A New Breed of Woodworker?

What different times we live in. Our society has really changed in the past twenty to thirty years in so many ways. For example, the tradition of passing down a skill from father to son (or mother to daughter) seems to be fading away, especially in regard to trades and crafts. I rarely hear, in my circle of peers, someone state that their father or grandfather taught me how to do something. (Disclaimer: the previous statement was a generality; I personally know some exceptions to the rule). Perhaps I will expand on this at a later date. 

I have a bad habit of reading many books or magazines all at the same time, and it just so happens that I have seen a common tread to what I have been reading lately. The thread is that more and more woodworkers are learning their craft by self-taught trail and error, television, and the Internet. I put myself in that category. (Thanks Norm!) The part of the group that I believe is dying away is the group who learned via generational teaching. Not trying to be bias against my daughters, but I really hope my son will want to learn woodworking from me. My father exposed me to music from an early age, and my love and knowledge of music has stuck with me all my life. I truly believe that exposure to art, music, crafts and trades from an early age really gives you an edge later on. Observation and exposure are key, but it has to be fun too.

The group of people I envy are the lucky ones who get real schooling and real apprenticeships in their trade. As I have said many times, I wish I could attend the RISD furniture program, or get into an apprenticeship program. I recently read a very interesting article in the Winter 2010 edition of “Woodwork” entitled “Aled Lewis – Transitions” by Patrick Downes. It talks about the life and work of Aled Lewis. We learn about his early training in England, and his life in the commercial furniture making business and about being an independent craftsman. I realize that not everyone in the furniture business ends up like Aled Lewis, but man, what experience to have.

I know in my deepest heart that I was meant to work with my hands, and I was not put on this earth to crunch numbers all day behind a computer. But I’m too far down the road with my family and finances to quit the day job (which pays for the mortgage and medical insurance), and thus jeopardize my family because of my dreams.

In my daydreams, I think about building a successful furniture making business with my children and other family members at my side. Even if my one of my children really wanted to be a full-time furniture maker, craftsman, or artist, would I wish upon them the possibly of living a hard life with little money? I think about that a lot. Unless I hit the lottery, my life is locked down, but would I, or could I give up the security of a day job to do what I love, what I am passionate about? Would I want my child to be happy in their G_d given talents with the possibility of living a life from paycheck to paycheck, or rather should they cage their dreams for stability? Tough call.

If you could go back to your youth, what would you do?

Note: I think I could write a large article about this topic, so be thankful that I didn’t!


About yaakov

Husband, Abba, Furniture Maker, Turner, Bookseller, and all around working stiff.
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6 Responses to A New Breed of Woodworker?

  1. Hi Yaakov. I, too, read many things at the same time. Right now there must be twenty books and magazines around my house cracked open to various stages of completion. I also agree with your concern for a loss of skill and craftsmanship due to our cultural habits. I teach junior high students – some take my carving classes – and I have often lamented on their inability to do much manual, skilled worked. My lightening rod proof is their complete ineptitude with a simple broom and a room full of chips, tables and chairs. Now you have ME started. Shalom. John

  2. Lazy Larry says:

    I enjoyed your short article… I would definitely go the way of the wood…given the chance…I have hedged my bets.. I still have a part time JOB and work as an artisan between times…

  3. paloarte says:

    Hey Yaakov, you’re a wise man! All the concerns you brought up here are so important–it is impossible to ignore the reality.

    Here’s how I’m thinking—that is, each moment you spent on something you do with love is added to the Book called “I”.

    a third generation woodworker

  4. cobweb says:

    The results you hint at – children NOT following in the tradition of their father/mother – are, i think, a result of the times we live in. We all want more and more “things” and the artisan life will not support these desires.

    The saddest part of all this is that so many of us come back to, or indeed find anew, these artisanal crafts and arts later in life when they are almost a salve for the damage done by a modern life. If only we could find them early on then we might enjoy our lives all the more. Slightly poorer in the the modern sense – less material aquisitions – but far more settled, happy, healthy, and content.

    I suppose the best we can do is to try and instill in our children a sense of what is important in life and the value of hand skills, the pleasure of manual production, the sense of achievement at having conceived of idea and taken it through to completion by our own sweat and blood (not too much blood I hope!), and hope that even if it doesn’t result in an immediate decision to follow on, that they at least retain those values and come to it later.

    All we have to do then is to convince those that stay in the material world that they NEED the things we create…perhaps in owning them they will derive a little of the pleasure we gain in the making of them?


  5. bongotastic says:

    I joke all the time that I can’t wait to retire to woodwork full time (in 30 years). I’m in the ratchet trap of having a well paid (and enjoyable) job and enough kids to balance the ins and outs in the budgets. I treasure the little time that I spend in the woodshop, and I’m happy with this. However, I must admit that if I had a time machine, I would probably go for an apprenticeship as a “year off” in between other projects. I didn’t had an interest in woodworking then…

    I hope to spend some time in the shop with my kids: my two oldest have plans for specific projects, which makes me quite happy. I’ll go with Andy: a passion doesn’t need to become a day job to be meaningful.


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