I Am a Whore Too

Pocket Hole

Do you read the letters in magazines? I do. I enjoy the perspectives of others and the transparency of the editors who print scathing letters they could have easily sent to the trash can. Recently, I was browsing the letters of the new Tools & Shops issue of Fine Woodworking and came across one that pricked my conscience.

The writer of the letter claimed to be a “wood prostitute” by which he meant that he didn’t build fine furniture. How is it that in the hierarchy of woodworking fine furniture is the pinnacle? The standard by which we measure our self-worth? Essentially, this guy came across ashamed of his 30 plus years as a cabinetmaker/woodworker. He fed his family, put a roof over their heads, and did it by working with his hands. In my book, that is nothing to be ashamed of.

The truth, however, is that I’m guilty of hanging my head in shame about the things I build too. One of my most recent projects is a vanity upgrade for a customer. It is full of pocket holes and plywood that I’ve been reluctant to take pictures of because, well, it’s pocket holes and plywood. Here’s another piece of alethia; I’m not alone.  I’ve met others who are ashamed as well. But not anymore. From this point forward, I’m going to hold my head high and here are five reasons why.

The Customer. If you’re working for someone else, they have a say in what you’re making. In fact, they define the constraints that you must work within (budget, style, material, time frame, etc.) and it is your responsibility to make sure they are satisfied. You can read all about Nancy Hiller’s experience with this (pg. 37-42) and it is true for anyone who builds for a living. Compromise happens, and it is the customer who matters.

Quality. Within the constraints created by the customer I’m still going to give it my best effort. After all my name is going on it even if I’m not particularly fond of the piece.  I’ll use the best methods and materials possible that still fit the budget. Just because what I’m making doesn’t qualify as “fine furniture” doesn’t mean that I need to sacrifice my character, especially when I’m honest and upfront with the customer about the methods and materials.

Necessity. Some projects just need to be. Take Jim’s bunk beds for example. His kids need a place to sleep. He needs his office back. Should he make a bunk bed out of curly redwood? When I made my kids beds I knew that they would jump on them, color on them, and just generally abuse them. And I knew that when they got older they would want new ones. I planned to build something useful that could be re-purposed later.

Limitations. Every project has limitations.

The budget is a good place to start. Even if you’re building for yourself there is a financial factor that must be considered (usually it is my wife who controls this one).

How about tools? I don’t know how many projects are on my “someday” list when I get the right tools. Of course, you can and should use your creative ingenuity to overcome the need for some tools; it shouldn’t be an excuse but just another obstacle to overcome.

Time is another limitation. How long do you want it to take? I am one of those woodworkers who truly enjoy the process of making things, but it feels awesome to finish one too. Especially when you’ve had someone calling every other hour asking, “when is it going to be done?”

And skills? Being honest with yourself shouldn’t cause you to hang your head. You may not be ready to build something now, but you will be in the future. You can’t know which way to go if you don’t know where you already are.

Subjectivity. Woodworking, like any other art, is highly subjective. I know woodworkers who despise period furniture. I know others who despise modern. The point is that not everyone is going to like what you do. They shouldn’t have to. And you shouldn’t be offended if they don’t like your stuff even when they come across strong in their opinions.

I might be a whore, but I’m going to be a proud whore.

What about you? What project are you most ashamed of and why?

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