485 Talking with Eli Cleveland

June 3, 2012

The other day I had a chance to sit down with Eli Cleveland to discuss what seemed to be our differing views of the online woodworking community. It’s no secret that recently there were some raw nerves exposed over what has been perceived by many to be a slap to the face of woodworking bloggers and podcasters. It appeared to many of us that our legitimacy was being questioned and we were being branded in a negative way.

The resulting volley of comments back and forth regarding this most current statement, and even ones previously, have served as a rallying cry for many to say online woodworking is stronger and more united than ever. But is it?

As one of the first woodworking podcasters on the scene back in 2006, I heard a lot of less than nice things about how stupid or crazy I was for trying something like a woodworking podcast. At the time, I would reach out to “established” media resources to ask for permission to use content or ask for advice and quite often there was never an answer or even more frequently, a lot of skepticism of what I was attempting to do.

But I didn’t let that stop me. I knew deep down, if I wanted to see an online show(s) like what we have today, I probably wasn’t alone. I could either sit back, wait and hope someone would come along to start it or just get the ball rolling myself.

So after 6-1/2 years of growing my audience, making SO MANY new friends and at the same time learning and then turning around and sharing as many of my experiences as an amateur woodworker with anyone who was willing to watch an episode. To hear something that sounded like it was calling into question everything I had done…it cut straight to the bone.

My first reaction was to see red and as I mention to Eli in the show, I like to think I can let cooler heads prevail, but it’s hard to contain that instinct to fight when you feel like your being attacked. And that’s some of what you’ll hear in today’s episode.

Let me set the record straight before anyone jumps to a conclusion about today’s show. It’s not meant to re-hash old grudges and continue to beat a metaphorical “dead horse”. Our discussion was an opportunity for two woodworkers who feel passionate about the craft and want to see the online community building up around it grow stronger.

Strength comes from trust and understanding, but to have trust and understanding, you have to be willing to realize not everything is perfect. Being able to recognize your perceptions and understandings on any given topic aren’t necessarily the right one, is a bitter pill to swallow.

When I first invited Eli to come on the show, it was meant as an opportunity for me to tell him how I thought he was wrong about both his comments and also his views of the online woodworking community.

After emailing with him to get things set up and then during our conversation before, during and even after the recording, I discovered we came together thinking we were ways apart in our views but ended up realizing we had more in common with what we want for this community than we may have realized.

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Comments (8)

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  1. Neil says:

    Hi Matt…….I commend you on trying to get to the bottom of maturing the on-line woodworking community. The key statement made by El was that the community needs to be able to criticize itself without members piling on in defense. I alone with others have worked with Eli specifically trying to get the internet woodworking community involved seeking that “next step” in development. I found it odd that Eli was being misinterpreted knowing his desire for the craft of woodworking to grow and mature.

    I’ve always felt that individuals are loud as the jokey to position themselves within the community. In reading comments on Tom’s blog you can see how this issue was used to self promote while commenting. Crafting and in our case woodworking it’s the work that tells the story….. not words. It maturity with time that will see the community through.

    I’m not sure you got a complete feel for who Eli is and how he truly feels about the craft. I would recommend you speak with him again with a bit less chatter and more questions. He’s very insightful, but you’ll need to ask.

    Thanks for taking the time to only begin a maturing dialog…….Neil

    • Matt says:

      Hey Neil,

      Thanks for checking out the show. I really enjoyed chatting with Eli, it was a nice opportunity just to reaffirm what we both kind of already knew…we love the craft and appreciate the online community…just see it a little different.

      As far as I see it, criticism is a double edged sword that hurts coming and going. No one likes to be on the receiving end of it, but there is some value from it when used correctly. Unfortunately it can leave the critic in a less than flattering light when it’s used to blindly chop and hack.

      I’m not saying that’s what Eli did, in fact I really appreciate him stepping forward to point out an ugly side of the internet few will acknowledge exists in our online woodworking community.

      I’m not a fan of the gang up and pile tactics when an opposing voice pipes up, but I appreciate the need to be heard.

      The online woodworking community is still so young when compared to other outlets such as Magazines or Guilds, etc. Although Asa even acknowledged they get their own trolls who write in and complain. Apparently it just goes with the territory.

      I look forward to being able to talk with Eli again in the future. I thought we had a good banter on and off recording. I know I enjoyed it.

      But I think this episode is yet another reminder I’m not very good at interviews. Questions come to me after the fact and then I usually just go find them myself LOL.

      Talk to you soon.

  2. Steve Ramsey says:

    Matt: Arg! I thought I thought this issue has been put to rest. I guess I will comment since you brought it up again.

    I get the impression that vetted woodworkers have never really viewed much online content, other than their own vetted content. Hey, that’s fine. But when they make snooty comments about us unvetters, it comes off as ignorant and arrogant.

    Bottom line? I think FWW is fearful of really talented unvetted guys like Marc cutting into their vetted bottom line. Or was FWW looking for some unvetted controversy to boost interest in their fledgling podcast?

    • Matt says:

      I swear I wasn’t trying to stir the pot again CHORTLE!!! I’m ready to move on to the next big thing…West Coast or East Coast WIAs…who knows how to party more?

    • Eli says:

      Hi, Steve,

      Part of my problem is that this issue may have been put to rest, but it certainly never resolved. Frankly, it was hardly discussed.

      This is what I consider the great success of the podcast. It was easy to ignore Asa when he criticized, because he’s from Fine Woodworking, scared for his business, elitist, etc. It was easy to ignore me because I’m not involved online anymore, because I’m a professional, perhaps because I’m associated with Tommy (that’s a fledgling theory), etc. But can the community ignore Matt, considered a founder of the online community, involved daily, and part of the “unvetted” as I understand it?

      Matt and I weren’t pondering Asa’s prudence. We didn’t discuss what vetting meant and whether it should be used. What I loved about the interview was that the Asa/Tom/community spat was merely our starting point to discuss the larger issues of the internet. Frankly, it was irrelevant except as supporting evidence. I’d been wondering about these things since before #woodchat in March. This particular topic was simply clear enough and public enough for me to jump on it. Thankfully, Matt was intrigued and we got to talk about thing that few others in the community seem willing to.


      P.S. I made some comments on your video response to Shop Talk Live. I’d love to discuss your reaction to try to understand where you’re coming from.

      • Steve Ramsey says:

        I’ve been giving this some thought and it just occurred to me where the disconnect might lie. And I really can’t fault fine woodworking for it. And actually, it makes sense to me now why they are so concerned about information being vetted.

        Now follow me here, I believe they assume that most people doing woodworking are doing so to become craftsmen. With that frame of reference, it is natural (and correct) for them to defend their audience from any information that doesn’t lead to perfection. That is exactly what they SHOULD do.

        Yet, I give bad information in my videos on a weekly basis and people are continually interested. Perhaps I am merely expanding the definition of the word “woodworking” to mean a lot more.

        I love to cook, but have no desire to be a chef. Can you imagine the absurdity if a Michelin-rated chef burst into my home kitchen and poo-pooed my cooking? Nothing comes off more repulsive than when experts belittle amateurs.

        They key FWW is overlooking has nothing to do with online/offline. It is the simple fact that a great deal of people approach woodworking as a hobby and a minor diversion. They simply want to have fun and have NO interest in pursuing it as a career. They might build one project a year and are proud of it. They might blog about it. No, it isn’t up to FWW standards, but they don’t care. The smiles and joy they get from family members far outweigh expert, vetted approval.

        • Eli says:

          Oh my gosh! I had that in my post but deleted it. I just wrote a really long response but I have to edit it. Thanks for continuing the conversation! That’s a great insight.


  3. TimK says:

    Matt & Eli,
    Excellent show. Smells like peaches, the air is so clear. I see both sides point of view and i hope everyone thinks before they post, from now on.

    I am a motocross’er (and a woodworker), and when i go to those type of websites to read articles or get up dates, well i see this same thing happen every time I open one of those sites. It’s soooo bad (motocrossers all have type A personalities, which is not a good combination when a keyboard is involved, anyway) at these type of sites that i can no longer visit them.

    I really hope this interview helps us all realize just cause we have a strong opinion on a subject, doesn’t mean it’s right and all others are wrong and who cares if it offends someone they will never find me attitude. I hope to continue to browse woodworking sites and not have to put up with this mentality. Thanks.

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