Mrs. Woodworker and I have been on a minimalism kick for a long time, way before it became “a thing.” Our military moves (called Permanent Changes of Station, or PCS’) were terrific opportunities to get rid of things we hadn’t been using. For example, we’d unpack boxes at our new duty station and say “I didn’t use this at the last house, why do I even have it?” then get rid of it. We also have had a regular run to the local donation center for quite a while and are long-time users of eBay, Craigslist and Freecycle to get rid of things.
Can you be a minimalist and also a woodworker? Some might say no, because of all the materials woodworkers use and the myriad of tools in our shops, but I’ll argue you can be a woodworking minimalist for a few of reasons.
First, I think the question needs to be asked why are you being a minimalist? Josh and Ryan at www.theminimalists.com write about their focus on finding meaningful lives and the things that add value. We’ve been following their podcast for some time now and just watched their new documentary. Minimalists get rid of things and extraneous tasks so they can cultivate their passions. They are aligned with their goals and passions. If you are passionate about woodworking, then a minimalist would strip away everything that’s unnecessary in their lives so that they can pursue their woodworking craft. It’s not about minimizing woodworking, it’s about minimizing in order to work wood.
Second, woodworkers can pursue their craft in a minimalist way. One of those ways is to use sustainable materials and purchase lumber harvested from fallen timber. Another way is to create our pieces using the minimum amount of wood possible. That’s one of the reasons a cut list is so important: to plan every piece out of the larger piece in order to minimize waste. Along those lines, sometimes you can make something with scrap wood versus buying new wood. A good example of this is the fairing stick project we wrote about in another post. That project was made with leftover pieces from other projects. A third way to pursue your craft in a minimalist way is to buy the minimum set of quality tools required to cultivate our passion. Do you really need multiple power drills, for example, or can you buy one quality drill that does that job? I purchased a core set of Festool that does about 90% of what I need to do. Do I drool every time the hardware circular comes in the mail? Sure. But do I really NEED what they are selling? Most of the time the answer is “no.” A fourth way is to run a clean shop. How many times have bought a part or piece of wood and didn’t realize you already had what you needed? An organized shop will prevent a lot of those redundant buys. Think about the best way to store your tools, hardware, and lumber so you can easily see what you already have. Speaking of seeing what you have, it’s probably a good idea to survey all the tools in the shop on a regular basis and see which ones have not been used for a while. It may be time to pare down and sell some of those tools on Craigslist. Keeping a tool “just in case” is probably not a good reason to keep it.
Third, woodworkers are generally making custom pieces that are more solidly built than cheap furniture from the big box stores which minimizes the amount of furniture that needs to be produced. Since the pieces last a long time, they can be passed down from generation to generation and enjoyed over a longer period of time, not needing to be replaced as often. This is a more sustainable model since it requires fewer trees and the large logistical tail to bring additional pieces of furniture to market. Not only that, purchasing custom-made pieces supports the local economy which is more minimalist than having items shipped halfway around the world. For example, for most pieces I make I’m buying wood, supplies, tools, etc. locally which help pay the wages of people in the local area and support local businesses.
My ultimate minimalist vision, though, is to harvest fallen wood on our own land and mill it for use in the pieces that we make. We’re on that road now and are planning to downsize to a smaller house (and wood shop) next year then plan to eventually buy some land with a tiny house and wood shop. We’ve learned a lot about small personal saw mills from sites like Pure Living for Life. Check it out if you get a chance. I’ll share more on our journey and the wood shop move in later blog posts.
I hope I’ve convinced you that we can be woodworkers and minimalists. Chime in below. What do you think?