Woodworkers: Architects of Society

The small man-like creature peered over the bushes at the animal below. The bough in hand had good heft, ready to be swung as a club. It had been found earlier in the day, and with a bit of work had been fashioned to the intended purpose.  It was effective, if he could get close enough to swing it before the animal bolted.

What was needed was something with range, throwable. A straight thin branch would work, sharpened at one end.  In time, the forerunner of the carbide-tipped tool came into being, with a sharpened stone affixed to one end to improve its effectiveness.

And thus, through necessity, the age of the woodworker began.

Through every stage of the development of the human race, from their earliest precursors to modern society, woodworking has been an integral part of the process.

Necessity through the ages often appears to be combat-related, but only because an image of a trebuchet or catapult is more interesting than a wooden bowl, spoon or bucket!

But whether it is warmaking, or winemaking, woodworking has been there.

Even during the industrial revolution, and beyond, when steel had taken over as the material of choice, one of the most skilled group in the manufacturing plant were the patternmakers – woodworkers of impressive skills who could take a drawing of a component and fabricate it out of wood, including taking into account the pathways that the metal would flow when filling the eventual cast, and how much shrinkage would be experienced so the final product, and not the pattern was to the correct dimensions.

These patterns were not destroyed in the process, and were retained for each time a new mold was created. The railway workshops had many shelves full of these patterns, particularly from the days of steam.

A number of woodworking tools still in common use today were developed in this time, and where the terms “patternmaker’s vice” and “patternmaker’s bench” come from.

History is also full of the direct influences of woodworkers.  Ships that sailed to the new world, canoes from the islands resulting in the spread of populations across Polynesia, decisive battles in history, including the use of wooden cannons.

Literature too, including the Trojan Horse during the battle of Troy as told by Virgil in “Aeneid” (trans John Dryden)

By destiny compell’d, and in despair,
The Greeks grew weary of the tedious war,
And by Minerva’s aid a fabric rear’d,
Which like a steed of monstrous height appear’d:
The sides were plank’d with pine; they feign’d it made
For their return, and this the vow they paid.
Thus they pretend, but in the hollow side
Selected numbers of their soldiers hide:
With inward arms the dire machine they load
And iron bowels stuff the dark abode.

The Christian bible too, has many references, including of course Noah’s Ark, and of course reference to Jesus being a carpenter.

There are societies that survive today, that are heavily influenced by woodworking, including the Amish and Mennonites, particularly with their traditional barn raisings.

I often think this is how we should be building the quintessential Aussie shed.

The Shakers have also been very influential on many modern furniture designs.

The movies (& TV) have obvious also caught onto the woodworker’s influence, whether they particularly meant to or not, from Evan Almighty, through to The Lord of the Rings, The Witness, The Simpsons and NCIS to name but a few.

And in this day, as modern media takes a stronger and stronger hold, there is a new generation, including The Wood Whisperer……

and yours truly.

So throughout history, from the daily grind, to combat, literature and religion, the woodworker has been a pivotal influence on society.

So the next time you need to justify a trip out to the shed, remember, it is your duty, for the good of future society, to maintain all the ancient, medieval and modern traditions of woodworking, lest society falter and fail.

Some Woodworking Inspirations

I was having a conversation recently with someone in the industry, and I made a comment about David Marks, and how he keeps so personally neat in the workshop. (When I head out there, no matter how careful I am, I guarantee I will get dust all over and thus why I ‘invented’ shed cologne for when I miss the place!) The person I was talking with hadn’t heard of David Marks at all, and that got me thinking about the various woodworking influences and personalities have impacted on my woodworking journey.

The following list are just some out there that have impacted on me and my journey. It is by no means comprehensive, and I am sure I will miss plenty.  There is no ranking in the list, and if there is someone you think should be included in a more general list, please add it to the comments!  Obviously first up will be David for influencing this post!

David Marks – Wood Works

DavidMarks_portrait david-trilo

Host of Wood Works on the DIY Network (still getting repeat showings on Foxtel), he is a wood working teacher evangelist (for want of a better descriptor!)

A lot of David’s videos are now available on the DIY Network Video section. I watched a lot of his videos over time, and as much as his workshop was, and will always be well beyond anything I can hope to own, the lessons you can learn from David transcend your own shop’s limitations.


Norm Abram – The New Yankee Workshop

norm abram new yankee norm

Norm and “The New Yankee Workshop” is an institution, both on the TV, and his many appearances at the US wood shows. At over 20 seasons of shows, it would be hard for anyone involved with woodworking not to have tripped over him at some stage.

His router table design graces many, many workshops around the world, and plans for it can still be purchased. (I’ve placed a link to the Rockler Store on the above image fwiw). Despite the progress I’ve been making on my current router table (or sometimes a lack thereof), I’m still thinking of coming up with an adaption of Norm’s table instead.

(He does have a passion for using a tack-nailer during glueups – a technique I tend to avoid)

There are a number of different plans from the New Yankee Workshop available on the Rockler website


Mark Duginske

markduginske 38623-01-200

You may not recognise the name, but his Bandsaw Handbook is a common addition to many woodworkers libraries.  This has now been rewritten and re-released as “The New Complete Guide to the Bandsaw” (Click on the book above for a link). However, his expertise with the bandsaw is not his only specialty. He has a root to tip approach when dealing with trees, and tends to like making a project with timber from the one tree.  What really impressed upon me was when he tramps off into the woodlands around his place, harvests wood for a tree and takes it through the whole process, including kiln drying, shaping, planing and machining through to the final project.

He has authored 10 books, and a number of DVDs (that I watched over and over, gleaning every bit out of them that I could).  His Mastering Woodworking Machines is definitely worth watching (and of course his Mastering your Bandsaw one)


Marc Spagnuolo – The Wood Whisperer

ww twwlogosmall

Not Marc’s most complementary photo I’m sure, but anyone who has a custom made Powermatic Tablesaw gets what is coming to him!

Marc is a professional woodworker / blogger / podcaster, whom is becoming increasingly well known worldwide not only for his primary site, and related podcast on iTunes, but also his collaborative show with Matt Vanderlist (of Matt’s Basement Workshop) called Wood Talk Online. He (along with his wife, Nicole), have also founded a collaboration of woodworking bloggers around the world which has been dubbed “The Wood Whisperer Network“.

(I think) Marc and I started the online thing around the same time – he kicked off in high gear with the whole blog/video etc thing, while I was starting with a few miscellaneous online woodworking videos.  Since then I have followed somewhat down the path Marc did a lot of trailblazing on, setting up a blog, encapsulating the videos in the blog so they could be fed into iTunes (Podcast) and so on.  Marc is still pushing the envelope, now with more and more live footage, and some other (not sure if secret) developments, and has a large following of bloggers learning from him (and I daresay an even larger following of woodworkers learning from him as well)


Richard Vaughan

portrait at bench music

Another of the woodworking teacher evangelists, Richard’s passion for woodworking is quite infectious. He is also the only person I’ve ever seen run a course (as in his Router course) and not actually turn one on for the entire day (and still have kept the audience enthralled for the entire time).  He was seen at many,. many wood shows running regular drop in sessions that you always went away having learned something new.

Have a look at the gallery on his website though (or don’t – it puts us mere mortals off bothering – the work is at an incredible standard).  Richard has the unusual ability that he can not only pass on an absolute passion and enthusiasm for woodworking, but back it up with an amazing catalogue of past creations.


Gary Rogowski

Gary joinery_md

Gary – Woodworking teacher in the US, he has produced a fine collection of videos, particularly through Taunton, and Jet Tools. He is also the author of one of the books in the stunning collection “The Complete Illustrated Guide to” by Taunton Press. Any Gary Rogowski product is worth reading/viewing.


Tage Frid & Sam Maloof

FridTage sam-maloof_lg

Tage Frid (1915-2004) and Sam Maloof (1916-2009) were both the elder statemen of woodworkers, and their departures has been a real loss to woodworkers everywhere. Their practices, and woodworking principles are worth analysing, studying and copying.  Both knew their craft beyond measure, and produced many stunning pieces, while also influencing generations of woodworkers with both their techniques, as well as their approach to the “Zen of Woodworking” (if I can call it that!)


So that is a brief list, and I’m sure I’ll remember others to add.  If you have any that are particularly your own, please feel free to list them (and some notes why) in the comments section.


Catching up with a few of the blogs out there, and found some photos on Marc’s website (The Wood Whisperer) which made me sit up and look rather quickly.

Custom Built

Custom Built

Kind of like something from “Pimp my Ride” at first glance – flame paint job on a tablesaw (hey, why not!) but what really dropped the jaw was the plaque underneath the Powermatic sign “Custom Built for The Wood Whisperer”

How awesome would that be?!!  (And yeah, I’d take a self-portrait like that too if I had one of those in my shop!!) (Image comes from his “Failed Promotional Shot” series) Lucky bugger.

Update: If you can’t own one, you can make a paper one – Wood Werks has a PMC section on their website where you can create your dream machine, and print it out 🙂

Actually, not such a silly idea – it parallels something I was suggesting to Carbatec a year or so back, to have paper printable versions of each of their main machines so you can build a model of your workshop, plan (scheme) future acquisitions and how they’d fit into the current space (or how they would justify another workshop expansion!)  Not just a bit of fun, but subtle marketing at the same time.

%d bloggers like this: