"A Nation That’s Losing Its Toolbox" -- New York Times Article

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Forum topic by Brett posted 07-24-2012 05:15 PM 2351 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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07-24-2012 05:15 PM

An article about how the U.S. is losing its craftsmanship:

Sorry if this is a duplicate post.

-- More tools, fewer machines.

13 replies so far

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Mainiac Matt

8029 posts in 2323 days

#1 posted 07-24-2012 06:33 PM

Saw the article linked on SMC and read yesterday…. I agree with most of their observations…

I would add that I know a lot of guys who never get to do anything with their hands and lack all confidence to try. They seem to be very frustrated, as they have no good outlet for their creative energy and desire to make things.

I’m kind of the quintisential “gear head” myself so in all honesty, I can’t really relate.

After begging my parents to let me buy a dirt bike (motorcycle) one of their friends sons was killed in a bike wreck… so I got the “absolutely positively NO” answer and had to settle for a scrubby go-kart instead (purchased with my newspaper money, off course). Within two weeks I had a Briggs and Stratton repair manual and stripped that little 3.5 HP motor down to the last nut. I put an oversized air filter and a straight pipe on it and thought I’d died and gone to heavan :^).

It’s been all downhill since then….. with my fathers biggest complaint being that he could never find any of his tools again.

Now I’ve been blessed with three daughters… and you can bet that my wife and I emphasize SKILLS with them over and over again. My oldest daughter has published two short novels, plays flute and sewed pillows for Christmas presents last year and is sewing a sun dress from a pattern as we speak. Daughter #2 draws, paints and plays flute & piano… she’s taking a sewing class this summer (and is begging me to let her cut the grass on the riding lawn mower).... Both the older girls can brush, tack and ride horses. And the baby (3rd grade) is somewhat of a piano virtuoso…. she just drafted as scale plan of her bedroom, complete with scale copies of her furnature cut out seperately, and is begging me to move her bed and dresser.

Guess what? We have neither television, nor a video game system in the house. And I don’t get any complaints about it.

-- It’s the knowledge in your head, skill in your hands and motivation to create in you heart that makes you a woodworker. - Mainiac Matt

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802 posts in 2330 days

#2 posted 07-24-2012 06:46 PM

ssnvet – your story is similar to mine…I rebuilt a little briggs when I was about 11 to go on my homemade 3 wheeler (death trap, by the way…but boy it was fun!). I didn’t have enough money at the time to buy new gaskets, so I made my own out of brown paper bags…that stupid motor still ran the day I left for college, though I had to put new “gaskets” in it about once a year!

My Dad cussed me for scattering tools everywhere…now I find that my daughter has strewn my tooling all across the shop and yard while building her birdhouse. Circle of life I reckon! But the good thing is that she is learning to use her hands and learning a trade. She maintains her own bike and shes only 9…her other friends get new bikes when the old ones rust/rot away, but she tells them that she takes care of hers so it will last forever! Maybe she won’t use these skills to earn a living, but she at least will have them if she needs them, along with the confidence and sense of pride in maintaining/repairing/making her own things that will last. I pity the kids that don’t get to grow up with that kind of experience.

-- Jason K

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Mainiac Matt

8029 posts in 2323 days

#3 posted 07-24-2012 07:11 PM

Hey Jason…. I had a friend in the neigborhood who lost an older sister in a bike wreck, and his parents wouldn’t let him get a dirt bike either….. His dad was an engineer (who drove a ‘53 vet as his daily commuter car) and built him the go-kart…. which I later bought. That same kid later got a Honda 3 wheeler, as somehow, having three wheels was safer than just two :^O

I eventually did ware my parents down and got a dirt bike. If they ever knew half the trouble I got into on that thing, they would have locked it to a tree for sure ;^)

It really bums me out that I have to be uber vigilant about my girls getting abducted….

The oldest is quite the beauty and I sweat bullets everytime she takes the dog for a run

When I was their age, my buddies and I would ride our bikes 12 miles accross town to go buy a reflector at the bike shop… and never say boo to our parents. As long as I wasn’t late for dinner, what was the big deal?

My dad wanted to be an architect but after flunking calculous (he had to work multiple jobs to put himself through school) he majored in business and worked in sales most of his career. But he designed our house, and then set up a basement shop and then deisgned and made built in desk-bookshelves in each bedroom. He was into sailing (and raced some) and I can’t begin to name all the modifications he designed and made to his little boat. One I do recall is that he researched airfoil deisigns and then made a new rudder and centerboard out of Mahogony, with a perfect airfoil cross section.

I guess the bug runs in some families.

-- It’s the knowledge in your head, skill in your hands and motivation to create in you heart that makes you a woodworker. - Mainiac Matt

View crank49's profile


4030 posts in 2966 days

#4 posted 07-24-2012 07:42 PM

One of my sons has a son and a daughter, ages 5 and 2 respectively. His son appears to have no interest in machines, but the daughter does.

Last week he was changing the oil in his car and Abbi, the 2 year old, was on a stool watching. She asked what the several parts were and always acknowledged his explainations with, “Oh, okay.”
Then, out of the blue, she points to the battery and says, “That’s the battery.”

Thing is, she had never asked about that before and he had never told her what it was.

Reminds me of when my youngest son was about 4 years old and I came home from work one day and he announced he had fixed my hard drive. What is amazing to me is I did have a problem with it and he had seen me take it out of the computer, jiggle it just the right way, and put it back in the chassiis, and it would run. So, he just did the same thing by himself.

I guess what I’m getting at is there is not, IMHO, a lack of folks who want to get into skilled occupations and work with their hands. There is a sad shortage of school programs and teachers who provide the instructions.

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5688 posts in 3303 days

#5 posted 07-24-2012 07:51 PM

I read that article and agree very much with so many points that were made in it. I have seen so many people that have no ambition whatsoever to learn any skills to maintain and take care of all the things in their life. they will call and pay someone else to do just about every task imaginable from simple things like cutting their lawn, repairing a leaky faucet and the list goes on and on. That is why a plumber, electrician or whatever skilled tradesman can charge very high rates and these unmotivated people pay it.
I just had a conversation with a guy in Lowes Sunday that was whining because they told him they would charge $139 labor to install a new toilet if he purchased it there and it would be several days before they could schedule him in. I asked him why he did not want to do it himself because it really is not difficult….and he looked at me like I was suggesting brain surgery. Pathetic…
Hell..I have replaced several toilets in houses I have owned over the years and it only takes about 30 minutes.

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5708 posts in 3227 days

#6 posted 07-24-2012 07:54 PM

I personally think that the lack of skills development in the U.S. is not only an economic issue, but it is a vital cultural issue. Craftsmanship is a huge part of the art and culture of a society, and our current pre fab disposable society, well… there is very little culturally redeeming value to be found… Very little to tie us to the past, to our origins, and in turn to tie us to future generations…

A prime example. My next door neighbor is a fellow about 35 years old, married, 3 kids, living in a house his parents own. Both he and his wife make a fairly substantial income. He has pickets coming loose on his side of the fence (on this side, I have the rail side of the fence).

Neither he, nor his sons (12 and 10 years old) are skilled enough to re-nail the loose pickets. He wants to call a contractor out to do it…

What a sad day for America…

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View carguy460's profile


802 posts in 2330 days

#7 posted 07-24-2012 08:12 PM

I agree that we are lacking in the “trade” type school classes these days. Just 10 short years ago I graduated high school…we didn’t have a woodshop class due to funding shortages…we were lucky enough to have an Ag class, where welding, cutting, etc was taught alongside animal science and horticulture…the sad thing is that only us country boys signed up for the class…the ones who grew up working with our hands, so we didnt learn much…Now I think the program has been cut again, so there is only the after school FFA program to “cultivate” the trade…

-- Jason K

View JayT's profile


5623 posts in 2206 days

#8 posted 07-24-2012 08:27 PM

Agree totally with the article. I feel extremely fortunate that my dad was a do-it-yourselfer and didn’t mind taking the extra time to teach me. There is no reason to have a $100+ service call bill for a simple 15-20 minute plumbing, electrical or maintenance repair, but so many people don’t have any other choice.

One friend of mine from church routinely asks for help and instruction on basic home maintenance tasks. To his credit, he never asks someone else to do the work, he wants to learn how to do it correctly. The crazy part is that his dad is a talented carpenter and avid DIYer, but when growing up, the friend was constantly pushed to practice sports, instead of working with Dad. He ended up paying for college with a track scholarship, but had no repair skills. His brother, who was not as athletically gifted, got to learn Dad’s skills.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

View carguy460's profile


802 posts in 2330 days

#9 posted 07-24-2012 08:29 PM

I also feel like I should add that it seems that our culture these days has attached a stigma to the vocations…teachers telling kids that the only way they will be successful is if they go to college and get a BS or BA degree, which is BS in my book. I agree that higher education helps your chances for “success”, but persuing a vocation will not doom you to failure, either.

I wish I had enough skill to be a shop teacher. Then I could donate my time to a school program and maybe, just maybe, bring a small amount of craftsmanship back…

-- Jason K

View Gshepherd's profile


1727 posts in 2196 days

#10 posted 07-24-2012 08:42 PM

I myself have 3 girls and while one is off to college the other two which are 9 and 11 have shown a lot of interest in building things and most of all how they think out issues and try different things. At first when I had to round up all my tools or find nails in my work bench got me a little upset which I never let them know of course but only asked them to be more carefull.

Victoria which is 11 can name and identify many domestic and exotic woods and she makes a list of the different woods and when she is with me at the shop she will grab pieces and tells me what wood it is. Draws out her projects with measurements and has some pretty neat ideas…. She is even into making pens and made me one for fathersday which I will cherish all my life. Alexia which is 9 can pretty much do the same except for making pens. She is eager to do so and soon I will show her as well. I encourage them and find that they are more and more eager to learn more and I know may be in a few years they may be more interested in other things and lose complete interest but at least they were exposed to a form of craftsmanship. Exposure is a big key I think.

When they are with me every other weekend we do spend a lot of time in the woodshop and they love it and when we come home I will usually hop on LJ’s and all 3 of us sitting in the lazyboy will look at all the different projects on here and they are excited. I just tell them the person who made that started out just as they are now and probably work doing something totally different. My dad was not good with his hands, I got the bug from my high school shop teacher and it went from there. Exposure….. Sadly many schools do not have shop class anymore and the younger generation is not exposed to any woodworking or anything else that has to do with your hands.

Last weekend when I took them home and drove into the neighborhood I saw 2 young ladys sitting on the front lawn about 10 feet from each other and both were busy texting. I stopped, backed up and told both of them this is what is wrong with the new generation today.

It is not about making a living at it as much as just knowing how to do things for ourselves and many more would have some of the skills if they were just exposed to it. We all talk about when we got the bug….... We just need to pass it along whenever we can. I am sure we all have someone who we can say helped them along the way, weaterh it be woodworking, painting,sewing, carving ect,ect….. End of my rant…......

-- What we do in life will Echo through Eternity........

View JayT's profile


5623 posts in 2206 days

#11 posted 07-24-2012 08:46 PM

Jason, totally agree with that. There are a LOT of plumbers, electricians, HVAC techs and carpenters making a very good living, while people with college degrees cannot find jobs. Two good examples of that:

When I was teaching, one of my students wanted to go to tech school for auto body and auto mechanics so he could eventually open his own custom car shop and I was the only teacher to encourage him. He now makes a lot more than the teachers who were telling him to go to college.

A few years ago, my company was putting in a new store in Manhattan, KS. The primary electrician on the job was a kid with his journeyman’s who was going to K-State. He had gone to tech school right out of high school and now had a good job to help pay for the rest of his education. While other college students were working minimum wage jobs at Wal-Mart and fast food places, he was making four times as much and not struggling to pay rent. He also has experience in a well paying profession to fall back on if something happens to his primary career.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

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3118 posts in 3522 days

#12 posted 07-24-2012 08:51 PM

I agree with the article and all the comments above. The only thing that I can think to add is that the loss of such skills is just a part of a larger disconnect from the “real world”.

My wife and I are “falling further behind” every day and loving it. Our lifestyle provides an endless source of jokes at my work (software). We live in an antique colonial house, have no TV, raise a small number of chickens and goats, grow lots of stuff, and home-school our boys. Meanwhile, my coworkers are moving into townhouses and condos so that they don’t have to do anything outside.

-- “Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are.” ― R. Waters

View carguy460's profile


802 posts in 2330 days

#13 posted 07-24-2012 09:01 PM

GShephard – ”It is not about making a living at it as much as just knowing how to do things for ourselves” I agree totally, I just realized that my last post could have been read that I think everyone should be in a trade, but thats not what I was saying. Very cool that you get to expose your girls to this wacky thing we call woodworking, by the way!

JayT – true that, my friend. Though I am a master of nothing, I’m darn sure a Stanley No5 (Jack) of all trades, and I’m thankful that if my current career drops a deuce, I should be able to find work (or make my own) with my skill set (or lack thereof).

Sorry for the Jack plane joke…that really was awful.

-- Jason K

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