest assured I am not. What I am bashing is those who read one man’s self proclaimed journey away from consumerism and towards individuality, and then proceeded to PURCHASE every tool in the book because that’s what the book TOLD them to do. I hope I’m not the only one seeing the irony here!
Again, you might say to me: “What do you care!?” And that is a legitimate question and point. If these people want to use The Anarchist’s Toolchest as their guideline why should that bother me? Well it does bother me because I actually read some of the content of these blogs. I will say it again that Schwarz somehow has instilled into the heads of these blog writers that unless you woodwork just like him you are nothing more than some kind of hack. You know what? I don’t need to read on your blog that Ikea makes junk. Schwarz said it about a thousand times. I don’t need to read how chisels made in China suck because Christopher Schwarz said so. I don’t need to read that some guy who made his wife a set of shelves with a Kreg jig is destroying woodworking. I don’t need to hear that every tool you have for woodworking fits right in your chest and that’s all you need to make furniture because yet again Schwarz has said that every day for more than two years. Get an original thought in your head if you are going to write a blog. I’ll go right to the source when I want to read such statements, because at least when Schwarz writes them it is well written and entertaining, not a half-assed Cliff Notes version of somebody else’s philosophy. And I want to say it for the record once again. I am not blaming Christopher Schwarz! He simply wrote a mission statement. He cannot control the reactions of every lost soul who read it and decided to turn it into some kind of woodworking holy war.
So I am going to pose a question, from one amateur woodworker and blog writer to another. Before you decide to put on your blog that woodworkers who don’t use handtools from the Anarchist’s Toolchest and woodwork just like the book says to woodwork suck and are destroying woodworking and in the process destroying your life, be prepared to defend that statement. Because every time I’ve read it I’ve seen nothing to back it up at all. Not one fact, not one statistic…nothing. It’s just an arbitrary statement, nothing more. It’s easy to make an arbitrary statement and make it sound somewhat official. It’s not so easy to come up with an original idea and present those ideas and work on them and defend them and make them into a reality.
I think I am doing something wrong because I’m finding that my blog and woodworking philosophy are much different than many of the other blogs I’ve been seeing lately. Thankfully I don’t have to subscribe to them, but it has made me question my own philosophies, and if I should even keep on writing them down. It seems that I am in the vast minority of woodworkers that blog about it. If I could afford to own a dedicated workshop loaded with woodworking tools I would without feeling that it is wrong. I don’t see how that could bother or affect some guy who just spent $10,000 dollars on hand tools because he read a book that told him that it’s the only way to woodwork and save the world. I’ve never once in this blog questioned somebody’s methods of woodworking. If somebody dropped me a note or left a comment I never bother to ask if they use hand tools or power tools because what does it matter? If they have a blog and on that blog is a piece of furniture they are working on that I think is nice, I will let them know. I don’t care if they made it using a set of chisels from China or if they ripped the boards on a table saw, or if they have a $1000 set of French made rasps. That is what I like to call using your brain to formulate an opinion and exercising judgement when presenting that opinion. But maybe I’m dead wrong, yet I do know this: From a lot of these self proclaimed whatever-they-ares, I’m reading a lot of “blah blah blah” that was much better written and presented at the original source. I like to call Christopher Schwarz the Generalissmo, but I think my new nickname for him will be the Shepherd, because maybe those “blah blah blahs” are really nothing more than Baah Baah Baahs.