‘Kids Today…’ (Oh Shut Your Pie Hole)

 

Dahlgreen-Hall---South-Boston-1892-02

Dahlgreen Hall, South Boston, 1892

One of the things that makes me nuts about woodworking shows is listening to older woodworkers complain about 20-year-olds and how they (among other vices) have little interest in woodworking.

This weekend’s Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event was no exception. What was exceptional is that I listened to much of this drivel while people in their 20s and 30s wandered around Braxton Brewing, used the hand tools and talked to the makers.

A lot of our customers are young adults, and the only difference I see between them and the older generations is the younger woodworkers are apt to use materials in addition to wood – metal, plastic and ceramics. And they are more likely to adopt technology into the things they make – robotics, 3D printing, CNC, laser cutting.

Historically, interest in woodworking goes up and down a little bit but remains fairly steady through time. (Unlike interest in scrapbooking or personal journaling, which peaked at crazy heights and then almost disappeared.)

The urge to make useful things is an important part of the human experience.

Woodworking has long been dominated by people older than 50 because they have more money and aren’t chasing around their kids or changing diapers (generally). Younger woodworkers don’t have the same kind of time to devote to the craft. But they are out there. And when their kids get older, they buy a place with a garage and they have some disposable income, they are going to buy a handplane or a table saw and build a workbench.

Yes, it sucks that many schools have eliminated shop class. And it’s stupid that we now encourage kids to go to college who would be happier in a trade.

But despite all that, people find a way to learn woodworking. It’s just not the way you did it (see also, YouTube). And they might not build the same things you like to build. And they might use different kinds of tools. And they just might not like hanging out with old dudes who complain about the younger ones.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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47 Responses to ‘Kids Today…’ (Oh Shut Your Pie Hole)

  1. Great post. As a member and volunteer director at our local non profit MakerSpace, I totally agree. The vast majority of our woodworkers are under 40. And they’re all interested in old and new techniques and materials.

  2. duckfarmer27 says:

    Chris –

    Good analysis. I’m 67 but like talking to younger people who work with whatever – I can always learn something from most anyone. I try to remember when I was a newly married grad student with no money and trying to gather enough tools to build things, and later building our house – today’s younger folks are going through the same drill. And it is a good thing we all don’t want to make the same item in the same medium – life would be pretty boring. The variety – at least to me – keeps life interesting, offering new things to appreciate and even try.

    Dale

  3. micwhiskey says:

    Excellent observation. I wonder how many of us ‘young people’ will succome to the same misplaced judgement when we grow older?

  4. krexhall says:

    As one of the retirees who are active in the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers, I am happy to say that we are getting more and more younger members, some as young as high school age. It is one of our missions to pass on our skills to the next generation, and we offer a wide range of classes from beginning level classes in safety and tool use to a year long series in all aspects of woodworking. We would like to see more young people join us to learn woodworking skills and use our shop.

  5. Complainers are just the worst! They’ve pretty ruined everything that’s good.

  6. charlie says:

    Well let me say this to all the young people out threre: Old folks who enjoy woodworking are not “Geppattos”! We are not building doll houses for our grandkids and we do not make birdhouses from knotty pine. This stereotype can go both ways. People need open minds as well as open hearts.

  7. Starius says:

    I couldn’t possibly agree more.
    The subject reminds me of a Google Talk that Nick Offerman recently gave
    Towards the end of the video, around the 54 – 56 minute mark or so, Nick talks about how he doesn’t use things like CNC machines or laser printers, but he thinks they’re cool.

    “Whatever tool it takes to make something, I don’t give a $h17. I think if you’re making something amazing with a 3D printer, you’re using a tool to make something cool.”

    • Dan Zehner says:

      Nick is one of many people I can never tire of listening to. That man is a gold mine of sage advice.

      • Starius says:

        I enjoyed him on Parks & Rec but can’t say I gave him a lot of thought back then. It’s only recently that I’ve discovered what a truly interesting and naturally funny guy he is. I got his new book, but unfortunately I haven’t had much chance to really dive into it yet.

  8. The last time I spoke to the late great Ken Hawley, he said, ( in reference to descovering pre industrial woodworking techniques ) “you’ve got to get back to the bench boy”. I was
    52 at the time.

  9. Brian Clason says:

    Chris,

    Thanks for this great perspective. It was a great event this weekend, and it was fun to see some non-woodworkers doing the “what game is that?” at the brewery last night. Hopefully one will go on to be some sort of maker.

    Please keep up what you are doing.
    -Brian

    • gilgaron says:

      +1… lending a knife to Deneb from Lie Nielsen to fix Chris’s hammer? If only Don had come and needed help changing a flat tire…

  10. hiscarpentry says:

    We are all in different seasons of life. I currently have a two year old son and a four year old daughter, not to mention a 289 year old house. As passionate as I am about working with wood, I want nothing more than to spend my time with my family. I know, Lord willing, that at some point in my life the season will change, giving me more time to spend making.
    https://hiscarpentryblog.wordpress.com

  11. ne8il says:

    Thanks for sticking up for us millennial woodworkers. Mill-workers? Millers? Still working on the branding.

  12. Greg Miller says:

    I run public woodworking workshops for kids aged 6 upwards. These kids use hammers and nails, planes, assorted hand saws, hand drills, even plough planes, spokeshaves and more. From age 8 the kids are also using shooting boards, gouges and carving knives, shooting boards and more. From age 10 we use axes, draw knives and shaving horse, etc.
    We also go into schools and do woodworking with kids from aged 4 (kindergarten) upwards.These kids use tenon saws, hammers and nails on benches made for their height.

    I find so many kids are hungry to learn woodworking, to experience the joy of hand tool woodworking, and have a desire to make things with their hands. I teach them how to use tools properly, and watch them thrive as their skills develop. Hand tool woodworking is great for kids to learn body awareness, to develop hand-to-eye co-ordination, to improve their problem solving skills, spatial relations, micro and macro muscle control – the list goes on.

    Kids will love to do woodworking if we make the opportunities available for them. Unwrap the insidious cotton wool we have bound them up in and let them live and learn. Make a bench to the appropriate height (their wrist height) for your kids and grandkids. Show them how to use a bench hook and a shooting board, a hand drill and a block plane, a spokeshave and a square…
    ,,,you will be amazed what they will create.

    We adults are usually the blockage to kids getting into woodworking.

  13. Derek Long says:

    I’m of the age now that I’m not sure if I’m still a whippersnapper or if I’ve graduated to old fart. Both age groups eye me suspiciously.

  14. This is a funny post, it’s the classic struggle between young and old. I’m lucky enough to have a nephew who starting to love woodworking as much as me. He calls me when he runs into those pesky problems we all run into. I help as much as I can on the phone but he’s doing some pretty good work. He’s a good kid and I enjoy helping him.

  15. jaredtohlen says:

    Ha, good article! I’m 28 with a 2.5 year old and a 6 month old and a tiny garage space and tiny budget. But your work and the work of many others has got me enjoying the tools and craft whenever and however I can, and sharing it with folks at every turn.

    What’s really interesting is the deriding looks and remarks I get from both older folks and my contemporaries when I say I use mostly hand tools. “Well someday you’ll get the proper tools,” or “Oh that’s way too much work, I’d hate that.”

    • weyrichwood says:

      Jared, I’m in pretty much the same boat. Late 20s with a small child. I use the laundry room as a workshop (handtools almost exclusively), and I don’t have much time for tv—which is fine.

  16. leeboyz86 says:

    As an “Officially old” wannabe wood worker, I identify more with the young dudes in attitude, even though I deeply respect the “old guys” and the way things were done over the centuries. There is no progress without change. Frankly i don’t get what the “geezers” think is a problem.

  17. jdhuntley says:

    Well said!

  18. gilgaron says:

    I’m mid-30s, but I’d say compared to other woodworking events I’ve taken my wife to, I thought the crowd was very young. I’d joked with her it’d be us and a bunch of old white guys there to play with tools but I was pleasantly mistaken. I would hazard to guess it is harder to sell the bespoke tools to people with children, but I certainly wish those guys luck.

  19. fitz says:

    Obligatory classics response: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” (attributed to Socrates, quoting his student Plato, if memory serves. The more things change…

  20. If they found their way to Braxton, they already did something right!

  21. carpenterman says:

    One of your finest posts.

  22. jglen490 says:

    I have no doubt that many young people are interested in hand crafts – especially woodworking. What the wood working shows that I watch are commenting on is that there is more capacity in the trades (carpentry, masonry, electrical, plumbing) that is going unfilled by younger apprentices and trade school graduates. I have no doubt that there is a lot of personal interest by younger people in woodworking, but that’s not the same as interest in the trades as a career.
    After my Air Force career, I entered into a software development and engineering career, but I’ve always had an “interest” in woodworking and even – poorly – act on that interest as I have time and energy.

  23. Mike Ramsey says:

    A lot of this is why I don’t really seek out others IRL (in real life for you boomers) who have an interest in this stuff. I’m closer to 40 than 30, have a little grey hair showing but I still get all sorts of funny looks whenever I go to a MWTCA meet or to the local woodworking club. It drives me nuts so I don’t really go to the stuff very often. Handworks is one of the few events I’ve been to where the crowd skews younger.

  24. Erik Pearson says:

    I have a 16 yr old son and 9 month old twins, and a wife that thankfully encourages my woodworking hobby. My eldest son has loved to be with me in the shop since a young age, and is active in his high school’s technical theatre program, building the sets for the various plays throughout the year. His grades aren’t wonderful, and college may not be an option, so he may end up in the trades, which I completely support. He and I always attend the Lie-Neilsen hand tool event in Denver each year, and he is typically the youngest attendee there. I have always heard positive comments from the other attendees and L-N reps; they are clearly happy to see “young blood” at such an event. I won’t force woodworking on my twins, they will be welcome in my shop, and if they want to learn woodworking I will show them and encourage them.

  25. Bob Jones says:

    I teach a local class on using hand planes and have for a few years. I’m less than 40. I get plenty of people younger than me who attend because they want to learn.

  26. Kevin Thomas says:

    As a member of the Kansas City Woodworkers’ Guild, I can say that we have experienced a boom in membership of young people, both men and women. We offer 4, 10 week Basic Woodworking classes every year. We are full up for this year and getting ready to start booking next year. The younger members are bringing enthusiasm and making our group better than ever.

    • jaredtohlen says:

      Kevin, that’s awesome! My dad went to the Kansas City Lie-Nielsen event at your location just recently and was impressed by both the facilities and the members. I grew up in KC and would probably be one of those younger members you all have if I hadn’t got myself dragged down to Dallas a few years ago.

  27. Love this post. I am in my mid 30’s and totally self-taught as regards woodworking. In my neck of the woods, finding other woodworkers is no easy business. But when we go to craft fairs, it is interesting to find a bunch of relatively young people amidst the more experienced folk. In any event, I am making my humble effort to train the next generation. My 7-y.o. son follows me to the workshop to work with his own set of tools on his own projects every weekend. Hopefully, this will teach him that some things can be made by hand, and be very gratifying and longer lasting than many manufactured products out there.

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