December 15, 2008

A Season of Giving
I am known as warm and cuddly around the Studio. Huggable. A warm soft quiet teddy bear. A giver. Perhaps not so much. Better ask the beagle.

In this spirit of the season, and feeling so warm and gosh and golly it’s Xmas time again, I felt I needed to follow up on my last blog on the subject of value. How we who spend our time working at the bench perceive it so differently from the rest of the world. For us a retreat into the basement or out to the garage, a drive to the shop, is worth all the rest of the world’s riches combined. It is our place to hide from the nonsense of the world, to make some peace within ourselves so we can continue to function in this maelstrom of lunacy. This has value for us. It is not the Zen approach, the Pirsig approach I fear, although it’s been some 30 years since I read him. No it is our woodworker’s approach. For better and worse. Attaching value to some things around us, to some work that we do, to the time that we spend in our quietude.

So in this holiday season I think it appropriate to point out the need for us to share our gifts. To let people share our passion and our joy. It is called teaching.

Imagine when we lost the library at Alexandria, how much gathered knowledge we lost? We as woodworkers gather knowledge. Hoarding it, hiding it is as much a mistake as losing a library. There are days when I’m discovering something about wood or about metal, tools or techniques, and I think to myself, Wow this is so cool. But I am one damn fool if I think I am discovering something new. New to me, yes. New to my students, perhaps. Stunning, usually, in its simplicity.

These skills which we keep alive, these traditions we practice, these discoveries we make are so new to us, so filled with aha moments. These are things we must keep alive in our bumbling stumbling way. Things we must pass on to the collected knowledge of the world. And not in a file, not in a folder, not in an html file. Not in a download or a podcast. But in actual sitting with someone else and saying, look here. Look at this. This is something I learned. I want to show it to you. For if we don’t, if we let this stuff pass on, then it will be lost.

Many years ago, a brilliant woodworker name of Steve Voorheis, the late Steve Voorheis sadly, was in Portland to show his work and take part in a meeting of woodworkers at the time. I remember talking to him about his school in Missoula, Montana and the value of teaching these skills. He told me and I remember it so clearly, he told me it’s up the amateur to keep these skills alive. The professional woodworker can’t afford to do so. But the amateur, the putterer, the dedicated eye-poppingly skilled woodworker in the basement needs to keep practicing these dying arts. For few can afford to do things the old ways, not in the market of the 1980’s, not today.

This is the season of sharing then. When we can share our knowledge, our discoveries with others, and I want this to include the young eyes, the young ones, who will never in their schools put hands on real tools. They will touch mice, joysticks, and the Wii surrogates for actual activity. But never will they touch actual tools in their schools. I hope it is with these little folk that we can show them something and say: See the world is much bigger than you imagined. It is much bigger than I imagined. And the joy of living is to keep discovering. Learning is the happiest of activities. Share this joy of learning that you have with others and we will try however vainly to keep the fire going in the night. When the beasts howl, when the electricity dies out, when there’s nothing to do. It’s then we can show someone something dazzling. Share your value.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at

Published in: on December 15, 2008 at 5:15 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Gary,

    I’ve just discovered your insightful blog.

    For many years I’ve wondered about the little realizations, and even the little joyous moments, that come to me in the shop. Is any of this unique? Doubtful. Woodworkers are often so isolated in their work – we’re having parallel, unshared learning experiences. I think there’s so much to be gained by unguarded sharing among craftsmen that is missing in the heavily edited woodworking media.

    How do you really hold the chisel? What do you do if it doesn’t fit the first time? Does it ever fit the first time? Etc, etc.

    Thanks for your teachings.

  2. Gary,

    Thanks for sharing. I just viewed your series of “round table” videos on FWW web site. I also read your machine setup article, it is very good and well written. I can speak with some authority on the subject of teaching, I taught HVAC and electricity for 20 years.

    Next month, January 2009, I’m hoping to start working on the Arts and Crafts Side Table project (like Stickley 603), that is also on FWW’s web site, and featured in FWW magazine. Because the tables are very similar, the videos and the pdf plans will be very, very helpful.

    I’m retired, and at 66 years old just bought my first band saw. I have completely revised my approach to building the table after watching your videos. My “prototype” will be made from pine and will be a learning experience. The next version will be made from locally abundant red oak – at about 2$/BF.

    You say-
    “There are days when I’m discovering something about wood or about metal, tools or techniques, and I think to myself, Wow this is so cool. But I am one damn fool if I think I am discovering something new. New to me, yes. New to my students, perhaps. Stunning, usually, in its simplicity.” And I say to you, Gary – Amen.

    Happy New Year, and keep up the good work – you are making a difference!

    Larry James
    Marquette, MI

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