Some time ago on this blog I wrote: If all it took to kill “fine” furniture-making was IKEA then the trade deserved its fate.
I stand by that statement even more so today than on the day I made it, but I would like to add an to it an addendum. For the profession of woodworking may indeed have been “killed” by so-called cheap furniture, but the profession’s cousins, woodworking media and hobby woodworking, were murdered by the very people supposedly perpetuating their existence.
I have been woodworking on a regular basis, meaning weekends, for the first time since last November. However, I have avoided woodworking media, magazines, books, and even videos, almost completely…that is until this week. I checked out a few (there are only few left) of the sites I used to view almost daily and almost immediately I discovered both the murderers and the murder weapon(s).
What was most frightening was not the content, which was disturbing enough on its own level, but the comments made after the fact. Instead of woodworking, I found pseudo-intellectual babble, BS political and economic philosophy, sycophantic kiss-assery (if you’re going to make fun of the President at least be funny and original), and worst of all: no dissenting opinion.
Why would there ever be a need for dissenting opinion on a woodworking site? Because it appears that these sites no-longer are about woodworking, they are about pushing an agenda that is quite frankly scary to me. Of course, I’ve made mention of this before, approximately 5 years ago, but I did not foresee the fall happening so quickly.
So what murdered hobby woodworking and the media related to it? A small handful of woodworking journalists. What was the murder weapon? The ideology they created in order to destroy competition, drive up costs, and sell their own products. Who were the accomplices? That is a little less clear, but my money is on the people who leave all of those lovely comments.
As I have said over and over and over again, the one thing that would and could end woodworking as a popular and viable hobby is the alienation of the working people who once were the professionals in the trade, and the middle class people who were once the majority of the hobbyists. This small group of writers managed to do both, and I have to give credit where credit is due, they did an absolutely terrific job of it.
Allow me to do a quick assessment of the current situation in woodworking media…
The few magazine editors still left are all journalism and English majors who may or may not have had a relative who once was a carpenter. The site operators are more focused on pushing products, a political agenda, and a horrible economic philosophy than actual furniture making. And the relative few who still read the very few magazines still in operation are upper middle class/wealthy people (nothing wrong with that in general, mind you) who have somehow come to despise capitalism and are now waging a war against “the man” and his “machine”.
I have to break it to you folks, and I hate to bring political ideology into this on my end, but the vast majority of hobby woodworkers I have met were and are what I would call politically conservative. When they pick up a woodworking magazine or sign on to a professional woodworking blog they really don’t want to read a political diatribe against corporations, religions, and the government. They don’t want to read comments such as “I’m a risk analyst for Manhattan Life, but I hate corporations! Down with the man!”, and they don’t want to be told that THEY are the problem, because they are not.
So what is the problem? First and foremost, much of the crop of woodworking writers who appeared as the new millennium began were not actual furniture makers. As I mentioned earlier, they were a group who studied journalism, or English literature, or marketing, and they couldn’t find jobs in their field because those fields are competitive and don’t really pay much, and frankly are far less relevant than they were in the past (for the record I am not belittling any of these fields, they have merits just as any other line of work does. I am only stating that in the current job market these fields are somewhat saturated).
This group, who really couldn’t write about woodworking in a way that spoke to hobbyists because they were likely even less experienced than their audience, decided to write about esoteric topics disguised as woodworking projects while at the same time interjecting their own political and economic beliefs into their work. In these magazines, actual furniture making became less important and was replaced with witty banter and subtle jabs at those who were not indoctrinated into the writer’s own beliefs. While I have zero magazine editing experience, I can’t imagine that alienating a large portion of your target audience is good business practice.
As the magazine’s focus became more narrow, more readers were lost. Couple this with a bad economy and suddenly tool companies stop advertising (mostly power tools, which remember are “bad”) and cheaply produced internet shows begin to take the place of long running television series. Because power tool companies advertising revenue drops considerably, power tools are even more vilified by the writers. The magazines focus narrows even more to cater to a more narrow readership and soon enough many different options are replaced by very few.
The few magazines still operating focus on hand tool work. In and of itself hand tool work is a fun and viable way to woodwork, but the writers cannot keep from continually narrowing their views. It no longer is acceptable to use hand tools unless those tools meet a rigid criteria. Writers begin to focus on minutiae which has little to do with actual furniture making, but who forged your holdfast, where you purchased your saw, which company made your chisels, where you purchased your wood, and which country your workbench originated from. These things and not furniture became the focus of most woodworking media. Single furniture forms are pushed continually in order to sell books and videos. More and more people are turned off.
Who are those people who were driven away? I am one of them, and as a middle aged, middle class man I believe that not so long ago I represented the demographic which made up the bulk of hobbyist woodworkers.
Today, woodworking magazines are a pale shadow of what they once were. Woodworking television shows are virtually non-existent, and the woodworking “blogosphere” is a near black hole of nothingness. The few blogs remaining spend more time on political preaching than on woodworking. Corporate maligning has replaced content (a small-company can screw you over just as easily as a large corporation and you’re kidding yourself if you think otherwise). And woodworking experts have been replaced by internet gurus.
So, yeah, just as the profession of “fine” furniture making has died, so too has the hobby along with its corresponding media outlets. The profession no longer exists for a number of factors. Some people will blame large furniture manufacturers, and that is a part of it, but in reality the profession has died because it is no longer necessary for the survival of the human race, which is the same reason that dozens if not hundreds of now non-existent trades have vanished. It is now a quite minor specialty field. And though hobby woodworking didn’t need to follow suit, it has for the reasons I discussed in this post. It’s quite sad, really, because I used to enjoy the media aspect of the hobby. Now, I get my woodworking media fix the old-fashioned way; I watch re-runs of The New Yankee Workshop on YouTube.