It’s been a few years now since Nick Gibbs shuttered a British magazine called Living Woods, which had featured articles about traditional woodworking as well as bushcraft and related matters. He had been the magazine’s sole editor as well as a regular contributor of articles, so when he sustained a serious bicycle injury, his publishing career got put on hold indefinitely. And when Living Woods suddenly shut down, an article of mine that I had sent to the magazine never did get printed.
Now Nick has recovered, and he has just printed the third issue of Quercus, a magazine published in the UK and dedicated to working wood by hand. He has very kindly published an article from me. It’s in the November/December issue, Q3, on pages 40-43.
My article is called “For Love and Money,” and it describes how I turned my spoon making into a side-business, and it gives some tips along the way, should you want to try working wood for money yourself. I’m no businessman, and I do not pretend to give business advice (much less legal advice), but I’ve learned a few things about earning a small profit from my craft.
Writing the article was the fun part–I’m used to putting words on paper. But I also had to take magazine-quality pictures, something I’ve never done before. Thankfully, a couple years ago I inherited an older but high-quality Nikon DSLR camera with a tripod and a single lens in need of a little repair. My wife and I managed to get the lens working again, more or less (she has always had better fine motor skills than I have, and is a genius with tweezers and jeweler’s screwdrivers). I did a lot of reading about DSLR cameras on the internet. And I did a little experimentation.
But I didn’t have long to learn how to take pictures with a real camera. The article’s deadline was just around the corner, so I went to work snapping pictures of my tools and my carving in progress. The tripod helped a lot. I even had my 11-year-old daughter press the shutter button so I could have at least one picture of me at work.
Because a lot of the article has to do with selling my work at craft markets, I set up my craft table in a shady spot near my house and snapped pictures of my table setup. The dappled light under the trees gave me some fits, though it was still better than trying to shoot either indoors or in direct sunlight. By then, my repaired lens was starting to give out. The aperture wasn’t working right, and it kept throwing error codes, forcing me to turn my camera off, remove the lens, put the lens back on, and turn the camera on again every few shots. (Yes, I need a new lens.) While I didn’t get as many good shots as I wanted, I got enough.
Have you ever read a woodworking article and wondered what ultimately happened to the piece that was being built?
I’ve been making and selling spoons made from spalted pecan wood for years, but I’ve never kept any of them. (There are a couple that I still regret selling.) So for the process shots at my workbench, I decided to work on a new mixing spoon for myself. It was pleasing, for once, to be working on a spoon just for me–one that has to please nobody but myself. I’ve got pretty high standards for wooden spoons, so it isn’t easy to find one that pleases me in every way, but this one comes pretty close.
And that, I suppose is what my article is really all about. Most of us who work wood do it for the love of the game. We are amateurs in the best sense of the word–we have amour, or love, for the craft. But because we also need to earn a living, we sometimes turn our craft into a business. In doing so, we can gain financially, but often at the cost of our love for the work.
That has, I’m afraid, often been the case with my own spoon making. I like making spoons, and every year I get a little bit better at it, but there are days (especially with holiday markets approaching) when I’m just cranking out one spoon after another.
Now, I don’t think anybody could tell the difference from the outside. You would not be able to pick up two spoons from my craft table and be able to say with confidence, “This one was made for love, but that one was made for money.”
So it was good, for once, to be able to make a spoon for both love and money. It was one of those providential arrangements in which I wanted to make something for love (write an article, make a spoon), and somebody was willing to pay me for it. Such happy arrangements are rare; I savor them when they come.
If you want a copy of this issue, see the magazine’s website. Being a British magazine, Quercus is available mostly in the UK, although you should be able to get at least a digital subscription in the USA. The magazine’s production values are intentionally homespun–the paper is 100% recycled, so the pictures and print aren’t as crisp as you may be used to seeing in high-gloss productions like Mortise & Tenon. The copy editing leaves a little to be desired. But the articles are informative and enjoyable to read. There are also NO ads. If you enjoyed the old Woodworking Magazine and miss it as much as I do, Quercus might be just the magazine for you.
Well done professor!
Indeed! Well said.
A couple of decades ago, I followed a guy who built exquisite miniature models of naval ships, miniature meaning extreme miniature; models 10-15 inches long. He sold them on e-bay, often fetching very handsome prices (through auctions, not fixed price). When people approached him asking for specific vessels, he refused saying something like: I build what I like for my own enjoyment. Selling the results is incidental. Taking orders is too much like work. I’ve lost track of him since, but still remember the sentiment.
BTW, yours is probably the third mention of Quercus that I’ve seen. So, I had to go look and am very favorably impressed; a magazine that seems to exist for the work itself instead of promoting sponsor’s tool. Thanks!