The Editors Mailbox

The Editors Mailbox

What I've Learned About the Online Woodworking Community

comments (24) May 17th, 2012 in blogs

AsaC AsaC, Contributor
thumbs up 11 users recommend

You can tell from Mikes expression that I was headed off the deep end.
Shop Talk Live is the FWW editors regular podcast. It is best downloaded from iTunes, as audio-only.
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You can tell from Mikes expression that I was headed off the deep end. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

You can tell from Mike's expression that I was headed off the deep end.

Most of the world’s cultures have an adage that goes something like:  Mistakes or problems have a gift wrapped inside. I’ve learned a ton from one of my own screw-ups this past week. With some time to process, I’ve started to make lemonade from the lemons, and I think it will make me a better editor of Fine Woodworking.

We recently started a podcast, called Shop Talk Live, where the editors hang out, answer readers questions, and invite on special guests who happen to be visiting. We tend to start each show with whatever is on our mind at the moment. Could be a personal experience, a bit of philosophy or inspiration, or just a pet peeve. In the now-infamous episode 5, coming off an experience online where I saw someone handing out bad advice, I went on a mini-soliloquy about false experts on YouTube, etc.

Listen to Shop Talk Live

The free podcast is available via the itunes store.

To make matters worse, we originally titled the episode, “A Perfect Storm of Stupidity,” a quote from later in the show where Mike Pekovich and I talked about some of our recent dumb mistakes in the shop (we call those regular segments, “Smooth Moves.” Yup, the whole thing just drips with irony.)

You won’t be shocked to hear that these smooth moves set off a firestorm online, with a barrage of videos, tweets, blogs, and comments, kicking our butts for being elitist jerks and so on. At first I thought it was just the title of the episode, and that definitely fanned the flames, but beneath it was legitimate hurt and damage. Sad thing is, I didn’t get it at first. I spent a lot of time reading comments, posting my own, and talking to my friends in the blogosphere (thanks, Modern Woodworkers Association), and now I finally think I do.

The online woodworking community, though something of a Wild West, of course, is mainly about support and help—basically—community. And my comments were neither supportive nor helpful. Though I was coming from a FWW editor’s perspective, someone who feels tremendous pressure to disseminate the best possible info, and was talking only about a small handful of my experiences online, I missed the point completely.

For most people woodworking is a solitary pursuit, and can be intimidating, too, and for them the massive outpouring of free online blogs, videos, hangouts, etc. is manna from heaven. So the last thing they want to hear is that FWW thinks that bloggers don’t cut it. Of course, I don’t think that, but I was really dumb not to understand my comments would be taken that way. For the record, I think that the proliferation of online info has been overwhelmingly good for the craft. For one thing, how else are we going to pass it along to the next generation?

All I can do now is to apologize to those I hurt. It is sad, because we do a lot here at FWW and to celebrate and support the work of ALL woodworkers, of all stripes and skill levels, from our visits to shows and events around the country, to our blogs and online gallery, to my free videos at, and so on.

But obviously I have not engaged fully enough with this vibrant and generous community. If I had, I would have kept my dopey comments to myself! In my ongoing effort to find the gift wrapped inside my mistake, I promise that Fine Woodworking will find new and better ways to interact and engage. For a start, we’ll have some bloggers on one of our future tapings of Shop Talk Live, to talk about what they get from the community and how FWW can better engage it. But that’s just the start.

Shop Talk Live

posted in: blogs, shop talk live, community, online, Perfect Storm, bloggers, blogosphere

Comments (24)

AlNavas AlNavas writes: Great, Asa! I will mail you next week, possibly around mid-week. See you soon - have a great weekend!

Posted: 6:15 pm on June 8th

AsaC AsaC writes: Sure, Al. I'd be glad to hang out on Google+. Let me know when. E-mail me at
Posted: 8:37 am on June 4th

AlNavas AlNavas writes: I also posted a reply on Google+, at

I look forward to your reply. Thanks!

Posted: 3:20 pm on June 2nd

AlNavas AlNavas writes: Hi, Asa.

I invite you to a Google+ hangout. I believe we could have a wonderful, productive weekly Hangout on Air there. We can stream live, all 'round the globe.

Why not? After all, you are already a member there. I am a member. The Modern Woodworkers Association is also a member.

Let's plan on getting together soon - I believe it will be a terrific way to interact, and get all this mess behind. I spend 95+ of my online time there, and more and more it has become difficult to even come to the FWW web site.

I am sure others will feel the same way.


Al Navas
Posted: 3:15 pm on June 2nd

Marty_Backe Marty_Backe writes: FlyingRon, I think you're being unduly harsh on Asa. Take his apology in the spirit that it was given. I have. Then again I didn't really see the need for one in the first place; there's truth in what he said, he just wasn't as diplomatic as needed in this day and age.

I hope Shop Talk continues, and maybe it'll even expand to a weekly show. Certainly there's enough material out there to support a weekly podcast.
Posted: 2:33 pm on May 22nd

FlyingRon FlyingRon writes: Just when I think you've said the dumbest thing ever, you keep talking. You can't even make an apology without further insulting the community? Wild West? The one advantage of the Wild West out here is when someone says something wrong it gets responded to immediately, unlike having to wait two months for an buried admission in a letter to the editor.

Posted: 5:14 pm on May 21st

beem beem writes: Just to be clear on the object of the title, "A Perfect Storm of Stupidity," it was never directed at bloggers. As Asa explained:

"To make matters worse, we originally titled the episode, “A Perfect Storm of Stupidity,” a quote from later in the show where Mike Pekovich and I talked about some of our recent dumb mistakes in the shop (we call those regular segments, “Smooth Moves.” Yup, the whole thing just drips with irony.)"

Speaking more generally, there is a woodworking community at large that spans all demographic and skill levels, and this larger community is made up of smaller woodworking communities that reflect and makeup this diversity. Fine Woodworking is one of the many smaller woodworking communities that many of us consider a home. It's like any other woodworking community out there, and I suspect most of us within the Fine Woodworking community have other woodworking homes as well, e.g., The Wood Whisperer, Popular Woodworking, Chris Schwarz's Lost Art Press, and so on.

I feel that I know Asa, Mike, Ed, Matt, and the rest of the crew at FWW very well. I don't always agree with everything that comes out of FWW, but then there isn't an individual or community on this planet that I completely agree with - no one's perfect. ;-)

In short, the folks at Fine Woodworking who provide us with excellent content day in and day out have the same passion for the craft as we all do and help drive that passion. I am privileged to be a part of this community and several others. It's important to not lose sight of our community network and to be supportive whatever the circumstances.
Posted: 11:34 am on May 20th

RalphBarker RalphBarker writes: FWIW, I am constantly amazed by the number of bad, even dangerous woodworking techniques being demonstrated or espoused on the Web. Even seasoned pros do this on occasion. (A recent episode of "This Old House" showed a short rip cut being done freehand on a table saw, for example.)

But, you are correct - calling them stupid is probably not the best way to engage them in discussions of better methods.
Posted: 9:05 am on May 20th

a_e_b a_e_b writes: It's nice of Asa to recognize that his comments may have put some readers off. And nicely done.

I do enjoy some of the 'freelance' online content woodworkers post, but time and time again, I spend most of my time on paid sites like FWW.

Over time, I've learned to value editorial control. An effective and experienced editor can help prevent, well, gaffs like Asa's, when the editor is given time to review material before it goes in print or online. Effective editors remind their authors that said author may want to get a second, or third, or so opinion on a particular technique. Sometimes these are the best articles, those that address differences in technique. From proofing to production, good editing is worth paying for.

Let's face it, editors appear in all manner of professional media, as it's a proven addition to finishing a professional product.

So, despite putting some of the community off, and I'm not suggesting there's no value in the volunteers that put their work on the Web, I'm for independent professional editing as adding value to a product and will continue to pay for content that has that additional editorial control.
Posted: 5:01 pm on May 19th

deller deller writes: Hello Asa,
Just wanted to say it carries a lot of weight with a lot of people this day and age when a man can admit he made a mistake or error in judgment. My intention in the video I shot was not to bash just to do it, but rather invoke a thought process about how much we as wood workers disagreed with your comments. After reading your comments on my you- tube channel and my revisit to the pod-cast I realize that I to was in error also. The last thing I would want to do is give false information about anything I post, after all, that was part of the whole discussion. So after that I made the corrections in the next video. Just wanted to stop by and say thanks for what I felt was a sincere apology for a error in judgment and say it speaks volumes about you making it right. Thank you for you time,

Dwayne Eller
Owner Woodworkr
Posted: 1:35 pm on May 19th

pinkiewerewolf pinkiewerewolf writes: Asa, I support you as the editor and applaude you for explaining your thoughts. I think your comments were misinterpreted but you did the /honorable/intelligent thing and cleared up the misunderstanding.
I've read a lot of ranting on this episode and in past rants (on youtube and on internet forums) about how the magazines are out of touch with the average woodworker and how the mags are "in bed" with tool/machinery makers. I disagree with that statement if they are targeting FWW.
I'm a hobbyist woodworker I find the magazine and this site very useful. I began with the series for beginning woodworkers where you took us through building shelves and a workbench without pushing brands or the use of industrial woodworking machinery. (High-end tablesaws, etc...)
FWW brings expert woodworkers to the masses, something that wouldn't happen otherwise and this is inspiration for guys like me. I also get inspiration from some of the woodworking post on youtube and other internet sources but I have to glean through them to find, what I consider to be, useful, safe, knowledgeable information. I appreciate FWW doing that for us and that why I always rely on FWW for dependable solutions.
Keep up the great work.
Posted: 1:20 pm on May 19th

ctsjr ctsjr writes: Asa, you have scored big points with this post. Thanks for admitting your humanity and humility. Welcome to community!
Posted: 6:19 pm on May 18th

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: Hey no fair beem! I zapped the sound drops myself! Haven't been using 'em for two episodes now!
Only thing you'll ever here is the drops for segment intros - that's it!


Posted: 1:37 pm on May 18th

beem beem writes: I understand that, Ed, but I'm hideously ugly too, hence the outrage. Actually, I just want Asa to take your spot and zap you with your own sound effects. :-)
Posted: 1:34 pm on May 18th

tedb tedb writes: Props to you, Asa, for digging a bit deeper into this. I was surprised at how upset Steve and others at 'mere mortals' were. I understand and can see the sense of what Steve said, but, other than your use of the 'storm of stupidity' - for which you've apologized - I see what you mean too.

Aside from the new reality of the influence of social media and the Internet on woodworking, I think that there is something else at the root of the controversy, namely, objections to class distinctions within the community. Although I don't think he actually used the word, it was clear that Steve believes that your podcast argument was for woodworking 'snobs', i.e., some kind of woodworking elite. Steve's site isn't called 'mere mortals' by accident. It's _fundamental_ to his philosophy, and implicitly, that makes his site all about this class distinction I describe.

An artist once said to me that art is made by the intellect whereas craft is made by the hands. I disagree with that artist, who happens to be my daughter unfortunately, because I think it oversimplifies things, not to mention how it creates an objectionable dichotomy. All art requires craft and vice versa. How we mix the two in different proportions in our woodworking projects allows for a huge field of play that can accommodate _everyone_. Importantly, particularly for those critical of any other art/craft mix than their own, the proportion of each can be fluid for any woodworker. Sometimes it will verge more toward art, and at other times for other projects, more toward craft.

This very issue of art versus craft has been a constant issue in the life of FWW magazine itself. I've read every issue since the beginning, and I have seen the tug of war among the readership over what's so 'fine' about FWW. The debate flares up from time to time even today, and I have my own opinions. (Personally, I don't find much 'fine' in tool reviews. They're useful information to have of course, but do they belong in FWW? I can get that stuff elsewhere, and FWW shouldn't try to be all things to all woodworkers. Fix that, will you?)

The bottom line is, like I argued previously, the combination of art and craft in any woodworker's projects, can wander anywhere he or she wants to go. Class distinctions be damned! I'll continue to learn from FWW, and Steve, and Mark, and Shannon, and...
Posted: 9:39 am on May 18th

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: beem - you don't want to see me - I'm hideously ugly. LOL

I don't know, I like my "disembodied" nature on the podcast.

Posted: 9:13 am on May 18th

beem beem writes: I'm also surprised by the reaction. I thought episode 5 was one of the best yet. It's a live broadcast, more or less unscripted, and sometimes things are said that may offend someone, but that's its charm and why I enjoy it so much.

In my day job, being offended by someone or something, and displaying that affront, is almost an occupational prerequisite - that gets old very quickly. It's refreshing to get away from such hypersensitivity and give folks the benefit of the doubt for a change. Reserve the outrage and hurt for stuff that really matters.

Having said that, I am a little outraged that we never get to see Ed on Shop Talk Live... blog post to follow.
Posted: 10:10 pm on May 17th

Cedarslayer Cedarslayer writes: As the blogger of the website, I find this more humorous than offensive.

As I have said elsewhere, Asa, I am willing to give you quite a bit of slack since you are one of the few voices out there who have supported the use of a chip breaker as a chip breaker.

This may seem like a no-brainer to many, but there are quite a few very authoritative, skilled and quite knowledgeable voices that have asserted strongly and repeatedly that chip breakers do little to nothing.

Years ago when CDs first came out, the general audiophile opinion was that a green line marked on the rim of the CD with the right marker improved the sound. The experts of many an audiophile magazine tested the theory and agreed with it. A CD is read as a digital stream with a level of error checking, the green line could not possible alter the musical outcome. Yet experts are as vulnerable as any to foible.

We are all vulnerable to foot in mouth disease, sadly too few of us are able to admit our mistakes and move on. Your handling this like a big boy is something I wish more people could do.

I will continue to listen to you, Asa, and respect your opinions. Experience has taught me that you are a reasoned voice on an amazing range of woodworking topics.

Posted: 8:17 pm on May 17th

BStev BStev writes: Well I guess I am not nearly as sensitive as the majority of woodworkers out there because I thought Asa's comments were spot on and I certainly can't imagine taking them as insulting or unsupportive of woodworking or the online community. Could be I don't have nearly as much free time as the crowd that has been hammering him over his comments though, I'm too busy working wood to really care. Shame on Asa for thinking he could actually speak his mind and not get his head chewed off. Welcome to America where you're free to speak as long as I agree with what you have to say.
Posted: 7:57 pm on May 17th

KenPh KenPh writes: Asa, I know you have taken a few hits the last couple of days. But you made a very valid point, there are many people on line that say they are "professional woodworkers" and give poor advice. There are some really poor videos and truely dangerous ideas out there. Yes they are a very small minority. Thats why it is important for FWW to make the comment that one should always be aware that there could be really bad techniques being passed off as the "best way" to accomplish a woodworking task. Its not what you said, its how you said it.
Posted: 6:18 pm on May 17th

wilburpan wilburpan writes: Good for you, Asa.

You guys still could use better microphones for the podcast.
Posted: 4:29 pm on May 17th

nslewis nslewis writes: That first picture of Mike and the caption below are great. You could tell that he wanted to get back to topics like hand planing white oak.

Anyhow, while Asa's comments also rubbed me a bit the wrong way, I do think this was all pretty exaggerated. I have no doubt that he's very proud of Fine Woodworking, and he should be. In my view, it's the best woodworking resource in print or online. But if you pay attention, you'll find that he's not an arrogant person. He spends as much time poking fun at himself as anything else. And no one can deny that there are some real examples of what he was talking about. As he acknowledges, he shouldn't have said anything at all, as it wasn't particularly helpful, but in the end, what he did say wasn't as bad as people are making it out to be. He wasn't condemning all online content other than his own - he was merely pointing out that there is some awful stuff out there (and there is).

What IS truly disrespectful is the attitude that so many people adopted toward this. The rude and threatening comments. And I doubt that any of these people will do any reflection or apologizing. "jdmaher" makes some great points, but remember that everything cuts both ways. If you want a classy community, stay classy yourself. Peace,

Posted: 4:07 pm on May 17th

Aroonstock Aroonstock writes: Asa,
Thanks for listening to the community, assesing your comments and considering the impact they had. We look forward to moving passed them and working with Fine Woodworking to further the craft we all love.

Posted: 2:48 pm on May 17th

jdmaher jdmaher writes: One of the dangers of internet immediacy is that a dumb, inconsiderate, stupid or flat out wrong statement is instantly (and forever) available in the ether. Good of you to acknowledge your maybe poorly considered way of expressing your opinion, but please don't beat yourself up. We've all done it ('cause we're only human)and mostly without your self-examination. It's okay.

But this is hardly a new danger. It's not a consequence of our vastly superior technology. It IS exactly what your momma done warned you about a long time ago:

"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

Somehow, the medium is giving us a false sense of insulation - despite the fact that we use it to extend our contact with others. Kinda like picking you nose while your driving alone in the car; you're not really "in private", and you know that, but somehow you feel "alone".

Just remember momma, and let's be careful out there.
Posted: 1:06 pm on May 17th

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