Beginners Start Here


Last Friday I took some time to go to The Woodworking Shows in Indianapolis. It reminded me of the Jimmy Buffet song Fruitcakes.

“Take for example when you go to the movies these days, you know. They try to sell you this jumbo drink, eight extra ounces of watered down cherry coke for an extra twenty-five cents. I don’t want it. I don’t want that much organization in my life. I don’t want other people thinking for me. I want my junior mints. Where did the junior mints go in the movies? I don’t want a twelve-pound Nestle’s crunch bar for twenty-five dollars. I want junior mints.”

The last time I attended this show was over ten years ago. I remembered it as a large show with some nice deals. I knew it wasn’t as educational as Woodworking in America (which I hear is not happening this year) but I wasn’t expecting it to be a complete let down. And sometimes the unexpected occurs.

This show was small. Really small. It didn’t even fill up the space available for the show which made it feel even smaller. And it seemed odd to me that they didn’t spread the booths out and give the impression that it was larger (and give a little breathing room to the attendees).

But even small shows can be fun. On my way back to the truck I was trying to determine why I was disappointed because quality trumps size any day. The conclusion I came to? Gimmicks.

Perhaps my awareness of the gimmicks being sold reflects the shift I’ve been making toward hand tools. At nearly every booth there was some gimmicky thing guaranteed to make you a better woodworker. I generally tend to believe that the things marketed to make our lives easier/simpler don’t. And we end up losing something else. Like money. Nearly all the gimmicky stuff that was being sold can be made in your shop in a few minutes out of scrap material. Jigs, guides, work holding, tools, you can make all of it.

A few years ago, I was in Atlanta, GA and came across a guy painting a picture. His appearance led you to believe that he was homeless or dirt poor. His canvas was a piece of corrugated cardboard. His brushes were sticks with some fabric duct-taped to the ends. I wish I would have taken a picture of what he was painting or even bought the painting. It was a beautiful picture of a man playing a saxophone. The intensity on the face of the sax player led you to believe he was in the zone doing what he loved. I watched the painter painting himself. He was in the zone doing what he loved. His tools and equipment were not professional level stuff and clearly not mass market. But he got the job done and it was amazing.

Why does our woodworking have to be anything different? Shouldn’t we all find creative ways to solve problems without relying on a gimmicky tool?

Gimmicks are driven by economics. Companies manufacture them because they are profitable. They are profitable because people buy them. The people who buy them are often beginners who believe that they can’t succeed without them.

These people need to hear a different sales pitch.

Proof I was there. 

10 Comments Add yours

  1. oltexasboy says:

    That’s what I call fishing lures to catch fishermen not fish.


    1. Eric Key says:

      Ha! That is a great way to put it.


  2. hbm-la says:

    This is the sad state of the remaining specialty wood stores. A flyer comes once a month and there is a new brand of “systems” (gimmicks) being pushed. My spam folder is full of daily notices from those that conned me into giving them my regular junk address. I would pay a lot (value) for good tools, if they had them.

    Oltexasboy said it: Lures, fishermen lures.


    1. Eric Key says:

      I agree. When I find good tools I am happy to pay for them. I get tired of all the little accessories too.


  3. Joe says:

    I see the same thing in my other hobby. “Buying this will make you instantly better.” In reality, what will make you better is time practicing/doing your hobby.


    1. Eric Key says:

      Exactly. Now if we could let all the beginners in the world in on the secret to woodworking success we could win.


  4. Doug Prather says:

    I attended on Friday. Other than getting to talk to the Marc Adams guys and playing with the Lee Valley demo items, it was a bust for me. As I do more hand tool woodworking, I’m finding more and more that I need less and less tools to make things.
    Don’t think I will go back next year…..



    1. Eric Key says:

      I don’t know if talking to Zane was worth the entry fee. Steve might have been worth it. I wouldn’t go back either. Save your money and stop by the MASW shop.


  5. alsatiannd says:

    You’re weary of gimmicks? Try working in my profession: historic preservation. Houses of craftsmanship, natural materials and beauty subjected to a modern material stream of plastic, big box stores and general contractors who only know how to open a box and install a pre-made thing, but don’t know how to make or build anything themselves.


    1. Eric Key says:

      That is frustrating. I worked for a number of years in the construction industry and know how you feel. I would show up at a job site for one reason or another and find most the workers stoned out of their minds. I was amazed that anything got built much less correctly.


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