Finding peace – contentedness in work

I went to the car boot sale yesterday. It was humbling to see items from the 1700s through the 1800s being sold for so little when I could see how much skilled hand work went into them. What was humbling was the reality that I couldn’t work out how many of the things there were actually made even though they were made from wood and I have worked wood for 52 years if I include a couple of years woodworking at school..

Photo 3Crafts of every kind crop up at car boots. Beautiful blown glass and leather clogs on wooden soles, ploughs, oak butter churns, chairs of every age and every size made from wood in woodlands and on workbenches. Dovetailed chests by the dozen and a few weeks ago I passed up an upturned jointer in beech 6’ long for £200. Photo 4Looking at a massive (1 3/4″ dia) boxwood screwbox thread cutter made by Thomas Turner was what humbled me. I thought it beautiful, but there is a financial limit and limited space to buy all I see. You see, for me, that’s what I find humbling too. Creativity and creative work space is limited too. We are limited, but living in a virtual world that we know is not quite ‘there’ is always telling us that we are not limited. I am limited in the amount of knowledge I can retain in the same way I am limited in the amount I can do as a craftsman. Absorption can never be limitless and humility for me is finding my limit, accepting it and finding contentment within that limiting sphere. In many ways I feel I have found that in what I do. I cannot extend the hours of my day and nor can I force my body beyond its limits to produce more. In the pre computer age when life was, well, real, virtual was more an unknown phenomena. Yes, your mind could take you where ever you wanted to go but thankfully circumstances of reality constrained you with limiting factors like personal strength, stamina, skill levels and so on. In this, I think, humility rests and a man like myself finds that place reserved for contentment.

Even this tool chest was humbling when I saw the dovetails randomly cut is quite humbling.

Photo 5When I stand at my bench, pull my tools from their chests and share my creative workspace with one or two others around me, I discover a peace I rarely find anywhere else. This is contentment. In this I lose myself, clocks stop, people pass, I work unnoticed and I do what I am limited to do knowing I cannot do more, make more, earn more. I think that this is what the amatuer in me finds and the amatuer around the world finds. In this is the reward of craftsmanship. Settling for mastering skill that cuts a hand cut dovetail, and tenon fitting to perfection is a place of utter contentedness in the whole of what is being made. I know this to be true for me and for others too. That space of time in occupying an hour or two that has no monetary compulsion, no demonstration for others to admire and and a freedom from all else save shaving and paring and sawing, fitting, heating, bending and creating something we build from real wood. This measure of contentment can be matched by nothing else. Such an ambition, contentment, remains within my very soul. In this I feel absorbed, enveloped by my craft of working wood.


  1. Well said Mr. Sellers! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    “Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow.”
    -The Shakers

  2. This is why I wanted to learn carpentry, but unfortunately here in Germany it is very commercial and machine based and it is hard to remember why I’m doing my apprenticeship some days.
    Thanks for reminding me again what it is about, if I’m earning money or not…

    1. It’s about balance. Just balance. If you must make your living making wood work using a machine, pushing buttons and guiding CNC machines then you must. Software engineers and butchers make their income in other realms and so they too do the same, but when they work in their own creative space they have choices no one else has power over. Therein is something worth reaching for. Why climb onto the conveyor belt at home when you can balance out the why, where, how and when you occupy what you do.

      1. Paul,

        Some software engineers even recover their sanity/balance in an unplugged workshop every night after work. 🙂 There’s something to be said about the sheer magic of having something tangible as the outcome of your work.

        Just out of curiosity, how much was the seller asking for the thread cutter? I am looking for a slightly larger one (2″, 2 TPI) in order to fix an antique workbench whose tail vise went missing decades ago. As I had so far not seen one so large, I was about to start making my own oversized thread cutter.

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