Are You a Maker? Really?

Do you think you’re a Maker?  What do you think makes a Maker?  I can guarantee that whatever your answer, there’s a ton of people that don’t agree.  I struggled with this very question myself, and only recently came to my current conclusion.

On some level, I want to be a purist.  There’s something in my makeup that requires me to consider myself on a higher plane than the average man.  From the moment I bought my first hand plane, I became a snob.  REAL woodworkers don’t use power tools, right?  Where’s the skill in plugging in a table saw?  But I figured out real quick that I could spend all my time breaking down logs, or I could build stuff.  So I broke down and bought a table saw.

Even Paul Sellers has a table saw, so I was completely safe in my snobbishness.  I still thought of myself as a purist, and the table saw was a necessary evil for the sake of efficiency.  Then I realized I needed a planer.  Then a jointer.  Then a band saw.  And a drill press.  But hey, I still HAD hand tools, and I could use them if I wanted to.

As my woodworking world got bigger, and I realized my woodworking IQ was shrinking fast, I had an epiphany.  Go back 400 years and give a furniture builder a random orbital sander.  Would he use it?  You bet he would.  What if the same guy had access to a planer?  I bet he’d use that too.  Imagine the creativity and artistry that would have been unleashed if these guys didn’t have to spend an entire day dimensioning wood for a single drawer.  Or an entire week breaking down a tree into manageable pieces.

But I wasn’t free yet.  I still had disdain for turners.  I thought of the guys doing marquetry like I think of little old ladies sewing quilts.  And don’t get me started on guys with CNC…  Seriously, turners have no expectations to live up to, right?  If you’re making a bed or a cabinet or a table, it has to be a certain size, it has to fit the decor in the room, and it has to do what it’s supposed to do.  That’s hard.  But turning a random chunk of wood into a random thing that most of the time only has to sit there and be pretty?

Let’s just say my eyes have opened.  I bought a lathe, and well, I guess it ain’t so easy.  Matter of fact, I’ve found it difficult to turn something that is mildly attractive, much less stunningly beautiful.  And turning is dangerous.  I think I’d be more comfortable hanging upside down using a chainsaw.  I am now officially in awe of turners.  As I’ve tried new things, I found out that not only is there great skill involved in each of these niches of woodworking, but even great skill doesn’t make you the artist that these folks are.  These are gifts that were uncovered by huge amounts of practice, persistence, and patience.  And if you can take ones, zeros, and a robotic router and make a work of art, my hat is off to you.  I’m still trying to figure out Instagram.

I guess what changed for me, is I figured out WHAT I am making, and I think I figured out what most of you are making too.  When I plug in a guitar that I spent months building, it makes me happy.  It brings me joy.  When I give a THING that I made to someone and it makes them smile, I know now that the THING wasn’t the goal.  When I make stuff in my shop, it makes me happy, it brings me joy, and gives me a refuge from the crap that life shoves in my face.  It doesn’t matter if the blade is powered by a five horse motor or my right arm.  It doesn’t matter if it’s high speed steel or carbide.  It doesn’t even matter if the thing you’re creating is made of wood (gasp!).  James Wright breaks down logs with an ax and Cressel Anderson uses a metal lathe because it makes them happy to do those things, and their excitement is evident for all to see.  From purists like Paul Sellers and Rob Cosman to modern guys like Mark Spagnuolo and Jimmy Diresta, these guys are sharing their happiness and inspiring thousands around the world.  That’s what they really make.  The THING created is just the vehicle.

The Maker community is one of the best things going on in our country, and it doesn’t stop at our border.  Let’s keep supporting each other, learning from each each other, and continue to spread the happiness and sense of community that those before us started.

So what is a Maker?  I’ll let you answer that for yourself.  You’re either a Maker or you’re not.  Am I a Maker?  You bet I am.  Am I still a snob?  Probably.

Definitely.  I mean, who’s better than us?

Rob Franklin