There was a time when American and British woodworkers didn’t know much about each other–something to do, I think, with being separated by 3,000 miles of open water and a common language. But this is the 21st century. The Digital Age. The Age of Information. Geographical distance isn’t the barrier to communication that it once was.
That’s why I think that you American woodworkers should take a look at Living Woods Magazine, published in Great Britain. Living Woods is an eclectic magazine about every aspect of green wood crafts, from chainsaws and carving knives to woodland management and timber framing and even blacksmithing. The magazine is light on ads and heavy on text and pictures. The articles contain a lot of practical advice, but unlike most articles in American woodworking magazines, these articles also tell stories.
For example, in one article in the May/June issue (#36, pictured at right), Japanese woodworker Masashi Kutsuwa tells how he designed a collapsible shaving horse. But instead of just giving step-by-step instructions on building it, he tells the story of his initial attempt to build it, and then explains each improvement he made on the design over several years. (An added bonus is a big sidebar on building a table-top shaving horse, which clamps to any stable table.) There are enough pictures that any enterprising woodworker could easily replicate the devices he describes, but that’s only part of the article’s value. I came away from it not only with some ideas about building a shaving horse (some day!), but also with an idea of who the author is as a person and why he designed his shaving horse as he did.
Let me rant for a moment about American woodworking magazines. (Feel free to skip this paragraph.) When I read articles on woodworking projects, I frequently get frustrated with the lack of context. After four or five pages of step-by-step instructions, the articles still leave me wondering why the author made the design choices that he or she did. Unless I want to build a copy of that exact piece of furniture (which I seldom do), I learn virtually nothing from the article that I could apply in projects of my own design. Then sometimes the author of an unsigned article will refer to himself or herself in the first person, or even make reference to his or her home shop, while I haven’t the faintest idea who this person is or why I should care. Woodsmith is particularly bad about this. None of their articles have a by-line. Why do the editors allow their authors to say “I” if they won’t even tell me who they are? Fine Woodworking articles are at least signed, but the authors seldom explain the reasons for design and joinery choices. Popular Woodworking is measurably better, which is why I sill subscribe. People matter, and that’s why I appreciate how Living Woods encourages authors to tell their stories.
And speaking of authors’ stories, I’ll have an article on spoon carving coming out in a future issue of Living Woods. Editor Nick Gibbs says that he wants to give the magazine an international flavor, and my article is one small part of that big vision. My article tells about how I take my woodworking with me when I travel, and it also includes some philosophical inquiry into the nature of traditions and innovations. Don’t miss it.
Digital subscriptions to Living Woods Magazine are available, although for those of you Luddites who still insist on ink-and-paper, they are willing to ship internationally. Just contact them and ask. If you’d like to get a taste of the magazine before you subscribe, sign up for the monthly e-newsletter. Thanks to the internet, it’s now possible to build a truly international community of woodworkers. I hope to see you soon–in the USA, or England, or Italy, or Japan, or wherever people are working wood with their hands.