We are masters of the unsaid words…

…but slaves of those we let slip out.
Winston Churchill

A few days ago I posted about a problem I saw regarding too few women and children being involved with woodworking. I have since received a small stream of emails from people with links to various responses on other blogs and on twitter.

The statement that people have taken issue with is this: “You cannot use a machine to work wood and call it Woodcraft.”

I have been puzzled why the reaction had been wrought with controversy but I think that I now understand. If I had said ‘You cannot use a machine to work wood and call it Woodworking.’ then I would understand the reaction, but that’s not what I wrote.

Woodcraft and woodworking are not synonyms.

Woodcraft is a combination of the two words wood and craft. Craft means: ‘An activity involving skill in making things by hand.‘ (see here)

Those who read my blog regularly enough would have known that I am not an elitist or a purist. I had just posted here recommending that people attend a demonstration on setting up a bandsaw.

I was disappointed with the adverse direction that followed and I admit that parts of that post were badly framed and perhaps colloquial, for this I apologise. I certainly meant no offence but to highlight what the real issue I think is with regard to woodworking.

For my part, I intend to continue supporting and promoting woodworking with hand tools in an inclusive way so that those intimidated or excluded from machine woodworking by age can get started without hinderance.  I will also keep promoting a balance between hand tools and machines but with an emphasis on hand tools that for me makes the process more healthy and enjoyable.

Join me in making a difference that might make greater sense of woodworking throughout the next millennia. We have a generation of woodworkers yet to come?

18 comments

  1. Bruce Mack says:

    Paul,
    I am grateful for your forceful stance, validated by your status as an educator. I am working on a box with hand hewn grooves for the base, and trapezoidal sides joined by miters roughed out by saw and refined by plane. The process gives me pleasure. I credit you with the impetus. Thank you.
    Regards,
    Bruce Mack

  2. Mark Hochstein says:

    Thanks for your clarification, Paul. I had a theory about your post. It went something like this: after sitting at the Woodworking Show for three days across from the Legacy Woodworking Machinery guys and their CNC mills. You’d had enough of hearing them refer to their work as woodworking or, worse yet, woodcraft. – just a theory.
    However, your post also spurred another debate parallel to the one directly regarding you post: What is “handmade”? OED says:”made by hand, not by machine, and typically therefore of superior quality:
    his expensive handmade leather shoes” and Webster-Merriam says “made by hand or by a hand process”.
    So, what do you consider to be handmade? Is a cabriole leg that is roughed-out on a bandsaw and then shaped by hand handmade? What about a jewelry box where the stock is dimensioned by machine but the joinery and finish work is all cut my hand? How much machine work would you allow and still call something handmade?

    • I suppose I have never seen machine and hand woodworking in competition with one another but more a left and right hand relationship where one needs the other.
      Legacy Woodworking and all of the other businesses there offers many premium products that serve our world of woodworking and many key areas of woodworking businesses. perhaps it’s not an either or but all. In my 50 years of working wood, I find myself forever saying it’s really all about balance.

  3. Dyami Plotke says:

    Paul,
    Thank you for the elaboration. I’m glad to hear (read) that the statements from the earlier blog were not clearly stated (rather than to hear that you truly detest machines).
    I personally don’t feel there is any difference in the quality of a piece based on how it’s made. I think it must simply by made well.
    Regardless, I feel we’re both working to encourage others to take up woodworking in whichever form(s) they prefer. Thank you for helping teach the passion we all love.

    • Used them since 1965, most days, six days a week. I like them, but I like them in their place. Thanks Dyami. Just packed my case for the UK. Got classes in 10 days time. So looking forward to it.

  4. Scott Smith says:

    Anyone who has met Paul knows he is trying to inspire woodworkers of all ages. No one in their right mind is going to let their 12 year old go into a shop and use a table saw or planer. But with a little training that 12 year old could use a saw , a plane and some chisels to make anything.
    Having spent time with Paul I can assure all of you he is very passionate about hand tools and what can be done with them. He’s just trying to let people know that woodworking is accessable to everyone without having to spend hundreds of dollars on machines. He is not trying to offend anyone.
    Paul, keep up the good work.

  5. Ron Harper says:

    I really appreciate your crusade to educate folks that machines have a place in making furniture, but one is not required to use them to make beautiful pieces of furniture.

  6. AndyM says:

    For what it’s worth, the blog post by the editor of a woodworking magazine that I saw was snarky and uninformed about your actual position on the issue of power tools. Anyone familiar with your views knows that you do not oppose the use of power tools for stock preparation and in fact do so yourself. I definitely recall your post about the bandsaw demonstration recently. The use of obscure, derogatory British slang does not substitute for thoughtful analysis. I have unsubscribed from the magazine’s blogs and will no long purchase it. This is a hobby for me and I don’t need that kind of gratuitous unpleasantness.

    Please understand that there will always be people like her who see an advantage for themselves in attacks on others and don’t let them bother you. They only diminish themselves. The lesson for you and the rest of us is not to find ourselves doing the same thing.

  7. Andy says:

    Paul,
    I would suggest that a wood turner is a craftsman whether he is using a treadle lathe or a lathe powered by water, gasoline, a great wheel or electric motor. The skill set is the
    Same. In all cases the final product results from the dexterous use of handheld chisels and gouges. The final result always reflects the skillful use of sharp tools in the hands of
    Craftsman.
    The term woodcrafter is obsolete in the present day woodworking culture because virtually all craftsman use a combination of tools and materials that utilize machines to some degree. Even your hand planed workbench uses highly machine made lumber and are not entirely woodcrafted. Industry always needs to make their products in the most cost effective way and therefore uses machines almost entirely, but for most turners and woodworking craftsman hand skills will always offer a satisfaction that will never be fulfilled by machines.
    Best wishes,
    Andy Barnum

  8. Ed says:

    One of the things your teaching and methods has suggested to me is that what really matters is assembling the skills required to express ideas in wood. Those ideas involve shape, proportion, color, shadow, texture, etc., while the skills involve reducing, shaping, joining, finishing, drawing, and designing. Sensitivity connects the ideas and the skills to let you guide tools to the outcomes you want. Whether that tool has a motor or not seems secondary. A shooting board, for example, is a machine with you as the motor. It expresses the ideas of squared, beveled, and mitered. You’ve helped me to understand all these things for which I’m grateful. Now when people debate details like arguing about straight irons vs. cambered irons rather than thinking right vs. wrong, instead I try to think of what one might be able to express with one approach vs. the other. Now, if I can just get my hands to catch up with all this intellectualizing, I’d be getting somewhere, but progress is coming! Thank you again for opening eyes.

    You know where the problem may be? It may be in the idea of perfection and flawlessness. Flawlessness quickly becomes simply uniform and perfection becomes “perfectly the same as everything else” and now you’re in a realm that only machines can do. Now you have gypsum wall board and sprayed coatings rather than plaster and all sorts of other perfectly flawless boring lifeless things.

  9. Winboxes says:

    Paul, I hope you won’t be discouraged. If it’s worth anything, I’ve learned more from you than any other woodworking writer. You’ve never been stingy when it comes to knowledge and your eagerness to pass on your knowledge itself speaks volume about the passion you have for the craft. Please carry on with what you were doing. Real practical woodworking.

    • This three-month tour has been the most encouraging tour I have done. I feel changes coming through what we are doing and I have have been welcomed in every state. I am not sure how this could happen anywhere else in the world, but my hope is that it does and it will.

  10. sean says:

    I believe the criticism is based in insecurity. I believe that
    some retailers sell a untruth; “buy this machine and it will do the work for you”.
    In some ways doing all machine work is harder than hand work. One must use multiple machine set-ups. All machine work requires the operator have the ability to service and fettle all the machines. To do so one must be able to; use calipers and dial indicator, pull and press bearings,( I wish I could scrape to tolerances with straight edge and surface plate) not mention electrical work. My father told me once “millwright” was the proper title years ago for the machinist of wood.
    Limiting the machines in a shop often limits the headaches ! I’m down to a band saw and a planer. I spend a fraction of the time I used to on machine maintenance.

  11. jmpurser says:

    I was browsing through some woodworking blogs the other day and came across some startling information about one Mr. Paul Sellers. Apparently he’s an anti-machine zealot demanding that we all return to our stone tool past or renounce woodworking forever!

    Okay then. News to me. And no doubt to Mrs. Sellers and anyone ELSE who actually read what he wrote as well.

    For some reason the world seems to be flooded with people who’s entire life experience fits into two dimensions. If it’s not this then it HAS to be that. The ONLY colors are black and white and all the POSSIBLE answers are yes and no. So if you like working with hand tools it follows as night follows day (with no time for sundown, twilight, or evening) that you do so because you are “anti-machine”. Or perhaps they don’t actually fill the world but they make enough noise that it can seem so.

    There’s not much you can do to persuade this type that there’s more under heaven and earth than his philosophies hold. Mostly because they don’t “listen” to your explanation so much as gather ammunition to hurl at you in the next round. By listening to their complaints and reviewing your own work to see if you contributed to their lack of comprehension I for one think you’ve gone over and above any duty you had to them.

    In short, keep on keeping on. The people you CAN reach aren’t confused and those you can’t would rather be outraged.

  12. Shelldon Wells says:

    I am one of those who are being told about your comments, immediately got annoyed and said some unkind things about you. I then took the time to read up on the actual comments made and also your blog, and let me right here and now apologize unreservedly for my comments.

    Personally I’d never have enjoyed making furniture for the last 20 years if it hadn’t been for tools, though I find myself nowadays reaching for a hand tool rather than a machine – though to be fair, I still rely heavily on machines for the grunt work.

    Once again, sincerest apologies, and best of luck for the future, I’ve subscribed to your blog and look forward to your posts.

  13. Gary Palmer says:

    Your stance is very well founded and – IMHO – what you said regarding the dire shortage of youth and the fairer sex being involved within the craft is true of the present situation Paul.

    It’s a situation you’re more than capable of changing via your commitment, drive and presence as a teacher of future craftsmen and craftswomen.

  14. Wal says:

    G’day Mate
    You just keep doing what you’re doing.
    How does that old addige go
    “you can only please half the people half the time – never all the people all the time”

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