For centuries, the venerable craft of carpentry and furniture making has been a rather secretive affair. After all, trade secrets needed to be guarded jealously by master craftsmen and passed down through a long and arduous process to the apprentice and journeymen workers who longed to learn the craft.
In more modern times, you will typically see the lone hobby woodworker toiling away at his or her craft, learning and practicing the skill sets along the way.
But, with the evolution of the Internet, there has been an explosion of sites run by woodworkers who have flung open the virtual doors of their shops to teach others what they know. One of the first – and most successful – to do this is John Lucas of WoodshopDemos.com.
John’s journey to sharing his woodworking knowledge started as many do – learning from his dad. “I remember at age 10 or so I was very interested in photography and wanted to build a dark room in the basement. I talked to a builder who was putting houses up in the area into letting me clean his site every night. The pay wasn’t great, but I did get to keep the two by fours that were under 3 feet. From there, my father taught me how to do half lap joints. I had the sturdiest dry and wet benches of any darkroom I knew. It was fun and they looked damn good.”
From there, John’s development as a woodworker got a boost from a shop teacher who drilled him relentlessly in cutting joints.
And, yes, John spent a significant part of his honeymoon at Willaimsburg, Virginia watching the cabinetmakers ply their craft. “I considered it excellent practice. After all, my wife would pick up a furniture catalog and ask, ‘can you build this?’ For a while, my stock answer was, ‘sure, with the right tools!'”
Before long, John felt confident enough to start building projects which were documented step-by-step and published in Workbench magazine.
Fast forward a ‘few’ years – OK, maybe closer to 40 – and emboldened by his successes, he opened a shop where he was going to start building English Country furniture reproductions. Things were just starting to get interesting when, while nudging a 4 x 4 post with his foot, he broke it in three places. “The doctor told me I was on limited duty for the next six weeks. I was very disappointed to hear that.”
Not one to just sit idly, the accident provided the opportunity for John to review some of the new woodworking websites that were just making their debuts on the fledgling Internet. “The sites I saw didn’t really have the depth of content I was looking for. Rather than waiting for someone to come up with the right site, I started WoodshopDemos.com.”
The objectives for the site are quite simple and still reflect back to those early days. First, John wanted to review new products that can help woodworkers, from newbies to the most experienced. Second, to show step-by-step pics and captions so that readers can really follow and even print out and use to follow in their shops. Third, John wanted to use the most up-to-date products, jigs and processes to make real things. Finally, he wanted to show some clever tips or methods that may be of interest to all… such as sharpening blades or keeping a planer in tip-top shape.
Today, Wood Shop Demos has some 1,500 pages of step-by-step content. From the dovetail shootout, which featured a dozen different methods and systems to detailed reviews of modern joinery methods such as BeadLOCK and pocket screws, the site goes into tremendous detail.
“It’s amazing to see, but still, as long as we’ve been around, more than half of my users every month are brand new to the site, coming in through search engines or other links. It’s pretty incredible when you think about it.”
Beyond just the basic how to, you’ll find John’s blunt, unvarnished opinion about tools and techniques, some clever time saving advice….
And, that he shares his shop with several helpers. The fact that many of those helpers are attractive young women has not escaped the notice of many of his visitors. “My flip answer is wouldn’t you rather see them than the old bald guy?” The tradition of these shop helpers actually has a very innocent – and accidental – beginning. “Where I first set up shop, I was renting the facility and had several very attractive neighbors. When one of them stopped by to say hello and see what I was making, I suggested that she get into the picture and liven up the site. She did and enjoyed having her pictures on the website. Later, she went on to become a lawyer in Los Angeles.” Since then, he has had a dozen assistants, ranging in experience from brand new to exceptionally talented, and John enjoys passing his woodworking knowledge on to these newer woodworkers.
John is the first to admit that he lives a rich and rewarding life, and that he’s getting to follow his passion. However, time is starting to catch up to this dynamo. “My wife has to remind me quite occasionally that I am a 71. Readers note that I do quite a bit of the shop work sitting on a stool. That under fortunately will only get worse. But, I plan to get as much woodworking in to my life as I can.”
And, as long as he can get to his shop, he’ll continue breaking with tradition and passing his knowledge on to as many virtual apprentices as possible.