The Editors Mailbox

The Editors Mailbox

Why Yes, I am a Dandy Woodworker

comments (9) August 6th, 2009 in blogs

MKenney Matthew Kenney, special projects editor
thumbs up 6 users recommend

My first fan letter. We received this letter in response to the cover photo on Fine Woodworking #205, a photo that shows me using my bench in my shop.
A custom card, how precious. Shutterfly is a service that makes cards from photos you send them. The reader who accused me of being a dandy used this card to write his letter of complaint. The envelope had a matching custom stamp. And Im the dandy?
A new job title. Of course, Ive taken a good deal of ribbing about the letter. And Ive been given a new position. I think I owe a thanks to Asa Christiana for that.
My first fan letter. We received this letter in response to the cover photo on Fine Woodworking #205, a photo that shows me using my bench in my shop. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

My first fan letter. We received this letter in response to the cover photo on Fine Woodworking #205, a photo that shows me using my bench in my shop.

click to enlarge
We receive letters from our readers on a daily basis. Some praise us, some don't. So I'm not typically caught off guard when I read one. But we recently got one from a reader, who I won't identify, that threw me at first. (You can read the letter above.) In essence, the reader was unhappy with the cover photo for Fine Woodworking #205. He thinks that the person pictured, who happens to me, is a dandy, too clean and well-dressed for a woodworker. He thinks that the photo shows a false image of woodworkers, and he implies that I'm no woodworker at all. Well, a criticism that personal is bound to set you back a bit.

But I soon realized that the reader is full of it. I am a woodworker. There is ample proof of that on our website (for example: workbench, garden bench, tool cabinet). How I dress, what style of glasses I wear, and whether I'm clean-shaven or not is completely irrelevant. So the picture does not present a false image of woodworkers. I am a woodworker and that's what I look like. The photo was taken in my shop. I'm using my bench, which I built, and you can see my tool cabinet, which I also built, in the background. What's misleading or false about that? Nothing.

I thought some more about the letter, and here's what I've come to realize. Sure, there might be some woodworkers who have beards or scruff, and who might be covered in sawdust most of the time. They might be a bit chubby or older than me. They might wear glasses that aren't designer (and, by the way, mine aren't). But not every woodworker is like that. In fact, many aren't. And here is one thing that I do know. Woodworkers my age (I'm 37) and younger most likely won't fit the stereotype of a woodworker. I've met many woodworkers around my age (both men and women) and none of them fit the image that this reader seems to have in mind. We're from a different generation, and our appearance will reflect that. Nonehteless, we're woodworkers. And some of us are very good woodworkers (see: Jamie Cumming, Peter Aleksa, Dan Chaffin).

So, in the end, I don't really care if some reader (or many readers) think I'm a dandy. I'm a woodworker and what matters is what I make, not what I wear.

Oh, to set the record straight, I don't wear designer glasses, my shirt was not (and never is) pressed, and the dovetails are in fact crisp and hand cut by me (a testament to my abilities as a woodworker). And the cover does not suggest that you have to look like me or dress like me to do good work.

posted in: blogs, woodworker, reader letter, dandy

Comments (9)

MKenney MKenney writes: Regarding the cleanliness of the shops in the magazine, we often hear the same objection, that real shops don't look that nice, clean, organized, etc. Are there dirty shops out there? Of course. However, I've come to realize that professional woodworkers (and many of our authors are) tend to keep clean, organized shops all the time, because a dirty one would make them less efficient and would make it harder to get the job done. The hobbyist shops I've been into are by and large clean, too. And we don't send any rules or instructions to our authors.

Posted: 1:32 pm on October 28th

supermonkey supermonkey writes: I disagree that the letter's author is offering genuine criticism. I, too, took the letter as sarcasm.

Regarding the too-clean appearances seen in the magazine - I attribute that to the same reason every home-and-garden magazine features perfectly manicured lawns and living rooms that appear as though nobody has ever actually lived in them. It just looks nicer, and too much clutter ends up distracting from the illustration. I've never considered that the photos were supposed to be indicative of a "real" workshop (if you can define that, then good on you!), nor do the bedrooms in Better Homes and Gardens look anything like mine (when was the last time I even made my bed?).
Posted: 11:19 am on October 28th

homebrook homebrook writes: Actually, I totally agree with the commentator, but I would extend the comment to almost all the photographs of woodworkers and workshops found in Fine Woodworking. I have mentioned many times to my wife that the way woodworkers are depicted in FW is not true to life. Active woodworkers do not have perfectly clean and ordered workshops with floors you could eat from, at least not me or anybody I know. Nor do we have perfectly coiffed heads of hair (or bald) and pressed shirts with new jeans. Its not that occasionally we have the 'perfect' woodworker pictured, its that that is all we ever see. I am still waiting for the Fine Woodworking photo shoot where we have a scruffy guy pictured au naturale. Does Fine Woodworking send a ten page set of rules and instructions to woodworkers before they arrive to take pictures? Why not just tell a woodworker not to do anything special so that the pictures look true to life. The workshops I typically see in Fine Woodworking have more in common with a hospital operating room than any workshop I have ever seen.
Posted: 10:08 am on August 29th

almartin almartin writes: What? No mention of a plaid shirt and safety glasses?
Posted: 11:03 am on August 19th

rousse rousse writes: Dan, I was routing in a skirt this morning. And try using a No. 4 in 3" heels!
Posted: 12:55 pm on August 10th

MKenney MKenney writes: Floss,

I don't really take is seriously, at least not the part about me being a dandy. But the person who wrote the letter doesn't seem to be joking. What I do take seriously is the implication that woodworkers all look (or should look) a particular way, and the claim that the cover is some kind of false image of woodworking.
Posted: 10:51 am on August 7th

Floss Floss writes: Lighten up.

It's a joke.

Posted: 10:04 am on August 7th

Tom Tom writes: Here's a dandy website: Based on that site, I can attest to the fact that Matt is no dandy.
Posted: 8:46 am on August 7th

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: Seeing as how I inhabit the cube next to Matt, I can attest to the fact that he's no Dandy. If I recall correctly, he has a background that includes cage-fighting (I joke).

Well done, Matt.


Posted: 12:26 pm on August 6th

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