To Train the Bear to Not Get Up


Last weekend I attended a fantastic Society of American Period Furniture Makers mid-year meeting and had two shocking thoughts.

  1. Until Elia Bizzari showed up, I was one of the youngest guys in the room. And I’m a codgery 51 years old.
  2. Of all the incredible things I learned during the weekend, virtually none of it – zero, zip, nada – was stuff you can find in online videos.

These two thoughts are related. The amazing generation of white-haired woodworkers at that event are just as likely to start a YouTube channel as Thomas Lie-Nielsen is to move his factory to China. It’s not that these woodworkers aren’t intelligent or skilled or have a deep desire to share what they know. They have all those things – as much as any YouTube creator I’ve met.

It’s just that digital media – creating it, maintaining it, promoting it – is not their bag.

It’s not my bag, either. I made the choice to make books. And I will spend the rest of my days fighting to preserve the knowledge of other people in books and on this blog. (If you think it should be preserved via digital video, I encourage you to start your own company to do this.)

But most of all, I encourage you to shut your laptop or iPad and experience real life woodworking. Join one of the fantastic organizations that are filled with people with vast experience and memories. Have a meal with them. Go to their seminars. Ask them questions. Put your hands on the tools and see the work being done before your eyes. Real life is different than video. It has a taste. A smell.

One might say it is the difference between online pornography and true love. But I don’t know anything about that.

As a practicing aesthetic anarchist, I don’t tend to join organizations. It’s not my bag. But there are three that I have long been a member of and adore:

Society of American Period Furniture Makers

Early American Industries Association

Mid-West Tool Collectors Association

Oh, I am also a member of the Black Keys fan club. And I am a former member of the Radio Shack Battery Club, but that is sadly defunct.

All three woodworking/tool organizations have low – piddling, really – membership fees. And you get so much more back for that money. Especially access to that deep, life-long knowledge that is hard to acquire and is – like it or not – best shared in person.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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20 Responses to To Train the Bear to Not Get Up

  1. Bob Glenn says:

    The above picture looks like a few humorous carved scenes I’ve seen on the net. Great picture. Bob Glenn


  2. Evan W says:

    If Da Vinci’s last supper were a photograph of woodworking in the early 21st century? Your workshop image has a certain quality to it. The rest of the article isn’t lost on me, but I really wanted to point this out.


  3. John Rowe says:

    (Shameless disclaimer: I’m the chairman of the outreach committee for SAPFM)

    Thanks for the plug for SAPFM, Chris.

    I am not a prolific or particularly talented period furniture maker though I have made a few pieces. But I get a lot out of my SAPFM membership that’s been very useful for any style of furniture I choose to make. Yes, we are mostly a gray-haired bunch with little interest or aptitude for social or electronic media. But we do share a great deal via the SAPFM forum’s bulletin boards and at our annual gatherings like the midyear event you attended and the winter event at Colonial Williamsburg. The talent at these events is staggering and members are entirely approachable and humble. Our annual publication is outstanding and offers another chance to learn from fellow makers and there are chapters around the country that hold meetings periodically throughout the year where members give demos and talk about the projects they work on or the research behind the pieces they’ve built.

    Check out SAPFM and visit one of our chapter meetings (free) and I think you’ll see there’s much more to us than talk about period furniture.


  4. Lawrence Wiesner says:

    I’m one of those almost white haired woodworkers of which you speak. I’ve been building furniture and cabinets for the past 40+ years out of necessity because I’ve never been affluent and I was raised by a father who built additions on our house and 6-8 boats while I was growing up because that’s what you did if you wanted them.

    I belong to the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild and the Minnesota Woodturners Association. Even though I make it to Ohio most years it never coincides with your ope dates. Sigh! Looking forward to meeting you in person at the MWG fall seminar!


  5. Danno says:

    Looks like Brian Weldy.

    By the way, Woodworking Magazine back issues still seem like new material. That was a great magazine and PopWood was great when you merged them. That was peak woodworking journalism right there.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Choirboy says:

    Love the Black Keys.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Amen. For what it’s worth, I belong to all three groups, and agree that they are incredibly worthwhile.

    Every now and then I think about joining the Facebook. But mercifully, the impulse passes quickly.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. flyandgrain says:

    I’ve tried learning from videos and honestly I can’t grasp the concepts. I think there is something to reading that makes the information more mindful. Even when I don’t get it when I’m reading, almost inevitably when I go to try it in real life my mistakes and my successes “click” nearly every time.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Chris says:

    MWTCA is great. SAPFM is great. To me, the bigger challenge is the monoculture demographic that’s keeping this whole ball rolling. The people keeping these organizations going, the people taking woodworking classes (at LAP, Woodwright’s School, anywhere else really) are by and large well-educated, upper income academic/engineer/tech sector/upper management types, or else (& more often) retirees from the same. In contrast, people like Chris, Elia, Meghan, Brendan, etc. are the oddball exceptions, the people who will do more than just throw expendible income on a hobby vacation-experience, but will risk their very livelihood on something without even a whiff of return on investment.

    The challenge is supporting *that* class: the risk-takers. And not just the 5 or 6 people that everyone’s heard of and throws up on the pop charts, but rather the scores that nonody has.

    Where are the jazz clubs of woodworking (young, impoverished, impervious)? I’d like to pay a membership to support, and experience *that* club.

    Liked by 2 people

    • This is very very true. We were one of the first, maybe the first, sponsor of SAPFM-they were, and are, a great organization-but there is more need in other places.

      IMHO, the best way to support the “young, impoverished, imperious” is to donate to places like Thaddeus Stevens College’s woodworking program (Steve Latta’s school), Berea College in Kentucky, and any of the handful of public schools with active woodworking programs-Springfield High School (Springfield, PA) is one of the finest.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. macsmarvels says:

    Not all of us are lucky enough to have such groups close by and online videos can be very good and those sharing are often willing to answer questions. I am a white haired 76 but wrote my first computer program using octal machine code in 1965 and thus less fearful of new technologies.


    • jglen490 says:

      I agree. I owe a lot of my interest in woodworking to the very videos that Chris has made. If he is not longer interested in making videos, I appreciate that and will miss his teachings. Books are good, also, but they are even less interactive than videos. Still good, for reference, for history, and even for technique. But, in the absence of a reasonably close place for personal interaction with those more experienced than I, and no videos, all that’s left is imagination.

      I value the Chris Schwarz videos that I do have, much like the Paul Sellers videos I have, and a few others, too, and if other “masters” have no interest in that media, I will just move on. So imagination, and making do will work!


      • Videos are interactive? I find them to be another effective way of one-way learning.


        • macsmarvels says:

          Videos are interactive if posted online and the producer makes provision for comments. I’ve found that comments made by others and responses made by the producer often give me a greater understanding of the subject matter covered in the video. A Vlog or Webinar are two methods of producing real time interactive videos. I follow two photographers who produce Vlogs and own photo post processing software made by a company that regularly holds Webinars on the use of their software. Neither the Vlog or Webinar require deep technical knowledge and it is quite possible to have the audience pay for the production.


        • jglen490 says:

          Yes. In the sense that sight and sound cause mental activity, including questions. Of course, those questions must be asked elsewhere, but at least they are formed and brought out to be asked.
          Of course, it’s better to have face-to-face interaction with someone who knows something that I may not, but when that can’t happen a video will be as interactive as a book, and perhaps even more so.
          Chris, If you don’t produce another video, it won’t be the end of the world, but just know that your videos have value and importance.


  11. BlimpsGo90 says:

    A necklace of fifty eyes is yours to keep.

    Is there a GBV fan club we can join? Or do you have to be a Dayton resident to quality?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. eaia says:

    Thank you Chris for the kind words about the Early American Industries Association. Our members are pretty diverse in age, experience and education. They offer themselves up to others trying to learn about tools, trades and crafts as well consuming all that is offered in our publication, the Chronicle. We have several interest groups and our annual meeting is always interesting and well attended because we try to keep costs down and experiences up.
    Thank you for encouraging others in their quest for knowledge.


  13. Andrew says:

    I’m in my early 30s in the St Paul, have been woodworking for about 5 years, and haven’t made it to anything more than a couple of local MWTCA tool swaps. I’d like to visit the larger meetings and events like you describe in this post. For me the big barrier is travel, especially the time travel takes. In-person events are nice and all, but taking most or all of a week off to drive four states over is a big ask. Maybe the availability of digital media explains some of the age split you are seeing here, but I suspect working-vs-retired plays a larger role.


  14. Matt Jackson says:

    Yours are great observations Christopher and your well-made points are spot on. The ‘digital divide’ is wide and real when it comes to sharing old-school knowledge in the digital age.
    Video production is certainly not my bag but I’ve made the decision to change that in an ongoing effort to build a YouTube Channel to serve and audience lacking the wherewithal to attend live events. It’s ironic that as I work to share decades of carpentry knowledge with viewers eager to learn, I myself spend countless hours learning the skill that “digital media – creating it, maintaining it, promoting it ” requires.
    Someone wanting to learn carpentry, woodworking/period furniture is trying to learn skills from the past. It’s also a respectable challenge to learn skills for the future.
    Thanks for all you’re doing to preserve hands on skills for all their benefit to those who pursue them.
    Matt Jackson
    Next Level Carpentry on YouTube


  15. Elijah Lamp says:

    GBV! GBV! GBV! This post does rock!

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

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