10 Years of Fighting Progress

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I’m not one to celebrate or even acknowledge anniversaries, but this has been an odd year.

On four occasions this year I’ve had people approach me at woodworking shows or classes and say almost these exact words:

“I’d love to do what you do for a living, but I don’t have a magazine that will give me a blog with all the promotion you have.”

As a result, I feel the need to do something I rarely do: Set the record straight.

Exactly 10 years ago today I took the first steps toward writing a blog. I was a junior-level editor at Popular Woodworking and we had just launched Woodworking Magazine, an advertising-free publication that was aimed at investigating basic skills and exploring handwork.

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Our parent company, F&W Media Inc., had indulged us and let us try a few issues as long as we didn’t spend any money on staff, manuscripts, illustrations or photography. After printing the first issue of Woodworking Magazine, I was driving home from a family event in Chicago and was wondering: How are we going to get people to read this magazine if we can only publish it once or twice a year?

Somewhere on I-65 I remembered my cousin, Jessamyn West. She was one of the first bloggers, though I didn’t really know what the word “blog” was. I thought her site was an online diary-thing.

What, I wondered, would happen if I did what Jess did but wrote about woodworking? Could it build an audience for the magazine? If readers liked what they read on the “weblog” they might buy the magazine on the newsstand.

After much arm-twisting (thanks to Steve Shanesy), I was granted an audience with our three “new media” guys during a lunch at the worst health-food store in the city. The head of new media was a part-time DJ on the weekends and had a blog that he used to document the raves and dances he worked. So he was the expert.

His question: “How are you going to get readers to pay for this blog?”

My answer: “We won’t. It will be free.”

Question: “You’re going to give away free content? You can’t afford to do that.”

Answer: “I know.”

Question: “So who is going to generate all this free content and keep people coming back every day or week?”

Answer: “I will.”

It took more than four months from that disgusting lunch to get a blog set up on our servers and connected to the fledgling web site for Woodworking Magazine. During those four months I wrote a lot of sample blog entries that proved it could be done (thank you, newspaper job).

The blog launched in May 2005 and has continued to this day. I don’t know (or really care) how many entries I’ve written; it’s easily more than 3,000. During the last 10 years, I can honestly say my blogs have not sucked up any advertising or promotion revenue on a budget line. Instead, they have generated money.

And that’s the point.

If you want to do this, you don’t need a magazine or a promotion budget. You don’t need to beg other bloggers to promote your work. If what you write is good, the work will promote itself. You don’t need SEO or SEM or Google AdSense. Screw all the stupid lists of things you need to do to promote your work. Don’t take free tools. Don’t take anything. Just give.

Write about stuff you care about. Write honestly. Write often. Don’t be afraid of what other people think. And don’t build your reputation by trampling your fellow craftsmen. A flaming a$$%ole will soon flame out.

If you do all those things above and some people hate you, that means you have struck a nerve. And it’s good to feel something. Most writing makes me feel nothing.

Below my sig is the first blog entry that appeared on the Woodworking Magazine weblog. As I read it now, it’s not my best work. But it’s not bad, for 2005. I can do better. And I will.

— Christopher Schwarz

Fighting Progress

Posted 05/12/2005 in All Weblog Posts | Notes from the Shop | WM Issue 4-Autumn 2005

After studying the topic of workbenches for years, it’s clear that — like automobiles — they’ve gotten much more complex since the heyday of the 18th century cabinetmaker. The vises do amazing tricks, cabinets below the top store an entire arsenal of tools, and there are accessories and clamps that allow you to hold any piece of wood in any orientation.

But that doesn’t mean that workbenches have gotten better.

As benches have become complex, some designs have discarded simple features that early woodworkers thought were essential. The tops became shorter and wider. This increased width makes it more difficult to clamp some work to the top and prevents you from working on long pieces (early workbenches could be up to 12′ long!). Aprons were added below the benchtop so you could use a thinner top. This apron gets in the way of some clamping operations.

The top was extended out over the legs, preventing you from clamping long boards, panels or doors securely to the front of the bench.

The handy storage cabinets below can interfere with basic clamping and jigging. Some vises, while more versatile, were made entirely of iron, which can damage your tools.

Among the myriad modern accessories, some have proven to be useful advancements while others are merely more expensive (but interesting) solutions to clamping problems that were once fixed by the humble and boring holdfast. The height of the bench was increased to get the work closer to your face, but this made some hand and power operations inefficient or unnecessarily tiring.

When we designed a workbench for Woodworking Magazine, it was on the principle that it should be only as complex as necessary, and no more. It had to hold our work for a wide variety of hand and power tool operations. And it had to be inexpensive, easy to build and easy to modify.

As luck would have it, that bench already exists. It was drawn by Andre Jacob Roubo in his landmark book “L’art du menuisier” (1769-1775) (Originals of this four-volume set are expensive. You can buy a reprint here: http://www.archambault.ca). So we gathered up all our old books and began sketching out the cover project for the September 2005 issue. Here’s what we’re thinking today: $32 in hardware, dimensional pine and traditional joints.

— Christopher Schwarz

 

 

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About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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33 Responses to 10 Years of Fighting Progress

  1. tsstahl says:

    Wait! Blogging can make money?

    Been doing this for years for a writing outlet and only picked up 2 followers–and I’m not entirely sure my mother isn’t one of them.

    There is no accounting for haters; blog on!

  2. xxxmike says:

    Hi Chris,
    Very interesting entry. Still very timely.
    Because of you and the good folks at Woodworking Magazine, I gained enough information that made sense to attempt expanding my woodworking skills to include hand tools,. 10 years later I can honestly say that I am a reasonably competent “blended” tools woodworker. Not great by any stretch of the imagination, but I can do stuff. And while I could certainly not earn a living at it, my growing skills with chisel, hand saw, and hand plane have contributed enormously to my enjoyment of my hobby. Plus I got to buy more tools 🙂
    Thanks,
    Mike Dyer

  3. Ron Harper says:

    Chris. I am 69 years old. I have learned a couple of things in that time period, one of which may be of help to you. I have noticed that from time to time you feel the need to respond to stupid comments made by jack wagons. Totally unnecessary. Keep up the good work.

  4. Wesley Beal says:

    I’ve appreciated your efforts, and hope you all keep doing it for a long time to come. On a personal level, picking up on the mix between manual intellect/skills and scholarship was very welcoming (I’m a grad school drop-out).

    It must of been one heck of a leap of faith, with several more along the way, to go after doing all of this. Thanks.

  5. tombuhl says:

    As I first approached the notion of woodworking, I bought a number of books, looked at and read some magazines, then I found Woodworking Magazine in a bookstore. It was the first voice that really spoke my language, in a manner that appealed not so much how-to-do, but how-to-see and how-to-think. Thanks so much that that silly idea and your team’s work to keep it alive for its run and for continuing speaking in that voice. Well done.

  6. tomfidgen says:

    Happy 10th Anniversary and Happy New Year- what a wonderful web we weave…
    all the best in 2015 –

  7. My glass to you, and to ten more years.

  8. Your last few blog posts on blogging have hit some good points on how the world of bloggery works. Not magic or corporate sponsorship, just good old work. Blogging, or any work-a-day writing, is a craft, and like any other craft if you’re in it for cash the product has a high probability of sucking. Passionate people, like yourself, put out stuff that strikes a nerve in others. That’s usually what sets good blogs, and craft, apart. Funny that people think making a living out of blogging is some luxury. Reminds me of every aspiring novelist who has the great book in them if they could just get time to write. And a publisher..and an advance.

    Happy anniversary and new year.

  9. freonguy says:

    Chris:

    I have been a fan for many years, and I have read virtually every blog you submit. I am a CS fan; I trust what you write, I learn from your sharing and really appreciate all that you have done to further woodworking in the past decade.
    ‘ Nuff said – keep up the good work, we look forward to another 10 + years – a sincere thank you sir!

    Dave B

  10. rondennis303 says:

    God Bless you for all you give. And Please keep on giving.

  11. error4 says:

    Thank you Chris, and Don, and everyone who puts out the great work over there (even Daniel McDara too)! Many more happy years to you.

  12. Jeremy says:

    It’s nice to know more of the story now. I joined the party in process on Jan 3, 2007. Coming across your blog changed my life for the better. I really can’t do it justice here in the comments (probably will become an opus blog post). Thanks for sharing so much in the last 10 years!

  13. josef1henri says:

    Hi Chris,
    Many thanks for writing about blogging. I’m trying to get set up to do it about blacksmithing. Your words are very encouraging. I have enjoyed many of your posts and I have especially enjoyed the Naked Woodworker DVD’s I bought through your store. keep up the good work.
    Best
    Joe Babb
    http://www.elegantironworks.com

  14. stone58 says:

    You earned it, man. May have made it look easy, but any self employed entrepreneur knows otherwise. Ultimately, all work is for our own benefit, but you put out a product we all enjoy. Win-Win!!

  15. abouna2 says:

    “Don’t take anything. Just give.”

    Excellent.

  16. Bob Jones says:

    Happy blogging anniversary!

  17. Bob Jones says:

    Just dont expect me to remember it…

  18. ” it’s not my best work”. What I think looking at my old woodworking projects.

  19. Pat Mcnulty says:

    Thank You, love you or hate you today, but respect you always.

    Thank You
    P.

  20. Legendary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once said “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” I suspect that sentiment applies to all creative endeavors. Your blog and your publishing business just keep getting better. Keep up your good work.

  21. Ryan Starkey says:

    I count the original “Woodworking” magazines my Uncle gave to me a few years ago among my most treasured woodworking paraphernalia. The drawings, pictures, tool explanations and the way the articles were written struck a chord with me, much like “The anarchist’s Tool Chest” did at an important time in my woodworking journey. I still subscribe to Popular Woodworking, and love it, but it will never match the first ones to me. Thank you for continuing to challenge, educate and amuse me (and obviously others) through your blog.

  22. Daniel Roy says:

    What do you do for a living?

  23. Ben Lowery says:

    Reblogged this on b19y and commented:
    “Don’t take anything. Just give.”

  24. Thank you, Chris for the work you do and knowledge you share.

    I’ve been watching/reading about woodworking off and on for a while now (haven’t actually cut any wood yet…). I received a copy of “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” for Christmas and I’m really enjoying it. Can anyone recommend some other similarly good books/resources aimed at beginners to the craft (maybe with some included projects)? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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