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Paul Roman


Fine Woodworking Issue #4 - my first issue - and the latest issue FWW #309
Fine Woodworking Issue #4 - my first issue - and the latest issue FWW #309

In the latest issue of Fine Woodworking, there is a very nice obituary for Paul Roman, the founder and publisher of Fine Woodworking since its first issue in 1976. Although I never met Paul, he was very influential in my life and my development as a woodworker - and perhaps in yours as well. I've had a subscription to Fine Woodworking from Issue 4 continuing to the present day. A long time. I remember getting an advertisement in the mail announcing this new publication and I was really excited. This was the first woodworking publication that didn't scream at you and was done in an elegant text that looked nice. The subjects it covered were not really about building one more entertainment center for your den. And most important, it covered a lot of the interesting techniques that I'd heard of, but understood very little. At the time I knew almost nothing about woodworking. I was a veteran of my high school woodworking class and I built models. I wouldn't call myself a total woodworking neophyte but my status was just past that.

So I subscribed. This was a big deal because I was a teenager living at home and and I needed to convince my parents to pay for it. It's hard to explain to young people who have grown up with the world of knowledge at their fingertips because of the internet, but if you wanted to know something in 1976, your options were limited. If it wasn't common enough knowledge to be found in your local library, and you didn't know a guy to teach you, you were screwed. Magazines were the lifeline. They had articles about stuff you didn't know existed, you could even write to them and ask a question and get an answer. They were the community. And here was a community that seemed to welcome me as a member. My subscription began with the fourth issue - which I still have, along with decades of issues.

One of the articles in the issue was about exotic woods by Bob Stockdale. The magazine was then in black and white, so the pictures were not as spectacular as they would be now but it was still such an eye opener. Who knew that you could get such amazing bits of wood and how exciting a turned bowl could be?

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The issue also had an article on ornamental turning by John Kelsey that I mentioned a few weeks went when I wrote about Frank Knox.

The issue's cover, which you can see above, showed it to be different from other woodworking magazines - it was a pretty arty picture of a workbench, actually a clamp belonging to a workbench. The workbench was by none other than Tage Frid. Tage Frid was a Danish cabinet maker who taught woodworking and furniture design at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and his article was of a traditional European bench that wasn't dumbed down or anything. I wanted one. I didn't actually build this bench, but a few years later I built something similar - a left-handed version of Frank Klausz's bench as featured in the Fine Woodworking/Taunton book "The Workbench Book" by Scott Landis, which has since been reprinted by Lost Art Press. (And many thanks to LAP for the reprint - it's a wonderful book and the workbench is the most important tool in your shop, as Landis proves.) Tage Frid became a frequent and important contributor to Fine Woodworking.

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This issue also had an article by James Krenov. Not only is the furniture as elegant is all his work, the pictures made them something special. Fine Woodworking in those days was not just about showing you it could be done, it was showing you that you could be better than you thought you could.

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About 10 years after I started subscribing to Fine Woodworking, I began to study woodworking formally at the Craft Students League. I said at the start of this post that I never met Paul Roman. But wow, what an incredible impact he had on me.

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Join the conversation
02/28/2024 Tommy
Nice take on Paul Roman. In my mind, fine woodworking magazine sets the standard for craftsmanship.
His obituary is worth reading. He was quite an accomplished man.
02/28/2024 OaklandPaul
I would not be who I am without Fine Woodworking (and Whole Earth Catalog). I subscribed on issue one, still have it and still use those early issues today.
02/28/2024 Michael O’Brien
Thanks for the FWW blog today, and I agree with all you said. I am an original FWW subscriber back to issue number one and I still have all of the FWW magazines stored in my workshop. It has been very influential in my woodworking journey by providing me with skills education and project esthetics. I hope the new owners will continue this important way of operating the magazine.
02/28/2024 Frank P
I saw an early advert for the magazine prior to publication and subscribed "sight unseen", I was not disappointed and have every issue from #1 to date.
I did not know Paul's story until the Obit, but his publication was an inspiration to my personal creations and eagerly awaited for the next issue.
A remarkable legacy in publishing.
02/28/2024 ajh
Lovely observations. I caught up with FW a few years after you, and I'm purely amateur. But it really has been a major touchstone for me. I'm made aware by your post that this wasn't just about the impact of a magazine, but the impact of one particular person (and many others). Thank you for that.
02/28/2024 Jerry Olson
I believe that was my first issue also. I immediately went out and purchased the first three and began my subscription. Every issue now resides in my library.
02/28/2024 ken carroll
The early American woodworker was of similar quality, unfortunately over time it morphed into a "Better Homes and Garden Wood" type magazine, but I still have a good number of the early black and white AWW as I do the first 200 or so issues of Fine Woodworking. Unlike you, I didn't keep the subscriprion going to today, but I stilllike the FWW magazines rather than the DVD collection. You can't beat paper.
02/28/2024 Jim
Love this magazine but not a subscription kind of guy, unfortunately I can't find it in bookstores or magazine racks anymore. Wonder why. Lots and lots of monster truck and gun magazines available though.
03/02/2024 Lawrence Geib
FWW was visionary in its day and an inspiration to me at the start of my woodworking career. My partner and I got a commission to build some corporate desks and file cabinets and needed a knockdown bench for the project.
I built that Tage Frid bench shortly after issue #4 came out in Cherry, walnut, and white oak from bartered materials. I’ve been working at that bench for approaching 50 years and have no plans to replace it.
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