I’ve said before that for the past few months I’ve been generally avoiding “professional” woodworking blogs and web pages. This isn’t because of some personal vendetta, but because I feel that they have little to offer me as a woodworker. If I want to order a tool, DVD, or book I will go on a professional’s blog or web page, but as far as every day woodworking content is concerned, I can get it elsewhere. On another note, I simply don’t find most professional woodworking blogs very interesting. Much of the time they are dull and filled with bad puns and even less funny jokes. Yet with all that being said, I made the mistake today of clicking on a “favorited” post from Twitter titled “An open letter to Christopher Schwarz”. The link directed me to the Lost Art Press blog, where a post was written concerning a book review of The Anarchists Tool Chest written by a woodworker named David Savage. I clicked on the link to read the review.
Before I go on I would like to point out that as far as David Savage’s review is concerned, I agreed with nearly all of it. David enjoyed the book and felt that most of tool selections that Christopher Schwarz offered were good ones. He also pointed out that Christopher Schwarz’s call to amateur woodworkers to take up the mantle of fine woodworking is probably not feasible. An amateur woodworker by his very definition is an amateur. Like I’ve said before, to ask and expect amateur woodworkers to behave and woodwork like professionals is quite frankly stupid. A hobby ceases to be a hobby when it is approached professionally, and to approach a hobby professionally is impossible, unless you have the time to devote to becoming that expert, which again blurs the line between avocation and vocation. The reasons that most hobbyists don’t become professionals in their chosen hobbies are the same reasons for nearly every avocation, from golf to art to playing chess, and that is the amount of time the average person needs to dedicate to a field in order to become an expert automatically transforms that hobby to “profession”. My point being, if you dedicate 60 hours of week to woodworking (or any hobby); you are no longer a hobbyist, whether you are getting paid or no.
What I don’t agree with is David Savage’s statement that creating is “anarchy”, because it is not. Hobby woodworking is no more anarchistic than hobby golf. My wife grows a vegetable garden every spring time; does that make her an “anarchist chef”? I think not. Learning woodworking, either through an apprenticeship as a pro, or through classes and books as a hobbyist, is quite the opposite of anarchy. It is in fact very much an act of conformity and discipline. So how did hobby woodworking get lumped in with anarchy?
I believe that those hobby woodworkers who identify with anarchy do so because the act of working with your own two hands was/ is entirely new to many of them. Let’s face it, most hobby woodworkers are wealthy. Most of them grew up wealthy. Many are teachers, or lawyers, or accountants etc. These are all important jobs, but they generally involve little or no manual labor or handwork. The world I was born into, that many people are born into, is a little different. Unfortunately I didn’t grow up on a bucolic farm that wasn’t really a farm or in the perfection of suburban paradise. I grew up in the gritty world of inner city Philadelphia, where everybody in my neighborhood was a roofer, or carpenter, or steelworker, or factory worker, or electrician. Working with our hands was certainly not anarchy to us; it was and is very much a daily grind performed to keep roof over head on food on the table. And the real truth is that I find it insulting when some guy with a lot of money and free time turns his hobby woodworking project into some sort of bullshit political statement by finding the need to add way, way too much significance to it. Being proud of your woodworking project is commendable; telling everybody who will listen that your woodworking project is an act of defiance to corporate America is nothing more than sad self-importance. People in this country and the world around create every day, which does not make them anarchists; it makes them people who work for a living with their hands. Hobby woodworking, on the other hand, is no more anarchistic than writing Harry Potter fan fiction.
So you might be wondering why I am writing this post, as I’ve said it before in other posts. Well, the reason I am writing is because David Savage came off as a complete jerk in my opinion, and his attitude is one that I bet is shared by too many professional woodworkers. He doesn’t seem to care for amateur woodworkers all that much, which is fine with me because I don’t care for professionals either. But it seems he doesn’t object to taking their money, which doesn’t seem very anarchistic to me but that’s beside the point. I will guarantee that somebody will say that David Savage is a great guy and I am misreading what he wrote. Maybe he is and maybe I am, but in this particular instance he comes off as a dick. He is not remotely funny, and he is not a great writer, and don’t take that as a personal attack because it is not. My dad is not funny nor a great writer either, but I still love him.
Christopher Schwarz was quite happy to have the good review, and I can’t blame him for that. But he did somehow seem to compare Savage’s writing to Ernest Hemingway if I am reading it rightly. Well, if David Savage is Ernest Hemingway then so am I. He is not close to Ernest Hemingway; as a writer he is not even Mariel Hemingway. That is once again not meant as an insult; most professional woodworkers aren’t good writers for the same reasons that most professional writers aren’t good woodworkers. I’m glad that the book received the good endorsement, and I hope it adds to the continued success of both the title and to Lost Art Press as a company. I’m sure that Savage is a top-notch woodworker, so the need to over exaggerate his writing skills was unnecessary in my opinion, and I’ve read nearly every Hemingway title, as well as enough of Savage’s articles to at least have the right to form that opinion.
In the end, I am not happy in the least that I clicked on that link. Like I said, I made the choice to stop reading most professional blogs and I’ve been a much happier “amateur” woodworker for it. The few that I do read, I generally enjoy and keep it very light during the rare times when I do happen to interact with the author or commenters. Yet, a small part of me is at least okay to have clicked on that Twitter link, because reading that article confirmed my instincts. I am extremely happy to have stopped reading professional woodworking blogs, and never was that point proven more than today.