A Rant And A Confession For My Conscience...
Not what I sat down to write this morning...this round's been in the chamber a while, I guess it finally triggered.
Sponsorships, or the illusion or assumption of them is a weird stigma inside this smallish hand tool community. There is a general distaste for them, especially for someone at my level of exposure. Yet everyone can still love Nick Offerman no matter how many Sling TV commercials he makes. I realize there are differences, of course there are differences. The man is practically a sawdust demigod alongside Norm and Roy (All Hail!) But there are similarities that involve making a space in this world using your passion and creativity and still providing for yourself and your family.
A few months ago I had a conversation with another woodworker who I won't out. He'd dipped his toe into a social media sponsorship with a major tool company and the reception was problematic. Not only did the trolls roll out in full picket force with the standard "I Will Unfollow You" cease-and-desist threat. (Go right the hell ahead!) but in his own right, there was something, compromising is the word, about the situation. Buyer's remorse right out of the gate and I think and that's a tough place to stand.
As an audience member I understand wanting something "pure" when you're paying someone with your time and attention on social media (and yes a blog is social media too) because the medium really thrives on one currency: authenticity.
True or manufactured, authenticity is the only line I've ever been able to draw as to why some things work and some things don't. People want truth, seemingly better yet if it's the near fabled "purity" of the starving artist steadfastly painting Nude Lady Madonna Candles (in various scents) because he can't bring himself to do anything else. Woe unto the fool that drives their perceived authenticity into the Uncanny Valley. Even the perception of a trade of goods, money, or services for that golden nugget of honesty rubs the plating off and reveals the tin underneath. The taint of sponsorship can be unredeemable.
I don't have a perfect thought on this issue. Chris Schwarz's journalistic integrity has made a hard line in the sand and I appreciate that, and his high standards with a standing ovation. Still there are many grey areas and too many factors for just me to wrap my head around. It starts with the thought that I have never considered myself a journalist, I feel more like an entertainer or a storyteller, and sometimes I'm able to trade a story and a dance for a little attention.
I hate having to think about it. I'd rather draw my illustrations and build things from wood than try and sort it out straight but there's this little voice that thrums away in my ear and worries about what the Right Thing looks like. What if there is no Right Thing? The water is muddy and just as fraught as considering the ethical implications of getting paid an hourly wage to help save or better someone's life, something I do in healthcare, in an operating room, 50 weekends a year and have for the last two decades.Helping someone in these circumstances should not be a question, Of course the right thing to do is pour my all into the moment and work as part of the team to do what we can.
And yet I buy my comic books with money earned doing a service that feels like it should be done simply because it's the right thing to do. Most of us learned the fable of the Good Samaritan growing up. Still, I've put in time, paid money for education, and sacrificed other aspects of my life. I probably deserve a wage in trade for my collected experience and skills and you can bet if tomorrow the hospital told me I was now a volunteer I'd be doing something else really fast.
Where does it end? Clearly I struggle with all of this. Welcome to the inside of my skull. (He says as he peels back his scalp and a flap of bone to show the bright neon VACANCY sign inside.)
I try to be a good person, to make the right decisions and to do the right things. So here we are and with all the authenticity I can manage to muster, I'm writing but my conscience is driving...
I love my Bad Axe Saws. I have an emotional attachment to my Bad Axe dovetail and carcass saw (though I'm not over fond of the Stiletto and Bayonet monikers) Almost every saw I own is from Bad Axe. I consider that area of my tool chest to be an embarrassment of riches.
My common advise to those starting in hand tool woodworking is to buy old user grade tools to fill 90% of your tool chest. Its easy to get good returns on sweat equity when restoring many hand tools. Planes, chisels, layout tools, Buying new is fine if you're Bill Gates, but buying used and putting the time in to bring them up teaches you so much more about the tool itself. And canresult in something as good or better than anything you can bring home from Woodcraft.
Saws are the 10%. They are the only tool I advocate you swallow the sugar and buy new (or refurbished by someone who knows their shit.) Reason is there is a whole set of tools and skills required to get a saw singing. Including finding or building a saw vise, restoring a tooth setting tool, and obtaining good files that won't die a quick death after half a pass down the toothline.
As a dollar to time investment buying the saw just got me running so much faster and to know how a well set, well sharpened saw is supposed to work, you realize things you didn't know. Like the first time using a well sharpened chisel, all of a sudden the operation clicks. This was my experience starting and I'll bet it was the same for many others.
I started out as an normal Bad Axe customer. My advantage is living in the same city as Mark so naturally we got to talking, fairly regularly. By now I've spent time hanging out in his shop, I've shot the shit with him over many beers and I consider him a good friend. He calls me when he's near the final production on a prototype and I spend a few hours cutting wood and giving him my opinion. To my favor I have caught some issues in the final stages before things made it out of his shop to others. I've always been just happy to do this because its fun.
I have done work for Mark. I've done some photography and some illustrations for the book he's currently writing. I've photographed classes he's taught and taken glamor shots for his website. On a couple occasions I've stood in as the guest instructor for the Sunday Skills portion of his Saw Sharpening Seminars and helped people make Roubo Book Stands
I've done some of this work just because and I have also taken saws in trade for this work.
The big thing is Mark now employs two of my children. Yes, 2/3rds of my offspring make up 3/5ths of his workforce. (That equation doesn't count Mark and Yvonne) I'm very good friends with James (the last 2/3rds of my equation) He's over at my house at least once a month for Dungeons & Dragons night and he's hung out in my shop many times.
You could say I do have an interest in the continued success of Bad Axe Saws considering it supports three friends and two children. This is WAY beyond the fact that I own plenty of the saws.
I maintain what I believe is a clean opinion about Mark's saws. I've tried all the competitors, yes ALL the competitors, past and present, (this is also due to this friendship) and he sets the standard everyone else is chasing. However, I understand how anyone would take my connections and cast shade on anything I say or write or produce, even if it's simply a picture of me cutting dovetails. I have no real way around any of that and mostly I'm tired of feeling apologetic and contrite.
|One of my students Will Reser, from this past spring's Dutch Tool Chest class, crosscutting his chest lid. He lifted his head showing that smile of wonder.|
What I've witnessed and experienced is the look on anyone's face when I put one of my saws in their hands. Naturally my saws go with me to demos and to teach classes and I like to teach people how hand sawing isn't sleight of hand. Whether it's an experienced hand tool user who just hasn't tried Mark's saws or someone who hasn't cut with a sharpened saw before and believes it's super hard work the look that follows tells all. They start the saw and sever the wood and wonder shows through their eyes and smile. My tips and pointers may have put them on the road but the quality in Mark's saws was the gas in the engine.
No one has looked at me and told me I'm full of shit after they've made a cut, or many cut's with one of my saws. Usually all I hear is akin to "Wow!"
I don't consider Mark a sponsor, not in any traditional sense. I consider him friendly support. I've traded or paid for everything I have from his shop and this lays every entanglement I have out in the open. Cards on the table. I'm not gonna feel sheepish about things any longer.
Obviously I've been thinking about this too much, and for to long of a time. Soon it will be back to our regular program here, if there even is such a thing.
Ratione et Passionis
I don’t think you have to apologize or justify yourself and your relationship with Mark. I think most people can usually see right through the BS ads and most can usually tell when a person is genuinely passionate about something as well.ReplyDelete
I mostly agree with you. For some people, the ads put food on their table. Lest we not forget, Norm & Roy didn’t do their shows for free either. And just look at what happened to Roy’s show as soon as he lost his long time sponsorship.
I can tolerate most of the ads. Most I just skip or breeze past anyway. However, there are some that just feel really dirty, and those are the ones that bug me.
I recall several months ago a campaign by a certain boot manufacturer. It seemed like all of a sudden everyone on IG had new boots (the same couple of pair too, hmmmm) and everyone just absolutely loved them. You could tell that none of those posts were really genuine.
Those are the ones that bug me the most. And it’s not because it’s an ad (everything is an ad these days, so why would a FREE platform like IG be any different). It’s because they (the boot co) just flooded IG and gave boots to anyone who would shill for them. It was just a cheap dirty scheme on the company’s part. They weren’t sponsoring a few makers. They were playing the system. The worst part is, a lot of folks ended up with some questionable credibility as a result of that stunt. Of course they took the “sponsorship” so they have to accept and deal with the outcome of that. But those are the situations that, to me at least, it just doesn’t sit right.
But if you genuinely use and endorse a product, sponsored or not, people can tell when you’re being honest.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with sponsorship if you tell every one.ReplyDelete
And you owe no one any explanation of your friendships.
Our friends are a gift... Treasure yours and don't fret if you sound like a commercial when you enthuse about their work.
I often sound like a commercial when I talk about my favorite tools, sadly most of those makers shut down before I was born.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a sponsorship and your relationship with Mark may not qualify anyway. The important thing is disclosure and you have done that.ReplyDelete
Great post. Honesty is always good. Most of what we see is a lot of BS. People with no skills show up real easy. And there are loads of those. Keep doing what you are doing buddy.ReplyDelete
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I am confident of your integrity and read your writing knowing that fact. Also, you and I met at the Bad Axe workshop on sharpening a few years ago when I became a tried and true fan of Mark's saws. You and I have the same views of Bad Axe saws. They are exceptional. In legal ethics, there is a guiding principle that disclosure cures much. If you tell a client that you represent his ex-wife, then he is on notice. Your ethical compass remains firm, but notice has been given. So it is with Bad Axe and your writing. You are among the writers whom I take time to read. Keep going. Sincerely Wm. D. Elliott.
It's always great to see you have a new post. I think I started getting into the hobby around the same time as you and a couple other bloggers. I never had the drive to establish myself as an presence the way you have but it's felt good to have built a reasonable amount of confidence in my ability to make just about anything I need - with a bench and some hand tools. That's really all that I ever wanted. I came into it feeling intimidated by the ideas some magazines put out - that perfect, works-every-time joinery was the aim and that I needed a shop full of machines. I imagined it as some sort of exclusive club filled with retired engineers and dentists. It was inspiring to see guys like you taking on big new challenges. You've also kept my spirits up by being candid about your failures and frustrations..so I'll say “thanks” while it's on my mind.ReplyDelete