The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Baby Come Back.

For the first time since I picked up a woodworking tool and tried to make furniture I do not subscribe to a woodworking magazine. Earlier this year I decided to let my subscriptions to Woodsmith and Popular Woodworking expire. My decision wasn’t based on cost; woodworking magazine subscriptions are generally cheap. I came to the conclusion that woodworking magazines were becoming more of a distraction than a teaching implement. At this juncture, I don’t have the time or need for dozens of different finishing or sharpening techniques; I barely have the time to focus on just one method. I don’t fault the publishers of woodworking magazines at all, they need to do what they have to in order to stay interesting. The problem is with me, not them.

This does not mean that I’ve stopped reading about woodworking. Lately, my woodworking “education” has more or less been reading books rather than magazines. While I enjoy reading woodworking books, I’ve found myself missing the familiar feeling of receiving a woodworking periodical in the mail monthly. Though the world of woodworking media may already be a long way down the digital road, I still miss stuffing the latest woodworking magazine into my bag and reading it during my break at work. Woodworking books, as much as I enjoy them at times, aren’t a substitute for magazines in that sense and likely never will be.

I could switch to a digital subscription. Like just about every household in America it seems, we also have a smart tablet, but I really don’t want to go that route. Maybe it’s my generation. My age demographic (born between 1965-1975) is probably the last generation in America that didn’t grow up in a digital world. To put it in perspective, I did not touch a computer until I was 13 years old. I took three years of typing in high school, the first two of which were taught on actual typewriters. While this is hardly the equivalent of walking miles to get to the nearest water pump, it pretty much makes me a dinosaur in the digital age. For example, my daughter, while in kindergarten, used an iPad rather than workbooks. Still, like the vast majority of my peers, I adapted to and embraced the digital age. Just last night after work, I plugged the smartstick into the TV and my daughter and I watched YouTube woodworking videos for almost an hour. Nonetheless, I honestly miss reading a woodworking magazine, and I really didn’t think I would.

So later on tonight I may just hop on the computer and renew my subscriptions to both Popular Woodworking and Woodsmith. My magazine withdrawal came as a real surprise, because for the first month or two I didn’t even think about it. But like an old pain-in-the-ass girlfriend that you just can’t seem to let go of, I find myself missing the familiarity of it all. Maybe she’ll end up breaking my heart again, but I think I’m going to risk it anyway.

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All things must pass

I just received notification from Popular Woodworking Magazine that my subscription will be ending in January and I can renew the subscription for one or two years if I am so inclined. The renewal fee for either time period is inexpensive, but the truth is that I am not sure whether or not I will do it.

A few years ago I very nearly did not renew my subscription, mostly because I really didn’t enjoy the magazine as much as I had in the past. That isn’t the case as of today. The addition of Chuck Bender, the re-addition of Glen Huey, and the ever steady Robert Lang have all done a nice job. More importantly, Megan Fitzpatrick, as far as I can tell, has done a great job as the content editor. To be honest, I’m not really sure exactly what goes into publishing a magazine, but I do know that since she has taken the helm the magazine has been very good and very consistent, and I have to think she deserves quite a bit of credit. for it. PW is currently the only woodworking magazine I read.

So why am I having an inner debate over $25? It’s not the money, not even a little. But if you’ve been reading my blog lately you know that my wife has declared a holy war over my woodworking hobby. So is there any point in my subscribing to a woodworking magazine when I may not be woodworking any more? I don’t subscribe to any music magazines anymore because I stopped being a musician. I don’t subscribe to my former union’s magazine because I am no longer in the union, and that magazine was free, and I actually wrote a few articles for it. So is there any point?

I like the idea of supporting a good magazine. If there weren’t people willing to subscribe then we wouldn’t have anybody willing to write, and good people such as yourselves would only have half-assed attempts at writing such as my own to keep you entertained in the woodworking sense. At the same time, a magazine like Popular Woodworking surely isn’t going to fold up and die because one half-assed blogger like myself decided to end his subscription because his wife is slowly trying to suck the life out of him. 

The thought of reading a woodworking magazine even though I no longer woodwork is really depressing to me. For some reason it’s even more depressing than the thought of an unused box of woodworking tools sitting in my garage. I have the idea that not renewing the subscription is basically admitting defeat. Yet, I also have the idea that I’ve already been defeated, and a woodworking magazine that I no longer have any need for will just be a sad reminder of when my life meant something.

Paperback Writer.

Yesterday I received a nice email from a person whom I’ve never met or spoken with. The person just wanted to let me know that he enjoyed my blog and thought that I was a talented and entertaining writer, and that maybe one day I should consider writing a book on woodworking. I was flattered, and though I’m really not sure if I am a talented writer or not, I did thank him for the compliment and his time.

I’ll give you the plain truth, I don’t know if I’m a good writer, or a bad writer, or even a writer at all. I know a few of the basics tenets of writing. Though I may be just a half Italian, half-Irish thug from North Philly I did take some writing courses in my time; I even once took a basic journalism course. I’ve read a lot of books in my life, and I like to think that I can distinguish good writing from bad writing. I’m not ultra-perceptive; I can read between the lines, but I don’t always see the deep meaning in books and films that those more savvy than I perceive and understand without straining a brain cell. But I do have an opinion, and I know how to express my opinion, and I certainly know how to convey my emotions “on paper” in such a way that leaves no misunderstandings. But whether or not that makes my writing “good” is a question I cannot answer.

Here is what I do know: I don’t have anywhere near the amount of experience needed to write a woodworking book; not even close. Even if I did have that experience, I have no idea what I would write about. But I also know that the writing in the woodworking books I’ve read leaves something to be desired. Some of that writing is nothing more than semi-coherent instructions on how to build a specific piece of furniture. A book with good photos definitely counts for something, in particular when those photos detail a construction procedure such as joinery, but generally they are dull to read. There have been some exceptions. I’ve only read two of Roy Underhill’s books, but I enjoyed them both for the writing. The books by Eric Sloane are usually enjoyable to read as well if you can get past some of Sloane’s preaching, though they technically aren’t woodworking books. This all still leaves me searching for a book that is not only a great woodworking book, but a great read as well.

When all is said and done, I don’t think that magical book exists. I hate to say or admit this, but here goes: Woodworking media is boring. I’ve never “laughed out loud” or “snorted coffee through my nose” when reading a woodworking book, magazine article, or blog, though I have seen many commenters that have claimed to do those things. I can’t say that my writing is any better; I think I’m funny at times; maybe I am, maybe I’m not. But it’s not my goal to make people double over from laughter while reading my blog. Many woodworking writers for some reason think they have to be funny, and there’s nothing worse than an unfunny person who believes that he’s the funniest guy walking.

If I do have a goal when it comes to writing a blog post, it is to present my opinion in my own voice. I write how I speak, and if this blog is entertaining then that is the reason why, because whatever I may be, I am a colorful guy. It’s my belief that most woodworkers that write about woodworking don’t write in their own voice. I think they try to write like “writers”. But I don’t want to read about woodworking from a writer, I want to read about woodworking from a woodworker, in his or her own voice. Does that mean bad grammar and foul language? Not necessarily. But maybe it does mean some honesty, and at that I mean being true to yourself.

But the real question is: Will I or would I ever write a great woodworking book? I can say in all honesty that it will never happen; I don’t have the talent. It doesn’t bother me, though, because I have a lot of company; nobody else has ever written a great woodworking book, either.

I suck because I care.

The latest issue of Popular Woodworking magazine strangely sat unread in my living room since it arrived nearly two weeks ago. It’s not that I didn’t want to read it, because when it arrived I quickly scanned through it. Usually when I get a new issue I will do one of two things; either read it right away or bring it to work to read during break. Neither of those things happened this time around. I was very busy leading into Thanksgiving, and then I got sick. When I say I’m sick, it isn’t “mommy I have a tummy ache” sick. I was laid up for nearly 5 days with the flu. I even missed two days of work, which almost never happens. So during that stretch I didn’t do much of anything, let alone read a magazine. So yesterday afternoon after football, and today during my break at work, I read the latest Popular Woodworking cover to cover. My impression? Another extremely good issue.

You may ask, what happened to the angry, foul-mouthed, vitriolic, cynical guy who used to write this blog? Nothing, I’m still mostly here. The truth is, I don’t suck-up much. It’s not me and it doesn’t look good on me, but, I am all for giving credit. Frankly, Popular Woodworking has been great over the past six months. In fact, when I did my magazine review post I had it ranked second behind Woodsmith. I still like Woodsmith a lot, but PW may now be at the top of my rankings. I’ve said this before, but I nearly let my subscription expire last year. I am glad that I didn’t. Both the old and new staff are doing a great job, and Christopher Schwarz, love him or hate him, is contributing more to the magazine with some very good projects and woodworking profiles. The best part is that I know that it can and will improve even more, you can almost see it coming.

There were several really good sections in the latest issue. The first thing that caught my eye was a pretty ingenious little idea in the tips and tricks section for a saw till. Roy Underhill’s article about combination planes is another winner, as is Christopher Schwarz’s profile of Australian tool maker, Chris Vesper. Vesper seems like a very nice guy, but he can’t seem to figure out why he can’t find a girlfriend even though he basically lives in a shed that doesn’t have indoor plumbing behind his parent’s house, which it also seems is somewhere in the middle of nowhere. He may make world-class tools, but he doesn’t know squat about women. Anyway, my favorite article is by Glen Huey, and is about lock hardware. Though I am no locksmith, I always enjoyed the inner workings of a lock, and this article sheds some light on that subject. Not only that, it introduces some lock terminology, which is always nice to know when you are planning on adding a lock to your work.

So, at the risk of once again royally sucking up, I have to say that Popular Woodworking magazine has published another great issue (Dec 2013 #208 if you need to know) If you haven’t checked it out, please do. I’ll be honest, I only read two woodworking magazines anymore, and both have been great. I’m having trouble finding stuff to complain about, which I’m finding to be upsetting. In all seriousness, PW continues to do some really good things, and if I have the right to criticize, I should also have the responsibility of praising when it deserves praise. For the last six months, Popular Woodworking magazine certainly has deserved all of the praise I’ve given it. If you are a woodworker, and you aren’t reading it, I really think you should start.

The Contributor

wordpress-contributor

To a man, we all have delusions of grandeur sometimes. For a woodworking blog writer such as myself, that may mean believing that what I write actually inspires another woodworker, or helps another woodworker, or at the least shows woodworking from another perspective. Maybe I have accomplished those things in some small way, or maybe I haven’t. The problem I have is that as a woodworker/blog writer I have little or no credibility. I am not a professional woodworker, nor am I a professional writer. I’ve had little training in woodworking, and my instruction in writing is limited to general high school and college English courses. I am a rank amateur. In fact, what I probably should be writing about is electrical work and tools, which are subjects where I may be considered an expert, or at the least accomplished. But while I make my living in the electrical world, it is not a field that draws many hobbyists. It is very much a technical field following fairly strict rules and guidelines. i.e. it is not something most people would do for fun in their free time. Woodworking, on the other hand, thrives on the weekend warrior.

The financial success of woodworking magazines and web pages depends on the hobbyist. The hobbyist is asked to contribute to the “woodworking community” nearly every day. I am somewhat cynical, I freely admit. I do not often trust the motives of many, especially when they are selling something. But just as I am a cynic, I am also an optimist, and there have been times when I thought that my contributions, as it were, have made a difference, at least a little. The real, sad, truth of the matter is they have made no difference, not really. My blog fails on two levels. Firstly, I am not selling anything here, therefore it generates no capital whatsoever. Secondly, it generates no capital whatsoever. I’ve discovered that in the world of woodworking, when you aren’t selling something, and you aren’t making anybody money, you are not considered a contributor.

I like to read other amateur woodworking blogs such as my own. I’ve found some good ones right here on WordPress, among other places. These blogs feature some good writing but more importantly, good woodworking. Besides the fact that they are amateur blogs, what else do they all have in common? Well, it goes without saying that they aren’t selling anything woodworking related: tools, furniture, or both, and secondly, nowhere will you find them on any “must-read” blog list. That second point bothers me, a lot. Why does it bother me? It has nothing to do with recognition for me or anybody else. Recognition to an amateur means next to nothing when it comes down to it, other than a feather in your cap. But it does have something to do with what is “good” for woodworking. Most of the “must-read” blogs that I’ve read have two things in common: they are selling something, and as far as blogs go a lot of them suck. Maybe my blog sucks, too, but it isn’t selling anything, and it isn’t on a list of blogs considered culturally significant in the world of woodworking. The optimist in me likes to believe that a list of must-read woodworking blogs would not only be entertaining, they also wouldn’t require a credit card number and expiration date. The cynic in me knows why they do.

Before I finish, I would like to say that I am not implying that all professional woodworking blogs/web pages are bad and not worth a look. Some of them are quite good. I would also like to acknowledge that I am all for seeing the financial success of professional woodworkers and blog writers everywhere. In fact, I can say without hesitation that I’ve tried my best to solicit some of these blogs, because they certainly deserve the support of the woodworking community. Not to sound like Dr. Seuss, but I have to think that what is “good for woodworking” doesn’t always have to carry a price tag. I’ve learned as much from amateur blogs as from anywhere else, and I’ve been much more entertained; I can’t be the only woodworker to make that claim. I also have to think that a must-read woodworking blog list just by the law of averages should have its fair share of amateur blogs on it and sadly almost none of them do. So what is the message being sent, to be a contributor to the woodworking community you probably should be selling something? For me, a contributor to the woodworking community is not selling, but making, and then sharing his/her experiences with the rest of the group. There’s just not much of that going on. So I am going to do my part and not contribute to any blog but an amateur one, and of course my own. That may be nothing more than the statement of a self-important ego maniac, but it didn’t take a credit card number and expiration date for all of you to find that out.

Sawstop legislation revisited.

Last night I was on the web doing a little online tool browsing and checking out a few woodworking websites and came upon a few older discussions concerning “Sawstop” legislation and its fairly recent demise. I had gotten into some pretty heated debates over the topic last year, well at least as heated as a debate can be when it takes place over the internet and not face to face. Since the legislation failed to pass I’ve heard little about it since and I can honestly say that I’m glad of that fact. But I am still upset over the issue, and I don’t mean the verdict. Truth be told I could care less that the legislation failed. But what did bother me and what I still can’t come to terms with is why the woodworking editors, or writers, or journalists, or whatever they are calling themselves these days, had such a problem with the proposed bill.

I heard the standard answer many times: Sawstop legislation will create a monopoly and the cost of table saws will go up so dramatically that people won’t be able to afford them anymore and it will ruin woodworking forever. Now, almost any person with half a brain will tell you that this is nothing more than the silliest form of a scare tactic. Using this logic you can also assume that if the Sawstop Legislation had passed then it’s possible that no piece of furniture may ever be made in the United States ever again. A lawyer or scholar may refer to this as Reductio Ad Absurdum, meaning a person takes any statement, law, or debate point that they don’t agree with and concludes that it will result in an extreme worst case scenario. It’s almost like a child saying that he doesn’t want to take a bath because if the water gets too cold he could catch pneumonia and die, or he doesn’t want to get his hair cut because if the barber slips he may kill him with the scissors. In any case the statement was absolutely ridiculous because it was and is completely unfounded. I’ve seen it written many times in many forms in and on just about every woodworking magazine and its corresponding web page, but I’ve not seen any…ANY numbers or proof of any kind to back the statement up. So then, is it okay to put that statement out as just the journalist’s opinion? I guess so, but it was never presented that way, not that I’ve seen.

Before I go on I want to point out that I know that some of the people who read this blog may have agreed with the decision. I also want to point out that I am not writing this to defend Sawstop. I don’t own any Sawstop products personally. At this point in my life I probably couldn’t afford to own a Sawstop table saw. I have nothing against them. If somebody offered to give me a Sawstop saw tomorrow I would happily accept it, the same way I would happily accept a free Delta Unisaw. I also want to point out that I have nothing against the handling of the legislation by the California state government. It was handled democratically, a decision was made by the state elected officials and I stand by it. I am not an anti-government nutbag who fears any form of government regulation. The way I see it is: use of the table saw results in thousands of accidents and injuries every year, and somebody in government felt the need to investigate table saw usage and found that there may be a need for some new form of safety or protective device that could help to lessen those injuries and the severity of them. I think they call that concern for the safety and well-being of the constituency. I can recall somewhere that being part of the oath of office, but I could be wrong. The California State Legislature felt that the current protective measures being offered are enough and that the consumer should be able to choose whether or not he wants Sawstop technology on his table saw. That is Democracy in action. With that being said, I’m also not here to defend everything that the government does. There are of course many problems that need to be fixed: corruption, greed, infighting, and illegal lobbying; I could go on and on. What I am saying is that you cannot assume that because some members of government are corrupt that all government legislation is corrupt. Well, maybe you can assume but it’s probably not a good idea not to do it.

Here we are six months after the legislation was shot down and I’ve yet to find an answer on why much of the woodworking magazine community was so dead set against it. Was it in defense of the quality of Ryobi Tools, which was the subject of a lawsuit involving a table saw accident? I’ll be forthright and say that I own a Ryobi surface planer and router. They are decent tools for the cost. I can also say that I’ve done both woodworking and carpentry on Ryobi table saws and I wasn’t very impressed with them. In fact, I would go as far to say that I would rather work completely by hand than use a Ryobi table saw again, and that is just my own personal opinion and view on their saw(s) as a woodworking tool. I would make an even bolder statement and say that IF the only table saw offered on the market was made by Ryobi then THAT could possibly ruin woodworking. Does that statement sound a little ridiculous? Check out the bold statement at the beginning of the blog before you answer that question.

So where does this leave me as a woodworker? Nowhere, the same place I was a year ago I guess, but a little less naïve when it comes to woodworking magazines. Because through all of the conjecture, all of the debate, as far as I can tell only two magazines of all of the woodworking magazines I’ve seen stayed out of the argument, and they also happen to be two magazines that do not accept advertising. Do I sound like a conspiracy theorist that is distrustful of woodworking magazines? Before you answer that question check out the bold statement at the beginning of the blog and tell me who is more paranoid, and who actually has a little proof to back their statement up. As I said, every woodworking magazine that I’ve read, that also included paid advertisements in its pages, had an editorial written both in print and on the web that denounced the proposed legislation. I’m not saying all woodworking magazines that take advertisements, I don’t know because I don’t read them all, but at least four of them did. I won’t name them, but you can trust me that I am telling the truth.

Why then? Why the denouncements? Were they trying to save woodworkers money? HAH! Pull the other leg it plays Fur Elise. Was it in defense of the Power Tool Institute, an organization that cares so much about woodworkers that I had never even heard of them until the legislation was proposed, and I sell power tools for a living! Who benefitted from keeping power tool manufacturers from making safer and better tools? Wasn’t me. I will say one thing in defense of Sawstop; I’ve used their saw and it was a great tool. I can’t say that about Ryobi’s table saws. Sorry to all of you Ryobi owners out there, I’m not running you down or your tools. Use whatever makes you happy and whatever you can afford. I’m only bringing up Ryobi because the case that started all of this drama involved a Ryobi saw and the Ryobi Corporation was a big opponent of the legislation. I simply find it hard to believe so many woodworkers felt that the government was out to get them, and that a corporation and their lawyers were looking out for their best interests?!? Call me an enemy of capitalism and the free market or a commie, socialist dog but I stand by my beliefs. We are in an era with metric tons of living proof just at the end of our fingertips showing the amount of corruption, graft, corner-cutting, and downright fraud committed by corporations against consumers, yet we were told by our heroic editors of several woodworking magazines that the government was out to get us through over regulation and that the only people who hurt themselves on table saws were buffoons who got what was coming to them because they didn’t put the riving knife in place. A lot of woodworkers bought it, at least from what I saw on the forums. We were told by magazine editors and writers that Sawstop saws were dangerous because they were so safe that they induced carelessness on the part of the user??? WHAT!? Of course there were again no, none, zippo, zilch, nada, zero numbers or proof to back that ridiculous statement…yet it was made more than once. That’s like saying that people who wear seatbelts are more likely to drive like maniacs. I have to question that line of thinking as a human freaking being who knows a little about logic. Maybe I’m a fucking thug who looks like a fucking thug but I’m not stupid.

That’s where I stand. That’s why I feel the need to question the statements of woodworking editors and writers from time to time. That’s why they sometimes don’t care for me too much. The problem with me is that I do happen to care. I care that woodworkers were told that buying a safer table saw was another nail in the coffin of hobby woodworking. I care that people who got hurt on table saws were called stupid by other woodworkers, some of them professionals nonetheless. I care that many of the woodworking magazines I’ve read contain nothing but biased advertisements and reviews for tools and other woodworking equipment, at least in my opinion. Yet we’re supposed to trust everything they say and take all of it at face value. Like I said, maybe I’m nothing more than a thug who looks like a thug, but I ain’t stupid.

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