Our industry is at an interesting crossroads

jennifer-_mugPatrick Edwards, this month's cover subject, deserves credit for being such a good sport for all of the interviewing, follow-up questions and photo sharing he endured throughout the publication process. During our interview, he pointed out several times that he knows he's not the "typical" Woodshop News shop. I gulped with a sense of guilt each and every time.

Nested contently in his San Diego shop, Edwards is a hand-tool expert and marquetry master who refuses to adapt his workmanship to technical innovations. He respectfully acknowledges this publication caters to a more production-oriented audience.

For much of the last decade, Woodshop News has focused on dispensing information and business advice relevant to small- and medium-sized professional shops that serve the architectural millwork, cabinet, furniture and remodeling markets. While we still consider one-man shops a core part of our audience, we've made a concerted effort recently to also focus on shops with up to 20 employees.

So the question here is whether Woodshop News is simply following the evolution of the industry or suggesting that shops that rely on traditional skills are a dying breed. It's probably a little of both. After personally interviewing more than 100 shop owners during a period of several years, it's become clear that many would like to work with hand tools all day like Edwards, but can't feasibly afford it. Others say boosting production is their dream. They want the latest and greatest machines to expand their businesses and survive the economy when their competition can't. So how will it all pan out?

The real answer lies ahead. From aspiring youths to career-changers, those presently emerging in the woodworking industry will be the ones to reveal what direction it will take. This issue strings together several updates on the educational side of things, which hints at what's ahead. Our story about WoodLINKS' Educator of the Year Robert Studdard reveals that shop instructors are generally commended for introducing CNC and other enhanced engineering capabilities to their students. An article covering this year's IWF student design contest indicates that the more contemporary the look - and the production capability of the piece - the more likely it will win.

Interestingly, Edwards points out that the industry could evolve in a backwards fashion - and it just might. For one thing, the environmental movement continues to gain momentum, making the use of veneers and sustainable materials more popular than ever. Also, we can probably all agree that individual craftsmanship will always be valued and, when the economy finally improves, customers will be willing to pay for it again.

We'd all like to believe that there's a bright future ahead for traditional woodworking skills. Edwards has been fortunate to find a niche that allows him to work with 18th century marquetry techniques. But for most shops, the production approach is more "typical."

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue.