Thirty years ago it was fairly common for students to have classes in some sort of craft in high school. Arts ‘n’ crafts for younger kids, and as kids got older, probably home ec for the girls and shop for the boys (and all three for the lucky minority). This probably included woodworking instruction. This experience meant, among other things, that the idea of making something wasn’t alien or a big reach. Nowadays Steiner/Waldorf schools continue to teach craft, but by and large most public and private schools don’t. The underlying reasons are varied, but crafts courses of all kinds have disappeared from schools, and consequently most young people start out totally disconnected with the maker world.
And thirty years ago if you had the urge to make something and your friend-relative-teacher-neighbor couldn’t help you, the only information available was through a half dozen national magazines like Popular Mechanics, Popular Woodworking, and Fine Woodworking. Specialty and niche publications existed, but the smaller magazines did not have a ready access to distribution and they took some looking to find. The larger magazines functioned as a introduction to setting up a full shop and doing mainstream projects. Of course they all tackled projects with specialty techniques, but the magazines were generalists in orientation. If you had the urge to get more involved in a specific area of woodworking, the magazines were where you could find out about other smaller specialty magazine, woodworking clubs, and of course classes.
I remember that one of the appeals of Fine Woodworking when it first came out in 1975 was that it addressed niches (see table of contents in the photo above). While the other mainstream magazines of the day were focused on how to build practical furniture, mostly in neo-colonial or Shaker style, Fine Woodworking's interest and focus was about traditional techniques that were still being practiced, and how you could do them too. Of course, over the years what was unusual at the time has become usual, with the result that someone whose says their hobby is "woodworking" can mean anything from building simple pieces, fancy bentwood, to carvings, turnings, or all sorts of complications.
Then along came the internet!
We aren’t going back to the old way. Someone with the urge to make something can totally bypass the traditional furniture route. We meet a lot of turners, spoon makers, carvers, and chair makers, some of whom have branched out or will branch out to other types of woodworking. For most of them, the traditional path never comes up. The internet has made resources - the knowledge, the community of clubs, both in-person and virtual, the tools themselves - accessible with limited gate keeping.
In the pre-Internet days, information about a new group, a new toolmaker, a new source of tools and equipment might take years to circulate - sometimes too late, if the new thing folded before getting sustainable amount of support. Today this is not the case. This access to information will be what enables all sorts of woodworking to continue.
All this information affects the type of woodworking people will do because the leap for someone who has never had a shop class to invest in a table saw, a jointer, a planer, etc. is pretty large. But the leap to a local class, or following instructions on the Internet to build something, or find out about and then going to a club meeting is pretty small. I see a future where people satisfy their urge for woodworking by finding and participating in any of the less capital-intensive niches. And I am sure those niches will survive and prosper.
What is less secure is full sized furniture construction. I am pretty sure the high-end will survive but I am a little more worried about the weekend warrior. It's hard to convince someone to deck out a workshop if all they want to make is a bookcase. In another chapter I will discuss a plan for making simple projects simpler than ever, with minimal needs for the workshop. I have genuine enthusiasm for a new approach to casework that is becoming very common among professionals in New York City and will soon be readily accessible to amateurs.