Recently over on some Facebook craft groups I belong to and some blogs I read of other craftspeople I respect, there has been a discussion surrounding the definitions of some words and labels we use such as green woodworking, their histories, the evolution of the craft movement around the world and the impact of the internet on all these things.
Jarrod Stone Dahl wrote an interesting article about the rise of masterless apprentices who learn their craft through website tutorials and most often YouTube videos but do not have the benefit of experience or a mentor to point out the bad technique and instruction from the good. There is also another class he talks of newcomers to craft who are chasing recognition, “likes” on facebook, “thumbs ups” on YouTube, etc… There are not so much interested in mastering their craft as mastering the presentation of craft for recognition on social media.
These two issues are indeed a negative aspect of the internet on the world of craft but it got me thinking of another dangerous pitfall to social media and the overload of information (good and bad) online. Jarrod mentioned that when he first started out with green woodworking it was from a books and face to face time with masters in their craft. That kind of lack of access to information has a benefit that most would not immediately recognize. It removes the buffet problem, too much choice, too much content available to all of us. It is very easy to get distracted and dazzled by all the different possibilities of different crafts to learn.
I fight with this often, I started off with spoon carving after my brother gave me a Mora spoon knife and carving knife. I had no idea what to do with them so I looked up some stuff online and found Robin Wood on a YouTube video carving a spoon in his living room. I was hooked right away and it led me to watching all his other videos on bowl turning. Soon I wanted to try that out as well and started building a lathe to try it out. It was a dismal failure but I learned something from it.
After getting to take a bowl turning course from Robin and Jarrod last year I knew exactly what needed fixing on my lathe and got right to it when I got home. In the meantime I had also become interested in knifemaking as I watched YouTube videos of master knife makers like Trollsky and John Neeman Tools and tried my hand at that, starting off with making handles for Mora blades and then after getting a taste of blacksmithing through the bowl turning course, I made a blade of my own (which I have yet to handle). The second knife I made I decided to try my hand at making a leather sheath and this resulted in my becoming interested in leatherwork. I got interested in bookbinding and have made some leather covered books as well. I have also played around with tool restoration by rehabilitating a Stanley No. 4 plane of my Dad’s, tried my hand at traditional woodworking and hand cut dovetails, birch bark canisters, and have another 3-4 crafts that I would like to try my hand at.
So in the last two years I have taken up:
- spoon carving
- bowl turning
- knife making
- birch bark craft
- book binding
- traditional carpentry
- tool restoration
The upshot of all this is that I have not been able to devote the time required to progress very far in any one craft. I have probably made more spoons than anything else in this list and it shows as my knowledge of the tools and materials in this area are much better than any other. Being a Dad of two young children, full time civil servant and part time university student though means that I have precious little time to devote to getting better at my craft to begin with and spreading myself as thin as I have and being tempted to spread myself thinner means that I will not reach the skill levels I desire and any craft. This is the buffet problem, too much access and choice does not lead to excellence, especially if you have anything else resembling responsibilities in your life.
While all of the crafts I have listed have brought me joy and satisfaction, knowledge and mental stimulation I am becoming increasingly aware that I need to make some choices of which crafts I want to pursue and give them priority over the others if I ever want to progress beyond the point of being a passing hobbyist. There is nothing wrong with viewing these activities as passing hobbies, nor do hobbyists not progress and become more skilled with time but they also don’t achieve the highest level of skill, knowledge and intuition about their craft.
What would I be doing with my life if the internet had not shown me these crafts? Would I still be passionate about making things if it had not been for the internet? I am not sure, but I do know that I need to mindful that I not let it distract me from just getting on and doing the work, really doing it and not just scratching the surface of a score of different crafts.