Good topic, cedar, and one that's a bit close to my experience.
I was a carpenter and woodworker/furniture maker for a number of years. But I came down with carpal tunnel syndrome, had to give up the career, and decided to go back to school.
Having a good knowledge of woodworking and carpentry, I wanted to stay in the profession (and I guess you could say remain in my comfort zone as well). In 2002, at 32 years old, I decided to go to college and become a shop teacher. I had visions of steady employment, indoor working conditions, a good retirement package, generous vacations and summers off. Plus, I'd be engaging a new generation in the art of woodworking. Cool, right?
I found the program at the local university was called "Technology Education." Automotive courses were no longer a part of the curriculum simply because the field had become too technical. Traditional woodworking was also being phased out, albeit more slowly. A new wing of the school, "the technology wing," was just in the planning stages in 2002. But CAD and robotics were definitely part of the curriculum. I suppose the University was being proactive as these are the "jobs of the future."
I soon realized, I would not be helping kids make bookshelves or birdhouses on table saws. High school students now work on projects where they insert a piece of wood in one end of a machine costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, plot their X & Y coordinates, walk around to the other end of the machine and pick up a finished cribbage board.
I probed one of my professors about my visions of a classic "shop teacher." He had been a high school shop teacher before going on to his Ph.D. and joining the University. He told me in Maine it depends on certain school districts--how much money they have, etc.--but that I would likely be teaching CAD and robotics on sophisticated machines and computer programs. I would be "lucky" to find a school teaching the difference between an eight-point crosscut vs. a ripsaw.
To make a long story short, I soon found through some of my other classes that I was much better at writing than mathematics. Plus, realizing that hand tools are really no longer taught to kids was a serious downer (heck, even a table saw is becoming kind of outdated!). In a crazy turn of my identity, I changed degree programs and became an English major. I now hope to write about traditional woodworking, including timber framing.
(I realize this is a long post, but bear w/ me.)
I do not want to jump all over people for the paths they take, but it appears some pioneers of the timber framing revival are doing all they can to remove tradition from the craft.
Bensonwood promotes the efficiency and accuracy of machine-cut timber frames. Here is an excerpt from their web site http://www.bensonwood.com/engineering/cnc.cfm
: An important benefit to collaborating with Bensonwood is our CNC, computer numerically-controlled, German-built Hundegger cutting machinery. Customized to integrate with our CADWORK® software, we cut timbers up to 50 feet and joinery details within tolerances of 1/32 inch in one operation, quickly and affordably, with the highest quality and with a minimum of handwork. Our cutting and fabrication technologies were developed exclusively for heavy timberframe structures and are especially efficient if your plans require numerous repetitive cuts.
The phrases "quickly and affordably with the highest quality and with a minimum of handwork" speak to the future of this “icon of the industry.”
Will they lead?
Quickly and affordably is ironic. I don't think many people would qualify Bensonwood and affordability in the same sentence. Their clients are quite wealthy. But that is the path for them. They are contributing to the timber frame style, but certainly appear to be undermining its tradition...as well as traditional carpenters who "hand cut".
Gabel and crew have the right idea in sticking with older structures and restoration work as machines cannot compete well here. Like many fields, I think economics will play a large role in determining the future of traditional "hand cut" timber framing.