LumberJocks

Why the Craft is Obsolescent...an observation.

  • Advertise with us

« back to Sweating for Bucks Through Woodworking forum

Forum topic by poopiekat posted 03-06-2011 04:59 PM 2068 views 1 time favorited 39 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View poopiekat's profile

poopiekat

4224 posts in 3194 days


03-06-2011 04:59 PM

We continue to lament the ever-decreasing opportunities for careers and/or self employment in the woodworking field. Woodworking is just the latest fatality in the ever-changing business world. I’ll admit, I’m an old timer, and I’ve seen the business landscape morph over the decades. As a child, I recall when every neighborhood had a ‘cobbler’ which was typically a sole-proprietor shop of a man who would repair your shoes. There were five shoe manufacturers in my neighborhood, and all shoes my family wore came from the factory outlet, and when we wore out the soles or needed stitching, the cobbler would fix them while U wait. Allen’s Auto repair would rebuild your fuel pump, water pump, or mend a leak in your radiator and get you on your way again. There was a local bakery nearby, and when us kids could scrape up a few coins we could buy fig squares just out of the oven for 7 cents. Wherever a person’s aptitude lay, he/she could find work, or even an entrepreneurial opportunity. Well, okay so much for the nostalgia angle, what I’m really saying is that woodworking is just the next victim of the conglomeration of big businesses altering the way we spend our money. I’m sure that even in the 50s and 60s there was a sense of doom hovering over these entrepreneurs, having the marketability of their craft taken away from them. Let’s see… the Mom and Pop corner grocery got blasted away by 7-11’s. Milk men lost their routes, and kids find it astounding that a man actually came to your house to deliver fresh milk. You could bring your toaster to a repair shop for re-wiring , and of course there were TV repairmen who would come to your house and fix your set, usually on the spot with a new tube of one kind or another. Even Midas Muffler shops did one thing..and who has had a exhaust component changed in the last 25 years? . These people are all out of work, whether they retired or switched careers, they sure aren’t doing now what they used to do. But Wait! Let’s consider those professions that have so far resisted the obsolescence of the modern economy! There are jobs like crazy for electricians and plumbers, both of which have always required licensing of some sort. Is it the heavy regulation of these two trades that has preserved the job base? Did the NKCA, I don’t even know if that agency still exists today, but in the 70’s the Nat’l Kitchen Cabinet Association governed the standards for manufacturing and installation of kitchen cabinetry… did they sell us down the river? Hey, what happened? When did cabinetmaking and joinery lose its status in the trades? If woodworking was not permitted, except by card-carrying, licensed professionals, would the trade have persevered through changing economic times?

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!


39 replies so far

View Stephen Mines's profile

Stephen Mines

225 posts in 2150 days


#1 posted 03-06-2011 06:46 PM

Hi P,
First, woodworking has not become obsolete. I think ‘what happened’ was the industrial revolution and it’s ongoing refinement. Henry Ford was the first major player that played the ‘interchangability of parts” card while dealing himself a full house from
the ‘economies of scale’ deck.

The adapt or die Darwinian tenent is alive and well. My Windsor chair had 18 parts, but only six different parts. I relied on both of Hank’s insights. My “Country Flowers Collection” of country French furniture did the same thing with carved stiles and rails, parts used in mirrors, night stands, armoires, coffe tables, buffet tables, beds, etc.

I’ve ALWAYS tried to pass three stratagies on to serious furniture makers: the two listed above and thirdly. make products that people buy in multiples, such as chairs, barstools and many others. When you make a sale, you make a multiple sale. This worked for me, still works for me, and will still work for others.

Addressing your last question: if the woodworking guilds could have surpressed common knowledge of how to work with wood, they wood (sic) have. Thank God they couldn’t.

-- Stephen Mines (Saltmines@aol.com)

View poopiekat's profile

poopiekat

4224 posts in 3194 days


#2 posted 03-06-2011 07:08 PM

Hi Stephen!
Though you use ol’ Henry as an example, he himself was a master of obsolescence, both within his industry, and sounding the death knell for the last generation of carriage builders, blacksmiths and other related trades. alas, even the Auto Workers are a dying breed now. Can I draw the conclusion that the concept of interchangeable parts does indeed give you an edge, but will that edge sustain you in the long run? Lastly, I tend to agree that although the guilds did not suppress education, they did nothing to promote the longevity of the independent shop. Oddly, they established a standard that was easier for outsourced, (yes, offshore) labor to achieve economically. I’m grateful for your use of the Darwinian theory to this argument, thanks for mentioning it! We eat, or get eaten! Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Stephen!

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View bent's profile

bent

311 posts in 3129 days


#3 posted 03-06-2011 07:13 PM

the reason that the electrical and pipefitting trades conitue to be active aren’t due to licensing requirements. it is due to the fact that the work must be done onsite. if you need electrical or plumbing work done, it must be done in your home. cabinet makers have seen a decline because the product is made offsite (generally cheaper and more efficiently), and then merely installed in the consumer’s home. it is not really possible to prefabricate wiring or plumbing.

View poopiekat's profile

poopiekat

4224 posts in 3194 days


#4 posted 03-06-2011 07:32 PM

Ah, true, bent! And it follows that this is why those trades are safe from offshore competition… so far….

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View Sawkerf's profile

Sawkerf

1730 posts in 2528 days


#5 posted 03-06-2011 08:23 PM

P -

I can’t agree with your statement that “big businesses (are) altering the way we spend our money.” They’re certainly offering alternatives, but we still control where our dollars are spent. Those “Mom and Pop” businesses have been (and are being) hammered by economies of scale. They’re harder to find, but they’re still around. Last week, I noticed a tear in one of my shoes. A new pair cost ~$30 at Target. The shoe repair guy wanted $40 to mend it. Not a real fdifficult decsion for me. – lol

Henry Ford brought mass production to a science by perfecting the assembly line process which lowered the unit cost of a car to the point it was affordable by the masses. The other car makers either adapted, or died.

The toasters, TV’s, and auto parts you mention aren’t gone, but they’re much more reliable and far less expensive than their earlier models. Manufacturing for repairability is actually very expensive. With increasing automation, manufacturing costs easily drive replacement prices below repair prices.

Auto parts, by the way, are often repaired and resold. If you’ve ever replaced a starter, fuel pump, water pump, brakes, etc you’ve returned the old parts or paid a “core charge”. Those returned parts are “remanufactured” and resold – often many times.

-- Adversity doesn't build character...................it reveals it.

View Loren's profile

Loren

8295 posts in 3107 days


#6 posted 03-06-2011 08:38 PM

Eventually transportation and material costs to import furniture from China
and Thailand will reach a tipping point. Labor in those countries will demand
better conditions and more money, materials costs will go up as resources
dwindle, and, if the US is smart, we’ll end the carte-blanche trade agreements
that are flooding our country with cheap products that force domestic
manufacturers to move their production offshore to compete or go out
of business.

The looming costs of fossil fuels will eventually, I believe, create a situation
where it’s actually economically attractive for consumers to buy from regional
manufacturers.

Whether today’s young generation of furniture makers gets to have middle
class careers in the marketplace is open to question. Those who work to
develop eye-popping workmanship and market the work to the corporate
and affluent homeowner market will prosper adequately of course, but the
rank and file cabinetmakers who just want to make an honest buck for
cranking out custom kitchens will probably continue to be marginalized.

For awhile, hulking cabinets to house those big, ugly TV sets were the
savior of the custom cabinet-makers. No more. The flat-screens and
streaming media technologies have made those jobs largely disappear,
and the custom shops are back hustling for kitchen-jobs in a market where
the middle-class consumer resents spending a dime more than he possibly
has to – an attitude that drives him to buy his cabinets from the lowest
price provider.

View KnickKnack's profile

KnickKnack

1062 posts in 3026 days


#7 posted 03-06-2011 08:57 PM

What you say is true, but only in some parts of the world – probably what some seem to call the “developed” world (which could lead onto a whole other discussion about whether “developed” is a “good” thing).

I live in a small city on the east side of Portugal – you can still hear the knife-grinder playing his flute as he walks with his “equipped” bicycle down the road. We still have cobblers, and they aren’t expensive. Just down the road from me, where I buy my wood, is a cabinet-maker – it’s quite a big shop, maybe 10 people, and, they tell me, they are always busy. Every Tuesdays and Saturdays the “bread-man” drives around our part of the wilderness and toots his horn at the gate for us to scurry, in our night things usually, to buy his bread, made just down the road in one of the many local bakeries. In central Lisbon, in what you might call “prime real estate” there is a shop selling bulbs and seeds (of the gardening variety). There are several shops selling just buttons. Oh, very quaint it is. And I very much hope they will stay that way. But I fear not – whilst almost all cafes and restaurants here are “one man bands” there’s now a Starbucks (in the awesomely beautiful Rossio station – heresy!) so I’m very much afraid we have started on the “slippery slope”.

Most would, I’m fairly sure, include Portugal in “1st world” countries – certainly Wikipedia says so by all the common indexes (so it must be true!), but we really don’t “suffer” from many of the “ailments” oft complained of, for example in this post. That was one of the main reasons we came to live here.
We are, perhaps, 20 years or so “behind” the “leading” nations – that’ll probably see me through until I’m dead or wishing I were.
Isn’t it ironic that here in a “poorer” country, we buy more bespoke product than do the people in the richer countries, where they can presumably more easily afford it. Something’s wrong somewhere!
And let’s not even get into what goes on in the 2nd and 3rd world.

The reason is, it’s clear to me, money.
We are not rich people here, so the large chains don’t think it worthwhile to set up their shops here, allowing the small people to stay in business. My nearest Ikea is 250km away (thankfully), so it’s simply not an option for most people. Even if it were 100KM away most people wouldn’t deem it worthwhile to spend the money driving there. So they buy furniture from local shops (better quality and cheaper anyway), or order it from the cabinet man down the road.

I’m not sure I addressed your topic very well, for which I apologise, and I tend to ramble. But I wanted to point out that there are other worlds where things are “better”. I apologise also for excessive use of “quote” symbols, I just tend to disagree with much of what is deemed “progress”.

-- "Do not speak – unless it improves on silence." --- "Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope."

View Loren's profile

Loren

8295 posts in 3107 days


#8 posted 03-06-2011 09:18 PM

That’s interesting insight from Portugal. I expect Asian imports carry much heavier
tariffs than they do in the states. Every country is different in how it tries to
protect and grow its economy.

With fuel so highly taxed in Europe, the costs of going to Ikea in Portugal, in
addition to the distance for you, is probably twice what it would be here in the
USA. This situation allows your regional cabinet man to prosper. He brings
in materials on a flat-bed and saves fuel costs, plus he can turn a stack of
lumber or ply into a value-added product he can distribute to local stores.

I don’t view the big-box phenomenon as good for my country. Even though
our costs for hard goods tend to be jaw-droppingly low compared to what
Europeans pay, our middle class is being assaulted by the outsourcing of
the skilled labor jobs that were once the backbone of the US economy. I
blame labor too, for spending the last 50 years in denial of the obvious fact
that eventually the factory jobs would disappear and the opportunity for
a middle class lifestyle for the guy who didn’t got to college along with them.

View Roger Clark aka Rex's profile

Roger Clark aka Rex

6940 posts in 2894 days


#9 posted 03-06-2011 10:01 PM

My, what an interesting subject.
Whatever conclusions you can offer, the undoubted reason above all else is PROFIT ie making money with as little cost of manufacturing as possible.
The Industrial Revolution mainly started in the 19th century and was an attempt to address the “have” and “have not” citizens, but it did not shut down the bespoke industries that catered for discerning people who were prepared to pay the craftsmen for their sevices. Even today in the auto industry Henry Ford showed that a very affordable vehicle which almost anyone with a weekly wage could afford, and now where a monthy salary might buy you a basic model. The concept of mass production has advanced, but the same premise of cost to produce and huge profits has grown. In Henry Ford’s day he made vehicles that could be repaired and replacement parts availability made it a cinch for anyone to keep their vehicle running. Nowadays if your vehicle won’t run, you are out of luck and must go to the service mechanic for the “computer” diagnostic which enevitably ends up you needing a replacement “computer”. How much will this cost? , well much more than one of Henry’s vehicles, and a colosal amount more than any PC board in the hottest cumputer on earth.
Meanwhile as the big three and other manufacturers are suffering, the likes of Astom Martin, Rolls Royce, Bently, Mercedes, Audi, Maybach, Ferrari etc are pressed to fill orders. So it is obvious that craftsmanship and quality still does existand is alive and doing well.
Know your market is the answer, when the masses fall victim to bad times they have no money and shop Wal-Mart, when well heeled folks hit bad times they don’t change their habits or purchases.
But herein lies a quandry, does the best invention or product earn the most money? NO. If you design and built the space shuttle you truly would have an outstanding product worth a lot, but designing a ladies hair pin seems pityfull, but the sales of hairpins exceeds ALL profits the shuttle will ever make. Similarly the “cats eys” in the road will too, as will “tarmac” ie Tar McAdam (inventor John McAdam, 1816)

The posting about the changing climate of so called 3rd world countries is indeed noteworhy, even China is changing rapaidly. At one time the Chinese masses only had one a “uniform” dress code and one book to read, and now they are protesting about wage differences, so they are experiencing the “have and “have not’s” situation too. I believe the space program is now focused on finding a planet where we can get even cheaper manufacturing and labor …. Horizontal Mike knows all about it.:-) The US is looking for a planet which uses the Imperial System…...good luck. lol

Perception is in the mind of the beholder ..yes true, and that is what it all boils down to. More people masses needing stuff, the same number as ever wanting bespoke items made by Craftsmen. The masses require cheap made barely functional items, the well heeled want the quality and are prepared to pay for it.

-- Roger-R, Republic of Texas. "Always look on the Bright Side of Life" - An eyeball to eyeball confrontation with a blind person is as complete waste of Time.

View poopiekat's profile

poopiekat

4224 posts in 3194 days


#10 posted 03-06-2011 11:05 PM

KnickKnack, please don’t apologize for your post, it is a very important point that you made about how a country can enjoy a moderately high standard of living and yet the artisans hang on to a very relevant place in the market. This gets very close to the point I was trying to make, only said a different way. Perhaps myself, and hundreds of other Lumberjocks, were just born in the wrong place/wrong time. Loren, your words are also prophetic, this big Chinese bubble will burst too, mostly as their own emerging middle class puts such a demand on oil that it will no longer be cost-effective to ship en-masse around the world. Roger Clark: Of course your sage worldview is always welcome here! Your words fit right in with the other respondents, and indeed we are just all passengers on this bus, we must decide to either enjoy the ride, or let the air out of the tires at the next rest stop!

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View Stephen Mines's profile

Stephen Mines

225 posts in 2150 days


#11 posted 03-07-2011 03:09 AM

Loren, If I may ask, why a tipping point? If transportation of goods can get cheaper, it will. And it is. Container ships as long as the Empire State Building is tall are a reality, carrying a city each. Do you really think it will cost more to ship in the future? I think USPS is banking (our money) on it, but that is not the way of Whartons world model. And there has not been a break in future think yet to dispute that reasoning. Reasoning? Think rather of floaters, lifters, anti-grav, etc. Don’t get bogged down in now. Darn, that was fun to get that out! :-)

-- Stephen Mines (Saltmines@aol.com)

View poopiekat's profile

poopiekat

4224 posts in 3194 days


#12 posted 03-07-2011 03:29 AM

Yes, Stephen, new freighters from Asia were built wider than the restrictive 96-foot beam of the Panama Canal. They were fitted with engines that can get freight to New York harbor faster than any conventional ship going thru the Canal by going around South America!! I’m still scratching my head at why there are highway infrastructure improvements in Winnipeg attributed to the ‘Pacific Rim Trade Route”...or is somebody banking on an ice-free arctic year-round shipping route? Or is this possibly to facilitate shipping North American goods to China?

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2458 days


#13 posted 03-07-2011 03:57 AM

I honestly have a really different opinion. I think what we are seeing in the economy is the death of many of the old school big corporation type of businesses. I also say good riddance. They have sucked entire countries dry from their Enron-esque financial shell games, planned obsolescence, and other crooked dealings. New companies are springing up large and small but there is a pretty big resurgence of small business because people are getting fed up with the garbage that they have to choose from when they want to spend their money. They are also getting fed up working for and investing in the stock of these corporations .

There are many “boutique brands” of more expensive items that are doing well despite higher costs and bad economies that are proof that people are getting sick of it. If you are looking at computers, people are paying premium prices for Macs, and IPhones. It is not totally conspicuous consumption. They have less problems, do more, and they have a longer life expectancy. Look at tools. The quality brands have done well enough that Stanley is trying really hard to recapture what they lost: being top of the line. It doesn’t look like they are going to make it happen either.

These big companies have gone in and wiped out small businesses in the past but one really promising thing is the way that they are fighting back over the internet and winning. I keep finding things that the big stores stop carrying things and as fast as they drop them, I am finding places online to go shopping instead. Usually they end up being from small businesses and cost less.

About the only thing I have left that I am stuck buying from big corporations is my shipping, electricity, gasoline, telecommunications, and insurance. It is kind of sad that my local small businesses are not succeeding but honestly, many of them suck anyway. Many keep working so hard trying to be the next “big business” and don’t take advantage of being a small business. They don’t want to deal with small customers. They only want to deal with high dollar customers with big orders. Fine. I take my business elsewhere. I buy my lumber from small local places. I buy my groceries from small local markets. I don’t really do it for spite against the big companies. They just have nothing I am interested in. I have not been to the shopping mall here in town 3 times in the last 20 years. They just don’t have anything I want to buy.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune: http://lowbudgetwoodworker.blogspot.com/

View Roger Clark aka Rex's profile

Roger Clark aka Rex

6940 posts in 2894 days


#14 posted 03-07-2011 05:07 AM

David:
Your honest opinion is very welcome. Honest opinions that may differ just emphasize that that we are all different individuals with our own views on things, that’s just being human.
Everyone should be able to express their views in complete confidence and know that the LJ membership will receive them as given, your respected honest opinion, not a call to arms for a flame war.
Respectful differences of opinion are good for everyone and may provoke the “little grey cells” start working.

-- Roger-R, Republic of Texas. "Always look on the Bright Side of Life" - An eyeball to eyeball confrontation with a blind person is as complete waste of Time.

View poopiekat's profile

poopiekat

4224 posts in 3194 days


#15 posted 03-07-2011 04:10 PM

@David Kirtley,
Have you bought any 100% solid-wood furniture via the internet lately? Virtually nobody else has, either. I’d be hanging my shingle out again and cranking up some orders..if only it were so. Even the three furniture manufacturers that exist in my town are outsourcing all of the juicy work offshore, leaving little but mind-numbing assembly work for disadvantaged groups or the differently-able. What you posted is pretty much in agreement with everything all Lumberjocks have to deal with on a daily basis. Most of us work our day job, and rush home to spend some time in our workshop. And, we resign ourselves to the fact that our dreams of a woodworking studio or gallery is a feel-good fantasy.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

showing 1 through 15 of 39 replies

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics

HomeRefurbers.com