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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin


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Woodworkers "Other" Interests


Some twelve years after Elvis died and shortly after the so-called Iron Curtain came down, I traveled throughout the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria and more. As a "Westerner" I was a bit of a novelty, and everyone was curious. They hungrily questioned me about America in general, but mostly, they wanted to know about Elvis. Elvis?

In my travels throughout Western Europe I had grown accustomed to questions about the then-popular show "Dallas," and by extension about Texas, about "American" football, and about various rock and roll bands popular at the time; but to cross an armed and nervous, but no longer restricted, border and to be good-naturedly questioned about Elvis was a shock. It is hard to imagine that there were (and unfortunately still are) people behind the times, cut-off from news, and unaware of world events. To them, alas, Elvis was current, relevant, and important. Well, he is and always will be important to all us music-lovers, but Elvis was then, sad to say, "old news" to most Americans. But there I was, laughing, talking, and trying to explain what happened to Elvis.

Today our YouTube channels have subscribers from all those countries and many more. News, information, and opinion moves seamlessly, and except for a few countries where access is controlled, there is no reason for anyone to ever again be "behind the times." This technological revolution in which we are immersed is like any sea change, I suspect… we will not likely, in our lifetimes, recognize the full impact on the world. But it is happening, and we are part of it. We are slap-dab in the middle of a 21st century renaissance.

The other day I watched a brilliant piece of homemade video by a Russian woodworker who built a band saw log mill. The wide blade turned on old truck tires, the adjustment mechanism was home-brew genius, and it was sawing through huge logs like a hot knife through butter. Ingenious as all get-out! A reader from Belarus communicates with me regularly and I just got a question from a guy in Ukraine. I made a new "friend" in Sweden that is remodeling his house, and we have emailed back and forth many times over stair designs. Wow!

The woodworking world is truly wide open now, and technology is the facilitator. Our mutual love of building things contributes to the openness, of course, and there is an undeniable camaraderie among woodworkers. But technology has been the spark for all this new information sharing. Glorious times, indeed!

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about all this new technology is the opportunity it affords us to peek into the everyday lives of other woodworkers. I'm not insinuating some nefarious NSA data-gathering effort. Instead, it is more like the peek into a woodworker's lifestyle we might get by visiting their shop. Physically on site, we might see trophies on a shelf that indicate a proficiency in a certain sport, or pictures on the wall telling us a story about kids or grandkids, or a potter's wheel in the corner that tells us this woodworker also enjoys working with clay, maybe a stack of fishing gear, or any of a myriad of other "tells" that would tell us something about this woodworker's personal life outside the workshop.

Most of us will never have the luxury of visiting many woodworkers' shops, but the internet in general, and YouTube specifically, has afforded us a way to catch a glimpse into woodworkers' shops worldwide, their lifestyles, and their "other" interests. Merely review the list of channels to which any woodworker has subscribed to get an idea of their "other" interests.

Naturally, woodworkers subscribe to a lot of woodworking and woodturning channels, but other "outside" interests range from animé to yoga and everything in-between. I was curious to see if there was any commonality among woodworkers' interests outside woodworking, so I started to keep a little running tally on my findings.

Besides woodworking, occupying the number one spot in "outside" interests among woodworkers is inarguably, hands down (nothing else is even close), a love of music… listening to music, making music, making musical instruments… anything related to music, we woodworkers love it. Woodworkers subscribe to music-related channels almost as much as woodworking channels, and the phenomenon is universal worldwide.

If I combine hunting, target shooting, making gunstocks, building gun cabinets, and similar or related activities into a category called "shooting sports," these activities have a solid hold on second place among woodworkers' other interests.

Third place amongst woodworkers' other interests gets a little murkier. We are such an eclectic bunch. Cars and motorcycles are popular (driving, restoring, collecting, etc.), home repair and remodeling sites show up a lot, outdoor sports of all types (biking, hiking, golf, fishing, archery) are high on the list, as is gardening, science, politics, health, fitness, and other self-improvement. It is hard to say which of these would truly be in third, fourth, or fifth place. It is only when we get to these third, fourth, and fifth place "other" interests that some geographical and regional differences start to show up. For example, European (both Western and Eastern) subscribers are more interested in politics than is the average North American. Western European woodworkers are keenly interested in science, and our friends in Latin America watch a lot of food and cooking-related videos. The rough-and-ready Australians do a lot of biking and camping, and the Arabic-speaking and north African countries are fond of political speech videos. In Russia they seem to really like American music. Regardless of continent or hemisphere, we woodworkers all seem to enjoy a good laugh and humorous videos are popular everywhere, but may be the highest watched among our Japanese friends. A high percentage of woodworkers have pets and a fairly large number have diverse artistic talents (painting, drawing, sculpting, pottery, needlepoint, and more) in addition to their woodworking.

Perhaps the most universal thing I have noticed about woodworkers who subscribe is that we are hungry for knowledge, anxious to learn, open to new ways of doing things, seem to have robust curiosity, and appear to be above average in intelligence (I bet no one argues that point with me!). Whereas in many of the busiest corners of YouTube, people watch videos merely for mindless entertainment, woodworkers mostly subscribe to channels that give them the opportunity to learn. If a channel offers useful information, we subscribe.

The Highland Woodworking YouTube Site has subscribers from over 131 countries… all sharing a common interest in woodworking. If you haven't already, make sure you subscribe to Highland Woodworking's YouTube site HERE and we will keep making this huge woodworking world a smaller, more friendly place.

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