Monday, August 3, 2015

It's a Letter to a Woodworker, conclusion...for now

I just found out that a student for the August class at North Bennet Street had to cancel and even though the class has plenty enrolled to run, I thought that I might entice someone to jump on the spot with some news. Tim Manney has offered to teach the class along with me. If you aren't familiar with Tim, you should visit his blog. You will soon know more about Tim as he has a number of articles in the pipeline and as far as I'm concerned is one of the best woodworkers around. Tim and I taught together recently in Washington state and I am positive that the students benefited from his keen insights and skills.

Here is the final installment of the Letter to a Woodworker Series. Thanks for all the feedback that you've sent, it's been an interesting time of reflection for me and I certainly hope that some of it has been useful.

So many times as I've met woodworkers, they've expressed interest in transitioning their craft into a business, either in retirement, where it will be a fun endeavor, or in full blown lifelong pursuit of income. I can see in their eyes as they look at me that they think that I'm "livin the dream". There is one factor I suspect that they miss, which is that woodworking is, and always has been a blue collar trade. To me, this means that the making of the objects is what I get paid for.
If I'm not working, I'm not earning.

Of course, this is obvious, but what is tough to predict is how you will feel when the thrill of learning is replaced by the need to quickly and repetitively perform a task. I try not to dwell on it, but it is a job that bills hourly and the pay rate is tied to market value of what you produce in that time.

 So much of what I enjoy about woodworking is constantly learning new tasks and techniques, but developing a business where constant learning is in the plan is not a good bet. To create an object at a reasonable price point while actually getting reasonably paid requires a predictable means of production and well developed skills, which in most cases means that the joy of discovery must sometimes take a back seat. This is the battle between jigging up to make objects with a market value versus residing on the more risky end of things where you can "find" solutions as you go. Looking back, I personally found that chairmaking is engaging enough in the means of production and design potential that I can always find a place to keep myself challenged even while producing certain designs that I've made hundreds of times. Meanwhile, I am always cooking up some new design, process or understanding.

This doesn't mean that chairs are the be all end all, just that they have provided me with a happy medium to exercise my mind as well as body. Why do I hang on this point? Because I've never had an employer paid holiday,  sick day or insurance since I started and the rewards of showing up every day start to wear thin if you don't consider a ways to take the joy of discovery and keep it alive in your day to day. Sure, sometimes you just have to crank it out, and that has it's rewards too, but don't be too shocked when your motivation is waning and you are faced with a task, or hundreds of them that don't carry the luster of the first time you learned or performed them.

 So I finish this series with where I started, which is urging a deep honest look into yourself to find what it is about this pursuit rings your bell. I believe that there are many paths to success, but there are usually a number or failures along the way and it's vital to have an understanding of your interests and expectations and a good plan for keeping them hour at a time.


Bern said...

Thanks Pete. Great series.

Unknown said...

Thankyou Peter, your insights are always helpful and encouraging.
Maree (Australia).

Unknown said...

Thanks Pete! This series has been helpful as I consider undertaking this work in a communal setting. I have to answer to my comrades and coworkers for choices of buying a good used lathe and Sorby turning tools and why it took so long to make an arm chair vs. a simple side chair. Like the shakers, I'm making chairs for our farm to use and to sell. So efficiency and good enough trump embellished excellence. Still, slow and methodical can be fastest. Embellishment and comfort sends the message to care for an object so it lasts, precluding is discarding or misuse, requiring a replacement.

Konrad said...

Thank-you Pete - for an excellent series.

Anonymous said...

Peter, thanks for a great article and clearly articulating the issues with a small shop. One aspect that you mention that needs some highlight is the time needed to market and sell ones wares. maybe you can touch on this subject in a future post.