Question on how to get started

Hi Paul,

Thanks so much for your blogs and desire to teach the craft. I am a young man that feels called to the craft and not just production work. My question to you is how does one start and what steps do I take to work wood full time and know what machines if any to use without taking the heart out of your work. 

Thanks again for all you are doing you really inspire me to keep my dreams alive. 

Thanks,

 Matthew 

Hello Matthew,

This can be a complex question because the answer really lies within you. What is it that you want for your life. I can give my opinion based on my experience whereas many will give their opinion, which is often nothing more than what they think.

For me, woodworking was never an either or when it came to machines or hand tools. I actually like both and still use both. That said, I do tend to minimize the impact of machines in my life because of wellbeing. Machines are highly invasive and highly isolating. They separate you from other people and can enslave you in separation and isolation. You rightly assess this invasion in your email when you identify that machines can and do “take the heart out of your work.”

I tell my students that machines have a place in most workshops but they do tend to take over. They swallow up valuable floor space, charge the atmosphere with dust (and do not let anyone tell you extractors make it safe), and they are inherently dangerous. In my view it is all about balance. I believe a well-balanced workshop is about 80% hand work. 5% handling wood, selection and rough preparation and 5% machining it. For machine-only woodworking these percentages are reversed. It’s the first that works for me. Here in the UK I own several machines, but in my Penrhyn Castle workshop I own only a 16” Laguna bandsaw. With this I can dimension wood, resaw stock, cut book-matched solids and veneers and quarter-saw special wood economically. Beyond that the rest I do only by hand. I have a second fully equipped workshop where I mill the stock for the classes. it would be unrealistic to machine materials using any other method.

Remaining in mundane realms of furniture making is never an option for makers to live from their work. Master the basics first, learn the scales, mix the colours, immerse yourself in grammer and rhetoric and dialectic quickly follow to preface masterful compositions. To become a master craftsman you must accept that there are foundational skills in all crafts that you must master. When the machine dictates to limit what you make to a rotary cut you cannot claim your own creativity but the one who made the machine. Creativity is stymied by the machine and so too the designs we make. The difference for me now is that I at least have choices I would never have if I know only the machine. Most people who call themselves woodworkers actually only machine wood. It doesn’t really take much of any skill to machine wood and whereas a hand tool woodworker can gain enough knowledge to work with machines safely in a few hours or days, I have never seen this happen in reverse. In my view hand tool methods release me to be more deeply connected to my work in creative ways and it’s here that I enter completely different realms that I do not reach when using machine methods only. I think it’s important to develop the skills I speak of so that you can switch to one or the other according to need. I have been able to work on projects I would never have been able to had I not trained myself for handwork. I firmly believe that what we once called machines were renamed “power tools” with the intention of ousting hand tools from the working people and getting them behind industrial machines and methods. I actually believe that the true power tools are hand tools and that machines enable me to work more with my hand tools and my hands.

Start by buying second hand tools as I have been explaining on my blog posts. Attend an introductory course but don’t find a woodworking teacher but a woodworking craftsman who teaches beyond getting shavings from a plane and how to sharpen a chisel. There are many good schools you can find that will teach these things.

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