The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Two-minute hate

Today was the first day I managed to get in a few hours worth of woodworking in quite a while. I got started on the repair of my tool chest. There was a lot of repetitive work to be done, rip, cross-cut, plane etc. I didn’t mind it, I was actually pretty relaxed. It then dawned on me that I hate IKEA.

Why do I hate IKEA? Do I really need a reason? I just hate the place. I hate that people go there. Why do people have to go there?  Nobody should be allowed to go there. We should ban it!  I mean, from what I’ve heard they basically force you to go there and buy stuff. I see how it works. I see what they’re up to, and I hate it. That store is just ruining my life. I can’t really explain how, it just is.

Well, even though I hate it I probably shouldn’t. Because the one good thing about IKEA is that it gives me something to write about when I can think of absolutely nothing intelligent to say. I can just mention how crappy I think IKEA is and I have an instant woodworking article! No thought, no talent, no real opinion, no substance, no sweat!

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The pie in the sky keeps on turning.

Every so often I read a comment, or comments, on a woodworking forum that are so stupid that I have to bring it up on this blog. Before I go any further, let me state that I have nothing against your everyday stupid comment. But there are levels of stupid comment, and at the top of the list (or bottom depending on how you look at it) are the stupid comments that think they are really smart. So what is a “stupid comment that thinks it is smart”? Broadly speaking, it is any definitive statement made without one shred of evidence or real facts to back it up. Often, these stupid comments have been made before, and like many lies, if they are told enough people eventually begin to believe them.

The origin of the stupid comments I read just yesterday was the origin of many a stupid comment made on a woodworking forum: IKEA. For the record, I do not shop at IKEA nor do I own furniture from the store. I may likely never enter an IKEA. I have no strong feelings either for or against the place. But it does bother me when I read about the professed “hatred” of a store. Why? Because that so-called hatred leads to comments like “IKEA drives down the prices of real craftsman and makes it harder for them to earn a living!” What?

Let me tell you a story. It was a crisp, lovely Autumn morning roughly 12 years ago. My wife and I had just purchased our house and we were looking to furnish it. I thought it would be nice to go a furniture shop and have a nice bedroom set made. I had in mind a dresser, two side tables, and an armoire; oak was my wood of choice. The shop I went to had a book where I could choose a style I liked, or if I was ambitious enough I could bring in my own photos or even my own concept drawings. We picked from the book because there was a set my wife liked, and it was close enough to what we had originally had in mind. The person at the shop said they would work up a quote and mail it to us. Less than a week later the quote showed up. While I can’t remember the exact number, I do remember that it was more than the car I was driving at the time. Even more to the point, I could have gone to a place like IKEA, or Raymour and Flanigan, and furnished my entire house for what that guy wanted to charge us for a small bedroom set. So my question to the geniuses on the woodworking forum is: What the hell would have been my quote had IKEA not been around to “drive down the costs”?

For the sake of full disclosure, I have priced out custom furniture since then, I even purchased some of it. There wasn’t one instance where I thought to myself “That was less expensive than I thought it would be!” There also wasn’t one instance where I couldn’t have gone to a furniture chain store and gotten something comparable, or something that would have done the same job, for less money. Would the custom furniture have been made better? Probably. Would it have looked nicer? Probably. Could I afford it? For the most part, no.

I am not using this post to knock the costs of custom furniture, I am only saying that many people cannot afford to own it. IKEA has not affected the cost of custom furniture one way or the other; custom furniture was expensive, is expensive, and always will be expensive. “But IKEA contributes to the ‘throw-away society’ mentality!” Here is another story. I have a computer desk and chair I purchased at Staples at least 15 years ago. I paid $99 and change for the set. That desk, made of plywood, particle board, and veneer, would be considered a throw-away item to certain people on a woodworking forum. Well, it probably is a throw-away item in the sense that when I die it won’t be willed to anybody, nor will relatives fight over it. But, considering that at this point in my life it has cost me less than $7 per year to own, and it still works just fine, I would hardly consider it a piece of junk. A similarly sized custom-made desk, built from maple, oak, or cherry would likely cost in the neighborhood of $6000 if I know anything about furniture. That is 60 times the cost of the very serviceable desk that I own. Of course the custom-made desk would look far nicer and would definitely be of better construction; I just don’t know if those features are worth 60 times more to me. But that is just my opinion.

In conclusion, this amounts to nothing more than me ranting. But when people make stupid statements it makes me want to rant. Places like IKEA exist because they fill a need. Mass-produced furniture exists because it fills a need. At the end of World War 2 when entire continents were displaced, people needed mass produced furniture that was affordable; people still need it to this day. Today, maybe one person in one hundred can actually afford to purchase high end piece of custom furniture. Maybe one in ten thousand can afford to furnish their house that way. Now, I will freely admit that I have no real facts or figures to back up that claim, I am only using my knowledge of the cost of custom furniture and my knowledge of what the average person earns. Or to put it another way, nobody I’m friends with could afford to purchase more than one custom piece of furniture, let alone furnish their entire homes with the same. Yet I am supposed to believe that private furniture makers would be thriving if IKEA didn’t exist?

I’m going to say this for the tenth (and hopefully last) time on this blog: the golden age of heirloom furniture is a myth; it’s pie in the sky. I’m not sure where this notion of every home containing masterpieces came from, but it needs to stay off the woodworking forums. If almost nobody can afford custom furniture today, why would it have been any different in 1750? As I said, maybe one percent of the population will ever be able to afford to own a piece of custom furniture. Now, even half of one percent is still a lot of high end furniture, but what about the rest? Should furniture businesses stop manufacturing inexpensive furniture for the masses so as not to upset the sensibilities of a few people on a woodworking forum? Is that what the forum geniuses want? Or maybe, just maybe, should these people develop some sort of an informed opinion, shut up, and get back to woodworking?

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