Woodworking Philosophy

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Blog entry by madcomsci posted 07-14-2014 01:43 AM 1158 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Any philosophy begins with axioms, ideas that are simple enough that you can build upon them without wasting time and starting over. Figuring out your axioms is easy, and only requires thinking through those ideas you are least likely to change your mind about. My first axiom is that my choices have value. I do things to wood that make them more valuable than simple pieces of wood. Otherwise, what is the point? If a stack of boards in your living room will fetch more value than something you’ve built, you have the wrong calling. In fact, you’re better off leaving them at the store if that is the case.

When I was involved in real estate, there was the idea of the highest and best use. You don’t build skyscrapers in the middle of nowhere, and you don’t tear down a luxury apartment building to make room for a community garden. This idea holds weight because doing the wrong thing has a greater cost, and offers less reward. A similar approach might apply to wood. Nobody gets excited about how much particleboard they could create grinding up exotic hardwoods. I save my best pieces of wood for my most special projects, and you probably do also.

This idea has its limits, as I’m not about to slice a great board into veneer and cover some plywood, even if it produces the most value. This reminds me of the trend with baseball cards in recent years to add thin slices of memorabilia such as bats and game-worn uniforms to create artificial keepsakes. I completely support the effort to make as much money as possible, and my only exception is how much gullibility I can stand among those who might enjoy my work. Is there a market for thin shavings from vintage musical instruments? I’ll let someone else find out.

Overall, I don’t see the value in preserving what something used to be as part of a new thing. I’ve seen chairs made of skateboards, and skateboards made of chairs. Some folks have a weak definition of creativity I guess. My first piece of stereo equipment I purchased decades ago has a big round sticker clearly indicating its “simulated walnut grain finish”. I have yet to determine whether it is a statement of quality, or a disclaimer. I think the absence of a sticker would have been a more effective statement of quality, but even our modern giants of technology haven’t figured this out.

Fellow woodworkers, we add value. We also live in a world that doesn’t recognize quality. Kids with 3D printers call themselves “makers” and consider themselves your peers. I don’t try to understand this warped idea of quality, but we are all forced to be a part of it. My stereo proudly proclaims its fakeness when a real wood finish would have carried a trivial cost. Baseball card enthusiasts will degrade value because of flaws in cardboard attached to a destroyed piece of wood that was once a baseball bat. Will a future generation pay a premium for the vintage or retro charm associated with cheap mass-produced furniture? There will be no shortage of idiots.

5 comments so far

View Paul Maurer's profile

Paul Maurer

162 posts in 1491 days

#1 posted 07-14-2014 03:07 AM

There will be no shortage of idiots.

Sad but likely true.

-- Psalm 62: 11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, 12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work

View pintodeluxe's profile


5596 posts in 2750 days

#2 posted 07-14-2014 04:18 AM


-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View Woodbutchery's profile


375 posts in 3522 days

#3 posted 07-14-2014 11:42 AM

What it comes down to is the basic shift away from valuing craftsmanship, especially in the U.S.

-- Making scrap with zen-like precision - Woodbutchery

View TheJBitt's profile


34 posts in 1894 days

#4 posted 07-14-2014 02:27 PM

I think your problem is in comparing a woodworker to a mass production industry. There are completely separate goals and completely separate target audiences.

Also, have you ever taken a look at some of the stuff kids have made with a 3D printer? Just because they didn’t use a chisel and a hunk of bubinga doesn’t mean that it lacks creativity.

-- I make great sawdust. -Jon in Warsaw, IN

View madcomsci's profile


5 posts in 1350 days

#5 posted 07-14-2014 03:22 PM

I think your problem is in comparing a woodworker to a mass production industry. There are completely separate goals and completely separate target audiences.

Also, have you ever taken a look at some of the stuff kids have made with a 3D printer? Just because they didn t use a chisel and a hunk of bubinga doesn t mean that it lacks creativity.

- theJbitt

I have an axiom, a rule I live by, that my choices must have value. If you are upset about the basic foundations of someone else’s philosophy, you are probably mentally ill. What is the alternative, really? Should I change my carefully considered ideas because among the hundreds of people that read them, you think I have a problem?

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