Learning from a Hobbyist Culture

Zain Abedin is an avid woodworker recently returned from a long spell in the United States. He is an engineer by profession but of late has increasingly been drawn to woodworking and is considering a career in making fine furniture and cabinets. He currently lives in Chandigarh with his wife and two children. Here he talks about some of the lessons Indian hobbyist woodworkers could take from their US counterparts.

Attention to Detail

People in the United States take up a hobby as a method of self-reliance. Culturally they are attuned to doing things with their own hands. They take great pleasure in the smallest of detail and that reflects in the quality of work whether it be woodworking or engineering. A lot of hobbyist woodworkers also come from a very high engineering background - people from computer industry to aircraft engineers and others manufacturing extremely complex machines.

They pay a lot of attention to historical details. For example they are well aware of what period a particular piece of furniture comes from. A lot of knowledge is thereby brought upon the work.


What I found was that there is a lot of learning from each other, a lot of sharing of knowledge.  All over the United States there are specialist clubs like those for woodcarvers, CNC machine operators, and so on. Learning opportunities are very high. Every city has community colleges where woodworking is taught. There is also a tradition of learning from parents.

One of the guys who was renting shop time in a community college where I was taking woodworking classes, was a petroleum engineer. His father ss well as grandfather were cabinet makers. He went into the petroleum industry but very soon returned to woodworking. He felt woodworking gave him more satisfaction and he felt comfortable doing the work his family had long been engaged in.

Numerous Americans in high profile jobs are hobbyist woodworkers. President Jimmy Carter was well-known for his love of woodworking.

Whether it is woodworking or any other skill, it is learnt, collected and passed on through the generations as a social process. If you do not pass on knowledge it dies. In that way, the US is democratic in passing on traditions; people of any kind or background can acquire skills. In India handing down of traditional skills is limited by considerations of class, social groupings, caste and so on.

Creative Thinking

Woodworkers in the United States not only do the actual woodworking but think a lot about the design of their pieces, the wood and methods. This has helped them to be continuously creative. James Krenov, for instance, brought in new thinking into Western woodworking by bringing in elements of eastern design sensibilities. For creative thinking one needs to study trends in historical design and be aware of them.

In India is we have gone from British Victorian design sensibilities straight to post-modern European sensibilities. We are following market forces without thinking about needs, design traditions and so on.

The modern furniture that India gets is from the bottom of the European design pile; they are mostly manufactured in Malaysia and China and basically meant for low consumerist demands and none of the furniture is meant to be long lasting. They are supposed to be replaced frequently.

People here tend to follow trends blindly. For instance, some people are using a lot of glass in their houses these days without thinking about the inappropriateness of the material. India is a hot country and our house lots are not conducive for choice in placement of windows and glass facades.


Designers in India never work with the wood themselves. We have schools of architecture and design which are churning out lots of designers and none of them can actually work with wood themselves. They are dependent on somebody else. They are limited, they cannot realise their design unless they get a good craftsman.

If the person doing the woodworking is not the designer, it is like a painter conceiving a painting and asking someone else to paint it.

Even contemporary furniture designers in the West all design as well as make the pieces themselves. This was true of the past as well when famous furniture designers and cabinet makers both designed and executed their own work. The Arts and Crafts movement and the Shakers did their own design and made their own furniture. Even George Nakashima, the famous Japanese American designer, made his own pieces.

Availability of Tools & Material

In the West acquiring tools, books, materials and so on is very easy. Here people have to struggle to identify sources, sellers and importers of tools and materials. In India people selling woodworking tools and materials are mostly traders and know next to nothing about what they are selling.

In the West a lot of retailers are themselves woodworkers. Most of the Woodcraft franchises, for example, are run by woodworkers; the owner of Grizzly tools is an accomplished violin maker; the maker of the famous Lie-Nielsen range of planes and chisels is a former woodworker. Companies like Delta tools hire woodworkers in their top management and re-design tools using woodworkers. A US company once appointed a woodworker for re-designing their band saw.

Final Words

We need a hobbyist woodworkers association in India. Basically to create an environment where people can learn from each other and create a repository of knowledge which would be widely accessible.

Indranil Banerjie
15 September 2013


  1. kuldeep singh15 September, 2013

    very true each words of this blog.in india very few people take woodworking as hobby.American they like to make by themselves and theproud it.in india cheap skill labour infact which is no any more made us lazy and secondly most of us take it as labour class work not a skill.
    no wonder my 90% sale of pantorouter in USA as you mention in blog my most of customers are from engineering background.even just last week I have sent one pantorouter to Hiram gerogia the person is retired Pilot.

  2. I mostly agree with you. As you said about the Wood Design Engineers, I also know that most of the Engineering Graduates in my college days had never tried out his own electronic circuit.
    One more reason why we in India do not enjoy hobbies much is because of our busy life schedules. Every one is in the rate race to earn more and more money. So much insecurity... Partly it is real.

    Anyways, I am an Engineer in advanced electronic design domain trying to learn woodworking.

  3. Your Blog post has exceptionally supportive data.

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  4. Hi ,
    Currently i m in chandigarh basically from pune. Can i get contact details of Zain Abedin plz. I would like to meet him personally if possible.

    Plz respond asap as i m here for day only.


    1. Give me your phone number and I'll pass it on to Zain.

    2. Hi zain,
      Can i buy router plane in chandigarh?

  5. Dear indranil. I want to learn woodworking as a hobby. Can you please provide me any contact to learn in chandigarh. Thanks
    Mob no 9988859778

    1. The best person would be Zain. He is in Hyderabad currently but I will sms his number to you. Best wishes.

  6. woodwork project in chandigarh for my son - help needed please. 9815903900 sanjay arora

    1. You could email Zainul Abdedin at syedzain1@yahoo.com


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