Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 154, June 2018Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
The Madcap Woodwright
By John McBride
Denver, CO

Passing Woodworking Along to Future Generations

When I began writing here for Highland Woodworking, my first article was my professional biography. In it, I wrote about how the seeds of my passion for woodworking were sown by my high school woodshop teacher (later the man I would apprentice under professionally).

If not for Mr. Rauh's sensitivity to untapped talent and unfocused interest, I would not be the woodworker that I am today.

It is exactly this kind of teacher that modern woodworking needs today. Someone who is both passionate about the craft, and also able to discern in his/her students those that have it in them to carry the art forward.

These people are in short supply. Modern educational budgets and shifting labor force needs are causing a shift away from traditional vocational tech models and toward higher tech models (i.e. Artificial Intelligence, computer programing, etc).

Now, I understand that the march of progress is important. I also understand the need to equip our younger generations with the tools that they need to compete globally.

However, I submit that the traditional shop classes still hold great value. Auto shop for example, allows younger generations to pull back the curtain on the machines that carry them to and fro. It teaches them to be more fearless and self reliant.

The same can be said for metal working, or ceramics, or any of the other, more common "shop classes" that once were prevalent in high school.

Which brings me to woodshop class.

I suspect that I was actually amazingly fortunate in that, the education I got in Woodshop was probably the exception, not the rule, when it comes to normal woodshop classes. I had a teacher who taught in, what today would be called, "old world" apprenticeship style. Think through the entire project and chart the course through the use of a Plan Of Procedure. Seemingly endless hours learning how to make tooling truly sharp. Learn to effectively use hand tools before any machines were brought into the picture, etc.

Add to this that, for those who showed real interest, discussions of design were also involved. What made a chair comfortable? How high should a table top be? Why being able to make beautiful pieces, while still taking into consideration the movement of wood was so special, and difficult.

So then, it worries me that the age of woodshop classes seems to be diminishing.

Part of this, I think, is due to the classes actual placement in the "Vocational Tech" departments.

Today, I feel as though "Woods" should be reclassified as part of the "Art" department. So much of what can be coached out of students is locked in the creative side of their minds. Why not potentially add new life to what is seemingly a dying art, simply by reclassifying it?

Taking it a step further, "Woods" can actually be a two tiered vocational/art based path. By that I mean, there are skills that serve so well in both departments.

For the vocational side, modern cabinetmaking systems can be taught. CNC and 32mm based modern cabinet manufacturing methods discussed and used in lab scenarios. Modern production and manufacturing models taught to students can introduce them to these almost universal production philosophies.

On the other end of the woodshop spectrum, the artistic side could be presented through the prism of James Krenov, Tage Frid, George Nakashima, and Sam Maloof. Show the students what can be possible with some imagination and some really beautiful wood.

Present ideas on what constitutes "good design." Show them how mid-century artisans from Scandinavia melded modern building materials and old world craftsmanship and design. Let them discover what a self taught woodworker from northern California did when he needed furniture for his own home and growing family. That same furniture maker put one of his rocking chairs in the White House. One of those chairs today can demand upwards of $30,000.

My point is this, fine woodworking is worthy of being passed on to the future generations. It still holds vocational value. It still challenges a student to think critically, and to act with intention, fearlessly.

I submit that it is possible to coax creativity out of students that did not think that they had any to give, simply by offering them a medium that heretofore had been relegated to a basic form of vocational training.

Why not offer future generations a means by which they can express themselves artistically, OR, give them basic skills that can translate well into modern production manufacturing.

Just a thought……

If you want to get your kids or grandkids interested in woodworking, check out some of Highland Woodworking's classes for teens.

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 madcapwoodwright@gmail.com. Feel free to drop him a note.

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