Observing the Process will Change it

The Lost Art Press charging station is brought to you by the Clutter Bros.

When adults watch broadcast television, they can easily discern what is a commercial and what is the program. This ability isn’t innate (kids get easily confused), but we’ve learned to pick up the signals when we’re being shook down for money in exchange for happiness.

When product placement became a big thing in films and television, we learned to spot it after a while. So now most of us roll our eyes when we hear “Now all restaurants are Taco Bell” in the 1993 schlock-fest that is “Demolition Man.”

But on social media, the rules are different. There are laws requiring people to disclose commercial relationships, but they are followed only sometimes and enforced almost never. So it’s up to us to train ourselves and our children so we don’t get sucked into believing a sponsored “review” or praise for a tool that was given – not earned.

Believe me when I say that there are much bigger problems in the world – starvation, overpopulation, hate, wars. I can’t do much about those. But I can help you separate the wheat from the chaff with reviews. That’s because I worked behind the glass-filled nylon curtain full-time for 16 years.

Before I go further, let me also say that I have immense respect for the men and women who end up shilling these products on social media. They are all incredibly hard-working, creative, entrepreneurial, skilled at the bench and – most of all – eager to help fellow woodworkers.

And this is exactly why they were targeted by tool manufacturers to help promote their tools.

Here are the clues I look for on social media that something fishy is going on.

  1. The person obtains tools at a rate you never did, even when you were new to the craft. Tools are damn expensive. If someone starts talking about new tools more than once a month, I am suspicious.
  2. Their shops match. When I see a shop that is filled with tools of one color – orange, blue, green, whatever – I’m on alert. I don’t know any real woodworker who has purchased all their machines or power tools from one manufacturer.
  3. Most of the tools in the shop are new.
  4. The projects seem to use a lot of tools, way more than you would use. “Wait – you are using a track saw to crosscut your backboards when you have a chop saw and a table saw?”
  5. They end up using tools that aren’t really woodworking tools. Cordless caulking guns? Laser levels? (Greg Pennington excepted).
  6. Many projects seem designed to highlight tools. A charging station. Clamp racks. Glue caddies. Sawblade holders.
  7. Sudden conversions. Watch for language that goes something like this: “I’ve never liked X and always preferred Y. But recently I finally gave Y a try, and boy is it amazing!” Getting free tools makes this flip-flop easy for our brains.
  8. They obtain machines they cannot reasonably afford. Manufacturers are happy to send out a $10,000 thingy in exchange for months of goodwill advertising from a “marketing partner.” If someone gave you a new Austrio-Awesome combination machine when all you had was a Cheap-O-Plastico benchtop saw, you’d be happy to tell everyone how awesome the Austrio-Awesome is. And your awe at the upgrade would be music to the marketing department at Austrio-Awesome.
  9. If they mention negatives to a tool, they are straw men. “Though I wish the laser were a different color and the belt clip was more adjustable, the tool is fantastic.”
  10. They have banners from manufacturers in their shops.

My hope is that this sort of sly advertising will become less effective. Manufacturers will stop sending out free tools and direct more of their money to engineering. And the men and women of YouTube will grow tired of the game and embrace what got them their audience in the first place: A deep love for the craft and sharing what they know with others.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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41 Responses to Observing the Process will Change it

  1. NR Hiller says:

    1. “Cordless caulking gun.” Excuse me while I wipe the spit from my phone.
    2. Laser levels are the bee’s knees for built-in work.
    3. If I wear a Lost Art Press t-shirt sometimes and have your logo sticker in my special tool cabinet does that make me a bad person?

    • Finn Koefoed-Nielsen says:

      Cordless caulking guns are an actual thing.
      Never seen Matt The Mastic Man using one though, and he charges by the metre…
      Anyway – Happy Christmas, Lost Art Press and Associates!

      • Al says:

        Cordless caulking guns are actually great if you’re caulking a massive amount of stuff. Ive got one, and can tell you, it beats the heck out of my old hand operated one, but only if you’re doing an entire house or something. Ill use my old one if its just a tube or two. So if you’ve got a lot to caulk, I would recommend one in the flavor of whatever the rest of your stuff is ( mine is red and my experience is based on it, blue and yellow might be different)

        • holtdoa says:

          That might be true for caulk (the whole house thing), but they are fantastic for applying construction adhesive, asphalt/concrete patcher and all manner of other non-caulk products that you use a caulking gun for.

  2. Richg says:

    While I can not agree with you more on this subject, I feel it will not stop. There is a lot of money out there to be made on YouTube. Look at the 8 year old who made 22 million this past year for playing with toys. As long as companies are willing to give it away there will be folks out there willing to take the gear and promote the products. I applaud LAP for telling us about products they buy and test, this is the reason I spend my hard earned money on your suggestions. Thank you.

    • Hi Rich,

      Advertising is similar to the physical dependence on a drug. The more it’s used, the less effective it becomes. This is *one* of the reasons we don’t have many door-to-door vacuum salesmen any more. Print advertising has gone this direction. Web-based ads have, to. Once we become inured or inoculated to it, it will fade and something new will emerge.

      Just my 2 cents.


  3. Paul Cleary says:

    After reading your post, I went back and looked at the accompanying picture – I think you just made DeWalt very happy (and maybe Mr Bosch?)
    Cheers and wishing you a good new year.

  4. Steve Voigt says:

    Amen, brother. In the rare event that I mention some commercial tool on social media, I’ll add # neversponsored or otherwise make clear that I’m not getting paid. And I don’t follow anyone who’s shilling for tool companies. Merry Christmas Chris.

  5. Have to agree with Richg. Spend a little time on Instagram or YouTube (I know you spend your fair share) and it becomes pretty obvious that those who post most often are either already sponsored (whether they disclose it or not) or doing their best to get sponsored. And as soon as someone decides they no longer want to play the game, the next guy or gal will step right up to grab the opportunity. There will always be someone willing to be a face for the company for nothing more than a few free tools (much to the tool company’s joy – it’s dirt cheap labor/advertising). Just look at the hashtags and account tags that they use. They’ve got their hand out just waiting for their chance. If that’s their goal, more power to them. It’s a lot of work to be the face of a brand. And if they think they’re working for themselves, well, they better think again. That well can dry up as quickly as it opened when the next guy comes along and will work for less.

    Some companies are willing to give tools away to just about anyone. I was contacted years ago when I was regularly blogging and making videos by a company that made tablesaw push blocks and accessories. They were “extremely excited to get our new product into your hands” and “would love for you to show it’s use in one of your videos”. I was tempted to take them up on it and make a video about how I couldn’t get it to work with my hand saws but I took the high road and replied that I didn’t own a table saw (which they would have known had they actually ever watched one of my videos). But I’m sure it didn’t matter to them. I’m sure they sent hundreds, maybe thousands of similar emails looking for anyone who would essentially advertise for them for free.

    I will say that matching tools isn’t always a give away. I have a lot of Bosch, and a lot of Lie-Nielsen (as do you I believe). But like you, none of my tools were given to me. I’m just one of those weirdos that happens to like a particular brand and tends to stay with that brand if I’ve had good experiences with them, even if it’s basically the same as a similar, less expensive or more readily available brand that’s made in the same factory. It’s part of my mild OCD. I like stuff to match. But I’m not a professional so I can afford to do so.

    • johncashman73 says:

      I purposefully have a mix of tools as well, except for those that are battery operated. It’s much easier having one brand than juggling different tools, chargers, and batteries.

      • You are more organized than I am. We buy cordless tools when one dies. We pick the one that is cheapest but not crappy quality. By the time we need to buy a new drill, the battery systems are two generations removed from the old one.

        • johncashman73 says:

          Not better organized. Just lucky timing. My original cordless tools were circa 1993. I had gone through a couple sets of batteries, and about 3 years ago the most recent batteries and tools were getting near the end of their lives. And they were “dumb” stick batteries. I decided to switch brands with a much larger range of tools available.

          My unexpectedly favorite tools are the portable lights, which are great for raking light while finishing, and a little leaf blower. I open the front door and blow all the cat hair down the stairs and outside.

  6. David Ray Carson says:

    Ah, nice title, quantum mechanics/double-slit experiment and all that.

  7. Carbon says:

    Nice title, quantum mechanics/double-slit experiment and all that.

  8. Alex Botkin says:

    Don’t forget the grisly guys wearing pristine clean working gloves with a company name, most often seen on TV.

  9. Roger Hylr says:

    You nailed it again, Chris!

  10. wb8nbs says:

    Somehow I am reminded of Norm pushing his projects through a 36 inch industrial belt sander in his shop. I couldn’t relate to New Yankee Workshop after that..

    • Eric R says:

      I think any woodworker with half an ounce of intelligence can readily see the guys and gals who have traded their integrity for a shelf of shiny new tools. So you don’t have to remind us.
      Then again, when a guy has 7,8,10 million subscribers on You Tube and gets free tools thrown at him, I don’t blame them one bit for taking them. It’s peanuts for a big company to tell the marketing department to back the truck up to a guys shop and unload.
      As has been mentioned; if he doesn’t take them out of some sense of personal integrity, the very next content provider that comes along will jump at the chance.
      A lot of those content providers worked very hard to get to where they are, and if a company wants to put a nice top of the line cabinet saw in their shop, I say God Bless them.
      Now, the big thing in woodworking is CNC. And when you see someone just happen to be provided with a gigantic, fully equipped and accessorized machine that wouldn’t even fit into most shops, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why. (You also have to love the company name and logo appear in almost every shot. hmm)
      On that note, I kind of feel they may be missing the mark, because there aren’t many woodworkers I know, that can just plop down 50 grand for this kind of outfit, and by that, they lose guys like me who can’t even dream of buying something like that, even if it worth every penny of it.
      My skill level is average (as much as I would like to say above average) and I buy tools based on how well I think they do the job, not due to some professional telling me I’ll be a better woodworker if I use brand X tools. Only fools don’t see right through hat.
      I have followed you for a very long time, and the only reason that I am not offended by your post is that I have met and talked to you and came away with the feeling that you have nothing but the best intentions and genuine interests to see your fellow woodworker not fall into some type of scam.
      I share a lot of your opinion on this matter, but respectfully, give us more credit then that.
      I give you a lot of credit for building up Lost Art Press and Crucible tools and teaching around the world, but I can very easily see the mind set of the people you refer to in your article. One of the main providers I follow has mentioned more then once that he gets mad at those who would settle for some new tools instead of contracting for financial remuneration, as he feels it lessens the ability for those who are trying to make a living at it to make a decent profit for their video content.
      Sorry, starting to rant a little too much.
      I hope you, Lucy and Katy have a wonderful new Year and I look forward to following you in the months to come.
      Thanks Chris.

    • davidcockey says:

      But give Norm and producer Russ Morash credit for taping over the brand names on the tools in the New Yankee Workshop and not mentioning any brand names during the show. Folks familiar with tools could still recognize the tools in use.

      • Fancy Lad Woodworking says:

        This was a PBS stipulation, not directly because of Norm and his producer.

        • According to Russ Morash, if a manufacturer is a sponsor of the show, then the brand has to be obscured. But if the manufacturer is not a sponsor, then you don’t have to obscure the branding. That’s why you see different approaches. Sponsors changed through the years, as well.

  11. “Let the products sell themselves”
    -D. Boon

  12. davevaness says:

    My mother told me that the recipe of the side of a pepper can will always have too much pepper. In physics the concept that observation disturbs the experiment is call Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. It was named have to famous Physicist Dr Werner Principle.

  13. SteveS says:

    And………Happy holidays

  14. Fancy Lad Woodworking says:

    I admit that I am jealous sometimes at the masses of new tools exhibited on social media, but most of the time, on reflection, they are not tools that I really want or need. The majority of them are solutions looking for a problem (“Here’s my honest review of this new red square that holds joints at 90 degrees in 4 dimensions!”). However, if some high quality hand tool manufacturers started sponsoring, I may step up my social media presence…

  15. Dave Weisbord says:

    I have a different take. I have looked for reviews or just demos of a number of higher end hand tools and often cannot find even one measly video. I started a tiny YouTube channel (with a hand full of viewers). I posted a couple of videos about a small manufacture I like and got questioned whether I was affiliated with them or given tools. “No,” I said. “But if they’re watching, I can be bought.” Of course a few took this snide comment seriously. We all buy products at least partially based on Internet reviews and recommendations. I just wish I could find more on the stuff I am interested in.

  16. Warren Musselman says:

    I’d gladly get sponsored – after all I need a new Sawstop cabinet saw, a power pocket hole jig, a new full size drill press and a big-ass bandsaw for resaw work… and I wouldn’t complain about a helical cutter for my planer either. That said, my attitude about product placement might leave the adverstisers a bit beffudled. Like…”why is his charging station just above the open-air urinal in the shop?” Why does that sanding station have that Deadhead LSD poster covering the product banner? Surely that drooling crank dressed in rags can’t be our host?

  17. James C. Kniskern says:

    It isn’t just woodworking. It is any hobby/profession/consumer item sold by any large, medium or small company in the world. I enjoy a woodworking bent to videos, but also watch solar power videos, as well as organic farming videos. It is easy to see when a new product comes on-line. It suddenly is in videos in a given week from more than 4 of the “regulars”. It holds true in any category out there. So what is a content-starved person to do? Eschew the videos that have cool projects in them, because they used the latest doohickey to hold them together with the newest fastener on the market? Or take it with a grain of salt that yes, once again, I’ve been advertised to, and no, I do not want (or need) the latest gadget to come down the line.

  18. Bob Glenn says:

    I agree completely, Chris. I really get tired of Sir Roy promoting the use of all those wooden hand planes, bow saws and foot powered machines that are obviously provided for him by the companies that make and sell them. A shameless attempt at commercialism.

  19. Mark Thomas says:

    Bob’s comment here about Roy Underhill should win some comment award!

  20. Brian Miller says:

    Witty yet so true.

  21. John K says:

    I’m on board with the negative feelings toward hidden sponsorship. Particularly offensive are posts and videos that are obviously related to products that have been provided for free, but claim that the content provider was “not paid” for the review. That’s deceptive and immediately degrades my level of trust and respect for the content provider.

    However, I get that the hardworking folks out there who are producing Instagram and YouTube content need to feed their families and pay the rent, and for the most part, YouTube ads aren’t going to cut it anymore. There are some people who use their online “content” more as personal brand building and advertisement to drive some other revenue stream (for example, their own publishing house or tool sales), but plenty of others don’t and rely at least in part on sponsorship to make ends meet. I have no issue with that, as long as they are transparent. Sure, it dilutes the level of trust I might place in their stated opinions, but there will always be personal responsibility for consumption choices, and I’d rather have the transparently biased but still informative data point than nothing at all.

  22. wb8nbs says:

    I screwed all my chargers to a single board then screwed the board to the wall. They are all fed from a single plug strip that is in turn fed from a timer.

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