In the age of artificial intelligence, where does traditional woodworking fit in?
Traditional woodworking will soon become a niche market. The future of this craft undeniably includes competition with technological advances. However, the desire and demand for hand-crafted products will sustain those craftsmen who embrace such a unique positioning and implement savvy marketing techniques. For that reason, successful woodworkers must redefine their roles in the world market in order to stay current and generate profit.
At a glance, woodworking may seem to be the next victim of this ruthless pace towards the next-best thing, but even as old forms are dying out, those that are able to adapt and overcome their dusty trappings can survive.
Woodworking skills are not obsolete and hence will continue to have relevancy. If you’re unsure about the future of woodworking, keep reading. We’ll be discussing the reasons why we think the trade will survive.
The Value of Woodworking
Though the holiday season has come and gone, it’s certainly never too early to think about next year’s gifts. While most people have their eyes on technological gadgets, there’s also another aspect to successful products that most people don’t consider: exclusivity.
We’re talking about customization. Certain products sell well because they set the standard for a particular way of life. Popularity is the name of the game. But when it comes to showing off, rather, we don’t always like to have the same things our peers do. Therefore, that’s where the exclusive comes into play—and woodworking grows as big as the trees that sustain it.
We live in a time where AI exists alongside traditions that have sustained our way of life for centuries. Mankind sources trees from around the world to frame a house. In that same household, there could be several technological inventions that make everyday living that much easier. Smart thermostats, advanced home security systems, and electric car-charging stations: these are just a few of the characteristics that bring a home to the doorstep of innovation. But what lies directly at the very heart of this home? A wooden infrastructure.
Working with wood is a skill very much needed in the future, and not just for home-building. Woodworking traditions make up an entire industry of their own. From carvings, decorations, and instruments to furniture and packaging, crafting with wood requires special skills and knowledge. Therefore, value of woodworking increases as the number of educated individuals decreases. Much like forging, pottery, and various other hand-skill-driven vocations, similarly woodworking finds its value in the one-off, the unique, the limited-edition, if you will.
Woodworking’s Value to the Average Person
To sum up the value of woodworking in a few words, we’ve come up with a (non-exclusive) list of reasons:
- First of all, woodworking is a relatively cheap pastime available to nearly everyone. Tools and various woods are available at most large retailers, and there are countless tutorials only a click away.
- Woodworking can be considered a form of expression. Hand-crafted pieces don’t necessarily need to be mass-produced in order to turn a profit. Like many artists, woodworkers can create what they please and sell what they choose.
- Woodworking teaches patience, precision, attention to detail, planning, creativity, fine motor skills, dexterity, perseverance, and a number of other traits not always gained through traditional education methods.
- Woodworking is responsible for many objects we encounter in our daily lives. For example, there are wooden spoons, stringed instruments, sculptures, figurines, tools, bows, furniture, barrels, and much more. So, take a look around your house: what do you own that is made of wood?
- Working with wood supports a sustainable, green future. Wood can be burned, composted, reused, and recycled. Can you say the same about most of the objects you own?
So, there are plenty more ways that woodworking impacts our lives on a daily basis. In fact, have you ever thought of the number of jobs that require wood and woodworking skills? If you can’t think of any, that’s okay! We’re going to discuss just a few of them in the next section.
Future Woodworking Careers
Wood is used to create a variety of common objects, from spoons and cutting boards to string instruments and hunting bows. Those looking to put their woodworking skills to use should consider the following: there are many seemingly-unrelated occupations that require wooden materials to function properly. Wineries and breweries store their liquid assets in barrels. The greeting card industry is another area wouldn’t be the same without paper. Most noteworthy, the infamous IKEA certainly capitalizes upon the timber industry. That’s certainly not to mention the number of houses framed in with handfuls of two-by-fours.
Wood can’t be poured or molded the same way other materials like plastic can. Hence why working with it requires special equipment and/or a set of capable hands. Above all, as long as there are applications for wood, there is demand for those knowledgeable in manipulating the natural resource.
Quick List of Woodworking Careers
- Furniture designers
- Bench carpenters
- Marine vessel fabrication
- Woodworking machine operators
- Artisan work
- Restoration and repair
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, woodworkers can expect “little or no change” until 2026. While current woodworkers may retire, newly-trained apprentices will be hired to replace them. The same skills and abilities that were relevant several years ago apply when hiring new workers. However, “automation and a greater emphasis on computerized numerical controlled machinery” will impact both technical training programs and real-world hiring decisions.
Those looking to pursue a career in woodworking should study the next section carefully. Smart woodworkers will make sure training on these machines appears on the skills and certifications section of their resumes.
Woodworking Tools of the Future
Due to higher efficiency, accuracy, and profitability, the current woodworking process is streamlined when compared to what worked thousands of years ago. At the basis of the distinction between past and present lie the tools and equipment that make various woodworking careers possible. Let’s explore what future woodworkers can expect to find in their workshops.
For those working in a small space, investing in a mobile tool base is a no-brainer. The Hewitt Tool Company (HTC) profited greatly from this concept. As timeless as a hammer and nails might be, there’s no replacement for wood glue. If you’re looking for a seamless finish on your woodworking project, choose Titebond. The experts behind this brand, Franklin International, were able to achieve the ANSI Type 1 water resistance rating with Titebond III in 2004.
Not all tools are tangible, especially in a future dominated by computers. There’s Google’s free program called SketchUp, which allows woodworkers to envision their works before bringing them to fruition. Cordless power tools also aid in tight spaces and mobile work. With new tools debuting on the market, the industry is constantly evolving to make the woodworker’s job easier.
The Trend in Woodworking Tools
When considering the future of woodworking, Stephan Waltman from the Woodworking Network emphasized the entire production process. According to Waltman, “the trend in technology is to bring solutions to every size shop, with suppliers continuing to create cost-effective materials, hardware, software and equipment.” Steven D. Johnson, the “Down to Earth Woodworker” from HighlandWoodworking.com, agrees: “Furniture designers of the future will work with far different tools than we do today.” Tools and skills may adapt and evolve, but it’s the craftsmen themselves who bring true talent to the table—or should we say, the bench.
Woodworking Training and Certification
Now that we know a bit more about the types of tools available to woodworkers, let’s consider some of the education, training, and certifications out there. While it’s ideal to apprentice at the company you’d like to work for, knowing the proper skills to succeed at such a workplace, however, is key.
A good place to begin is the Woodwork Career Alliance of North America. A non-profit charity run strictly by volunteers, the WCA strives to prepare the next generation of woodworkers and invest in the future of woodworking. Their website is a goldmine when it comes to researching and obtaining knowledge about woodworking. Take a look at the “Credentialing” tab. Start here if you’re looking to gain accreditation.
Meghan McPhaul highlights a number of schools and programs back east in her article, “Woodworking Schools – and Their Students – Look to the Future.” She focuses upon the transition between having fun in woodshop as an elective and succeeding in a woodworking career. Much like with automotive technicians, the goal is to instill in students the skills and training needed to fill local job openings. Discussions and meetings with nearby businesses help schools to tailor learning and increase their graduates’ success.
Online Woodworking Courses
Alison.com offers a free online beginner’s course on carpentry that can be taken for certification. However, not all companies may recognize such an achievement, especially given the fact that woodworking relies on demonstrative handiwork. Penn Foster offers an online program as well, but rightfully cautions students to check with state requirements and prospective companies to make sure the tuition fee is money well spent.
These are just a few of the programs available to students looking for skills they can bank on when it comes to obtaining a woodworking career. Research opportunities near you for more information.
How can you keep the craft of woodworking alive?
Just as with any spoken language, it’s only with practice and time that traditions exist. This applies to woodworking as well. Only with the passing of knowledge down to the next generation can the woodworking world thrive.
Share the Woodworking Word
There are many ways you can support woodworking, whether or not you’re skilled in the trade yourself. For example, if you live near an area where local woodworking businesses operate, help support their immediate future by purchasing products and/or donating funds. Spread the word of their business to your friends and encourage them to do so as well. Another great way to learn more about woodworking and get to know the employees is to volunteer. As with any job built on manual labor, there’s no shortage of tasks to be accomplished.
Share Your Woodworking Knowledge
Beyond supporting your local woodworkers, you can also support the cause personally. Whether you’re a beginner carver or a master woodworker, speak to others about your experiences and skills. Teach your children or anyone interested the techniques you know. Spread your woodworking knowledge. Those with social media platforms can post tutorials, photos, videos, and instructions on how to create some of their most favorite projects. Because the more people who know of and care about woodworking, the better!
Woodworking requires people and passion to stay alive. Above all, help foster curiosity in others and show them that just as nature offers us a sense of beauty, we too can create wonderful things from her bounty.
Will Woodworking Eventually Die Out?
That’s the big question behind this entire article. Because as time goes on, certain skills and abilities fall to the wayside. That’s the nature of a technologically-advancing society. At the same time, many of the same techniques that were of use centuries ago still find their way into the future of mankind. You don’t have to “reinvent the wheel,” as the saying goes. But you don’t have to throw it out and forget about it either.
It’s the opinion of this writer that woodworking has one key aspect saving it from extinction. This is the very same characteristic that keeps many specialized skills alive. It’s called the human element. As long as there are talented woodworkers on this earth, the skill set will continue to thrive. In fact, as long as timber remains a part of everyday life, the woodworker is guaranteed a job. It’s certainly not an industry responsible for employing the largest number of people, but nevertheless, the value remains.
Like forms of art and expression, woodworking requires the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next. While certain techniques can be taught and replicated, there are also those traits which remain solely with the artisan. This is the very point where customization and expression meld into a truly unique piece. It’s a reflection of status and taste to own a painting by Picasso or be able to play a piece from Beethoven himself or even to experience the wonder of Michelangelo’s architectural genius. Woodworking at its finest stores this kernel of what some might categorize as pure creativity within the grain itself.
What Do You Think?
What are your thoughts about the future of woodworking? Share them with us below!