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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

This month:

Who is the "Down To Earth Woodworker?"

Readers Respond to Justifying Your Next Tool Purchase, (May 2010 Wood News)

A Dirty Little Woodworking Secret

A Disturbing Psychological Phenomenon

Reader Follow-up to 5S Your Workshop

Down To Earth Woodworking

If there were some reliable demographic studies, I could undoubtedly find the woodworking group into which I fall and with which I should most closely identify. Intuitively, though, I suppose that it breaks down a little like this:

About 2 to 3 percent of woodworkers belong to the elite group that are not simply building furniture, but instead are making heirloom works of art. These are the pieces and craftspeople that we all admire, and for some of us, provide motivation to strive for excellence. For some, however, these artists and their works represent an unattainable, and possibly even unrealistic standard. Does anyone else ever feel slightly diminished by these incredible works of art? I will admit that I do... sometimes.

Mostly, though, I am pretty down to earth... comfortable in my own well-worn skin. The vast majority of my projects require just intermediate-level skills, though I am always reaching, stretching, and trying to learn and improve. The projects I build, generally of my own design, lack the grace, proportion, creativity and skill of execution that could elevate them to heirloom status. But, these pieces make their recipients and their creator very happy. My projects are almost always gifts. The gifts suit my friends and family well, and the few pieces I keep suit me well, too. Recipients of my gifts are moved by the fact that it was made, not bought, and that considerable effort went into the project — as long as I avoid pointing out any of the inevitable flaws (more about this in a minute).

We middle-of-the-road down to earth woodworkers likely represent the majority (perhaps even the vast majority) of hobbyists. We will not likely be creating one hundred-thousand-dollar plus one-of-a-kind commissions for the rich and famous, and our work will not wind up in the Louvre or the Museum of Modern Art. But we have fun. Lots of fun. Every day we get a little better, our designs get a little more elegant, and our confidence grows. We learn from our mistakes, our successes, and from one another. We read, we imagine, and we experiment, and sometimes our "tinkering" turns out great.

There is a third category of woodworkers that is made up of beginners and young people, all neophytes. This is a relatively small percentage of our total hobby population, but with our encouragement, this group can grow.

Being down to earth is easy. It requires no pretense, just a dollop of humility and a desire to help others. Most of all, being down to earth just means that not one of us has a monopoly on skill, knowledge, or creativity. Instead, we share our ideas, our best practices, and our knowledge, and we always listen, are always open to new ideas, and we thirst for continual improvement. Our skill levels and our experience vary greatly, but our love for woodworking does not. We enjoy our hobby, and enjoy it when others join us. There is a spirit of camaraderie that makes us, we hope, special.

As a down to earth woodworker, I know there will always be a portion of the woodworking world that is better than me. I also know that I will be better at some things than others. But I stay forever grounded and maintain a commitment to growth, knowledge, skill, and most of all, fun for woodworkers, regardless of expertise or experience. The front of the current Highland Woodworking catalog says, "Helping You Become A Better Woodworker" and I think that applies to all of us, regardless of skill level.

We hope you enjoy this new monthly column, dedicated to that vast majority we call Down to Earth Woodworkers. Of course, we welcome all beginners and neophytes, too, and hope that as you become increasingly "hooked" on this wonderful hobby, and as you grow in skill, experience, and knowledge, that you, too, will remain "down to earth!" We also welcome the elite group. We stand humbled at your expertise, and welcome your input.

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