Appendix 16: What is an Amateur Woodworker?

For professional woodworkers' satisfying clients is the "bottom line". For amateur woodworkers, the client is the "self". Thus, if the amateur woodworker has a degree of self-respect, he/she will not be satisfied with amateurish results. Indeed, it is not difficult to visualize that frequently amateur woodworking is equal -- not superior -- to professional results.

The periodical, Amateur Work, Vol 1, 1902, p. 64, says this about defining what is "amateur work". Amateur Work's motivation for this discussion of the meaning of amateur in that magazine was generated by the unexpected accolade that it received in an issue of the professional trade periodical, Modern Machinery. In the review of Amateur Work published in the December 1901 issue of Modern Machinery, the article's anonymous author defines as amateur "a lover of any art or science, though not a professor of it."

Let me say this about "amateur" in my online book's title. Think  about a book, simply called The History of Baseball, or The History of  Basketball, or The History of Hockey? Ask yourself, what would the  content cover? (I suspect that unless amateur was specified in the  titles, the gist would be professional players.) Now, think about an  America where the work-week was 60-hours plus, like at 1900, then ask yourself where are the amateur woodworkers? Look at the hourglass below. Yes, today, amateur woodworkers out-number "professional"  woodworkers, but, historically, this was not always true. Now do you  see why maybe "the history of the amateur woodworking movement" may be an appropriate title

Amateur woodworker: Those who love the material and the work of their craft more than anything else about it. (Krenov, 1977, page 6)

What is an amateur woodworker? For professional woodworkers' satisfying clients is the "bottom line". For amateur woodworkers, the client is the "self". Thus, if the amateur woodworker has a degree of self-respect, he/she will not be satisfied with amateurish results. Indeed, it is not difficult to visualize that frequently amateur woodworking is equal -- not superior -- to professional results.

The periodical, Amateur Work, Vol 1, 1902, p. 64, says this about defining what is "amateur work". Amateur Work's motivation for this discussion of the meaning of amateur in that magazine was generated by the unexpected accolade that it received in an issue of the professional trade periodical, Modern Machinery. In the review of Amateur Work published in the December 1901 issue of Modern Machinery, the article's anonymous author defines as amateur "a lover of any art or science, though not a professor of it."

See discussion in later issue of HC 1939, for an account of formation of professional woodworkers and annual show, starting in 1938. Shortly thereafter, in January, 1940 a letter from a Maine professional woodworker, L. H. E. lamented that, while in the account of the Connecticut Craftsmen, professional groups at New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts were mentioned, Maine was not. L H E continues:


In Maine about a year ago the Dept. of Education appointed a man to head the Maine craftsmen and later they formed what is known as the "Maine Craft Guild". A fine building was opened on No. 1 trail called "State of Maine Industries, Inc." A grading and pricing committee meets here to inspect and price the merchandise placed on sale by any member.

Sometime within a few months they are going to have a showing of merchandise of the craft members so that the owners of gift shops can see what is being made here in Maine and to place their orders for products. During the holidays they had a display in several places and some of my merchandise was in both displays. This past summer have had articles on sale in four different parts of the state. One was a large order for cash, the others on consignment.

I bought my first power tools in May, 1936 and have been adding to them since. My shop is in the basement 23 feet long, 13 feet wide with a board floor, sheathed walls, three full size windows to the south and a full-size window and door to the east.

A year ago last spring my son wanted me to build him a boat and he sent for plans of Horizon. Completed it looks just like the picture in your magazine. ...



Ostensibly, a person who engages in woodworking purely for pleasure, as a hobby. Nonetheless, defining what is an "amateur" among woodworkers is tricky. When, for example, does an amateur become a "professional", that is, earn enough from woodworking to be eliminated from being considered an amateur? Because, in selling his projects, he earns money? However, if a woodworker cannot sustain he and his family on the earnings -- say it was $1200 per year -- would that still make him a professional woodworker? And what about somebody, say like Wallace Kunkel, a teacher of woodworking techniques, who made the odd piece for himself? Is he a professional?

A commanding figure among amateur woodworkers during the 1970s, James Krenov defines amateurs as "those who love the material and the work of their craft more than anything else about it." (Krenov, 1977, page 6)

[Where does this sentence fit? Because of its allusions to a condition of the past, its gist contributes to the discussion, but where should it be injected?] A master craftsman, a product of years of self-indentured training under as an apprentice under an earlier generation of "masters", was of course a "professional" woodworker, but not -- in my opinion at least, in the same sense as a professional today.

[Back to Document 1]

(I believe that in this context "professor" refers to the act of "professing" something, such as professing woodworking, and not to "professor", as in university professor. Editors at Amateur Work took exception "to the limitations placed upon the word 'amateur'. )

Amateur Work, say the editors,

is for those who engage in work for the love of it, or the pleasure derived from it, that [this magazine] is published, and while most of the topics will be treated in an elemental way, the scope of the magazine is not restricted to this class.

My personal woodworking experience

Here's where I think that my experience -- both as an amateur woodworker and as a journeyman researcher/writer -- counts.

Ex: I have many back issues of woodworking journals, collected from the beginning (i.e., 1976, when woodworking magazines first began to appear). For background on woodworking in the latter half of the 20th century, I have (slowly) paged through them, issue by issue, noting things possible to included in my text. There are many!

Some early comments by the original editors of the magazines are fascinating, especially today, in retrospect, when so much has changed since the beginnings in the 1970s. Before 1976, the founding year of Fine Woodworking, no magazine existed that was dedicated solely to woodworking. Today, there are many, not only in America, but Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, as well as other areas.

 

What conditions, i.e., social, political, economic, technological, aesthetic, were needed before amateur woodworking took off?

But woodworking, including amateur woodworking -- including amateur woodworking -- has a very, very long history. Nonetheless, although amateur woodworking always existed, the practice of woodworking as a leisure activity before or at the beginning of the 20th century was, of necessity, conducted under much different conditions then compared with today, or even in the mid-century. Read for example, the article that I've posted on my history of woodworking website as: Document no. 2: Chicago-based journalist, Phil Creden's "America Rediscovers Its Hands" (1953), and contrast it with the Document no. 1, by the New Yorker, A L Hall, "My Workshop at Home" (1908).

The point is that several factors, outside the purview of amateur woodworking, needed to be in place in America, before amateur woodworking became an matter of interest for men to considr it as a leisure time activity. Among these factors are :

All these matters and more are things needed to be in placee before amateur woodworking, as a movement, could take off.

Each of these issue will be dealt with, first, in very brief discussion, in these introductory paragraphs, but later -- appropriately, chapter by chapter -- in greater detail. (Chapter contents are listed on the table of contents page.)

What is my approach to this History?

[needs more editing] As the successive chapters of my history of amateur woodworking are completed and uploaded on the Web, readers will discover that I have "scoured the literature", "done my homework", as they say, in my efforts to uncover what, without exaggeration, is a "virtually secret history of woodworking", at least as this history relates amateur woodworking, in this century.

However, in my attempt to expose this human activity, much to my satisfaction, much information can be uncovered. The chemistry, i.e., the "chemistry" involved in human affairs, is complex, and I continue to search for the broader explanations

[Need to work in Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, "The Origins of Technology-Skill Complementarity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 113, No. 3. (Aug., 1998), pp. 693-732, in with G Leslie Oliver, "Fractional Horse Power Motor and Its Impact on Canadian Society and Culture," Material History Review 43 spring 1996 Pages: 55-67. Also Harry Jerome, 1934, "Mechanization in Industry. NY: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1934, pp 174-175]

Much less evident in the literature are the results of research into the implications of specific, small and unobtrusive technologies, especially those that enter the home (often by the back door). Oliver's point is that the appearance fractional horse power electric motor set in motion a series of changes in living that had a major impact upon behavior, values, and the like, but these shifts occurred without the responsibility being recognized [change phrasing], Further, Oliver adds,

There is little to help us to understand better what the[se technologies] are, what they do, how they work and their intended, unintended, as well as their unanticipated and unplanned for consequences - those now increasingly evident as the twentieth century draws to a close.

hour glass anaology