Thomas Friedman's 2005 book "The World is Flat" describes our planet's new reality. The computer and the Internet have made it possible for people to connect via virtual bridges of interest anywhere on the globe.
Before my Maloof Inspired Rocker plan bundle became available with the DVD through Highland Woodworking, I sold a small booklet along with the full-size patterns on my website charlesbrockchairmaker.com. Each morning I would open my email and see if I had any new purchases through my PayPal account. There had been many sales to Canada and even Sweden, but one morning I saw a name written in Russian. Vladimir Parfenov was quite willing to pay the extra shipping cost to get the package all the way to Moscow!
I was a middle school student during the Cold War. The nuclear arms race was accelerating and I recall having fears of a nuclear holocaust. Our neighbors built fall-out shelters and at school we practiced getting under our desks in case of a blast. (This seemed kind of funny to me because the desktop was wood and I figured that getting under would only accelerate our destruction.) The Cuban missile crisis worsened our fears to the point that 12 or 13 year old boys were talking about "the end" rather than girls and Mickey Mantle.
Now at 60 years old I found myself connecting with Vladimir in Russia who desperately wanted to build my rocker. He told me he was a beginning carpenter and was very motivated to achieve. His emails are either translated through software, or else he speaks and writes some English for which he is apologetic. On the 4th of July he emailed me saying "Happy Independence Day!" This was a great moment for me. I learned that the world (as Thomas Friedman claims) is indeed virtually flat. People can connect and unite to build those bridges through common interest threads like woodworking. It has helped me realize that Vladimir and I are probably more alike than different.
I recently received some answers to questions I asked Vladimir about his experiences as a woodworker in Russia. He sent me some pictures of his finished chair, told me his story and thanked me for my help.
Vladimir says that woodworking education no longer exists in Russia, so he has to research his woodworking interests on the Internet and learn by trial and error. After he saw a picture of a Sam Maloof rocker, like myself he was blown away by its beautiful shape. Although he calls himself a beginner, he is a very talented box designer and craftsman.
He began collecting tools for shaping wood to go along with the other tools in his 140 square foot shop that he maintains in the basement of a multi-story apartment building where he and his family live. His choice of wood for the rocker was 8/4 beech because it is plentiful in Russia and 10 times cheaper than walnut. He made a few errors along the way building his chair, but perseverance and a woodworker's commitment brought his dream rocker to completion.
Hearing Vladimir's story has helped me realize that a passion for working wood can transcend geographical boundaries and cultural differences and that we have a lot in common no matter where we live. We become inspired to work on a project and research our current questions (thank goodness for the Internet), buy or collect the tools we need or want, select wood that we can afford, retreat to a shop that is always too small, then work through the compromises of victory and defeat until we have made our project a reality.
I was thrilled to have my rocker patterns reach around the globe, but best of all to have had the opportunity to make a friend in faraway Russia. After all these years, woodworking and the Internet have helped us join hands as "comrades."
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