Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 160, December 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 Down to Earth Woodworker
By Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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A Woodworking Anniversary – Of Sorts

Even if it isn't quite a perfectly timed anniversary, I can, like Hollywood, make it what I want it to be. Truth is, I wrote this article in May for publication in June of this year, which is the actual anniversary of my first column for Highland Woodworking's Wood News Online, then exactly eight years ago. After laboring over the article for several days, I decided not to submit it. It just didn't feel "right." Now, some six months later, the timing finally feels "right."

The accurate history is that my first article for Highland was published in November of 2009. My second article was in March of 2010. Then, sometime between March and May of that year, Chris Bagby, the brilliant, kind, and visionary patriarch of Highland Woodworking and Highland's Wood News Online, asked me to write a monthly column. My first column appeared in the June 2010 issue. Through June of this year, the "Down To Earth Woodworker" column has appeared 96 times, and since June, another five, so we can duly consider this the anniversary of my 100th article… or thereabouts.

Over the course of those 100 or so articles, I have written about everything from dust collection to shop organization, from buying tools to selling tools, from how to get a big purchase past a disapproving spouse, to how to choose the best machinery for your shop. Shop organization was a recurring theme, stemming from my adherence to, and belief in, the principles of 5S. My column has included tool reviews, and reviews of things that are not exactly tools, but that every woodworker needs, from lighting, to shop heat, to even good pencils. My articles sometimes strayed a bit from woodworking, but not too far. Not far, because while we are all different, as woodworkers we share so many similarities that most readers could easily identify with my observations and yes, even my occasional rants. I have written about childhood experiences that led to my love of woodworking, and adult experiences that reinforced my belief that there is truly something special about the people who work with wood.

It has been a joyous experience, writing for you. I appreciate all the feedback, all the encouragement, and all the kind words… I have saved every email every one of you has sent. Your words mean a lot to me. There have been a few disagreements over the last eight years, I have made a few mistakes, and I have even managed to tick off a few people. For the mistakes and for any angst I may have caused, I sincerely apologize. Overall, though, the vast majority of the feedback has been positive, for which I am eternally grateful.

Chris Bagby once said that one of the smartest decisions he ever made was to have me write a monthly column for Wood News. I'm not sure about that, since a successful business like Highland Woodworking has obviously meant Chris has made a lot of very smart decisions, but it was an incredibly nice thing to say. But one thing I am sure about… writing the "Down To Earth Woodworker" column has been one of the smartest and most rewarding things I have ever done. Some articles have required a ton of work. Some were relatively easy. Writing these articles has forced me to become a better researcher, a better interviewer, a better photographer, and in some situations, forced me to get a little more adept at using tools like Excel and PowerPoint. Road trips were sometimes needed to learn more about a subject. I spent days and made dozens of phone calls trying to find out why sawmills ease the edges of two-by lumber and I visited several crate and pallet manufacturers to find out exactly how a true high-speed, high-production pallet-maker works. I even learned a bit about how used pallets are recycled and some reasons we all want to be very careful when recycling or upcycling pallet wood. I went to woodworking trade shows and reported on those. Furniture stores kept me up-to-date on style trends, and home improvement shows entertained and enlightened further. I queried business leaders about the future of tools, consolidation in the industry, and start-up companies that bring new ideas to woodworking. Best of all, I met a lot of other woodworkers. It was you, the woodworkers, that kept my enthusiasm high and my spirits soaring.

A true highlight was attending another anniversary celebration… this one for Highland Woodworking in Atlanta. I got to meet even more woodworkers and even got to run a hot dog through a SawStop Tablesaw... something I would never do with my own SawStop. I met members of the Highland staff and even signed my name to the workbench in the classroom at Highland.

All in all, it has been a wonderful eight years. But all things must eventually come to an end, and for me, this is it… my last column for Wood News Online.

Actually, it's not an "end" for me, but rather a "transition." I never liked the word "semi-retirement," but that's the state I have been in. For us baby-boomers, with our over-achieving work ethic and our innate guilt for inactivity, "semi-retirement" is really "semi-working." And that means way more "work" than "semi." It is simply now time for me to spend more time in other endeavors.

First, I want to spend more time with my lovely bride… she deserves it, though she may tire of my enhanced presence… we'll see. Second, I want to spend a little more time on me… just being alive and enjoying those around me. I like to walk and thoroughly enjoy the great outdoors, even if where I live it seems to be covered in snow for more than half the year. My woodworking will return to its fullest level of enjoyment when I am no longer thinking of how to describe something in words that I am doing with my hands. I plan to build a lot of "experimental" pieces… things I have never seen done with wood. And of course, there is also my love of coffee… who knows? Perhaps with a little extra time I might finally achieve that elusive "perfect cup."

For those of you who are interested, I shan't disappear. I will continue to make videos. I may even make a video here and there for Highland if they want and allow me to. I will also continue to update my web site (downtoearthwoodworking.com) with new projects, and who knows, perhaps I will even pen some choice words when the mood strikes. And if I ever have something I think is truly important to say to the woodworking community, I will submit it to Highland and see if they want to publish it. So, it is definitely not "goodbye." Consider it instead, "See ya' later."

Everyone… thank you! Have a wonderful Christmas, a joyous New Year, and much health and happiness. And most of all, keep on working the wood!

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. You can email me at sjohnson@downtoearthwoodworking.com.

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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life). Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson@downtoearthwoodworking.com

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