DIY – A point of view

I think that it’s remarkable listening to the radio recently when they talked extensively about alternative ways of learning and gaining a recognised higher education degree that’s internationally accepted. They are saying that alternative ways of gaining higher education will continue in years to come and indeed explode to unrecognisable proportions as internationally, countries around the world follow what Britain established through earlier decades.

My courses started two decades ago and continue today. I never trained people for a career change or indeed as a new career course though many have done just that, but more because in the process they discovered they were actually vocationally called to it without realising it. The people I train are in every way the new-genre woodworker who do it first because they love it and second because they would or do actually want to make a living from it. Today, there are thousands upon thousands of people who have become serious woodworkers and not hobbyists. They work weekends and evenings at their primary job and fill the days with money-making occupations that suit their lifestyle beyond the mereness of a job and supports their family life commitments. I don’t meet too many people who felt called to their jobs or like or liked their jobs.

Cultural shifts have redefined who we are. Time was when five facts determined recognisable qualities surrounding us as individuals. Search the registry offices of Britain and you will see that on birth, marriages and death certificates they record minimal facts. One, date of birth, two, place of birth, three, gender, four, occupation, five, address. Records would once have stated dozens and dozens of crafts, trades and occupations most of which were divided by those who worked with their hands and those who managed work and the results of work in the form of products made by people working with their hands. This reflects changes strategised by industrial and technological developments commonly called advancements that define who we are. On the back of all of this we now more seriously consider how we find such things as personal fulfilment. Is it possible that it can be a self-seeking goal or ambition or does it really extend beyond that and into the realms of others. I read Doug Stowe’s blog and others when I get chance. He’s a well known North American woodworker and he reaches into the lives of all kinds of people young and old via his inclusivity. I like the idea that he has invested himself into a school system part time, but more so the individual lives of so many young people. In many ways I think that that is quite radical because I am sure he goes into the school culture with an alternative reality for people to gain from his working knowledge of wood, tools and related equipment and in many really practical ways expands the possibilities many schools are losing sight of.

Working wood, clay, fibres and other raw materials is, I believe, truly valuable to our wellbeing. Most people can work wood with a minimal amount of equipment. I love that idea.

When school systems sell off their equipment I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing even though most people I meet lament what they see as loss. I hope that we will see a shift in the dumbed down offerings we saw supplanting what once existed when joiners and furniture makers (cabinet makers UK) taught their craft in the public schools. What is happening with international education beyond the halls academia is happening organically in the craft world.


I think that this term Do It Yourself carried a connotation of amateurish botching at one time, but in my then young mind I recall the small DIY shops on most street corners in the 1960’s where you could walk in and buy just about anything you needed from dusty shelves and crowded racks and the man behind the counter buried in overalls (coveralls US) knew about woodworking and wide range of other home repair subjects too. Walking the sterile racks of B&Q or The Home Depot who, like supermarket giants put the small grocer and butcher out of business, I lament the sad loss of talking to someone because these men knew what they were talking about and helped you to find what you needed even if they ordered it for delivery to the shop in a week’s time. It’s amazing to me how we lost the potency of DiY in so many ways. Yes, all too often, the work that people did on their patios and in their garages may have lacked some quality a professional might give, but people were doing it themselves. Of course people are still doing it themselves. That’s not so much the point as the relationships we had with the local stores and store owners.

When I ask students in the US what tools they have they tell me they have a full shop of tools. From tablesaws to bandsaws and power planers to dust extractors they have it. At least 90% of them do. Here in the UK that’s not the case at all. Most of them own no machine at all. I asked that of the 11 people yesterday and not one of them had a machine shop. The one thing that united the two continents in their woodworking goals was the reality that they believed they wanted to and could master hand tool methods of woodworking and that they could Do It Themselves. Do It Yourself begins with adding up the cost and deciding you no longer want to buy all that you have but make it. Beds and dining tables, dining chairs and armoires, garden swings and porch gliders with Adirondack slouching chairs can be made, yes that’s true, but what I am talking about is the sense of wellbeing a man or a woman gets from doing it themselves. Regardless of the methods used, I have an intrinsic belief that life is substantially enhanced by, well, doing it yourself.

Half way through the projects, I realize that the demand people make on themselves in the classes would be overwhelming were it not for support and care by others. Friends, family, spouses, partners and so on. I may be teaching, but the men and women in my courses have heavily invested in being there at the school with me. Time is the greatest cost of all with four weeks out of normal life to be in the workshop every day with me. Travel and living accommodation is another commitment. Leaving their families and home life, work, friends and so on. The cost of the class itself and the physical exertion; these are no small things. You see, this is DIY. It costs you something to do it yourself. There is a hope in it. An aspiration if you will that at the end their skill levels will be such that they will no longer need me to guide and encourage, but that they too will discover the real art of hand tool woodworking and have it for the remainder of their lives. Our Real Woodworking Campaign is working. It’s organic and vibrant.


  1. “dumbed down offerings…” This is a great point Paul. I have been ambivalent about woodshop disappearing from schools because I never had that opportunity so I can’t really empathize with what has been lost. I can however moan ad infinitum about how dumbed down education has become in many other fields where I went through it 20 years ago then revisited for some graduate work later in life. I remember being shocked at how every topic was spoon fed and there was no talk of application of skills. I felt cheated as a student and angry for being treated like an idiot. Now considering your point I am extremely grateful that woodshop is disappearing from the school systems as it might turn more people off to woodworking than ignite their passions. Great post Paul!

    1. I do post cautiously because there are many shop teachers out there doing the very best they can in adverse and often unsupported situations. Getting more people doing REAL DIY could really be an answer to the demise of self worth, wellbeing and so much more. I see people genuinely uplifted when they make something, anything, themselves. Then they share it with someone they love and care about, work with, talk to on the train or plane and wham!!
      Thanks for responding Shannon. I know this will speak to others too.

      1. Totally agree, it is contagious. Have faith. I see little kids that visit the museum where I volunteer and they are wide eyed and excited that “people still make things!” When I show them how they are overwhelmed with excitement just doing something simple like drilling a hole with an eggbeater. Usually they come back weeks later and the parents tell me they haven’t shut up about woodworking since and the parents want to know how to get them started. I think the vacuum that exists where manual arts used to be has left kids and adults wanting at a core, instinctual level. When they get a taste, it feels so right and they are hooked.

  2. When I was in High School, they called wood class Industrial Arts. hmmmmmmmm

    I’ve mentioned that I retrained in the culinary field after on the job injuries as a firefighter. The effort that goes into culinary training is amazing, the passion and the emphasis on the basics. Food network and other culinary geared channels and programs have done something of a disservice to the hospitality industry in the US and the schools suffer for it. I was the old man in my class at 44. Most were just out of school or close to that age. To them the basics were too hum drum, they all wanted to be molecular gastronomy spherification Chefs and have bubbles that taste like chip beef on toast.. or something. The students had passion, just not realistic expectations of what most restaurants are like, because of the glamour on the television.

    I can’t be too hard on them though.

    Woodworking went through a similar phase years ago. I kinda know, because I got caught up in it. “The table saw is the heart of ALL wood shops, including your home shop.” “The router is the most useful tool in your shop.” “That hand saw hanging on your wall, through it in the trash, you’re never going to use it.”

    Why didn’t I take woodworking at the well known College of the Redwoods, were I took many of my other classes before transferring?

    Because I was too far in debt from all the tools and I have physical limitations. (Boy should’a thought that out better… cooking is no walk in the park.) I had to go into a field of high demand where I would collect a regular paycheck.

    Which might explain the numerous sales of woodworking shops in my area the last few years. Too much debt and dependence on all that machinery, the large shops to house them, and all that energy cost.

    As advice to the younger generation i would advise them to start minimally, stay small and flexible, and put their emphasis in proper training and applying that to their passion.

    Paul and New Legacy’s program would be perfect in the schools.

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