It’s created a rukus bigger than that time I tried on all the underwear at Walmart. A hullabaloo on the scale of the great sawdust snorting contest we did in ‘91.
For those who have been living in a cave, here’s the crisis we faced this week: “A perfect storm of stupidity.” That’s what Fine Woodworking appeared to call the greatest threat to woodworking since the biscuit joint. You see, woodworkers around the world are being subjected to unapproved, un-vetted ignoramuses who utilize their blogs and low budget YouTube videos to fill the unwitting craftsman’s mind with so called “tips” and “techniques” that haven’t been reviewed by the proper body of experts.
In their recent podcast, the folks at Fine Woodworking magazine bemoaned the abundance of internet blogs and videos. The episode was titled “A Perfect Storm of Stupidity” and seemed to broadly paint us new media pioneers as being bad for the craft, creating a cesspool of unapproved content.
Unapproved? Yes, casting themselves in the unenviable role of hoity-toity-fru-fru woodworkers they explained that it is dangerous to consume woodworking information unless it has been properly vetted by the powers that be. Who are the powers that be? The woodworking magazines and the accredited schools of joinery.
Woodworkers the world over were outraged First, FWW editor Asa Christiana implied that too many people were presenting themselves as experts while teaching unsafe or poorly executed woodworking techniques. But the real kicker was the implication that the average Joe Sixpack is so dumb that he will copy everything he sees on those podcasts and blogs. Like a child who will chug the bleach under the sink if a Mr. Yuck sticker isn’t applied, woodworkers need a parent to filter out the unapproved content lest we end up with a population of finger-less nimrods who think a proper finish comes in a can labeled Minwax.
Let me be fair The lion’s share of the problem can be traced directly back to the podcast’s title, which has since been changed. Fine Woodworking explained today (better late than never) that “storm of stupidity” referred to a later segment about mistakes that they had made in the shop recently. That does help take away some of the sting.
The problem, though, is more complex: The crux of Fine Woodworking’s argument was that new woodworkers could pick up bad or even dangerous habits from watching or reading these “unvetted” sources. Even IF the internet was full of people saying “I’m an expert in everything so when I tell you it’s safe to stop a spinning sawblade with your tongue, you can trust me”... I find it hard to believe that an intelligent person would be prepared to french kiss his table saw. I have seen some outrageously unsafe stuff on YouTube, mostly skateboarders smashing nuts first into poles, and I can tell you I have never went home and tried to copy it.
I am one of those “unvetted” bloggers and all of my viewers know what I stand for: having fun in the shop. I never present myself as an expert in funriture making or hand tools or anything of the sort. I demonstrate techniques which I can do well, but I never present my way as the only, or even the best way of doing things. I have watched a LOT of podcasts and read a lot of blogs. Any fool can tell the difference between the guy who used his car’s spinning wheel as a lathe to turn a bowl and a guy like Curtis Buchannan who turns delicate legs for his Windsor chairs.
All of us are vetted. Not by the woodworking magazines and schools, but by thousands who watch or read and then write their comments about what they see. In the first episode of Blue Collar Woodworking I wore gloves while milling some wood. I immediately got comments about safety. There’s a lot of debate on the issue. And now anyone who watches that video can see from those comments that it is something he should think about before he does it.
True story: TODAY I got three emails from someone vetting my statements on the history of the hand plane. In episode #6 I said that the Wright brothers invented it, along with popcorn. At least one viewer took it upon themselves to post comments stating that this wasn’t true. A while back I did a bit about daylight savings time being invented by farmers. I got several comments about the actual history of daylight savings time. This proves two things. First, that some people can’t spot tongue-in-cheek humor, and second, that every practice, every word is carefully scrutinized by not just a couple of “experts”, but by thousands of real life woodworkers. If I fall out of line, they catch it.
I am very sorry that the internet is cutting into the readership of traditional woodworking magazines. I still subscribe to several, including Fine Woodworking. But people are getting lots of tips, tricks and yes, entertainment from shows like Blue Collar Woodworking and The Wood Whisperer and Woodworking for Mere Mortals without paying $7 an issue. And while it is true that some of that free info is hardly worth the price you pay for it, the good stuff far outweighs the bad. Guys like me will never replace the true experts like Charles Neil and Roy Underhill. But I’m not trying to. I’m just having a good time doing what I love. And if I lose a finger and you go cut off one of yours to be like me… well, you don’t deserve ten fingers anyway.
So, crack a cold one and watch the latest episode of Blue Collar Woodworking. Then go buy an issue of Fine Woodworking with the confidence that Stumpy Nubs personally vetted them. :)
(NOTE: Asa Christiana, editor of Fine Woodworking Magazine subscribed to Lumberjocks today so he could respond to this article with an apology. He also wrote a blog explaining that he had screwed up and wanted to clarify his comments. So I decided to rewrite the article above to give a fair assessment of the contraversy based on the new facts, such as the misunderstanding over the title, etc, while still stating my opinion in the witty, sarcastic way I am prone to. We still disagree over this issue, but I want to thank Asa for being a stand up guy.)
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