Woodworking in America Shows Us that Woodworking is Growing

Woodworking in America 2013 was awesome! Let me just get that out of the way first. There is too much to say on the topic and a lot of it is hard to put into words because it has more to do with the experience as a whole and the people rather than one specific class. I will endeavor to look at some detailed takeaways this week as the woodworking community basks in post conference glow. Honestly I didn’t get to as many classes as I wanted. I specifically did not get a booth in the marketplace this year so I could mingle more and attend classes. Somehow the marketplace still sucked me in and ate up a lot of my time. However though I didn’t attend many complete classes, I still got to pop in and sample quite a few of them.

WIA Megan Fitzpatrick Dovetail Class

Standing room only

Interestingly enough the one class that excited me most was Megan Fitzpatrick’s “Dovetails by Design” class. It was standing room only in there so I stood against the back wall anxious to find out what was so interesting about dovetails. I mean lets get serious, how many dovetail videos and posts exist on the internet and in books and videos in traditional form? Do we really need to see more on this topic? Apparently we do as not only was the room full (and rather warm) but the crowd was engaged and asking questions. This could be because our red headed presenter is so likable but without casting offense on Megan I don’t think that was it. I honestly think there are just that many people who still are new to dovetails. Or there are that many people who have not discovered the cornucopia of online woodworking and don’t know about all those “how to” posts out there. To me this indicates a growth in our craft that gets me really excited.

So let’s be pessimistic and assume that all the people in this class know how to dovetail and they aren’t new to woodworking. So what are they all doing there? When I brought this up to Chuck Bender later he said that many of these folks may already know how to dovetail but they want to see how someone else does it. In this case maybe I can’t get excited about the growth of our craft, but I can be excited by how open minded and willing to improve my woodworking brethren are by choosing to forgo some other amazing classes to sit in on a dovetailing class. That’s pretty exciting considering many think there is nothing new under the sun in woodworking.

WIA Megan Fitzpatrick Dovetail Class

Check out the cool marking tool by Sterling Toolworks on screen.

Regardless of how you look at it, as a demographic statistic, this bodes well for woodworking. I’m inclined to believe that the majority of these folks were there to learn from a very non intimidating presenter who would break down a cornerstone joint in such a way that they would be able to attempt it when they returned to their workbenches. I add to this my own experience of talking to hundreds of woodworkers who claimed to be beginners with less than a year of experience. No matter how you slice it, woodworking is growing and conferences like Woodworking in America provide a great barometer to gauge this growth. I saw a lot of familiar faces, but many, many new ones this year.

Now I’m wondering if I need to finally make that dovetail video I have been avoiding for fear of adding to the noise. It occurred to me that outside The Hand Tool School I don’t believe I have a dedicated post or video that shows how I cut them.

What do you think?

What indications have you seen that our little community is growing?

7 Responses to “Woodworking in America Shows Us that Woodworking is Growing”

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  1. jim z says:

    Sadly I don’t believe the craft is “growing”. Every generation has their time to venture into this craft so when your one amongst the group or your in neck deep it surely seems that way. I do believe this craft will always have an interest from the “outsiders” looking in. I have found that their will always be a certain percentage of folks out there whom truly appreciate fine craftsmanship. Shannon please make a video on how you do dovetails as you aready know people will consume the info- kind of like Chris Schwartz and the workbench.

    • Shannon says:

      I see way too many young kids fascinated by woodworking to feel we are stagnant. For that matter so many 30 somethings who are raising kids in and around a workshop that some of it has to stick. Call me an optimist.

    • Chuck Bender says:


      There are many times when I find it easy to feel as you. One bit of encouragement I took away from WIA 2013 came from my son. At 23 years old, and having been around woodworking most of his life, he never really expressed an interest in woodworking. He worked the show on Friday, running video for Rich Wedler of Micro-fence and taking more than a few candid photos with my camera. His observation about the conference was that he was “amazed by how many people (his) age were attending.” I guess he figured the conference would have been comprised solely of people well into retirement. For him to notice a significant part of the crowd were his peers gives me serious hope for the craft.

    • Brian Brazil says:

      I have to agree with Shannon & Chuck, but I think we have to be a little patient. Woodworking isn’t going to instantly become the hip thing for 20-somethings to do, but I think it is slowly becoming younger and more popular. As Roy Underhill mentioned in his MWA podcast interview, the average age of attendees at his school is 42. That’s pretty phenomenal.

  2. Brian Brazil says:

    I sat in on Megan’s dovetail session on Friday morning for exactly that reason. I cut a lot of dovetails, but every time I watch someone do it, I pick up on little things. I mostly wanted to see her tricks for fixing mistakes to compare notes. You can never have enough ways to make repairs!

  3. Jeremy says:

    My first reflex is “I” don’t need another dovetail video, but on reflection I think you should. I certainly hope that no one watches every video prior to cutting the joint, but as you mention there is a steady stream of new students looking for support and we owe it (shoulders of giants and all) to them.
    Second think of it like watching a revival of an old play or movie you know well. Sometimes it’s good comfort food to know you aren’t the only weird guy out there enjoying this stuff, and every now and again you see something new. I’m sure I’d watch it.

  4. Steve S. says:

    My wife attended that session (she and Megan may have been the only two women in the room), and although she’s now cut over a hundred dovetails, she still knew she had a lot to learn about the subject. She really enjoyed it.

    Is the craft growing or shrinking? Judging by the number of new hand tools available (often at a pretty penny!), I would say it’s growing. New tool makers are still finding a ready market for their work.

    I wouldn’t be discouraged by the seemingly low number of young people picking up the craft. Lots of current woodworkers picked it up only in middle age, and there are new people reaching middle age every day. In 20 years, we will probably see more 45-year-old woodworkers than we see 25-year-old woodworkers right now.

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