Whine, Whine, the Future of the Craft, Kvetch and Worry

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If you want to see how far I can roll my eyes to the back of my head, ask me this question:

“How can we get young people into woodworking?”

Despite all the hand-wringing about the loss of shop classes in public schools, I am not at all worried about the future of woodworking. Wood is the most important renewable building material on the planet, and the history (past and future) of humanity cannot be written without it.

Truth is, woodworking as we know it might die out. People might lose interest in building reproductions of old stuff. Instead, the craft might look like something like you would find at Maker Faire. (Attend one of those fairs and then try to complain that young people don’t want to build stuff.)

If you want additional encouraging news, listen to this. Half of the students in the classes I teach are in their 20s and 30s. That was not the case 10 years ago when the average age was in the late 50s. Yes, I think this has something to do with the growth of handwork, but the full explanation is too long for a blog entry.

Oh, and after I roll my eyes back into their proper position, here is what I suggest. Don’t complain. Try these things.

1. Give away tools. This is a cue I learned from Carl Bilderback and Fred West. When you meet a young person interested in woodworking, give them your excess tools. Most of the tools I got rid of in my great purge four years ago were given away. Yup. Lie-Nielsen planes. Infills. Saws galore. Tools that were set up and performing brilliantly.

2. Donate money. I’ve given away a lot of money to the Roger Cliffe Memorial Scholarship, which funds students attending the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Most of these students are fresh out of high school, trade school or college and cannot afford the tools or tuition to take classes. This tax-deductible fund does wonders.

3. Teach. Open your shop door to the neighborhood. Offer to demonstrate stuff at “career day” at school. Next year, I’m doing a series of classes aimed at younger woodworkers who cannot afford to take a week off of work (or family) to take a class. The tuition will be negligible and we’re going to find cheap lodging for them, too.

These things work much better than worrying about the problem at your local guild. If you expect the government or some benevolent corporation to solve the problem for you, I think you are going to be disappointed.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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20 Responses to Whine, Whine, the Future of the Craft, Kvetch and Worry

  1. jonathanszczepanski says:

    Here Here! To try and spread the addiction… I mean love of woodworking, I asked my kids art teacher if I could come in an build something with the kids. She gave me a shocked and thrilled look like “what?! you want to come in? A teach kids how to use a hammer? YES!!!” It has worked out so well. The kids loved it. The teacher loved it. I loved it. I’ve been going back every year since, and I try to add a new tool or skill for them to learn. So far we have used a hammer, an egg-beater drill, sandpaper, and clamps. This year I am going to try a file and/or a coping saw. Now I just need to get more files and coping saws. 🙂

  2. stryder762 says:

    Great ideas, and I agree 100% Chris. Two other hobbies I am involved in also tend to have “older members” and are in truly serious risk of dying out. Woodworking? Nah, not from what I see. In many ways, this is the New Heyday for us.

  3. Bob Jones says:

    Check – I’m mid-30’s and would love to take some classes, but taking a week vacation without my 3 little girls is just not going to happen. And taking them (9, 5, 3 y/o) to a WW class isn’t either 🙂

    • Justin Tyson says:

      Same here. 30 years old with two kids under 3 and a full-time job. Don’t expect to see me in a class or a convention – I barely have time to spend in my own shop! When I was 25, I joined a woodturning guild, but there was no one else within 20 years of my age, and the old retirees mostly ignored me to socialize with each other. It was discouraging, and I quit going, but of course I never lost interest in woodworking!

  4. Scott Meek says:

    Couldn’t agree more Chris! This question came up at the plane maker’s dinner at WIA last year and I brought up the point that if woodworking was dying, the number of “boutique” tool makers wouldn’t be growing. I wouldn’t be making a career as a plane maker if there wasn’t growth happening. Your mention of maker fairs is spot on. I truly feel there is a hugely untapped potential there. Unfortunately, too many woodworkers are arguing about 01 vs A2 or saying that only the way they work wood should be called true woodworking. If there was more encouraging and less arguing, I think it would do wonders for everyone.
    By the way, Konrad Sauer had a post after WIA talking about some of this too. In case anyone missed it: http://sauerandsteiner.blogspot.com/2013_10_01_archive.html

  5. Joe Anderson says:

    Mr. Schwarz,
    I completely agree! I’m not yet 40 (getting closer all the time, but not there yet) and I am trying to really get into handtool woodworking as a serious hobby. I’m active duty military, so finding the old guy down the street that will show me the correct way to use a plane isn’t working. And it seems really hard to find woodworkers in the northern Virginia area of the DC suburbs. Thankfully I came across your blogs (and some of the others) and have been able to figure some things out. I think the people that are whining about the lack of young people around woodworking have been too busy arguing about things like O1 vs A2.

    Your suggestions are awesome. I’m glad there are people like you, Scott Meek, Shannon Rodgers, and others around that are sharing your knowledge (and hopefully able to make a living at it) with the rest of us via this interwebs thing. With a 4 yr old at the house, and another due this fall, I’m not going to any one week courses anytime soon no matter how badly I’d love to. Try not to let your eyes roll around too much because I don’t think it’s good for you. Please keep up the awesome work!

    • Morgan Reed says:

      Joe,
      I’m in Falls Church/Lake Barcroft, and more than a few old coots along with us young(er) coots. In fact, two of us are about to build a couple of split-top roubos over the next few weeks (ok months). I’ll say that there aren’t many good swap meet hand tools that I have found, though I have heard there’s a swap meet in Maryland suburbs that often has nice used tools.
      Where abouts are you located and how can I help?

      • Mark Maleski says:

        Joe, Morgan, it’s hard to imagine a better place for woodworking gatherings than NOVA. Some resources you may not be tracking: 1) PATINA meets most months in McLean on a Sunday. Very interesting speakers (Sir Roy, George Wilson, etc), mostly woodworking focused, and a very good swap meet before the meetings. Google PATINA tools but be aware you need to click on meeting information (not calendar of events) to see what’s upcoming. 2) Washington Woodworkers Guild meets monthly on a Tuesday evening with great speakers (e.g., Don Williams) near Baily’s Crossroads. They organize weekend workshops with folks like Al Breed and Mario Rodriguez. 3) SAPFM Virginia chapter meets twice yearly, typically close to the NOVA area. George Walker was our most recent guest speaker at Jeff Headley’s/Steve Hamilton’s shop. 4) SAPFM Chesapeake chapter meets in Rockville MD twice yearly. Our next speaker is Chris Shwarz in May but don’t hold that against us…we’ll rally with George Walker in the fall. Also, Jonathan Szczepanski (first commenter in this thread) just led a social gathering and tour through the Renwick gallery. I am also busy with family and career and miss most of these events, but in this area you need not wait long for the next great event.

  6. asdettmer says:

    I’m in my mid 20s. This is an expensive hobby to get into. We all love the idea of building a toolbox out of restored flea market tools, but that’s a massive drag and requires a lot of luck and a ton of haggling. Just getting a decent #4, #5, and a #7 is likely to set you back $300. Now add chisels, saws, shop space, lumber. This is a great hobby for people who are established and have homes. Most of my generation graduated into a terrible job market.

    Something I will add to #3. Look at local hackerspaces. Most of these places are more oriented towards electronics and machinery, but many of them will have a table saw and a planer. There are tons of creative people who would love to see all the cool things you can do with wood here. These places reduce some of the overhead for young people and provide affordable shop space. If you donate an extra plane to these places, you’ve now made it available to a lot of people.

  7. tombuhl says:

    Thank you, Chris. Too many people look around their own circle(s) and declare that young folks are not present, so they must not exist. The urge to create and make is strong, perhaps even more so in young people. The opportunities to visualize may be limited, or more likely, lost in the abundance of voices competing for attention, so, if you have (or create) an opportunity to expose more people to tools and the process, take advantage of it as Jonathan has done. No need to seek conversions. Just plant seeds. They will remain viable, awaiting a time and place to sprout.

    I am glad to hear that you find a balance of ages in your classes. Many photos I see of classes are definitely skewed towards the disposable time and income crowd. The WIA Marketplace seemed to have good representation of younger people including several pushing strollers. I assume children are in those strollers, not just bounty from the vendors.

    Keep on sharing.

  8. 4. Buy a copy of The Anarchist’s Tool Chest and give it away.

    I know you won’t say it Chris, but it’s true.

    I received an email from a college buddy a few weeks ago. Like me, he’s in his 30s…has a job…two kids…etc. He wants to get into the craft. The first thing I did, without hesitation, was to log on to Lost Art, put the book in my cart and ship it to his house.

    I wish this book was around when I was in my 20s and getting started.

    If you think the craft is dying, you’re not looking.

  9. Clay Dowling says:

    We have a local youth-oriented maker group, Grange Junior Makers, that I have helped with on a couple of occasions. The participants are younger, generally pre-teen, but they’re out there and eager to build. My absolute favorite experience was meeting the mother who had taught her daughter to turn.

  10. Very true. But the most important thing to give is time !
    A few weeks ago I built simple robots with 14 yrs old, great fun for all of us. A few Euros and a week of my time. I’m sure, there are many kids and many older guys like me, the challenge is to get them together. That’s where you come into play !

    If they start building anything they will either end as woodworkers or built audio equipment, both is OK 😉

    Greetings from germany
    Till

  11. The guy in that photo looks like a hipster. What if the hipsters get into woodworking?

  12. tpier says:

    My 7-year old has no interest in Shaker, or arts and craft furniture, but he likes Garry Knox Bennett’s work. i haven’t shown him the ‘Nail’ cabinet, no reason to give him ideas.

  13. mpelto says:

    I’m twenty years old, a full time Mechanical Engineering student, and I work part time, but I have been woodworking for about two year (not counting the decent exposure from my dad throughout my childhood). Despite my anti-social tendencies, it’s obvious to me you can’t “get young people into woodworking.” That’s not how hobbies work, at least for people my age. I’ll show people my age pictures of the things I make (I’m not bragging, I promise!) and a lot of the time it won’t go very far past “Ohh, that’s really neat.” There was a post on this blog a couple weeks ago saying “I can teach a man to sail, but I can never teach him why,” and that really sums up the situation. Yeah, we, as woodworkers can teach the “younger (my) generation” how to work with wood, but it won’t matter until they really want to create something by working for it. And from what I see, the majority of people my age just don’t have that drive to create stuff. But, some do have that drive and those are the ones we need to look out for and mentor (also introduce them to The Woodwright’s Shop, Roy never fails!).

  14. nateharold says:

    The LAP books and many other blogs are a fantastic resource, but I never would have seen them without a chance conversation at work. A guy showed me his workshop, showed me chisels and planes and I was hooked. Attention all moms and dads with young children (I have 3), look for 2-day / weekend classes.

  15. Sean Hughto says:

    Human beings are not going to stop making stuff with their own hands … ever. For many of us, it would be like asking us to stop breathing or eating. The “anarchist” – roll your own – gene is strong and has tens of thousands of years of evolutionary momentum behind it.

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