Visiting Fine Woodworking

This past friday, a group from the Modern Woodworkers Association (MWA) had the privilege of spending some time with Fine Woodworking Magazine’s (FWW) Senior Editor Matt Kenney and Art Director Mike Pekovich touring the Connecticut headquarters of Taunton Press, home of Fine Woodworking, Fine Homebuilding, Fine Cooking, Fine Gardening (just to name those I subscribe to!) as well as several other periodicals and books.

You know a bit about the making of the magazine, because by now, you’ve read Steve’s account of the visit on Closegrain.com, and Dyami’s Modern Woodworkers account of it.

As an added benefit of the trip to CT, we were able to visit the home shops of both Matt and Mike, and you’ll soon be able to tour those, as well as the FWW shop, with video posts from Dyami Plotke (coming soon) in the Penultimate Woodshop blog, and on the Modern Woodworkers Association Blog.

Since these other blogs have the details of the visit covered, I’d simply like to share some interesting things I learned, both facts about Fine Woodworking, some general comments I found thought provoking, and my own thoughts about woodworking, the culture, the community, and my own work.

  • I was surprised that the largest demographic in FWW’s circulation is 60+.  It makes sense, in a way, since woodworking is often a post-retirement endeavor, or at least, a hobby that grows substantially in retirement.  Nevertheless, I was surprised because the vast majority of the woodworkers I interact with are late-20’s to early-40’s, primarily since my network of woodworkers are in the online woodworking communities (#woodchat, twitter, Google+, MWA). In the group that toured, 8 of 9 were significantly younger than FWW’s primary demographic.

  • A key question I had for the FWW folks: Given they are a respected authority in the field, how do they see the role of the online woodworking community; more specifically do they plan on engaging and leveraging this growing network to help in growing the craft, and how…or does the free sharing of information via social networks, and the real-life networks they help create somehow compete with them. The short answer: they have access to a large network of authoritative sources, authors of such high-caliber as to be virtually uncontested as experts in the field, and they don’t consider online woodworking community a competitor; they are interested in finding ways of engaging the communities and doing what they can, and are looking for ways of helping and participating. (Given that they invited Modern Wooodworkers to the shop, I think this engagement is underway, planned or not)
  • The key to being productive isn’t so much getting lots of time in the shop, it’s maximizing the quality of the time you have. The FWW guys live lives similar to mine in many ways, as do most of the other MWA guys who made the trip. We face similar challenges, and all manage to make nice things in wood, share our knowledge online, and care for our families. (Sounds obvious now that I’ve written it, but it helps to see it first hand; getting together and chat about wood and life helps remind us)
  • Stop collecting tools. There are few tools beyond the basics that will make you a better woodworker. Don’t wait until you have the ‘next’ tool before starting to build. It’s just an excuse, you don’t really need it, just go build.  Why this thought?: Seeing the FWW shop, as well as Matt and Mike’s shops underlined the point that these guys make great work with shops smaller and possibly even less well-equipped than mine (so, with few exceptions, it’s not the tools…)
  • People online (bloggers, tweeters, etc) tend to write about successes, and accomplishments. Those are great to see. However, (again, with a few notable exceptions) nobody uses these great resources to ask questions, talk about problems they are facing, have faced, how they overcame it, lessons-learned.  There’s a side-effect: consumers of the content see this and think they’re the only ones facing challenges. It can be discouraging. I, for one, have no shame about seeking counsel from the wisdom of the online woodworking community. If nobody knows the answer, they often know who will. I also screw up alot, so many future woodworkers can learn from my mistakes. If you write, write about the bad stuff too. (You know there’s more than you’ve let on…
  • It was proposed that the next generation of communication (after forums, for instance) will be conversations directly in the comments of a blog or G+ post (both?) Once searchable in Google, what used to be found (with difficulty) in a forum thread, becomes a thread attached to the source document, with pictures, links, and little or no barriers to participation. What do you think?

There’s likely much more I’ll find on further reflection, but I’ll leave it at that for now. I’m interested in your thoughts on these things (remember, you’re contributing to a thread to be read far into the future, say your piece!)

I’ll leave you with a some images from the trip to browse through :

Matt Kenney's Tool Cabinet/Chest

Picture 1 of 14

Matt Kenney's Tool Cabinet/Chest

About Nick

Nick Roulleau is founder, craftsman, designer, joiner, finisher, floor-sweep and all of the other roles at Mansfield Fine Furniture. A woodworker for more than a decade, Nick started the company with the goal of filling the need for heirloom-quality furniture hand-made from premium woods. Every piece is designed to suit the customer's needs and desires, hand-picking each piece of wood, and built one piece at a time, using both modern and centuries-old traditional methods to yield furniture to last for generations.