Roughed in from Roughsville

Nothing irritates me more than when I hire a tradesperson, and they spend most of the time criticizing the worker who was there before them.

When Lucy and I bought our first house, it had been essentially condemned. All utilities had been shut off. The old coal furnace had been tagged by the city as unlawful. And there were no HVAC ducts. Not much wiring. But lots of odd pipes.

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When our kitchen sink stopped draining, I did everything my 25-year-old brain could manage. Then we called a plumber. He spent 30 minutes lambasting every fitting, fixture, elbow and what-not put below the sink by his priors.

“This is roughed in from roughsville,” he told us.

At the time, all I could think was: “I’m paying this guy $100 an hour for a historical critique of our sink?”

Later, as I started making furniture for a living, that sort of (P)artisan Attitude started to piss me off. I concluded that these guys were trying to establish superiority among their peers. Trying to convince me that they were the holders of the “True P-Trap” knowledge. And that I had called the right guy. (I say “guy” here because I have never had a woman tradesperson behave this way.)

Mostly, it convinced me that the tradesperson in question had some sort of Napoleon complex. And probably wasn’t a good fit for me.

The same thing happens in woodworking. But it’s weirder. Students ask us what we think of other professional woodworkers. Some are so bold as to say, “Give us some gossip. What do you think of Frank Klausz?” Others are sneakier. “Have you found David Charlesworth’s tertiary bevel to be effective?”

I’ll have none of it. I flat out refuse to criticize other woodworkers. Or their work. I don’t know why they do what they do. Maybe they were trained that way. Maybe their mother told them to hold a chisel like a pencil. It makes no difference – if it works.

Also, and this is important, I’m usually clueless as to what the student is trying to get from me. I try to read everything I can get my hands on about woodworking. So, I am up to date on the magazines and current books. But I don’t know diddly about the YouTubers and their techniques.

I don’t have time to watch 40-minute video episodes on making a firewood rack with a radical dadoing technique. Or a five-podcast arc on sharpening a “unicorn bevel.” I’ve got chairs to build so I can sell them and pay one daughter’s tuition bills and the other daughter’s wedding bills (and pay them gladly, I might add).

But maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way.

Back in the 1980s, Fine Woodworking magazine pitted the techniques of Frank Klausz (Hungarian-trained) versus Ian Kirby (British-trained). It seemed that every issue the two would go back and forth about how this one European technique was crap/genius or this British technique was superior/outhouse fodder.

Readers loved it.

Klausz told me years later that it was all a ruse. Like “kayfabe” in professional wrestling. Ian and Frank would talk on the phone about how to rile up the editors and the readers. Which meant more money and exposure for them.

Hey Megan! I think your dovetailing method sucks. Fight me.

— Christopher Schwarz


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