Should you take up woodworking? You might have thought about starting to work with wood, or if you are reading this article, chances are that you are considering it now. While we often pick up hobbies instinctively based on spontaneous interest, without a detailed consideration of the pros and cons of alternative pastimes, I think hobbies can also be argued for. Further, whether this would be picking up an old hobby or starting something completely new for you, it does take some determination to get started, and a clear motivation can help in this.
To help you in your consideration, I have here listed 14 benefits of woodworking, reasons why I think it makes such an excellent hobby:
1 Respect tradition and history
You are a descendant of craftsmen and -women. It is amazing that, regardless of where you come from, this statement applies to you with a very high probability. Before the industrial revolution, and mostly a good two centuries after that, everyone practiced crafts in one form or another. To pick up woodworking, even in a modern way, is therefore to embrace a tradition, and join the long line of builders. The more you build, the more you will also marvel at the accomplishments of previous generations.
2 Respect technology
By building or designing yourself, you are taking part in creating technology. You will get an idea of the kind of work that goes and has gone into the amazing breadth and wealth of technology that surrounds us. Whatever you think of the usefulness of all modern gadgets, the technology as such is still amazing, and a major part of our culture.
3 Give products a face
– your face. A part of your identity is embossed on anything you make. If you keep it yourself, you will value it more than a purchased product. If you give it to a family member, a friend, or a colleague, they will greatly appreciate the fact that you made it yourself, and just for them.
4 Make things that last
By making things yourself, you can ensure they are well built – no planned obsolescence, no cheap shortcuts, no hidden issues. You can choose high-quality materials, dimension everything with durability in mind, and fit and assemble by hand. The final product will be expensive, sure, but built for centuries of use.
5 Avoid rampant consumerism
By making even a part of your furniture, for example, yourself, you understand the effort that goes into design and manufacturing, and you learn to respect products, yours and others. In most cases, this respect slows you down. As such, it is a perfect antidote for consumerism, short product lifespans, and waste.
6 Make things that are tailored for you
By making things yourself, you can make sure that they optimally fit the intended use. This may mean that your furniture is adjusted to your height, for example, or just fits the space available in your home. The more particular your needs and wants are, the more you can gain by tailor-making products for yourself and your family.
7 Be creative
Woodworking is a creative activity. Whether you are working on your own design or mainly following a set of plans drafted by someone else, you have plethora of choices to make, from main dimensions through joinery and tool selection to finishing. Although for utility objects, your creative urges should be tempered practical concerns, you have a lot of creative freedom to realize your ideas in everything you make.
8 Relax and get peace of mind
Our modern abstract work in large organizations leaves many with a sense of alienation and meaninglessness. Concrete work on a worthwhile object, such as a kitchen table, can help to restore a sense of meaning: today, I did real work advancing a real cause. This sense of meaning is strengthened when you see your products serve your family and friends through decades.
9 Feel accomplished
By finishing a woodworking project, you feel able and accomplished, and you are proud of yourself. As you develop a track record of finishing projects, you build confidence to tackle new challenges, both within and outside the crafts.
10 Develop skills
Working on projects, you will develop a host of useful skills. You will learn how to measure and markup, cut, drill, plane, mill; nail, glue, screw and clamp; file, sand and finish. These are generally useful real-world skills with wide applicability.
11 Develop an eye for design
When you start making things yourself, you begin asking yourself questions which you are startled not to have thought about before. How tall should a dining table be? Or a work desk? How deep is a kitchen cabinet? What kind of handles should I select for drawers? You become attentive to the everyday objects around the house and learn how they have been designed. Gradually, your eye for design develops, and you will be able to come up with improvements to existing designs, and finally draft designs of your own.
12 Develop capacity to modify and repair products
Repair and modification of existing products is a segment of workshop practice with major potential. This part is often neglected or looked down on compared to building new from scratch, perhaps because it is considered “less creative”. However, in terms of economical and environmental impact, repair and refurbishment is without a doubt the most useful and efficient part of the crafts. It allows you to extend the lifespan of a product with minimal added material input, or return an unused product into service by refitting it. When you are building up your workshop and your skills, you widen your capacity to put your existing stuff into use.
13 Become an informed consumer
The more you build yourself, the more you will understand how things are made and what constitutes quality in different products. In addition to making you a more proficient artisan, this will also make you an informed consumer, who knows what to look for also when shopping for ready-made products. The more people do this, the better value and quality the industrial producers will bring to the market.
14 Bring manufacturing back
Back in the day when we were all artisans, we used to know who had made our stuff, where, and when. Nowadays, our products are made in a factory far away, by machines or people you will never know or be able to meet. The products have only a brand identity — or with the cheapest no-brand or rebranded wares, no identity whatsoever. To some, this can be very dissatisfying: why does manufacturing all the time have to shift further and further from home? You can say the most profound “No!” to this development by starting to make things yourself. If you do this, you will also find yourself supporting other local business like hardware stores and lumberyards.
This list of benefits of woodworking is far from exhaustive and not intended to be definitive; you may disagree on some points or consider them irrelevant for you. On the other hand, you will probably also have many of your own reasons to add to the list. In any case, I hope the list helps you in deciding whether to start woodworking as a hobby!