Before the advent of power tools (i.e. 1780s - 1860s), all work was done by hand tools for a local community. The typical woodworking shop had a master craftsman, one or two specialists, and a few apprentices learning the craft.
The men supplied all of the wooden objects needed in a small village from construction of a carriage or furniture to your casket.
In a few cases, woodworkers were commissioned by a king or wealthy sponsor. The great furniture styles of furniture emerged into the market and then, later, copied by local craftsmen.
With the advent of the steam engine, shops were driven by belt-powered saws and automated operations. Businessmen began to look beyond supplying the needs for a village, and dreamed of creating products for national distribution.
The great furniture manufacturing centers in Michigan and South Carolina began to sell products to retailers in all cities, and the majority of consumers fulfilled their needs shopping for the latest national fashion and bargain.
Some of the products worked well, and others failed within a few year. That continues to the present day with most manufacturing centers located in the Far East.
Between 1880 and 1915, most woodworkers adopted a combination of hand and power tools. They began to see that they could not compete against the giant furniture manufacturing centers.
A few leaders like William Morris began to argue that consumers could create their own furniture or at least buy hand-crafted work by 'true' craftsman who knew art and loved the craft.
Gustave Stickley, the father of the American Arts and Craft Movement, promoted the ideals of the movement in national publications, but secretly hid his own manufacturing process by final handing tooling and heavy advertising. The movement ended with changes in fashion, and total victory by the large manufacturing centers.
Beginning in the 1960s, during a brief re-emergence of Arts and Craft antiques, a few woodworkers found a small niche in the national marketplace and began to design products and later turn to the manufacturing centers for national mass distribution. Recently, others have purchased a CDC machine to reproduce their creations.
The woodworker today is making a functional wooden object, but that object also serves as a sculptural or decorative statement. This allows men and women of the woodworking trade the freedom to be independent and in their own studio, and yet profit from their individual creations.