They showed up again, looking just like they did last time and that is exactly why I came. It’s one of the bi-annual wood shows. They are seasonal, accounting for those who are creatures of habit. There is the spring wood show which makes way for opening your garage to the sunlight and getting out the power tools. And there is the November show, for those thinking of making a few nicknacks for stocking stuffers and Christmas presents.
I know exactly what I will find when I get there. The usual exhibitors will nod in my direction. They know me by sight even though I look pretty much like every other man here. Just like you might expect aficionados for a Science Fiction event to look a certain way, there is a demographic for woodworkers that is remarkably consistent.
I once read a letter in Fine Woodworking magazine that asked why all the contributors looked alike: middle aged men with white hair and ball caps and beer bellies. It is a good question. I do know this, the demographic for woodworking seems to be shifting back to a youger indie kind of vibe. They now look kind of like hipsters. They have beards and long hair, and they wear lumber jackets. They look like I might have looked circa 1977. They are not in it for the do-it-yourself aspect. This age group may not expect to own houses so there is no point in learning to build or fix things. They woodwork because crafting is woke, and natural, and has personal cachet. They are right on all counts. But they are not the kind that come to wood shows. That kind shop and live via their phones. They do not come to a physical event like I do, they are much more likely to order their stuff online.
There are a few reasons I come here. The first reason is because I love it. I feel at home here. It reassures me that there are people out there who still like to make and do things in the physical world that are hands-on and unplugged. It reassures me that there are people hiding out there who are just like me.
A few men come with their wives, wiry country kind of women who have a bit of the look of the outdoors on them. They might be building things together. They are the wives who have discovered that their husbands’ resourcefulness is something to be encouraged. That it gets things done that might be otherwise beyond the family budget. And there are the men who come alone or in small buddy groups. They are there to see the latest gadgets and they are also most likely to overspend on a hand plane or other luxury tool. Because of them there are the otherwise inexplicable vendors there who will sell you nice things for women which may extend to essential oils, Swiffer cleaning products, massage tools that a spouse can put to use, and nice kitchen knives. The reason they are there is obvious, so that when you overran your own budget you can buy a consolation prize of sorts so that your wife won’t be so angry.
These are the men who are not used to spending on themselves, they are used to going to work every day and paying the bills. They feel guilty when they buy something for themselves, even though it may be time, even though the kids may be out of the house and they are left with a bit more time to take on a hobby unrushed by other schedules like driving kids to hockey.
There are many things to enjoy here. Sellers of beef jerky and beer nuts, book vendors with back issues from publications which may have already gone the way of the dinosaur. Anyone who is a woodworking geek, knows that the sections in book stores for woodworking, are steadily shrinking and often being taken over by HGTV mavens who host home reno shows. They are the ones that make it all look so easy. The woman shows up looking great in designer bluejeans, and the men who are her minions and shirpas, flock to tear out old structures and bring her whims to life. It is the encroachment of all things female in the world whereas the things left for men only are dwindling and vanishing from sight.
These men are fairly smart on a mechanical level. They can figure out how to do things which need to get done, things which most people have to outsource. More than that, they are happy and full of pride to do those kind of things with their own hands, the hands that are often a bit calloused, and full of dents and dings and odd scars. These men are unusual, because they also have something special that you would never guess looking at them. They have on some level, a common love for beauty. You can see it when they flock around huge slabs of wood and ooh and aah over burled trunks, figured grain, and oddities that are individual to a piece of wood. They have that bit of magic whereby they look at a piece of wood and it becomes something even more beautiful in their imagination, enhanced by their vision and a bit of elbow grease. They can see inner beauty, and beauty that has not happened yet. I am betting that most of them have stayed married for a long time - more than national averages. They are the kind of people who find no arbirtrary reasons to look for change in life. They are in it for the kind of beauty which lasts and gets better with time.
Their adventures are pedestrian and generally happen on the weekends. Their shops are a matter of great pride and you will see them featured on YouTube channels showing off their home made work benches and other such accoutrements of the trade. They will show you the stuff they have built and brag with open emotion about the things they have learned. They are sharing love of something tangible which is to be encouraged.
Wood shows are dying out. There is not much reason for sellers to gather here. The rent is too expensive, there are many cherry-pickers and tire-kickers who handle the goods and move on. There are those who see demonstrations then try to get a better deal online. Still, there is a gathering and a physicality here that is much better than an internet chat room. These men still live a good part of their time in the real world. Though times change, their cardinal virtue is that they do not tend to change very much.
Off in the side rooms, local women have gathered to provide sustenance and to make a bit of pocket cash. The walls are lined with styrofoam cups and large coffee urns set up on fold-out tables hauled in from Church basements and community halls. There is sugar and no stevia. There is powdered coffee whitener. There are three generations represented behind the counter, all sporting aprons and looking quite similar. The women offer familiar home-made kind of fare, a bit heavy on the portion side. Chicken pies, and bacon-and-egg sandwiches, and meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy. They know these kind of men and likely love one similar at home who is called husband and dad. They are the kind of women who call you honey at the counter without any sense of discomfort, and it is likely that many of them have never heard of such a thing as me-too.
We all know that the same stuff will be here next wood show. There is no new news in that regard, just a retreading of the same love. They will all come, because they love to get out and feel and look over those beautiful pieces of wood. If they are lucky they will find a unique and prize piece that will feed their whimsy and give them pleasant thoughts to fall asleep to, dreaming of the things they will make from the wonderful lumber they have found.
Don’t discourage them. I want them to be around next year, and the year after that, and for many more years to come. I want them to be just the same, as perennial in their offerings, and as constant as the seasons. They are like me, and proof of that ancient idea that there is no accounting for taste. Love knows no boundaries it seems. And love just loves things which remain comfortably the same at least for one more year.
Six months will go by, and I will be looking on my calendar, getting that seasonal itch all over again. It is in my blood, and in that invisible brotherhood that still exists out there in the world, that small and faithful army of makers and doers.