by Steven D. Johnson
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,
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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