First, sorry that I lost some pictures today. I’ll try to get recreations of them tomorrow. Tom Iovino already agreed to re-enact his excitement at the Gorilla Glue booth. I spent the morning on the Expo Floor, visiting vendors and making some purchases.
Today’s Goodie Bag
|Knew Concepts Aluminum Fret Saw||This is a superior fret saw, very light, and very stiff. I’ll use this for removing material when hand cutting dovetails. Very excited to put this to use. Friendly staff at the booth as well.|
|Vesper Tools 4” Sliding Bevel||This is a real joy to handle, I only which the infill was available on the show floor. I’ll use this for dovetails as well, and I love that the screw that tightens the blade in the frame is out of the way. Nice guy and he joined us on the bus to dinner. Very well made stuff and I hope the show goes well and they are back next year.|
|Vesper Tools 4” Try Square||Towards the end of the day I went back and got this square from Chris Vesper. Very accurate across it’s length, and nice features like the patented support tab to help register the square. I’ll use this daily.|
|Superior Tool Works Stanley Bit Brace #923||My family found a set of Jennings/Stanley bits, likely belonging to one of my grandfathers. I felt the need to complete the set, so Patrick Leach hooked me up with a brace in nice condition and a 10” swing.|
|Popular Woodworking Book Store, Spons on Carpentry and Joinery||The Schwarz calls this “It’s like an encyclopedia of 19th-century knowledge on hand tools. Want to know about the different kinds of oilstones? It’s in there. How to shape the edge of an axe? Eleven ways to prevent rust? How to make a wheelbarrow and a chicken coop? How to use a "crotch punch" to set saw teeth? Want to see drawings of 24 kinds of nails? ” And it was a great price.|
|Popular Woodworking Book Store, The New Traditional Woodworker||As I transition more into hand tools, I’m sure this book will become essential. Shannon Rogers gave it a great review.|
|Popular Woodworking Book Store, How to Build Shaker Furniture||This classic contains 45 projects to build, now with color photos and an updated tool section. I’m going to tackle some of these projects, and I’m going to tackle them with hand tools.|
|Popular Woodworking Book Store, Artistry in Wood||I bought this book as a bundle with the Shaker book, and on the recommendation of Rob Bois. The book is more about furniture and building Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers of Auburn, ME. Full of inspiration.|
I have a lot of reading to do, but that’s fine. Summer is over and it’s football and woodworking season. I was even contacted for a woodworking commission today, and I have a lot more in my backlog. Overall I’m excited to get into woodworking season at WIA was just the right kickoff.
Beer is Proof that God Loves Us, and Wants Us to Be Happy
Tonight I attended a sold-out and completely packed after-show event at the Hofbrauhaus Newport. The topic "How to Save Woodworking – Five Views" with Chris Schwarz, Robin Lee, Brian Boggs, Chuck Bender, and Adam Cherubini.
“Our public schools have closed almost every shop class in every state. Professional cabinet shops are closing at an alarming rate because of overseas competition. The power tool business is shrinking and consolidating. And the overall woodworking demographic is getting older. Some people worry that all these worrisome trends will result in the serious decline of the craft. Can anything be done? We’ve found five people who have some insight into this problem and can offer up ideas and even solutions. Come find out what these leaders of the craft community have to say and be prepared to raise your own voice during a question-and-answer session after the meal.”
Chris opened with doom-and-gloom statistics that show the number of woodworkers in the US is declining rapidly. He did have an example of a business and craft that was growing even though customers were declining: beer brewing. His statistics showed that although beer drinkers have declined by 2%, the number of breweries has increased from 40 to 1700+ (sorry, I forget the time period that growth occurred). His point is that although people can buy lots of cheap beer, they aren’t always buying cheap beer, and sometimes they are spending more money for better beer. His question and challenge to us as woodworkers is to create high-quality “micro-brewed” furniture, educate consumers, and sell to them. A great discussion followed, with Adam Cherubini answering one of the most interesting questions of the night: “are we trying to save traditional woodworking as a trade (business) or as a craft?” The experts were divided with some believing that you could do traditional work and make a business of it, and others believing that consumers will continue to buy throw-away items instead of making long-term purchases of higher quality heirloom furniture. If we can’t make woodworking succeed as a business then the craft is relegated to museum preservation. I don’t think that is where we are headed.
Woodworkers are Authentic and More Responsible than Foreign Factories
Consumers are buying more locally and responsibly produced products in many areas of their life. Families attend farmers markets, buy handmade goods on Etsy, pursue organic food and fair trade coffee, and buy electric cars. They do this even when the products aren’t necessarily better, they do it for two other reasons (in my opinion). 1. The product is more authentic, and 2. the product is more responsible. People in Seattle worry about the carbon footprint of the California grown tomato. No really, they do.
It’s hard for me to explain what I mean when I say a product is more authentic. I guess the best example I can give is that authentic means that someone with real skill actually touched the product. Think Adele vs. Katy Perry, or The Gap vs. a hand-knit sweater. Responsible I think is easy – no one buys a Prius because it’s fast, sexy, or good looking. It’s a very ugly, slow, and uncomfortable car. People buy a Prius because they want to be responsible. They may tell you it’s for the economics, but I don’t believe them, especially those that paid a premium when they were in short demand.
So I think the position that woodworkers need make clear with consumers is that locally produced custom handmade solid wood furniture is better quality, but it’s also authentic and more responsible. When customers know that the wood for their piece was hand selected, shaped, joined, and finished by your hands, a warmth is imparted on the piece. You can enhance this by including them in the design, bringing them along to pick out the wood, and blogging in detail as you build the piece. It’s kind of like ultrasound pictures for a baby in the womb, only in this case the baby is their furniture and the womb is your shop.
You can also have conversations with consumers about the responsibility of your product. Use FSC certified woods, safe finishes, and build your product well. Explain to them about mass produced furniture being built from trees that shouldn’t have been harvested in the first place being shipped by the container full across oceans, cite examples of toxic finishes found on foreign made products, and help them understand that your product will never fall apart and end up in a landfill. And of course stand by your product if it does need repair.
I had to leave early tonight when the Oompa band drown out the presenters. It was a great discussion tonight with lots of passionate woodworkers in attendance and I think that is the first step. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is our craft worth saving? Can it be a real business for many of us, few of us, or is it doomed to historical recreations in museums? What else can we do to understand, communicate, and capitalize on our unique value proposition as woodworkers?