What does the future hold for us hobbyists

This is the question I’d like to ask you.

Since the resurgence of hand tool woodworking the cost of old tools has risen by 300%. The cost of new tools are cost prohibitive for many of us anyway, but somehow all of this is tolerable. What isn’t tolerable is the ridiculous increase of the price of wood. Wood was expensive for us in Australia before the pandemic, but now it has reached ridiculous new heights. My friend in the US said to me this morning that the price of lumber in the US has increased 200% since the pandemic. He’s been working hard just to stay afloat, there’s no time nor spare cash to work wood anymore. The more people I speak to, the more I’m seeing people facing the same situation. What the hell is going on? All I see is hobbyist and small time professional woodworkers are being pushed out the door. They’re being squeezed from all sides until they’re broken.

Is this a modern conspiracy against DIYers? I don’t think so, but I would like to get your feedback. The way I see it is that things are going back to the way it was prior WWII. People struggled financially prior the war, only the wealthy could afford to have a hobby. The rest of us fought to put food on the table. Then the Second World War hit and almost every nation on earth was torn. When the war ended nations needed to be rebuilt, so large sums of money was thrown into the economy and generally lives globally went from insane poverty to wealth. Therefore hobbyists came to being thanks to this resurgence of wealth. Once again we are regressing financially again. The pandemic, corporate greed, imports from China, manufacturing taken overseas and much more than this has all played a part in the reduction of wealth and the increase in goods. This is my view, but I would like to hear from you.

The craft I love dearly is being taken away from us and I’m trying to make sense of why? In the meantime I am fortunate to have timber left over and am trying to use it to break back into the market again. If I’m successful happy days if not there’s nothing I can do about it.

9 thoughts on “What does the future hold for us hobbyists

  1. Hi Salko,

    I find that my woodworking species are dictated largely by the small amount of surplus available from the various jobs I do and a lot of recycled material because it is uneconomic for many builders to spend the time cleaning up and reusing even with the disincentive of current extra surcharges being applied to mixed waste and building waste disposal. Strip outs of solid cabinetwork and second fix joinery yield enough for the projects I manage to undertake when not working. I think the dynamic is different across Australia, certainly the availability and variety of species of timber is. As you know you can get whatever you want if you can afford it. I do have the small bonus of being able to write off tool purchases against work but again it is still a cost of running a business. If I go past a likely opportunity for second hand purchases of hand tools I will stop and look if possible, the offset of time in the restoration is again another factor which requires consideration. Some purchases can be speculative in terms of potential use but time can be used in your favour if you can leave it for the proverbial rainy day. Bit by bit with new purchases. You can have wins occasionally, at a tip shop I bought two steel toolboxes and a cardboard box for eighty dollars primarily packed with slotted head screws in steel chrome and nickel plated. The toolboxes were worth nearly all of that and the fixings will see out many projects and jobs and actually save me a lot of money in time when required to match not commonly available fixings, a reasonable amount of work I do is on older houses. It is a tricky combination of logistics, funds and primarily time constraints . Old furniture with not much going for it other than the timber can also be a cheap source. Tree loppers are often happy for felled domestic trees to be used rather than chipped if suitable. Industrial areas can yield surprising quantities of high quality offcuts suitable for small projects. Being able to process and store these options of material can be another hurdle. I think a longer turn view helps, Retrosuburbia by David Holmgren presents an interesting and in some cases applicable methodology in which to look at increasing yield in a Permaculture context. My mother in law has all her heating requirements supplied in precut, drier and free offcuts of suitable untreated and unpainted timber and my customers pay far less than the conventional waste stream disposal cost. I basically cover processing costs. This takes most of the year each year to achieve and it certainly isn’t woodworking but it does have multiple benefits to me and others from the core profession. I can match profiles by hand tools which is not much to the readers of this blog but floors most commercial trade carpenters. The set up cost for the last one I did which was all of 1.6m would have been over three hundred dollars from the mill shop at the local timber merchant and it took around an hour of messing about which was quite fun for me. The client was happy with the comparative cost of less than a third. I think the main thing I can supply by way of insight is that little gains add up to a lifestyle I can sustain. The pressure really does look like it is going to ramp up though regarding materials cost. Good luck with future endeavours.

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  2. I am afraid the neo capitalism pushed by Reagan, Thatcher and others, under the influence of “the Chicago boys”, has destructed what was achieved in western countries before the fall of communism
    https://www.lemonde.fr/blog/piketty/2019/10/15/towards-a-circular-economy/
    https://www.lemonde.fr/blog/piketty/2019/02/12/wealth-tax-in-america/
    https://www.lemonde.fr/blog/piketty/2020/11/17/global-inequalities-where-do-we-stand/
    and so on.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Salko,

    I’m optimistic. The pandemic caused lots of layoffs from forestry professional, to sawmills, to trucking, etc. Low supply and costs go up. I do think things will even out to where the hobby is not without affordable raw material. I think lumber prices will go back down at some point – maybe not to what they were pre-pandemic, but manageable.

    The larger question you raise is with the economy and people’s ability to afford non-work related activities. A lot of this depends on where you live of course. In the US, where I reside, we seem to be on the downhill portion of the curve and things are starting to get better. While we are improving, there is still a long way to go. I just hope recovery comes globally sooner than later and life returns to normal, including our abilities to fund our passions.

    I do find myself making smaller boxes and less larger furniture given the cost of timber, but we’ll have to see how things progress. I love your passion for the craft and your posts. Good luck to you and your family.

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  4. Couple of thoughts from a hobby perspective where I use at most 100 board feet a year on average.

    1. Wood prices will come down. No need to panic. Time to do those projects you’ve wanted to do with your scraps you have laying around.
    2. With Covid, we aren’t eating out or going out nearly as much. Money saved there can be repurposed for wood purchases.
    3. Woodworking once you have the tools you need, is a much more inexpensive hobby than say golf. Even with these sky high prices, my cost per hour to do woodworking is significantly less.
    4. Join a local woodworkers guild. It’s not at all uncommon to see a posting at least once a month for someone who had a tree cut down and is giving it away free. Or, a woodworker is retiring or a widow is selling wood for some really inexpensive price.
    5. Get to know the local tree services and local county maintenance crews. Can get lots of wood that way. If they help you, be nice to them in some way back (food, drink, small gift from the wood you receive). Same goes for,contractors and their demo,piles.
    6. Plenty of wooden pallets can be obtained where I live.
    7. Green woodworking doesn’t require much for spoons and bowls. Unless you live in the dessert, you should be able to find fallen branches without too much effort.
    8. I hate to say this, but antique furniture often costs less than the content of the wood. Buy an antique that is in rough shape and disassemble and use that wood for your project. Thrift stores are similar.
    9. There are other hobbies I have where prices and material availability can fluctuate greatly. There as in woodworking I like to keep a two year supply on hand of consumable such as wood. That way, I am less bothered or worried by these things. Stock up in the fat years and use the stockpile in lean years.
    10. If firewood prices haven’t kept pace, you might get some wood that way.

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  5. I saw a Wall Street Journal video recently where they talked about the hellish price of lumber. It comes down to the “laws” of supply and demand. When the pandemic hit, people were at home and realized that this would be a great time to get that kitchen remodeled. Or the deck replaced. Or the other house projects that needed to get dome. Also, people realized they didn’t need to live close to work anymore – with so many people working from home, they could live anywhere. So home building in less populated areas had been booming.

    Combine that with what someone said above, that lumber mills couldn’t produce as much lumber because of employees sheltering at home, and you have a shortage of supply. People need wood and there’s not enough going around and that’s a recipe for jacking up the prices.

    The part that gets me about it is the greed. I might be wrong about this, but I have to think it costs the lumber companies about the same during pandemic to produce a quantity of lumber as it did before the pandemic. So make your fair profit, but don’t jack the price up 3 to 4 times what it cost before. (yes, 3 to 4 times is the number I’ve seen for wood!)

    It’s frustrating for all of us. As for me, I’ve been using up lost of lumber that I’ve had on hand. But I’m going to have to buy some more in a few months. I just hope the prices will have normalized by then.

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    1. I agree with you that greed has a lot to do with it. In the beginning petrol prices during the lock down went sky high. The oil companies thought they could take advantage of the situation and make rip everyone off. As it turned out it backfired as people were not leaving their homes and refused to pay their prices. So the cost of fuel plummeted to below a dollar a litre. This proves that power is with the people if they unite for a cause. I wish the trade industry did just that.

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  6. As far as wood goes, it’s construction lumber that’s really skyrocketed around here. Allegedly, there were some complex reasons why, but you can read about that elsewhere. I don’t care to speculate or incorrectly regurgitate anything.

    For hardwoods and other types that furniture-makers like, it’s a different story. I live close to where most of the popular American hardwoods grow, and prices have increased just slightly (in some cases, not at all). The mills for that are much smaller operations. The people at the lumberyards have been telling me that they’ve encountered a lot of problems finding drivers to deliver from the mills.

    If transport is a problem on a local level around here, it must cascade pretty badly to more distant markets. People in other industries tell me that arranging shipping containers has become a serious problem.

    Anyways, I’m not overly anxious about it right now, but if shipping problems (local and global) continue like this, it’s not just woodworking that will suffer in the short-to-medium term. Long-term, people tend to get creative.

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    1. I agree that construction lumber has risen, but in my country all lumber has risen. It’s the nature of the beast here. When greed kicks in, it kicks in everywhere.

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