Toilet Reading: Good Woodworking

Tagline: ‘The No.1 magazine for aspiring designer makers.’

Price: £4.25

Who is this magazine for? Building stuff is part of what it is to be human. Who hasn’t enjoyed tackling the engineering challenge of building an impregnable sofa fort? Picking your site, honing the design, and berating the quantity surveyor for her inability to source the blankets and mattress that your fine blueprints demanded.

Most of us took up residence in the fort for up to six minutes before realising that sitting still in a cushioned cave sans television was a massive tactical error. But some looked back at their efforts through flinty eyes, shamed by the poor stability and dreaming of the materials that could take it to the next level. They dreamed of working doors, tiled roofs and tool boxes. They dreamed of tree houses, and drinking cool lemon barley squash therein. They dreamed of wood.

They grew taller, went to secondary school and found that learning Woodwork was seen as a joke; one of the three Ws of schoolboy wasterhood (the third being White Lightning). So they took the Duke of Edinburgh award, joined the Scouts for longer than is strictly healthy, and waited.

They grew wider. Got jobs, lost hair, acquired wardrobes that were long on Blue Harbour and short on choices not made by their wives. And they bought tools. Lots of shiny, sharp tools.

And then one day, they realised it was now their time to work wood. Work wood good.

What did you get for your £4.25? Woodworking is one of those pursuits that requires a great deal of patience; mindfulness that can see a man through hitting his own thumb more than fifteen times in a single afternoon without having to repeat any expletives (‘Ghoulwanker.” “Hackscrotum.” “Goatboner.”).

As well as patience, your good woodworker needs the fortitude to contemplate a task that may take him many months, with scant reward until completion. He must be able to do this without slipping straight into thinking, ‘Yeah fuck that, I’ll just go and browse the fridge again to check whether those yogurts have turned into an old slice of takeaway pizza.’ Good Woodworking is a magazine that demands similar qualities.

This is clear from the magazine’s opening News section, which leads – leads, mind you – with a piece announcing the arrival of a new dust extractor. The CTL SYS deals with ‘class L dust’ apparently, a statement which makes clear to the reader that you are now entering a world where different types of dust not only exist but are exhaustively classified.

Good Woodworking

Because no Decorating Elf should be without it’s own ball cutter.

If you cling on past the news section – which further tests your commitment to reading on with pieces on the Wood Awards and the British Oak conference – you’re rewarded with sections on Projects (how to guides), Techniques (including a, sigh, masterclass on shelving), People & Places (in a mysterious nod to Trivial Pursuit) and Your Favourites (the usual magazine miscellany of odds and sods).

Features: But it’s unfair to judge a mag on the news section alone. After all, it might just have been a slow month in the world of woodworking. So let’s look at the features.

The shelving masterclass felt like a good place to start, because in a mag strewn with jargon (‘planer-thicknessers’, ‘stub riser’) I at least know what a shelf is. However, try as I might, the crushing tedium of wood-based chat makes it awesomely difficult to force eyes to absorb any of the words. Take this paragraph:

‘Take two matching planks and mark them up for shelves. It is common to have graduated gaps between shelves often corresponding to the different sizes of books. You will also need to remember that the shelf has thickness, probably about 20mm.’

I had to read this paragraph five or six times before it eventually sank in that its two messages were: 1) shelves have gaps between them, rather than being just a big old pile o’ wood, and 2) shelves are three-dimensional.

Things did not improve in the piece on the history of the nail. There may be no a sentence more effective at clearing a room than, ‘in the early 20th century it was reported that there were about 300 types of nail available.’

In the end, I found the only way to keep going through the many, many features was to read them out loud in a poor Spanish accent. I enjoyed Good Woodworking far more after this discovery, but the rest of the congregation wasn’t pleased.

Good Woodworking

Though I’m sure all Chippendales would appreciate a visit to this place.

Adverts: After the dry, honest worthiness of the magazine’s contributors, I was hoping that a bit of naked commercialism would perk things up. There is certainly plenty of space devoted to ads in Good Woodworking, and I felt a frisson of potential from the ‘Chippendale International School’ ad. Sadly their teachings were grimly focused on restoring furniture rather than pelvic thrusts.

Unfortunately the adverts further brought into focus the folly of a magazine devoted to the worthiness of wood. If there was ever a product crying out for some scantily clad models and primary-coloured starbursts to add a bit of marketing zing, it’s wood glue. Parades of technical specs and cautious promises were the order of the day everywhere, with the only marketing trick being deployed the old ‘…and so much more!’ features list.

Letters page: By not you wouldn’t expect much from the letters page. It doesn’t disappoint.

As I had come to start disliking some of the magazine’s contributors personally for the minutes they had stolen from me, I was quite pleased by the arsey tone taken by most of the correspondents. Three of the four letters printed were complaining in some way about articles in previous issues. Coincidentally, the one that wasn’t won letter of the month.

If nothing else, this explains why woodworking is a solitary hobby.

Rating: 3/10

Good Woodworking is the kind of magazine adults read in children’s TV programmes when the storytellers are making pantomime efforts to show how boring grown ups are. I woodn’t bother.

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