Crazy Stuff Stumpy Thinks About #27: Old School vs I-Phones- My "traditional woodworking" manifesto...

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Blog entry by StumpyNubs posted 11-17-2012 12:09 PM 2424 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 26: Grandpa's green monster Part 27 of Crazy Stuff Stumpy Thinks About series Part 28: How I survived Black Friday at Woodcraft: Stumpy vs. the Zombies... »

Technology is unavoidable in today’s workshop. Be it a smart phone in your pocket that rings just when you’re stretching to apply that last clamp in the most awkward of positions, or an e-reader filled with the last two decades of woodworking magazines and sawdust, only the most stubborn among us has successfully banned all technology from their workspace. Even Roy Underhill, who will not allow something as modern as a steel measuring tape in his shop, tolerates the digital filming equipment that beams his show into our television screens.

A woodworking shop is by definition a place where a bit of the past is kept alive and the future is held at bay. In a world where more and more furniture is made from manufactured wood products that a tree would never recognize as its kin, by machines that suck a board in one end and spit a chair out the other, the small garage shop is a throwback to vanishing way of life. When we make something by hand, one piece at a time, with a material that is widely considered an old fashioned luxury, we are reversing some of the progress of our modern and enlightened society. So, why would a woodworker allow his shop to be invaded by the very essence of this society, the computers and cellphones and the tablets that are the tools of the society that seeks to destroy what the small shop stands for? Why would a man who retreats to the garage to unwind, after a forty hour work week in an office, flip on a satellite fed, high definition LCD television screen over the bench? Why would a person who cuts his dovetails by hand design that project on a sixty-four bit, four gigahertz hyper threading computer with three dimensional modeling software?

Today’s woodworker is a sawing, sanding contradiction. We take pride in our traditional craft, but if you offer us a faster way to dovetail a drawer we’ll give you four hundred bucks for the jig. We rail against cheap, mass produced furniture, but if we could justify the expense of a CNC machine you can bet we’d make every project with a digitally controlled router bit and just assemble the parts like a puzzle.

Of course, not every woodworker embraces all of the latest technology. Some still insist on the quiet, dust free bliss of traditional hand tools. Not the wood-bodied planes used for centuries, mind you. No, the best “traditional” hand tools are precisely machined to tolerances measured beyond the thousandth. They upgrade to the new tool steels created in labs and cryogenically hardened. They sharpen that steel with state of the art honing films and diamond pastes that are far finer than the messy old oil stones.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of you. I love the idea of traditional woodworking. I imagine myself sitting on a shaving horse with a drawknife and hickory shavings up to my waist. But I also love the idea of a micro-adjustable, multi-functional, lead-screw driven box joint jig.

I suppose it all comes down to the meaning of two words: “technology” and “traditional”. I imagine that the first caveman woodworker simply banged a stick with another stick. To him, any edged tool was “technology” and those who used them were betraying the “traditional” craft. I’ll bet the great masters of the eighteenth century had an entirely different idea of traditional woodworking than we have today. To a guy with an iron combination plane, a set of wooden skew rabbet planes must have seemed old fashioned indeed. When Stickley began mass producing his craftsman furniture in a big shop full of steam powered workstations Roubo surely rolled over in his Paris grave. But who today would look at a piece of Stickley furniture and call it a betrayal of the craft?
The point I am making is a simple one. If you want to be a true purist you’ll have to reject far more than workshop computers or power tools or even iron hand planes. You’ll have to go back to rocks and sticks. Otherwise you will just be the newfangled woodworker with all the fancy tools to the first cave man you meet. Today’s latest technologies are sure to become tomorrow’s traditional tools just as yesterday’s innovations are today’s antiques. My solution is to embrace the true tradition of the craft, and it has nothing to do with the tools or the way you use them. It has little to do with your selection of materials or choice of joinery. It’s what drove the first woodworker to pick up the first stick and say “ugh… me turn this into chair for Thag…” It’s the desire to create something from scratch, to take raw materials and turn them into something you can point to and say “I made that”. It’s art even if you’re not artistic, you’re creating even if you’re not creative. THAT is the true woodworking tradition, and it won’t matter if woodworkers of the future cut flawless joints with lithium crystals controlled by a series of eye blinks from an easy chair. Because some day, even that will be considered old school woodworking.

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

10 comments so far

View Roger's profile


20928 posts in 2826 days

#1 posted 11-17-2012 02:00 PM

You are a man of much wisdom Stumps. Carry on.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View DocSavage45's profile


8588 posts in 2864 days

#2 posted 11-17-2012 04:24 PM

PBS had “Norm”and now “Tommy”and Lj’s has “Stumpy Nubs.” And there is the “Wood Whisperer”, and “Charles Neil”. All brought to me from different technologies, using the technologies you describe.

“The empeor has no clothes”

Now we know?

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View DIYaholic's profile


19623 posts in 2697 days

#3 posted 11-17-2012 04:39 PM

I don’t think more truer words have ever been said, err digitally uttered!!! Progress can be measured in several ways and always differently by anyone’s account. Tighter joinery, faster assembly, less use of precious resourses, less waist and the quantifiers could go on and on and on….....

Great post there, Stumpy! Always engaging, enlightening and entertaining!!!

Thanks for sharing the “Crazy Stuff Stumpy Thinks About”.

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View Bluepine38's profile


3379 posts in 3107 days

#4 posted 11-17-2012 06:48 PM

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, I am getting to the point where I go out in the shop to play
with wood and my thoughts. Occasionally something useful and wonderful (to me at least) comes out of it,
and sometimes something I can share with the extended family and others. It is a great cave that gives me
a place to get out of the rain, snow and cold and keeps me out of trouble. This site gives me lots of ideas
to use my wood for, may not get around to all of them, but it keeps me happy. My tools vary from an old
hand made knife from my father to fancy lathes and bandsaws, but I agree with you. It is my contemporary
woodworking, and it may be my great- grandsons old school woodworking.

-- As ever, Gus-the 79 yr young apprentice carpenter

View MarkSr's profile


215 posts in 2072 days

#5 posted 11-18-2012 03:45 AM

Great words of wisdom Stumpy, as always Keep them coming and the wonderful and informative videos.

Hey Gus, you got 8 yrs on me and I call myself the “apprentice woodworker”

-- Mark, ”...NEWBEE: On the road to learning a lot; but; a lot more to learn…” ("My Granddad used to tell me, if you didn't learn something new today, it just wasn't worth getting out of bed")

View boxcarmarty's profile


16299 posts in 2382 days

#6 posted 11-18-2012 11:53 PM

Well put Stumpy…..

-- My mind is like lighting, one brilliant flash, then its gone.....

View Randy_ATX's profile


879 posts in 2464 days

#7 posted 11-19-2012 03:36 PM

Exactly what Marty said – Well put Stumpy. Enjoyed the read.

-- Randy -- Austin, TX by way of Northwest (Woodville), OH

View luv2learn's profile


2766 posts in 2325 days

#8 posted 11-20-2012 01:34 AM

Amen and Amen!!

-- Lee - Northern idaho~"If the women don't find you handsome, at least they ought to find you handy"~ Red Green

View emart's profile


445 posts in 2650 days

#9 posted 10-28-2013 07:28 PM

Definitely an interesting read. Personally I tend to flip flop depending on what I am doing. I am just as at home making mortise and tenon joints with a chisel or an axe and hand forging a froe with a handle made to fiy my palm perfectly as I am using a modern thickness planer or a fancy molding machine with every jig and fixture my wallet will allow. For me the end result I want is my determining factor since I still enjoy innovating so long as the end result isnt some MDF junk that disintegrates in 10 minutes.

-- tools are only as good as the hands that hold them

View chrisstef's profile


17421 posts in 3028 days

#10 posted 10-28-2013 07:34 PM

Well said Stump!

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

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