The Future of Woodworking: Found At The Crossroad of Artisanship and Technology
Plugged and Unplugged Woodworking
A good friend, prolific publisher and furniture maker Jeff Miller recently hosted a Lie-Nielsen hand tool event in Chicago with a number of top tool manufacturers. For furniture makers and tool aficionados, these events are worth traveling great distances (in my case, 330 miles). This is for several reasons. First, you can try before you buy – a huge benefit before you take the plunge in spending 100’s of dollars on some wood and metal. Second, and more importantly, you can speak with fellow woodworkers in a friendly, social environment – sharing a common passion. I always recognize many of the people who attend these events from my association with Gorilla Glue, but there were plenty of new people. People who have recently taken up the craft, or seasoned hobbyists who pop-in to see what’s new.
These attendees represent the future of woodworking. They are the people who are not only supporting American small tool manufacturers and publishers, they are propagating the knowledge and passion around woodworking across a vast network of friends and fellow enthusiasts. How? It starts with Digital Technology.
Technology Fueling an Arts & Crafts Revival of the 21st Century
I would argue that digital technology (the web, social media, blogs, etc.) is one of the driving forces behind a modern Arts and Crafts revival in the 21st century. I have seen first hand that when technology and artisanship collide, great things really do happen. With craftsman guilds being but a shadow of the past, woodworkers have been forced to create their own virtual guilds through blog posts, online video and a myriad of content and photo tutorials. These are the new modern woodworking guilds, avenues of discovery and access training that once resided in country shops of the finest craftsmen. While this can’t replace the benefits and experience of in person training, it does allow us to progress much further on our own with our computers and our hand tools.
It is somewhat ironic to think that technology is fueling a second Arts and Crafts movement when you consider one of the things the original A&C movement fought was their opposition to what modern technology (a decidedly anti-industrial stance) did to the craftsman.
While this may be somewhat limited in it’s definition, I came across this excerpt from Wikipedia summarizing the principles around the movement its founders sought: “The 21 founders claimed to be interested in more than sales, and emphasized encouragement of artists to produce work with the best quality of workmanship and design. This mandate was soon expanded into a credo, possibly written by the SAC’s first president, Charles Eliot Norton, which read”:
This Society was incorporated for the purpose of promoting artistic work in all branches of handicraft. It hopes to bring Designers and Workmen into mutually helpful relations, and to encourage workmen to execute designs of their own. It endeavors to stimulate in workmen an appreciation of the dignity and value of good design; to counteract the popular impatience of Law and Form, and the desire for over-ornamentation and specious originality. It will insist upon the necessity of sobriety and restraint, or ordered arrangement, of due regard for the relation between the form of an object and its use, and of harmony and fitness in the decoration put upon it.
While a little long winded and flowery, it makes several points that are very much supported by the connectivity and social connections technology today provides the modern woodworker. The called out portions above were both supported in the context of the hand tool event in Chicago, as well as across the digital content ecosystem of the internet today’s modern woodworker has access to.
I don’t have the opportunity to learn from Jeff as I did in the past through direct instruction. However, like many other woodworkers, I rely on digital technology to connect, serving as a guild of sorts to teach and constantly evolve my craft. Today’s guilds are spread out across the country and around the world, and are instantly accessible to help guide us when we get stuck, or when we are looking for support on our ideas. The content both publishers and manufacturers create and share online directly impacts their ability to connect with those woodworkers seeking that content.
It is this approach of content creation, publication and sharing (both virtually and in person) that will drive the future of woodworking – placing today’s woodworker squarely at the crossroads of Artisanship and Technology. In this case, that crossroads was at the intersection of Lunt and Ravenswood in Chicago, IL at J. Miller Handcrafted Furniture.