Monday, April 1, 2013

Arguing About Woodworking More Popular Hobby Than Woodworking

I recently spoke with two researchers from the The National Association of Argumentative People (annual membership $40 or $50, they can't agree on the amount), David Stanley and John Preston, about their statistical analysis of online woodworking resources.

They've concluded that arguing about woodworking is a more popular hobby than actual woodworking. "We ran hundreds of thousands of forum and blog posts and tweets from all over the world through Google Mock for automated analysis, since mocking language has a high correlation to argumentative behavior," said Stanley.

Preston explained they also ran field studies. "We used focus groups of 5-year-olds reading online postings aloud in the schoolyard. The argumentative tones stood out clearly, allowing us to classify the various viewpoints."

This method had some challenges. "We had to terminate the program because it invariably led to shouts of 'Your mother!' and shoving matches, and fisticuffs would ensue."

However, through this combination of analytical and empirical methods they were able to score postings with a 20-variable differential equation to come up with their Argument Rank. The exact algorithm is a closely-guarded secret.

Stanley said, "We wanted to explain that much because the American Association of Argumentative Persons disagrees with our methodology. They feel simple mocking language isn't an appropriate measure, and they prefer middle-school girls as their field readers. But they're idiots."

Preston said, "It really should be 19 variables, not 20. Everybody knows a prime number of terms produces a more reliable standard deviation."

"I'll show you standard deviation!" Stanley said heatedly.

The interview terminated at that point as the two researchers slammed their laptops shut and fisticuffs ensued.

Fortunately they had given me their list of the most popular argument topics for hand tool work, summarized below. Certain common themes start to emerge.

Hand Tools and Power Tools
  • Power tools are cheating.
  • Hand tools are too laborious.
  • Hand tool users are elitist snobs.
  • Using power tools isn't craftsmanship.
  • Power tools are unsafe.
  • The government should/should not mandate power tool safety features.
  • Old-time craftsmen would have dropped their hand tools for power tools in an instant.
  • Old-time craftsmen would never have permitted such abominations in their shops.
  • Only an idiot would do everything with hand tools.
  • Only an idiot would do everything with power tools.
This could form the basis for an entire argumentation society on its own. There are just so many arguments to choose from.
  • Hand sharpening is best/worst.
  • Powered sharpening is best/worst.
  • Oilstones/waterstones/diamond plates/sandpaper are the best/worst for sharpening.
  • Oilstones/waterstones/diamond plates/sandpaper are the fastest/slowest.
  • Oilstones/waterstones/diamond plates/sandpaper produce the best/worst edge.
  • Leather strops should be smooth side/rough side up.
  • Strops are a waste of time.
  • Using a jig is the best way to sharpen.
  • Using a jig is cheating.
  • People make sharpening too complicated.
  • People don't pay enough attention to their sharpening.
  • Polishing the entire back is required/a waste of time.
  • The bevel angle must be accurate to 1/10th degree.
  • The bevel angle can be anywhere within a couple degrees.
  • Edges should be sharpened to one atom thickness.
  • Edges should be sharpened only enough to do the job.
  • A double bevel is best/worst.
  • A micro bevel is best/worst.
  • A convex bevel is best/worst.
  • That's not how I learned to do it.
  • Only an idiot would sharpen that way.
  • Pins first.
  • Tails first.
  • Hand-cut dovetails are better.
  • Machine-cut dovetails are better.
  • Chop the waste with a chisel.
  • Saw out the waste with a coping saw.
  • Use exactly 1-to-6, 1-to-7, or 1-to-8 pitch on the tails.
  • Use any pitch on the tails that looks good.
  • That's not how I learned to do it.
  • Only an idiot would make dovetails that way.
Mortise and tenon
  • The tenon should fit perfectly right off the saw, anything else is cheating.
  • You should saw the tenon a little fat, then pare it down to the line.
  • Drilling mortises is cheating.
  • You can't use that kind of chisel for mortising.
  • That's not how I learned to do it.
  • Only an idiot would make mortise and tenons that way.
  • Bevel down/up planes are best/worst.
  • Metal planes are better than wooden planes.
  • Wooden planes are better than metal planes.
  • Brand x planes are better than brand y planes.
  • Brand x planes are too heavy/too light.
  • A couple planes can handle all jobs.
  • You need a bunch of different planes to handle the different jobs.
  • Lay planes on the their sides, not down on their irons.
  • Lay planes down on their beds, not on their sides with their irons exposed.
  • Set planes bed down on a plane strip with their irons off the bench.
  • O1/A2 irons are best/worst.
  • That's not how I learned to do it.
  • Only an idiot would plane that way.
Bring up any of these online and virtual fisticuffs will ensue. If you exhaust this list, there are plenty more to keep you occupied; it's an extremely long-tailed distribution. You can have a fulfilling hobby without ever touching tool to wood again.

What showed the highest statistical significance? The ever versatile ad hominem argument: "Only an idiot would do that."


  1. Excellent post Steve. Funny and to the point. But then again I'm an idiot.

  2. Great post. The "only an idiot would do that" phrase always works.

  3. Brilliant Steve!

  4. Thanks, this is the best yuck of the day.

  5. I take issue with so many points in this article. I am not even sure where to start because I am not sure which side of the fence you stand.

    I am so angry and confused right now that I will come back later when I can figure it out and we will duke this out in a most public manner.

    I need to go roll around on the shop floor in a fit of rage now-

  6. Heck, they didn't even talk about finishes OR adhesives. What a bunch of idiots!

  7. Very Well Done! Thanks for the laugh.

  8. Idiot in training. I really feel better about myself now. Thanks for the support, Steve.

  9. I think whoever wrote this was channeling me. Most of the list looked like the comment section on the Lost Art Press blog. I've said it a hundred times, you read all of these comments but I see no links to photos of the furniture that the "haters" are working on, or anything to back up their claims of greatness, just a lot of talk about their game.

  10. And for the record, Brand X is WAY better than Brand Y, but Brandy X is a little heavy for my taste, but that weight helps when you use O1 irons with a high angle unless you are using A2 then go to a lower angle unless you are using Brandy Y then go somewhere in the middle but if it is Brand X make sure the chipbreaker is set close to the iron, no less than 1/32" but if you're using PM-V11 steel then throw all of that out the window.


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