WT360 – The Maker Movement and Its Effect on Quality

On today’s weekend show, we’re talking about the Maker movement and its impact on quality.

What Are We Talking About

On a recent trip to Michaels Craft Store, Shannon was disgusted by all the junk on the shelves purporting to be Maker kits and wonders about the dark side of the Maker movement and how it might be perpetuating poor quality, disposable products.

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32 replies on “WT360 – The Maker Movement and Its Effect on Quality”

No matter the concept, if it becomes popular enough, someone will come along and try to package it. Then, cut the costs to boost the profits. Couple that with the natural human tendencies to A) take the easy route, and B) believe what is asserted with authority in writing on the box, and you get crap. It happens all the time, but it’s certainly harder when it happens to something personally important.

I think that quality making comes from teaching a love of learning. Ignite that spark in a person that fires up the imagination and the need to learn more. Praise the creativity, no matter the level of the result, no matter the age of the maker. Whet that appetite, and they’ll eschew the kits in due course.

Ah, but there I go, preaching to the choir. 🙂

While I see Shannon’s point, in this dumbed-down world of ours, if a kid can put down the cellphone long enough to glue together some crappy plywood bird house, just maybe the maker urge can take root in that young brain. But only if the adults in the room provide much needed positive feedback. But this might just require them to put down their own cellphone, for a few minutes . . . . Fat chance, huh?

I just wanted to comment on Shannon’s initial comments about who a real maker is and the definition of quality. Hey Shannon do you believe in freedom of speech, freedom to pursue happiness, any of those kinds of things?…I guess I am not totally astonished that you have such a elitist attitude. Are you saying that YOU (or some group of elites on high [take a look around]) define quality and experience for everyone? And where does your vast knowledge of life and the pursuit of happiness come from? I guess it is easy to understand if you wanted to protect your little domain. “Perpetuating a disposable society”…hmm…I suppose in order to meet your quality standards one would have to go through years of apprenticeship and purchase only the finest tools before being allowed to even try to produce something deemed worthy of your respect…hmm…What about a person who does all of those things and pours heart and soul into the work…is the quality of the outcome what matters to you only or do you not consider the heart that one puts into the work for the sheer enjoyment…putting anything together with your own hands no matter whether it is a kit or not is still better than doing nothing…I have suffered through been around elitists like you for 60 years now and I am always amazed at how smart you believe you are. How about just being nice to people as they struggle to make their way through life and help them find a good path that is right for them rather than judging them because they have an urge to make something at the level they can handle…

I am fairly certain that Shannon supports our Constitutional rights. Even if he didn’t, it makes no difference. Shannon is a podcaster and lumber marketer. He neither makes nor enforces laws and is not an agent of the Federal or State governments. In short, it is impossible for Shannon to infringe on your constitional rights.

Hey Tom, your comments made me go back and listen to this episode again and I admit, I’m stumped at where your venom is coming from. Nor do I see where the elitist comments are coming from and moreover fail to see how verbiage like that is helpful to a conversation. I think the greater picture here is that there is a really interesting conversation now going on here in these comments that is getting people to share opinions and have a civilized discourse.

I’m sorry you feel I have infringed on your constitutional rights, but at the same time shouldn’t I be allow to voice my opinion without being accused of infringement? Isn’t that what free speech is all about?

But ALL of this is off the topic at hand. I firmly believe that anyone can make anything and actually it really bugs me when I see people afraid to try something because it is “beyond their skill level”. I have many articles and videos on my website that cover this exact topic. I also have many posts that aim to make a complex task easier thus allowing more people to try it. So I’m sorry if that comes across as elitist to you, I guess I’m not as smart as you say I am after all.

I’m all about being “nice” to people but if I think back on the people that have shaped and influenced my life the most. It is not the people who were nice, but the people who smacked me around and challenged me to try harder and to raise my standards and challenge myself.

Tom, I’m sorry to call you out, but this type of post is exactly what has perverted what should be a wonderful tool to build communities into something that unnecessarily rips them apart and turns reasonable, rational conversations into vitriolic hate fests. We all as listeners of WoodTalk have a common interest in Woodworking – what a wonderful opportunity that gives us to hear different perspectives and approaches to this fun hobby.

Shannon was just expressing his opinions (in a very non-personal, non-forceful way I might add). He even asked for feedback and the opinions of others! How on earth is that infringing upon your rights?

We should all remember that what we post on the internet, while we may be alone and staring at a computer screen, is ultimately read by others who are real people with real feelings. Don’t post stuff you wouldn’t be willing to say to someone’s face. There’s just no reason this can’t be a place to have constructive conversations.

I think this is a corollary to the common craftsmen lament; cheap products mold people’s perspective on what quality is and importantly for working craftsmen, what it costs.

You can walk into to a Hobby Lobby and buy a foreign-made hall table for 99 bucks. It’s hard to get the materials – much less any of the labor – for that price here in the states.

So, the disposable shoddy products have already permeated most people’s minds as acceptable. Therefore why should what they build or purchase from a “maker” anything more than that.

Ultimately I just hope more people start rejecting the “disposable” mentality. It’s horrible for craftsmen, and horrible for the planet (and I’m not a “green” guy).


Artisan water comes from an artisan well. These are underground springs that bubble up to the surface. It’s not a way of bottling but rather lets you know where it came from as opposed to a deep well or lake.

I don’t know if you’re kidding or not, but artesian water is what you’re talking about, not artisan. Maybe that’s what the bottlers mean, but they’re wrong.

Maybe they’re hand-bonding hydrogen and oxygen.

Dunno how many of you guys read the comments, but I wonder if you’re thinking about the lifestyle that a lot of these quick/cheap upcycle videos are aimed at. I’m 32, but I’m only just now able to think about long-term furniture because I’m only now reasonably confident that I won’t be moving from one odd-shaped small space to another every 2-3 years. Almost all my friends who are younger, in the 26-30 range, and are not able to keep furniture past 1 or 2 moves simply because that furniture is no longer compatible with the new living space. How many pieces of furniture are you going to keep around that you feel emotionally attached to if you’re moving from studio to studio, or in different combinations of roommates over a few years? You probably want to have a good quality bed, but a dining table can be iffy, as you want one that makes the best use of available space, and your next roommate might have one. With this lifestyle, doesn’t it make sense that the furniture is more transient? At least for a decade or so.

And I will say, talk bad about Ikea all you want, but there is a level of flatpack furniture *below* Ikea. I’m slowly replacing furniture with stuff I’m making by hand, but the Ikea stuff is mostly pretty well-engineered with affordable materials…they’re not things one could pass down, but they’ll hold up for 2-3 moves and won’t disintegrate. Other furniture can be much worse.

I disagree with almost everything said. I doubt anyone who assembles a kit considers themselves a maker or thinks the assemblage will last; they’re just having fun. I’m sure a handful of painters-by-number from my youth thought they were artists. (sorry Uncle Del.)

I also will defend the creative tinkerers – a different but also notable tradition – who make Instructables and YouTube so much fun. Hey, a guitar amp from earbuds and an Altoids tin! You gotta admire that.

BTW, how old are you guys, or how wealthy did you grow up? I’m a Baby Boomer, and my GRANDPARENT’S house was full of mass-manufactured crap. My whole family was stunned when I asked for the few true vintage pieces we had. Those second-hand store acquisition were considered old-fashioned (and too dang heavy to move).

On the quality of furniture in families. I think this kind of experience varies quite a lot between families and upbringings. One side of my family it was all cheap flat-pack or hand-me-downs, the other side it was a lot of old Teak furniture picked up from garage sales mixed with Great Grandpa’s hand-made wood furniture. Neither family was ever very far above the poverty-line.

My take on the “maker” adding quality or making crap. People don’t have the time, the money or the energy. For years we’ve heard that very few people even know how to cook anymore. So out comes the TV dinner (we don’t call them that anymore) they’re fancy weight loss or designer food creations) into the microwave so they can feed the kids, pay some bills and get ready for tomorrow. People that have had or have well paying jobs don’t have the time either so they’re hiring people to decorate or take care of their grass and pull the weeds, etc.

Do I dare throw Ana Whites name out there with a pocket hole jig. There is a time and place for pocket hole jigs and a dining table shouldn’t be included in that arena. As a furniture maker that is what my toughest competition is and buyers don’t know any different.

When you said Nicole was mad because you forgot your 20% coupon for Michaels it reminded me of every trip to Bed Bath & Beyond. We always have their 20% coupons stuck to the fridge and we always get to the store before realising we have forgotten them.

What is the goal? Is it the process or the product? I don’t want everything to be easy! I want the end to be at a path of my choosing. In my world there are hundreds of ship model kits. Most are crap and sell from hundred to over a thousand dollars.
I have chosen to go a different route, I start with a tree and set of plans. My work will never be in a museum but I will be able to enjoy and relish every step in the process no matter how tedious or difficult.Many want a quick and easy solution and see no difference from a cake from the box or scratch made. For me,the journey, is the reward

I really enjoyed your conversation about Makers. First, I think the Maker movement is about satisfaction in building, or making something. There is a certain satisfaction that some get with assembling something for Ikea or Michael’s, although I agree that most of what the produce is crap. I also tend to put people into categories when we talk about these people:

Assemblers- Those that can take something and assemble it. The Ikea crowd. There are those who are a step above assemblers that can take someone else’s plan, like The Wood Whisperer’s plans and create all of the pieces to assemble a project. Not that there is anything wrong with that, there is just a large jump from following a plan to making your own.

Makers- Those that use tools and their own ideas to make something. It’s a huge spectrum from pallet wood projects to metal, acrylic… Many of these folks are not afraid to use computers, CNCs… I would place some of their projects as art and not necessarily useful.

Master Makers- The DeResta’s of the world.

Craftsman- Those folks that are exceptionally good at one format like wood or metal. One can give them an idea of what you want, and the build quality is outstanding.

Master Craftsman- Sam Maloof

I see nothing wrong with pursuing something at an elite level. In fact, I mourn for our country because it seems mediocrity has become the new aspiration. In fact, the other day I helped my 10 year old son declutter his room. I asked him which trophies he earned and which ones he got just for showing up. He had at least 30 trophies on his shelf and he new exactly which ones he earned and decided to throw the rest away. That is right, I encouraged my son to throw away all the participation trophies and I don’t feel bad about it. On the contrary, he felt good looking at the trophies he earned.

How can one have any self-esteem if they surround themselves mediocrity?

We all have to crawl before we walk and walk before we run, but it seems most people are happy crawling.

I see it wherever I go. In the classroom. On the sports field. And definitely on youtube. It absolutely disgusts me that most people seem to think excellence is beyond their reach or not worth pursuing.

My dad was a working class guy (union pipefitter) and his dad (a WW2 vet) was a butcher. I was looking at old photos the other day. My grandfather was always nicely dressed on the weekends – pressed slacks and a collared shirt. My dad wouldn’t let me wear sweat pants to school. In fact, I had to beg to wear blue jeans. We didn’t get a rewards for As, but we were punished for getting Cs. It is not that society has just become more casual, we have also become lazier.

Larry David is a wise man…. not for family viewing:

Has Shannon ever made a cake from a box mix or does he always do it from scratch? There’s a time and a place for everything. The barrier for entry to “making” is lower now than ever before and that’s good for everyone.

I totally appreciate the incredible level of skill you three have, but frankly, I’m more likely to do a project from the “one video a week” channels. With the amount of time I have available, even those projects can take me multiple weeks to finish.

I love that we have such a wide range of options available to us now! It’s a great time to be a maker of any skill level.

Making a cake from scratch is incredibly easy and requires few ingredients. I have never made one from a box. Seriously. I started cooking for myself early in life (around age 12. I was the youngest and if I wanted something special, my mom would teach me and then NEVER make it for me again. She was done raising kids. 🙂 ). In my early 20s I started cooking as a serious hobby and subscribed to Cooks Illustrated and bought Jacques Pepins methods and technique books, so I learned with blindness toward the convenience methods. In fact I became turned off to the hobby once it became dominated by the dump and stir people on food TV. It bothered me that an activity I took seriously was being trivialized so I moved on to woodworking.

This is an interesting analogy Ben, and one that I think makes my point very well. I have ONLY made a cake from a box. I am a fine cook but definitely do not have any skills to create something from scratch. Nor have I ever sough out those skills BECAUSE I can always just buy a box and “dump and stir” (nice, Mike). So perhaps the abundance of “kits” to make a cake and the paradigm shift that makes baking a cake from scratch so unusual is a very bad thing. In my case, the kits have led me to believe that there is no reason to investigate further.

On the converse of this point, I have no culinary interests, but perhaps if I did that kit would spark my desire to dig in and find out more about how to make a better cake. So in that case, the boxed cake mix could be that catalyst or gateway as has been said above, to a wider world of high quality cake eating.

Shannon upthread: “I firmly believe that anyone can make anything and actually it really bugs me when I see people afraid to try something because it is “beyond their skill level”.”

Shannon here: “I am a fine cook but definitely do not have any skills to create something from scratch.”

Just thought I’d point out that little inconsistency 😀

Mike is correct, by the way. Making a cake is extremely easy. I’ve never made one from a box, and I’m not a great baker. It really takes very little skill and tastes much better than mixes from a box.

I think the baking a cake analogy presents an interesting and accessible (neutral) platform to discuss the nuances of the making/woodworking industry/hobby.

I think many woodworkers (having space and tools/machinery devoted to milling, joining, finishing wooden furniture/projects) feel a level of frustration that their work is lumped together with makers’ work (DIY, pocket screw, Ana White, trendy, craft show wares) of mostly wooden composition. Maybe makers’ work even gets more love from the general public; a pallet wood Christmas Tree versus a highboy, for example.

To have the creator of 2×4 pine pocket screwed dining tables call themselves (or be called) woodworkers and charge $600-800 for the doomed project has to sting for the classically minded woodworker on many levels that others have already enumerated above.

Back to the cake example. I wouldn’t bake and sell a cake I made from a boxed mix, nor would I put icing on a pre-baked cake and sell it as my own creation and call myself (or allow others to call me) a baker. Assembling kits does not make a woodworker. Using every whizzbang and do-thingy that can be marketed to make wood shaped like furniture does not make a woodworker.

Preach on Brother Rogers! Can I get an Amen? AMEN!

Just a thought. When the first boxed cakes came out all you had to do was add water, mix and bake. They didn’t sell well until they came out with a version where you had to add the water, eggs, oil then mix and bake. The marketing department learned that people wanted the “convenience” but needed enough steps to make it feel like they actually made it.
How do people see this in the marketing of woodworking/maker items today?

Michael’s is the gateway drug to the maker community. The people shopping here probably don’t have a tablesaw, bandsaw, jigsaw, or drill and just need something that the can put together to see if they like it. Whether its a birdhouse, key rack, or a plastic knitting loom. Go to Michael’s to get your kid something to see if they get into whatever the hobby is – if there’s a passion, then move on to Woodcraft or another serious maker shop.

Or better yet, go to your grandpa’s shop and ask him to teach you how to bend metal or plane a board.

THEN they buy a guild membership and/or become longstanding subscribers to your YouTube channels when they discover their real passion (serious drug).

How old IS Shannon? He sounds crankier and crankier the more I hear him. He, and others like him, are the very reason the maker movement exists. People are tired of being told there is only one way to make things properly. Shannon, if someone has fun building from a kit, it doesn’t devalue you or your skills at all. Relax.

I didn’t make the connection when I originally heard this episode but when listening through my music I heard a song and immediately called back to this. Kind of off topic but some may enjoy this, I know musical tastes are subjective. There is a song by Jonathan Coulton, Ikea, that is relative and I find entertaining. You can find/listen to it for free on the downloads page of his website: https://www.jonathancoulton.com/store/ I enjoy a lot of his music and he has a nontraditional business model for his music, more like content creators of other media.

This post may be too long after the fact to be noticed but I had to post in case someone might enjoy the song.

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