Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Ethos of Working Wood

There is a common sentiment that gets passed around about hand tool woodworking. It goes, “Our society today is so hustle and bustle. Fast cars, smart phones, and whiz-bang gadgetry abounds. Our kids are lazy and dumb. Uninhibited consumerism is causing the downfall of society as we know it. If only we lived in the good old days when people had to work hard, sweat a little, bleed a little. If only we still had that connection to the tools of the trade that made the men of the past earthbound. Then… yes, then we would gain ground in the recovery of our souls. We’re damned without the sweat on our brow.”

It’s easy to dismiss this as naïve anachronism. But you know what? Sometimes I think they might be on to something.


  1. I believe that it is impossible to appreciate and value the labors of others with first having labored yourself. Only by encouraging and supporting others in efforts of working with their hands and creating can we change the general view of the public towards the quality and worth of the things that they purchase or consume.


  2. I spend a little too much energy considering this question. I farm with horses. I work wood more and more by hand. My wife and I home-school our kids. I certainly look like that anachronistic eccentric. However, I am not foolish enough to think my way is for everyone. I don't want everyone to go back to horses. There would be too many abused horses by the people who do not have a passion or appreciation for them. Many people are not woodworkers for the journey of building, they just want the thing done. Don't get me going on education!

    I do wish more people would appreciate the work that is being done, not because it is hand or horse, but because the maker cares. A very different consideration than just the look and the price. Price does seem to be the thing, though. It saddens me to have potential customers go to Ikea. Of course, I don't get the job, but also because they get cheap junk and encourage more to be made.

    Thanks for this bit Joshua. It is good to remember that others think about this and care.


    1. Jason,

      I appreciate your response. You're right that often the aesthetic impact of a piece is make or break. I think a large part of the problem is actually a consumerist mentality. Folks want new stuff regularly. In that case, in doesn't make financial sense to buy a chair that will service your family for 200 years. If they will want something new in two years, they're better off buying something as cheap as possible. That seems to be an even deeper problem than the theory these folks are just short-sighted, which some suggest. And then, yes, this consumerist pattern encourages more cheap disposable stuff to flood the market. Planned obsolescence is self-feeding.

      On the bright side, the Ikea patrons you referred to will be in the market for more furniture in the next couple years, so there may be another opportunity to win them over then.

  3. I try not to think this way because it makes me feel old and curmudgeonly.

    But I do.

    It's a slow and difficult process to break yourself out of the consumerist loop and work towards self-sufficiency. We're taking baby steps, which is annoyingly necessary.

    It is annoying because I'm not even one generation removed from living something of a self-sustaining lifestyle. When I was a little boy, we had a full acre garden that provided us with almost all of the vegetables we ate all year long. My mom canned all of the surplus for the winter months. We raised steer for beef and chickens for eggs and fished out of stocked ponds.

    When I think back to how I was raised, I find I am more and more unsatisfied with my societal dependence. I want my son to experience things like playing outside all day and running to the garden to pick fresh shell peas for a snack.

    Your blog documenting your lifestyle is very motivational and keeps me looking for ways to improve myself and my family's lifestyle.

    Thanks, Josh.


    1. TKW,

      I sympathize with your perspective with the exception that I wouldn't say I feel curmudgeonly. It seems to me that curmudgeons are pessimistic and complain. I believe these things but try to make positive personal change rather than complain about the situation. I actually don't really care what the majority of people do. I just think they're missing out.

      So glad you enjoy things here on the blog. We also move forward little by little each year. In my view homesteading is a process by definition. Nobody ever is 'done' with their homestead. For my family, we are not so much interested in "self" sufficiency. We want very much to be an active part of our rural community. We just love living closer to the land than is possible in urban settings. There's just too much clang and clatter in cities... and too many rules.

  4. After much thought I agree with a lot of your theory. But I look at the us government and the direction that they are leading this country to. What they are teaching in school and the laws they are making. The parents letting children have all these games, cell phones and no discipline. They do not earn these things simply given to them. No structure in the home place or school at least in this area of the country and drugs hard drugs not grass but stronger ...