Some manuals are well done, but many are not.
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Instructions and Information
Woodworkers want more than they are getting
Text & Photos by Tom Hintz
Newwoodworker.com was born out of the frustration I felt when trying to find useable information on the setup and use of the woodworking equipment I was buying. While many of the instruction materials were adequate in describing the assembly process, some had little on setup and fewer yet provided more than the most basic operational instruction. In all but a few instances, the literature packaged with a new tool provided an overview of tool capabilities, but little or no detailed information on performing common operations the tool was capable of.
Newwoodworker.com currently receives approximately 150 emails per day, the majority of which contain a question. The most common themes are how to set up, use or maintain a piece of woodworking equipment. To be fair, not all of those posing questions had read all of the enclosed literature. While I usually suggest reading that literature first, the answer they sought frequently was not to be found in those materials.
Increasingly common in our emails and on woodworking forums are woodworkers seeking opinions on the quality of instructions and if the manufacturer offers other information on using the equipment effectively.
Good woodworking equipment is not getting any cheaper and buyers are looking harder at what they get for their money. Solid instructions on set up, use and maintenance can increase the value to the woodworker, making it more attractive than a similar item with poor documentation.
Why the information Gap?
So why this lack of even basic information? Cost and the prospect of litigation are common fears throughout the manufacturing world and are sure to be factors in the woodworking community.
Today lawsuits are filed, and inexplicably won, in the strangest of circumstances. Even those who do something exceedingly dumb occasionally cash in on their own stupidity by suing the manufacturer who in their eyes, failed to protect them from themselves.
Wanting to avoid such legal entanglements is understandable, but is failing to provide information that could make operating a piece of equipment safer the best plan? Material showing the user how to perform operations a piece of equipment is capable of and how to properly maintain it not only makes the consumer happy, it helps minimize accidents and injury. It makes sense that a productive and uninjured consumer is a happy consumer. That happy consumer is likely to remember the brand name responsible for that warm fuzzy feeling when the next tool purchase comes around, and we all know that is never far away.
Cost saving is a fact of life all manufacturers must deal with. However, after investing considerable working capital in the development of a piece of equipment, saving a few pennies (or less) per unit by not providing information on using it is a classic example of being penny wise and pound foolish.
The instruction manuals provided by Leigh Jigs are the finest anywhere, and they have not driven the company into bankruptcy. However, they have made the product more attractive to a large number of potential customers.
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The fact that some manufacturers create extremely well-done instruction and use information shows it can be done without sending the company into financial ruin. The most notable example is the manual that comes with the Leigh D4 dovetail jig.
Leigh's instruction manual is first rate throughout. Professional writing, hundreds of very well done illustrations, quality paper, printing and binding show that Leigh was intent on providing their consumers with the best information possible.
The fact that Leigh has been providing this level of documentation with their various jigs, and has been doing it for years, shows this kind of investment is not only feasible, it is smart business.
Do It Yourself Disasters
One of the more frustrating situations is finding what may be decent information, complete with photos that are unusable because they have been "printed" on the old office copy machine. The result is nearly illegible text and photos that have been converted to unrecognizable black blobs.
Having materials printed so they remain legible (and useful) costs money, but so does frustrating customers. If your company is packaging these awful excuses for documentation with your product, you can save everyone a little time by including your competitor's address and phone number.
Along with off-shore manufacturing of woodworking equipment came the need for translation of related documentation. What should be a simple, and rather inexpensive process, has in many cases gone very wrong. Some of the translations we see today are riddled with errors, sometimes to the extent that they can be misleading. In the case of power tools, this can be dangerous.
There actually is an easy and affordable remedy. Manufacturers could run their documentation by a professional writer who is familiar with technical material, an expense that may add a fraction of a cent to the per unit cost.
Woodworking and the Internet
The Internet has proven to be a huge asset to woodworkers through the sharing of information on personal web sites and dedicated forums. Consider that NewWoodworker.com currently averages just over 200,000 visits per month and though very popular, it represents a small fraction of the overall woodworking traffic on the Internet.
Some woodworking manufacturers are beginning to make use of corporate web sites but their numbers are surprisingly low. While most manufacturers have web sites, they are generally dominated by the sales department. Beyond the sales pitch, their piece of the information superhighway hits a dead end.
Corporate web sites are loaded with potential if only those controlling them would recognize that servicing the woodworkers need for information translates into lots of happy eyeballs seeing their products.
Infinity Cutting Tools, manufacturer of some very nice router bits, has taken the first step towards providing the kind of information woodworkers need to use their products effectively. This kind of "value added" material should be on every manufacturers web sites.
Click Here to see what Infinty is doing.
Tell Them What You Want
Woodworkers need to inform manufacturers what kinds of information they want, and what they do not want. It is important to keep this communication on an even level. Manufacturers are more likely to respond to considered thoughts and ideas. Save the shrill rants, outlandish demands and hysteria for the Off-Topic section of your favorite forum.
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