The Future of Woodworking
One of the major goals and aspirations of my professional career has been to become a published author.
I am profoundly grateful to Highland Woodworking for their courage and willingness to take a risk on an untested and rather sawdust covered scribe.
Since I last delivered an article for them to publish, I have been quite busy developing furniture prototypes, providing furniture restoration and repair services, sketching new furniture ideas, and lately, I have returned to my former life as a restoration/refinishing artisan in the piano industry. Presently, I am hip deep in Steinways and Bosendorfer grand, and concert grand pianos.
So it is then, that my literary pursuits have suffered. Finally, I have found some time to address the muse that has been sidelined. You will excuse me, dear reader, if my writing is a little meandering. It's been a while, and my limited skills are a bit...ahem...rusty.
Today I just want to offer up some observations I have had regarding the state of professional woodworking.
At one time in my early career, it seemed that I had made a mistake investing so much time and effort learning what could arguably be called, a dying art. It felt as though woodworking in general, and handmade furniture in particular, were a fool's errand. Machines, CNC, and big box furniture warehouses were quickly replacing the woodwright in modern society.
To some degree, and at that time, I was right.
However, lately I find myself encouraged by younger generations taking up the mantle of woodworkers from the past. Though it seems an entire generation may have been skipped along the way (my generation) there seems to be a revival of interest in fine, handcrafted wares.
Glass blowers, Blacksmiths, Weavers, Carvers, are all finding a medium in which they can express themselves.
Mind you, with nearly an entire generation missing from the line of succession, these intrepid crafts people are finding ways to learn the craft on their own. Some get lucky and find an old salt to teach them, bridging the gap left by my generations absence. Some find small community colleges that offer classes to hobbyists, and then turn what they learn there into viable and growing business concerns. Some simply turn to YouTube, and teach themselves how to do what they do.
It's pretty remarkable how resilient the hand made craft community is. It is also quite heartwarming.
In some ways I think this is an outgrowth of the huge expense of higher education. In other ways, as it was in my case, it is an innate desire to create and a need to use my hands to do so.
Regardless of how they get here, I am always excited when someone who looks barely old enough to shave, approaches me for woodworking advice. I will usually drop anything I am doing and jump in to lend a hand whenever asked.
One last observation. I suppose it shouldn't be any kind of surprise, but it is one of the best, most encouraging things I have noticed lately.
Women. Women are taking up woodworking in numbers I have never seen before. I LOVE this.
In nearly 30 years of working wood professionally, I have rarely seen a woman in the shop. However, when I have had the opportunity to work alongside a female woodworker, they have, without exception, been far superior to their male counterparts. Always.
When I supervised or was in any way responsible for hiring on a crew for a woodworking shop, and a female woodworker would apply…..immediate hire. No if's, and's or but's. Usually this would be met with trepidation from management. Call it whatever you want, fear, misogyny, ignorance, whatever, those guys were always... repeat… always glad I argued as hard as I did for those hires.
Today, there is a growing population of women in modern woodworking. They come from all strata of socioeconomic backgrounds, of all races, and all ages. Their creativity and attention to detail are such a breath of fresh air. Not to mention that thy will flat out out work some guys. Which, I must admit, is really fun to watch. Normally the exhausted male woodworker is also the one who complains the loudest about her ability to "keep up."
In looking at the future of woodworking, I see on the horizon a blending of what most of us having been doing for some time. Blending hand tooling and machines.
With the advent of affordable and versatile small shop CNC equipment, I see good and exciting things in my future as well as the future of woodworking. Technological advances are making small shops more versatile as well as safer, more productive places to work.
What a time to be a woodwright. What a time to be a part of a new resurgence of interest in our beloved art form.
If you know a young person who seems to be interested in design, or building furniture, turn them on to A Cabinetmaker's Notebook by Jim Krenov. Let them feel their way through designing a piece. Help them work through the particulars as you teach them the basics.
Or, maybe a more reasonable thing to say is, be on the lookout for someone showing interest in working wood. Be willing to open your shop to their curiosity. Answer their questions. Embody the joy of working with wood. Watch what happens then…..I am betting you will not regret it.
John McBride is a professional woodwright, blogger, and writer, living and working joyfully and with abandon in Denver, Colorado. He welcomes feedback and connecting with those who read his ramblings, and can be reached
at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to drop him a note.
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