The demise of the craftsman

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Blog entry by PopsHuckster posted 02-01-2010 10:56 PM 2185 reads 1 time favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I guess I’ve known it for a while because of being involved in woodworking for over 40 years and watching it’s ‘advancement’. BUT I don’t like what I see…. The future of those with craftsman skills in this area is very much at a chance of becoming extinct. This past weekend the Science Channel ran a marathon of probably over a couple hundred episodes. I watched intently becuase I figure you can never learn too much, but I really sat up and listened when they had something wood related…mostly furniture. Looks like the mass CNC type machines are taking over. Be it chairs, tables, or even grandfather clocks, the human touch is becoming less and less. The most I saw human touch was just before final assembly … the piece may have to go through some hand sanding before the finish was put on. The finish may or may not be done by hand…but usually done by a robotic system. How sad. I, as well as probably all of you reading this, take great pride in our hand made items. Whether it’s a samll craft or something as big as a grandfather clock. Men like Sam Maloof kept us in awe with his handmade chairs, of which, no two would ever be alike. As wood workers of the old style school, we must instill in the up coming generations, a need, no a necessity to keep this handmade craft alive. Take your sons, daughters, and grandkids out into the shop to see what you’re doing. Let them get their hands ‘dirty’ even if it’s something as simple as a birdhouse. What a waste to let this skill just slowly become extinct.

-- Pop

20 comments so far

View DaddyZ's profile


2475 posts in 3961 days

#1 posted 02-01-2010 11:04 PM

So very true, Every Peice I Make is Different on Purpose. I Consider it My Art & Soul

-- Pat - Worker of Wood, Collector of Tools, Father of one

View Damian Penney's profile

Damian Penney

1141 posts in 4912 days

#2 posted 02-01-2010 11:35 PM

I think CNC machines are fantastic, at the end of the day you can never replace the design sense of a master craftsman, the tools are merely the means to an end. Does the use of power tools lessen the work of a Maloof or a Krenov? No of course not, and nor will the upcoming commodification of CNCs. Embrace the change :)

-- I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso

View 8iowa's profile


1591 posts in 4682 days

#3 posted 02-01-2010 11:36 PM

I have a somewhat different take on the subject. While there are definitely more machines and automated production than at any time in our history, we also have more fine craftsmen and artists working than ever before.

As an example. two hundred years ago there were perhaps a hundred or so riflesmiths turning out fine Kentucky flintlock rifles. Today there are at least ten times as many craftsmen turning out flintlock rifles that exceed those of the old masters. The same can be said for Shaker style furniture and other furniture styles as well.

Just look at the woodworking catalogs. The old style hand tools are there, and often with modern improvements. Cabinet maker’s workbenches, and workbench plans are a hot item. The magazines and books are full of them. While shop classes in our schools are on the decline, private schools and classes are doing well. The Marc Adams school and others are giving aspiring woodworkers the opportunity to work with the best craftsmen in the country. There is a lot of talent being nutured.

Modern technology is giving us an explosion of ideas, information, and communication. This forum is an example. The future is bright.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4036 days

#4 posted 02-01-2010 11:47 PM

to make something with kids in a worksshop is always great
and if we learn them some basic skill with handtools and let them do there own projects with some suport
from us it´s amazing what they can make and it´s the best time they will remmember in the future
and if we learn them one new thing every time they are with us and treat them as appretice when
they help us they will in no time be able of doing things that look great and we will be the one who
has to hold the cut of piece or hold two peices together while they do the importen thing on the projects

and if you look at what adults do today they remodeling there houses (not always great)and take up some hobby´s where they have to use handskills and there body to make things with, just becourse they
are tired of Pc work/plastic design/Ikea stoff I don´t think it´s that bad it seems to me that people have faund aut that they precciate hand made things more and want to do it the old way becourse it´s just funnyer to be aktive instead of be entertaint from a screen

I hope you get my point I can´t express it better for now in english


View LittlePaw's profile


1571 posts in 3999 days

#5 posted 02-01-2010 11:56 PM

There is a lot of truth in all three above – not one is all wrong or all right. I would count my lucky stars if I get to live another twenty years and I would very much like to pass what I know to a youngster. I think that’s what Pop is lamenting. If so, I totally agree. Most youngsters today are not interested in working with their hands – including my twenty one year-old or any one of my grandkids. Today it’s computers and branches related to it.

I am hoping that LJ will stirring up interest in woodworking among our kids (anyone younger than 50) of either gender! At the end of the day, I get the level of satisfaction and accomplishment that I won’t get by using CNC or a duplicator! We should all try to get them to just give it a try – they may like it! As they say, ”. . . you can lead a horse to water . . .”

-- LittlePAW - The sweetest sound in my shop, next to Mozart, is what a hand plane makes slicing a ribbon.

View Dennis Fletcher's profile

Dennis Fletcher

467 posts in 3975 days

#6 posted 02-01-2010 11:56 PM

Dennisgrosen, I think you did great at getting a great point across.

I have also been wondering about our craft, as it were. I also think this recesion we are in will bring us back out, on top. People will begin to spend money, but they will go back to wanting something well made, not out of particle board, but wood. I think we will grow, slowley, but we will grow. We may not get rich, but we will have an awesome craft to show others.

--, Making design and application one. †

View LittlePaw's profile


1571 posts in 3999 days

#7 posted 02-02-2010 12:01 AM

Also, I don’t quite agree with “demise of the craftsman” part. Just look at all the posting of a lot of very outstanding projects just from a small group of us woodchips called the LJ! There are a whole lot of other woodworkers who’s never heard of LJ! I was one of them until some 42 days ago!!! LOL

-- LittlePAW - The sweetest sound in my shop, next to Mozart, is what a hand plane makes slicing a ribbon.

View dbhost's profile


5777 posts in 4153 days

#8 posted 02-02-2010 12:16 AM

Perhaps in the mass market, you could be right, but in niche marketing, especially as consumer dissatisfaction with mass produced sameness builds, the consumer wants something unique, and perhaps even artistic, some of them will start to learn, and go out into the garage, start collecting tools, and skills, and become the next generations of woodworkers, some will not have the time, or inclination to actually produce the product themselves, but will gladly become customers of those same wood workers…

-- Please like and subscribe to my YouTube Channel

View John Steffen's profile

John Steffen

218 posts in 3976 days

#9 posted 02-02-2010 12:16 AM

I too think that quality items are going to come around in popularity once the global economy gets going again. But I think woodworkers need to adapt to the times and realize that being able to design and produce high-quality items quickly will be indispensable in furthering the popularity of small workshops. Now I don’t think any of us are going to get rich, but I do feel the next couple of years we’ll see more and more small shops doing well.

-- Big John's Woodshed - Farmington, IL

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5020 days

#10 posted 02-02-2010 12:21 AM

I am working on the next generation.


-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View SouthpawCA's profile


277 posts in 4154 days

#11 posted 02-02-2010 12:27 AM

I also have a different take on the subject. Many high schools are eliminating what was called industrial arts classes in favor of college bound classes. They just don’t understand that some kids just do not have the aptitude or the desire to go to college. The inverse is that there are probably more college graduates that can’t figure out how to do simple carpentry. So, what happens with the kids that don’t go to college or drop out. Hopefully, they can get into a trade. However, that’s probably the minority. You can guess what happens to the others.

I took drafting in high school on a drafting table with a T-square and a 2H pencil. I agree it was tedious. I didn’t have to learn how to run a pencil along a ruler edge. But what I did learn is how to scale a drawing (remember those triangular rulers) and when CAD programs came on the market they eliminated the tediousness, but kept the craft.

I agree with PopsHuckster in that the craft of the arts have suffered. Music has also been eliminated from our schools. The few schools that still have music in their curriculum produce even fewer of our future musicians. People my age sometimes would travel many miles and sometimes across the US in order to audition for placement in a symphony orchestra only to get a “thank you” after a 3 minute audition. The competition was that strong. However, the music didn’t suffer. It was the best it could be. With fewer students trying out for the fewer openings, are these students the best? And because of economic troubles, elementary students aren’t even being introduced to the arts, whether they be music, art, or industrial arts.

The arts are the soul of the human experience. Without the introduction of the arts at a very young age people won’t even think of going on to the Marc Adams’, etc. schools. Kids are being herded to college only to get out and ask themselves “Now what?”. And then they move back in with their parents who now have to keep working to help pay.

-- Don

View PopsHuckster's profile


173 posts in 3992 days

#12 posted 02-02-2010 01:42 AM

Boy am I glad I stirred up your thoughts. I’m a member of the first group of Baby Boomers. My schools had Industrial Arts, Music, Art class, Printing, Metal Shop, even Electronics. They had the basic sports: baseball, basketball, hockey and track. They instilled in me the basic skills and needs we needed at our time to survive in the world to come after graduation. It wasn’t the NOW generation who sadly has everything at their fingertips electronically (although it’s because of folks like myself inthe electronics field that set the building blocks for their generation). My blog should have been titled: Future of the old school crafts? I have nothing against CNC machines… in fact if I could afford it, I’d have one of the Compucarve or CarveWright machines to play with. My use would be to preserve the old mouldings and woodwork patterns that are slowly finding their way into the burn piles as more and more classic old homes get ‘modernized’ for the sake of preservation. I guess it’s better than plowing them over though.

There was a big and sometimes nasty discussion about CNC machines one time on the Scroller site. It stirred up quite a few folks. I’m not here to do that. I’ll even go along with mass production furniture. It reduces the cost for those who maybe wouldn’t have finacially been able to afford nice furnishings for their homes. What I’m trying to get across is the fact that the newer generations are in such a hurry to get from point A to point B, they’re missing the basics of a lot of things. Think about it…. to them the Vietnam Conflict is what’s talked about in history classes. I don’t even know if they touch on WWI or WWII anymore. Life moves on. Most of them are looking at getting into some sort of computer job, or financial position or maybe even communications of some sort. How many are looking to working in the shop? Using their hands and maybe standing on their feet 8 hours a day to work. Do you think they have dreams about making something that will be remembered in another 50 years? 100 years? Not from what I’ve seen.

We need to show them the basics. Have them do some hands on now before it may be too late and we loose some of the gifts we were given by our grandfathers and grandmothers. At least “lead them to the water” instead of letting them wander around in the field looking for something to do. If everyone does all the technical jobs and sits at a desk all day….who’s going to make the that beautiful desk?

I’m done now. Not even sure where some of this came from. Maybe it’s from seeing how unhappy my youngest is with his job in medicine and all the politics he’s putting up with AND knowng how happy he was once when he worked with me for a year at the telephone company during one of his college breaks doing work in our warehouse.

-- Pop

View john's profile


2385 posts in 5302 days

#13 posted 02-02-2010 01:51 AM

Not all birdhouses are simple Pop ! :))

-- John in Belgrave (Website) ,

View dusty2's profile


323 posts in 4350 days

#14 posted 02-02-2010 01:58 AM

We have certainly touched on a wide range of subject matter here and I believe I agree with every point of view at least to some extent. The age of the skilled craftsman (as we know the crafts today) is most certainly drawing to a close. It has to be simply because we are no longer training skilled craftsman in the numbers that we once did. Instead, we are entering deeper into that age of high technology. CNCs are only one of the results.

Those of us who love the crafts can still work in the crafts but if that is what we want we must learn to accept the fact that we are not going to get rich doing that. In fact, we might have a difficult time squeezing out a meager living.

But hey, we are in this for the love of the craft. Remember that? Teach it to the kids. In fact, teach it to anyone who will learn it. Turn out that beautiful work. Distribute it around. Let everyone know that some one still does this sort of work.

-- Making Sawdust Safely

View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1288 posts in 4657 days

#15 posted 02-02-2010 02:04 AM

I think the so called Old School ( done with hand tools is a myth ) Throughout the centuries woodworking has had many evolutions. To make something with only hand tools is definitely a way to really learn about working with wood. However, it is not a usual way to make a living. There are VERY FEW folks who actually make a good living this way. Even Sam Maloof used power tools. He did, however resist the offer from a large funiture maker to produce his chairs with the help of a CNC machine. The CNC world is just the next evolution in woodworking. The newer generation of 5 axis machines can do some amazing things. They are also much safer. Do you feel like passing your hands close to a shaper cutter all day long? Hand tools are here to stay. There are many hobbiests who love to work with their hands. They can afford to. The professional MUST keep up with the markets and their conditions in order to compete. There are many levels and qualities of CNC machines. Some are much more accurate than anything done by hand. I am in full support of CNC machines and am planning on investing in a good one in the near future. I believe a craftsman in the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, or 19th century would have invested in a CNC machine if they existed at the time.

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

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