Is This why the craft of woodworking doesn’t grow more?

This isn’t my first time trying to embrace woodworking. It’s really not.

Years ago, I explored the world of woodworking. I was a neophyte thirsting for knowledge. I only barely remember what triggered it. I think it was this weird desire to build a steampunk wood-encased computer keyboard. I was fascinated by the aesthetic of steampunk and wanted to bring a bit of it into my home.

Living in the era of the internet, I started looking for information. That led me to look at woodworking in general and all the awesome stuff people built but there was a bit of a problem.

The problem wasn’t unique in my experiences, either. Joel Moskowitz over at Tools For Working Wood hinted at it recently in a blog post he wrote.

All this information affects the type of woodworking people will do because the leap for someone who has never had a shop class to invest in a table saw, a jointer, a planer, etc. is pretty large. But the leap to a local class, or following instructions on the Internet to build something, or find out about and then going to a club meeting is pretty small. I see a future where people satisfy their urge for woodworking by finding and participating in any of the less capital-intensive niches. And I am sure those niches will survive and prosper.

Moskowitz touches on something I encountered, namely the idea that in order to do fine, lasting woodworking, you needed all of these tools. Now, I get that hand tool woodworking was a thing, but it wasn’t common. Not at all.

Instead, it appeared that I needed to get all of those things.

While money was tight, I was willing to buy a table saw, jointer, planer, et al. I was willing to do that. I probably even would have done that, except…

…well, you see, it was made very clear to me that a benchtop table saw was one that I wouldn’t be happy with, would soon sell and buy a “real” table saw. The same for the benchtop jointer or the lunchbox planer. I’d need “real” shop tools.

The thing is, we were looking at roughly $800 or so for the benchtop tools. Going with even lower-cost options for the larger tools was going to set me back somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000, roughly.

I sure as hell couldn’t justify that cost to my wife. Especially when I didn’t know if I’d even like it.

But hey, there were a few places you could find projects to keep you busy. Popular Woodworking‘s “I Can Do That!” feature was a prime example, and some of those projects didn’t look like they sucked. But I’d already gotten the impression that they weren’t “real” woodworking.

And so I listened.

(The subject of handtools coming up is probably best saved for another post.)

Cost Is A Problem

You see, part of the problem is that most people aren’t going to spend massive amounts of money in order to try a hobby. They’ll invest in a bit of money, but they’re not going to spend tons just to try it out.

Most hobbies don’t expect you to, either.

My buddy Trent Tye did. Trent is a blacksmith and bladesmith. He’s been a contestant on the History Channel’s Forged in Fire and is now a host on The Discovery Channel’s Master of Arms. He’s done a number of videos on his YouTube channel dedicated to showing new people how to get involved in blacksmithing for minimal cost.

By contrast, at least based on my early experience, woodworking comes across a hobby for the wealthy. If you don’t live somewhere that you can find a place to work on a rental basis or whatever, you have to shell out thousands of dollars.

But why?

A circular saw for less than $50, a plunge router for less than $200, a cordless drill for under $50, and you have a start on stuff for under $300. That’s cheaper than even the benchtop equipment I priced. No, you can’t take raw lumber and make it S4S, but some of us don’t have access to that kind of stuff all that easily anyway. We’re getting hardwood from the home store.

Here’s the kicker, though. It turns out that the people who didn’t pay any attention to those naysayers and went with benchtop tools build pretty good stuff too.

The Solution

I honestly don’t know how to “fix” this problem. I’m not even entirely sure it’s a huge problem. After all, was my experience what typically take away from their examination into the craft of woodworking?

It’s entirely possible that most people just shrug it off and do whatever the hell they want anyway. I know some do. I remember meeting a guy at Lowe’s who did his woodworking with his benchtop tools and didn’t care what everyone else was saying. I don’t know what kind of work he produced, but clearly, he didn’t feel obligated to listen to the supposed experts.

If it is typical, though, then I can’t help but think it’s a good idea to take a step back and ask whether people are being run off.  If so, then how can woodworking–in particular, building things with wood, be they boxes, furniture, or whatever–be made more accessible?

That’s a topic for another day, I suppose. This has gone on long enough and, to be fair to everyone, it was a long time ago and this is, of course, all based on my recollections from years ago. I have little doubt that many people remember very different things and, truth be told, I may well be misremembering everything. Maybe I was the elitist and thought the other stuff was too good.

Who knows at this point?

But I do think these are some things worth thinking on. Moskowitz is looking at the future of furniture making. I’m looking at my past.

Either way, we’re still stuck here in the present, so let’s make the most of it now that we’re here.

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