My First Time

During the last 30 years, I’ve heard hundreds of “I first encountered Fine Woodworking” stories that have an impressive ending. The person becomes a lifetime woodworker or quits their job to build furniture. Or collects every issue since the magazine began publishing in 1975.

I’ll never forget my time, because it was just so random. 

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In 1991 I was a general assignment reporter for The Greenville News in South Carolina and had been invited to have a drink at the house of Jim DuPlessis, one of the business reporters. He lived in a tidy Craftsman bungalow on a leafy street, and on his coffee table was a copy of Fine Woodworking.

I grabbed it and started leafing through it. I honestly didn’t realize that magazines about woodworking and building furniture existed. I had graduated college the year before, and I was feeling drawn back into working with my hands after leaving Arkansas and our farm behind. But I didn’t know how to act on that desire.

I clutched the magazine (I’m almost certain it was the August 1991 issue) like a prize from the fair as Jim and a few other reporters wandered onto the front porch of his house to enjoy the air. 

That’s when Jim’s dog started streaking toward the street, directly at a passing car. As a newspaper reporter you see a lot of horrible things, and you learn not to look away. 

Jim’s dog ran right at the front tire of the car, like it was trying to put its head under the front tire. 

When the car and dog collided it made the worst noise. I won’t even try to describe it. The car stopped. Jim screamed and ran out to the street while the rest of us just gaped.

I don’t know how, but the dog was unhurt. Completely fine. Jim hugged the dog like a teddy bear as he walked back to the porch. Everyone at the party spent the rest of the evening doting over the clueless thing, like it was a miracle sent from heaven.

I spent the rest of the evening reading Fine Woodworking.

This week marks another strange turn of events. And again, no animals were harmed. I now have my first article in Fine Woodworking, almost 30 years after first encountering the magazine. After leaving Popular Woodworking as an editor (1996-2011) and then as a contributor (in 2018), I had resisted getting in bed with another woodworking magazine. It felt like getting married to a new spouse on the way home from the funeral of my first.

But after getting to know the current crop of editors at Fine, I decided I was being stupid and to give it a chance.

My article is deep in issue 283, the August 2020 issue. It is about, surprise, workbenches. It was a bizarre experience being on the other side of the fence as a writer, not an editor. But the entire staff I’ve dealt with – Betsy Engel, Anissa Kapsales, Barry Dima, Tom McKenna and Ben Strano (who I will remind you that FWW “stole” from us) – were a delight to work with.

With any luck, I hope you’ll see more of my writing in Fine, if they’ll have it.

— Christopher Schwarz


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