I am not just an somewhat overrated woodworker with an endless supply of bad jokes and a troubling affinity for blue denim shirts. I am also a naturalist, a man who spends his weekends in the wild observing exotic creatures and documenting their strange habits. My expeditions take me all over the worldwide web, to the lurking places of the most despicable of predators: the Woodworking Trolls. I’ve spent years among their kind, frequenting their natural habitat on woodworking message boards, blogs, chat rooms; any place where they can slip in through the comment threads to infect the community with their deadly venom.
It’s true that no troll has never been photographed in the wild. They are elusive creatures who carefully conceal their true identities with clever avatars and tough-guy sounding knick names. They present themselves as experts in the craft with decades of experience and all the knowledge that you don’t have. But I believe I know the truth. For one thing, the reason they are so seldom photographed is because they are among nature’s ugliest mistakes of creation. We know this because they are never able to achieve meaningful lives. Men laugh at them, women refuse to mate with them. So they withdraw into their Cheetos littered nests deep within their parents basements where they lay in ambush, hunched over their keyboards waiting for a chance to strike.
Woodworking trolls have big appetites which are only satisfied by the misery of others. They hunt at all hours of the day or night and their strategy has been carefully developed over evenings in chat rooms where they argue among themselves, honing their techniques so as to be ever sharp at any opportunity. When they are on the hunt, they frequent their favorite places, the woodworking message boards where they’ve found past success. Their reputations have not gone unnoticed, so they must strike quickly and then disappear into the night before a proper defense can be made against them. Typically they roam on the outskirts of the forum, watching and reading. When they spy a herd of woodworkers peacefully frolicking around some interesting subject, the troll slips in among them, sometimes disguised as one of the herd. From this vantage point they can carefully size up the group and choose their victim.
The woodworking troll rarely goes for weakest of the herd because trolls have enormous egoes. The troll believes he can take anyone on, and they often launch themselves headlong into the fray with total abandon. The first strike may be to disagree with something that appears to be the consensus of the herd, even if they have to make a great leap to do so. Facts are not in their bag of tricks, they strive only to be contrary, to make a member of the herd look foolish. Many times this will elicit a reaction from their victim, which plays right into their plan. The troll now launches his most stinging weapon, the unprovoked insult. This is one of their most curious tactics since it makes them appear small and immature. But it inevitably leads to more discord, the entire herd may even be taken aback and adopt a defensive posture.
It is at this point that the troll feels the most confident. He’s already achieved his primary goal, to disrupt a peaceful herd of woodworkers and make himself the center of attention. Now he pulls out all the stops, he launches into a long tirade against his target, twisting the victim’s words to make himself appear the innocent victim. If he’s lucky he can manipulate the conversation so much that he confuses the herd, causing them to begin attacking each other. The original target may now become frustrated and lash out in a way he may never have done before, perhaps hurling his own insult at the troll. This is when the troll employs his master stroke. He reacts to the victim’s words as if he’s been stabbed to the heart, mortally wounded by an entirely uncalled for attack. He refers to himself in the most innocent of terms, he’s just a kindly old woodworker trying to share his knowledge and this mean old “so-and-so” not only rejected his help, but lashed out at him in the most unreasonable of ways! If the troll plays his hand perfectly, he can convince the rest of the herd to abandon the original victim, even cast him out. The woodworking troll, having fed on the misery he’s created then disappears, leaving chaos behind on the message board. He slinks back to his lair to pat himself on the back and await his next opportunity to feed.
We’ve all seen the attacks of trolls in our favorite online woodworking communities. Maybe we were chatting with friends about dovetails and the attack come in the form of the old “you should cut pins first unless you’re a moron… is that what you are, a moron?” type of comment. Or we were talking table saws and someone launched into a “you’re an idiot because you don’t own a Sawstop and you want children to lose their hands because you’re evil” tirade. I know people who have perhaps never made a woodworking project in their lives. Yet they are top commenters on the woodworking forums. They like to argue about politics, they like to tell you you’re wrong, they love to act like they know more than everyone else. But they almost never offer any sincere woodworking based thought to the community. They are constantly negative; if they have anything to say, it’s that you didn’t do this right, or you should have done that differently. They won’t compliment your work because they say that’s “not helpful”, as if their constant nit picking is. Trolls are not always solitary creatures, they will occasionally team up to strike in tandem or come to one another’s defense if an attack goes awry. If you look at the profile of a troll, you are likely to see other trolls make up his “buddies list”.
My time among the woodworking herd has taught me something. I have bad days. I get cranky. I may even get mean once in a while. One morning I answered the door with a kick at groin level that still gives my mailman nightmares. I hate those occasions, they make me feel all dirty. But a troll lives that way, spends every day wallowing in the mud and pulling others in with him. I don’t believe they realize how sad they seem to the rest of us. I think they are entirely unaware that we all know who they are and what they stand for. They believe they are doing a service for the woodworking community, not “taking any crap” and “calling people out”. But in reality, and this is something they will never understand, woodworking trolls have robbed the communities they inhabit of the best and brightest. True craftsman, professionals who work long hours creating woodworking greatness and possess loads of knowledge to share, don’t have time to deal with the trolls. So they leave the forums, message boards and chat rooms, taking their treasures elsewhere. I know of some top woodworkers who have entirely abandoned the online communities for just that reason. And the saddest part is, the trolls will never change because it is who they are.
I’m not exactly a celebrity woodworker, but I do deal with trolls every day. They leave their comments on stumpynubs.com, on my YouTube pages, on my Facebook wall. The little success I have achieved makes them angry and they feel like they have to put me down or find fault in something I do. Nothing is ever good enough for a troll. They have no comprehension of the work that others do, the time and effort that is freely given by their fellow woodworkers. They don’t understand that while they’re searching the internet looking for things to criticize, there are woodworkers trying to improve their skills, building projects and overcome challenges so they can share their solutions with the community. It’s easy to comment on message boards, it’s hard to actually be a woodworker.
But their demented plan for putting their fellow woodworkers in their place has backfired. Because instead of feeling bad, or changing to suit their preferences, woodworkers I know apply the lessons they teach in a different way. We take note of how arrogant they appear, how silly they look when they find fault in the work of others that took far more effort than they’ve ever done themselves. And when we see a guy who didn’t cut his dovetails right, or who posted a video with poor editing and no sound, we ask ourselves “what would a troll do”. Then we do the opposite.
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