I got a new plane iron the other day – a 38-degree A2 for my Veritas Low-angle Jack plane. A truly wonderful piece of steel – it was already flattened, and a mere 10 minutes of honing had it slightly cambered and ready to go. Once placed in its equally wonderful plane, they were immediately making beautiful music together, producing gossamer-thin shavings. There had been other options, of course. I could have gone with a Lie-Nielsen, or a new Stanley, or a standard angle Jack by any one of a number of makers. Shucks, I had to do my share of research to decide on the one I wanted.
Believe it or not, things weren’t always this way. I tentatively started woodworking when I got out of college in 1982. Back then, it was a completely different world. Looking back, it’s a miracle that I ever got going.
Relatively speaking, woodworking was in a dead zone. There were very few books on the subject, and the best I had available was “Cabinetmaking and Millwork” by Feirer. This book was basically a textbook on the woodworking industry – the idea of the solo craftsman was virtually ignored. There were two primary mail-order catalogs – “Craftsman Wood Supply” and “Leichtung”, and the best local store for tools was Sears. We had one serious hardware store, but it was aimed at commercial shops and was out of my price range. The World Wide Web didn’t exist yet, and such Internet as existed was the domain of serious computer people.
My first tablesaw was actually a Craftsman circular saw attached to the underside of a folding metal frame with a top of MDF and the most pitiful excuse for a fence you ever saw. I didn’t care – as far as I was concerned, it was the next best thing to a Unisaw. My wife bought me a set of three Irwin all-steel screwdrivers and a set of six carving tools through Leichtung ( both of which I use to this day), and I was on my way. I carried on in this way until we moved out of the apartment and into our first house.
Soon after this, I purchased a TotalShop system – a ShopSmith clone. This suddenly changed everything, and my woodworking started to take off. I added handheld power tools and a couple of Record hand planes, and really started to make things. I stumbled on the occasional book at the library, Dale Nish and Peter Child’s early works on woodturning, and a series of three books by a fellow named James Krenov. These had an effect similar to entering a dark room and throwing the windows wide to the outside world. Also, about this time, a spin-off of This Old House featuring Norm Abrams made it’s debut, and the world was never the same again.
Since that time, the growth of woodworking has been practically geometric. As the World Wide Web grew, woodworking grew along with it. Resources that were originally only available in the big cities could now be obtained in any corner of the world, magazines such as Fine Woodworking (which had actually been around since before my time) started to reach subscribers in new and novel ways, and woodworkers could communicate with each other as never before. The old standards of books and local clubs are now only a small part of the picture. Thanks to Twitter, for example, I can, in real time, exchange ideas with woodworkers and bloggers all over the world from a small device that fits in my pocket!
Why this long stroll down memory lane? I simply want to point out to today’s woodworker that you have advantages and resources at your disposal that have never been available before. EVER. You no longer have to rely on people in your area – woodworkers around the world are available to give you advice or critique your ideas. While television did not turn out to be the source we expected, DVD’s and online videos have more than filled the gap. Additionally, there is more woodworking information online than you can ever process. For example, FineWoodworking.com has a subscription service that, in addition to their current articles and videos, has a fully searchable database of their past articles all the way back to the beginning, and other similar services are popping up all the time. Blogs such as this one provide additional information and an alternative perspective on various topics – just following their links can become a hobby in its own right. All of them together give you a set of tools unavailable in the past to allow you to become the best woodworker you can be. Take advantage of them – there’s no reason to work alone any more.