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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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Woodworking… The Road Ahead

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In the years that I wore half-a-dozen hats for a publicly held company, one of my more interesting responsibilities was to develop the company's rolling five-year strategic plan each year. I became fairly adept at reading the business tea leaves and prognosticating the future. Now that I am preoccupied (to the point of obsession) with woodworking, I will venture a few predictions.

2015 will see a major merger or partnership between two of our stalwart manufacturers, and as is the case when these things happen, a few lesser strategic alliances will develop as a competitive marketplace response.

Cheaper oil translates to cheaper gasoline, and while Congress wrings its hands over how to tax the price back up, consumers will enjoy the extra cash and woodworkers will put that money to good use. Businesses will still have a hard time justifying new capital expenditures, but hobbyist woodworkers will spend more than ever on tools this year, generating record revenues for some manufacturers.

Unfortunately, while transportation prices will provide some mitigation, lumber prices will continue to go up. Domestic hardwoods will lead the way, but everyday commodities (plywood, 2 X 4s, etc.) will increase in price, too. Exotic woods will likely stay close to the same (already sky-high) price.

In the ebb and flow of "woodworking fashion," as it were, power tools will begin a renewed ascendency, spurred by technological advances. We will see some all new stationary and hand-held power tools with technology we've not yet dreamed of. While all tool sales will increase in 2015, power tool sales will increase at a double-digit rate.

A well-known woodworker and one of our favorite woodworking writers will write a novel. It may be released this year or next. One of the candidates running for President in 2016 may be a woodworker or have some connection to woodworking (no, Jimmy Carter isn't running again!). And a new mainstream (network) television show will feature a character that lists woodworking among his/her hobbies.

The propensity of manufacturers to contort themselves into pretzel-like shapes in an attempt to advertise some "green" aspect of their products, real or imagined, will finally subside a bit. We all know that "Made in an energy-efficient factory" probably just means they have fluorescent lights and no air conditioning! On a somewhat related subject, many tool and accessory manufacturers have not yet embraced "frustration-free" packaging. More will this year.

My dream of a hot hide glue that doesn't smell like Yeti's privy will, alas, not come to fruition in 2015, nor will my hopes for a full-on all-out immersive U.S. conversion to the metric system, but on the positive side of the ledger, Woodpeckers will make another run of their one-time Bevel Gauge, and this time I will have enough money to buy one (the money is socked away already)! Big Box stores will move to alternative board labeling systems, eventually (and hopefully forever) vanquishing the stapled bar code tag. Already in some areas suppliers are experimenting with plastic staples… much more friendly when you inadvertently hit one with a saw blade! True or not, I credit SawStop for this positive change in product labeling.

Maintenance and service, particularly on stationary woodworking tools, will get easier this year (at least in some locales). This is a subject I will address in depth next month. As woodworking achieves "critical marketing mass" in some locations, new business opportunities will emerge.

Woodworking safety will get a huge boost this year. Expect big news from SawStop, either in the form of an expanded product line or a joint venture or licensing agreement. There will be a day (we all hope) when the nine-fingered woodworker is a thing of the past.

Females are naturals at woodworking… and the gender disparity that has existed in the past will ease dramatically this year. A number of factors will lead to this large incremental shift, but be prepared… expect to see a much more homogenous group at classes, trade shows, and other woodworking gatherings. Kids, too, will be reintroduced to woodworking. Perhaps not in shop class (unfortunately a thing of the past), but they will gain exposure through clubs, fairs, stores, and more. There is no turning back the tide of new woodworkers entering the hobby.

Just as woodworking transcends supposed sex boundaries, it also crosses cultural, geographic and language boundaries. Woodworkers are nice people everywhere. We have much in common. A group will start an organization that will bring multi-cultural woodworkers together in ways we have not seen before. World peace through woodworking is not such a far-fetched idea.

A new cream or lotion will hit the market. Although not designed to address the problem specifically, the product will be found to reduce the allergic reactions some people have to certain types of wood. Also on the product front, Festool will hire a left-handed engineer. Welcome news to all us southpaws. Expect Stanley to continue its re-entrance to the quality tool market based on the success of its Sweetheart line, and one of our top-tier hand tool makers will introduce an "intermediate" line of tools aimed at bridging the canyon-wide gap between big-box and heirloom quality tools.

The "Maker Space" phenomenon (places where "makers" can share tools, expertise, and materials) will stagnate, unfortunately. A host of reasons will derail these initiatives, but litigation and liability costs will be the most cited reasons.

There has always been a degree of "crossover" among hobbyists. By necessity woodworkers must also be at least somewhat proficient in working with metal, glass, and plastic. But this year the fashion in furniture will move even further toward what I refer to as "mixed media" and our crossover skills will necessarily increase.

2015 is, by the Chinese calendar, the year of the goat (or sheep depending, I suppose, on your perspective). The year of the goat is supposed to be a year of harmony and peacefulness. That will be refreshing, if true. Regardless, woodworkers will be happy. It is going to be a great year. Cheers!

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