Woodworking and Our Global Economy

I’m not sure if it’s everywhere, but you hear the debate going on here in America from time to time about things being manufactured locally. Automobiles and motorcycles seem to be the big items everyone wants to ┬áchime in about. But then the other 90% of their money goes to other countries. Now, I’m not saying anything against a global trade, as long as it is equitable, but let’s be even across the board. So what’s this have to do with woodworking you ask…well, I think it has a lot to do with it. Why does a company outsource labor and manufacturing to another country? I would argue that taxes and cheaper labor and material prices were right up there at the top of the list. Everyone is always in an uproar about jobs moving overseas but then their spending habits support these actions. This continued behavior I think has programmed people to accept lower quality products for a lower price point. Now, in this great modern world of manufacturing, these companies are able to produce products that look like the real thing…that is, until you have to replace it a couple years later. I am mainly talking about furniture made of glued together sawdust that you have to assemble out of the box, but also about other handcrafted items.

I read a post online the other day that really got me thinking about this. A friend of mine posted on social media about people expecting basically to get something for close to nothing because it was a handmade item. When did we start to devalue an item’s worth because it was made in someone’s home or garage? Of course no one wants to pay more than they have to for something. I love a deal just as much as the next guy or gal; but at some point we have to put our money where our mouth is.

So I think there are two sides to this issue. The first is from the standpoint of the maker. This can be the small family operated cabinet shop, the stay at home mom who sells items she sews, or someone like me that, when time permits, takes on small commission jobs. It doesn’t take a large neon sign or a fancy piece of paper in a ornate frame to make someone a professional. I have seen plenty of highly skilled artisans that fall into the above-mentioned categories. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen people who title themselves as professionals who provided shoddy–at best–products or services. So if you’re a maker or someone who provides a service then don’t undervalue what you provide. You owe it not only to yourself but the other people that provide similar products or services to price your work appropriately.

Now the other side is that of the consumer. If you are looking for an item and you want a quality handmade item then be prepared to pay the appropriate price for that item or service. If you love IKEA than please feel free to continue to purchase your wares there. But don’t get upset when you inquire about a hand made item and the price is considerably higher than what is sitting in a box at Walmart.

One thing I try to do with clients is working with them to see if there are options to get them the product they are looking for, within their budget. Sometimes there is a way to still make a quality piece of furniture but use different species of woods and then stain or dye them get the look they are going for. But there will also be times when there is no way for both the producer and the consumer to meet on common ground and that is perfectly okay also. So where do you stand either as a maker or a consumer? Or as both? I try to buy local when possible, but I also believe in paying for quality work or services but not for substandard quality based purely on them being the “little guy” in this big global economy.

Is it that time of year again already?

It’s crazy how it just seemed like yesterday I was dragging out the Christmas Tree to dispose of it. Now all of a sudden I’m starting to see stores starting to put up their Christmas and Holiday wares. I even heard rumor that a few households had already put up their Christmas Tree. I’m with Charlie Brown on this one that we have completely commercialized a perfectly good Holiday. Now I’m not here to debate which if any “Holiday” you celebrate or don’t celebrate… or even how you celebrate said holiday. But if you do, then this might be the time to start preparing. I think there is something we all can do to still get our Holiday fix and maybe, just maybe make it a little less about the commercialization (unless you own a foreign manufacturing plant that exploits underpaid workers). Now the entire Internet is full of ideas, but here is a couple things I’ve done or found that other people have done to create decorations either for your house or as gifts for the Holidays.

The first is a recent video released by Sterling Davis who is a fellow North Carolina resident. I was able to meet Sterling at Woodworking in America this year. He builds a replica Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer of one he built for his Mother when he was in High School (a few years ago).

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The next is a Christmas Wreath idea that my wife asked me to make the frame for. I used some some pine 1×2 stock and then cut 22 1/2 degree miters to make an octagon and then glued and screwed with pocket holes.
Then Kelly stapled some of the clipping off of our Christmas Tree to make a fresh Christmas Wreath. This made a beautiful wreath that could be reused and customized each and every year (or each season for that matter).
Christmas ornaments are another decoration that can easily be made and also past down from generation to generation. We have become a society where everything is bought new and then discarded to make room for the next new hotness. Alan Stratton at As Wood Turns and Carl Jacobson at the Woodshop TV put on a Christmas Ornament Woodturning Challenge every year. This is not only a great way to make a family heirloom but also put a personal touch to the holidays. Here is this years Challenge video which also contains the link to this years playlist. There is still plenty of time to join in on the fun!
This is the first year that I participated in the challenge and hopefully over time I can add some of my own creations to our Christmas Tree.
Here is a video of a Christmas Tree decoration that Steve Carmichael made last year. Steve is an amazing woodworker that has a bunch of great project ideas. I was also able to meet Steve this year at WIA (Woodworking in America). This is a fun looking project that I would also like to make sometime.
I could go on for days about different online resources and ideas available. They don’t all have to be woodworking related either (even if I kind of gravitate that way). I guess what I’m trying to say is that in a global world of manufacturing and commercialization (if this is even a word), go out and make something to decorate your house or to give as a gift for someone special to you this year. Even if it is just one small thing you will be surprised what a difference it makes. Hey and if your totally against the idea of making something yourself… go buy something hand made from someone in your local area. Not only does this help out small businesses but still gives you a meaningful item that wasn’t formed of plastic by mindless robots or assembled in a country that still uses child labor. Most communities have holiday fairs or craft shows which is a great place to find or sell gifts and decorations. I hope this gives you some ideas or incentive to go be creative. I’d love to hear what are your plans for Christmas decorations and gifts this year?

The live addition to the shop tour

A few months ago I made a short video from photos I had taken of my shop. I had been asked by a couple people to do a shop tour video and I thought at the time that it would fit the bill… well I was wrong. So I actually recorded a short video showing off some of the different aspects of my shop. I’ve posted both of them here just in case you want to watch and compare them both. I hope you enjoy!

Shop Tour Live

Original Shop Tour Video