I turned for a living at one time, combining my furniture making skills with lathe turning gave me bread and butter turnings I sold from the studio at my workshop and this gave me additional small-scale products I sold for income. I chose my home and workshop on a tourist route and that brought in primary income during the visitor season, which then was spring and early summer. Small turnings in the form bowls vases and other hollow vessels meant pricings within the range of $5-100. Easier cash to part with than $5,000 for a music chest or a king-sized poster bed in say walnut. I also turned for other woodworkers but this wasn’t because I particularly liked turning, more because it was fast and I could supplement my income and bread-and-butter cash flow. Once you have the equipment and have mastered turning skills, income can by quite good nd overhead is minimal because materials are mostly sourced for free. Because people could walk into my workshop studio, browse, rest, chat so to speak, they often looked at small pieces and took them with them. It gave me the opportunity to show off the large pieces in the studio or indeed the pieces I was working on during their visit. I was surprised how often people called or came back to order pieces from me. I can think of many fine pieces I made from opening my doors that way. You see, that’s what you do when you decide to make your living working wood with your hands and skills you’ve developed. You just do whatever it takes. Much of what I did in my early days did not pay too well. What did I do? I worked twice as long for £4 an hour and made enough to live and work. Would I do it again. Absolutely! I don’t know of many craftspeople who have ever worked for themselves and worked 9 to 5.
Surviving as a woodworker can be a difficult passage and especially for young people, unknowns really, and I hear all the time how impossible it is to do it. The trouble is, inside of me, I believe that it can. I mean, with the right spirit, inspiration, support they can. I would love to see regional cooperative websites people could go to to buy from local craftsmen and women.
Was it easier for me twenty, thirty years ago? I’m not sure if it was really. My wife was with me at the workshop most of the time and helped by wearing a wide range of hats in support of OUR business. We had four children still at home and we survived on what was sometimes very basic income throughout. Yes, we raised a garden for some of our food too, not always successful. kept chickens for meat and eggs, and made lifestyle decisions that took us off the conveyor belt in some measure and certainly more than most ever had opportunity to achieve.
Here, the skies are Bluesky’s
I am sitting in my very favourite UK cafe of all time. You got it! It’s not the rusty chain cofee chain cafes; all so far away from being what I might call a home from home cafe, but this feels a lot like texture to me. So I am sitting here enjoying the music in the background that is non-elevatorish but sparkish and lively and I am looking at the table legs and the tabletops that span the ages. Painted legs, nailed tops. Square hand cut nails, roundheads large and small. Plank tops of pine scrubbed and aged with not jointed but mere meeting edges, unglued and still serving beyond a hundred years in service. This is a texture I have spoken of before a few months back when I went to St Fagans in South Wales. It has that certain Britishness that both defines and defies culture, escapes history and colours my life as a writing craftsman intent on passing on the important things I think valuable to woodworkers. I am one of those that when someone says no you can’t I stop and ask myself, first, can I? And then, should I? Whereas it is easy just to counter a culture with words, it’s better to impress it with lived life. I think it is a different ‘difficult’ to counter the present culture of lethargy toward craft skill, and I am talking about real skill practiced, developed, regarded as worthwhile and protected by the amatuer woodworker. I am not interested in substitutes. I’m talking about turned legs and square legs on furniture in our world of working wood.
Every one of the legs in this cafe added texture to my life and the cafe itself. They came off the gouge and skew. Riding the bevel hard on the heel compressed and consolidated new-cut, open fibres on the end grain and the shavings from beneath the lathe and the lathe bed burnished the undulated surfaces. A beeswax concoction applied with shavings melted into the fibres and within a few days, weeks and year the surfaces were sealed with subsequent applications of beeswax. Paint came later. They were most of them painted at some time and then at other times they were dipped in stripping tanks of caustic soda, lye, and the beeswax was restored. Modern pieces had thicker tops with square corners. Our forebears had more sense because kitchens were workplaces and hips and the tops of legs caught on square corners. Square corners on legs broke off with mops and brooms hitting them and so round ones turned on the lathe kept cleaner surfaces and didn’t hinder the broom and mop as they worked the floor to cleanness. I found myself thanking the men that turned all of these legs and shaped the tables I sat amongst. Bix box stores don’t quite slice it with its cheapened life and textureless product if wastefulness. Bringing craft and workmanship home may take a paradigm swing, but it could just happen. I like textured tabletops and legs that look different everywhere I turn.
The breadman just left Bluesky and the cooks are baking cakes and making BLTs and vegetarian burgers on different stovetops. Chrissy, the owner is there cooking too. She adds to texture and colour to what could one day become a colourless world. It is about texture – textured floors and countertops, shelves filled with living pots and pans and coloured notice boards that reflect the wonder of textured life. Jess irons aprons as we sit and sip the tea she just served me and I write the blog you are reading now. That’s what becoming an off-the-conveyor-belt person is and we too can become off-the-conveyor-belt woodworkers if we choose to, and that is what this is mostly about. Getting textured! Becoming textured and making a non-cookie-cutter statement with your life as responsibly as you can. Share it with others and who knows, the world of working wood might change!