A Day in the Life of a Woodworker

DSC_0011 A tree fell two years ago. It was 38 years old so it started life from a seed that dropped into the soil somewhere between 1970 and 1973. This chain-sawn crosscut reveals the heartwood and records very consistent annual growth for the first 30 years. The latter growth rings also show consistent growth but much tighter rings record a 10-year period of a much slower rate of growth. From spike to root the height was 30 feet, but this tree grew beneath sheltering branches of beech and oak trees twice and thrice its height. The girth of two I measured, an oak and a beech, were 12- and 13-feet respectively. Two hundred years standing firm and rooted by the flowing river 20 feet below. The tree rests on fertile soil and will return to that same soil from which is life began. perhaps the next tree of its kind will live longer, grow stronger and climb taller. Should I harvest the heartwood and make something from it? Perhaps I should. Perhaps I will. There’s enough to make a workbench from what’s lying there in deadness. A toolbox or two.

DSC_0013 My toolbox joinery is together now. Glued up, I mean, and ready for hinging. The woodworkingmasterclasses series on joinery, boxes and tool boxes is nearing completion. We are about three-quarters the way through. Its very demanding, hard work and real. DSC_0007 So glad we chose not to use machines in building it. So glad. The reward wouldn’t have been there. The sweat, the straining, the discipline, the reality. Some of you know what I mean. You’ve been there and you know the demands I am talking of.

My walks into the valley below where I live refresh me and the sights are often incomparable. I listen for the music no man plays and think thoughts of composition and texture no man wrote or could ever paint. DSC_0002 A hazel leaf and seeds colours my view and so too wild-growing rhododendrons with flailing branches now cut for the fire. DSC_0007 (1) Massive trees subdue me as I rest beneath them and think of life contained within a skin of bark. An English robin hears me as I think. He sits nearby in wait that human life will bring food as the earth is moved by a foot tread stumbling up the slopes.

My wood and tools and worklife have meaning in terms that soon will be lost to be replaced by a sickening nostalgia of modern-day unrealness. Irrelevantly declared a hobby and pastime and not a working life from which my worklife began I live in the losing of craftwork by which a man made his living. I am so glad that I did and have made my living from making many things from wood and steel and brass and leather. Now, in my quest to counter the irrelevant aspects of our modern culture, I find a contentment as I see the new-genre woodworker emerge to take the reins of life and lifestyle woodworking. It’s a new, undictated world that defies certain archetypical education and government. DSC_0009 It produces a lifestyle beyond footpaths and sidewalks where the sod and sole form different paths to wood for chairs and tables yet to be. The hazel stand gives firewood, walking sticks and hurdles alongside chair rungs and posts. The tenon spins from a sapling bent and sprung to turn into the skew that cuts the coves and beads from raw wood once grown a few feet from where the man standing with his axe and froe now stands. There is indeed a certain defiance that I speak of where every few hours, someone somewhere else in the world says, “Enough.” He, she, stops, takes stock, thinks things through and says I’m getting off. In 1983 I had served almost ten years in the Greater Manchester and Cheshire Police Forces. I was on riot duty in Longsight and Moss side Manchester. The only sanity in my life was going off duty and working wood and making things. I had apprenticed in 1965 and so I had always worked at my craft; even throughout my time in the police. The violent riots had been long., Several weeks long. It made no sense and I said, This is enough. I went home resigned and returned to sanity. Was it easy? My salary halved and my workday doubled in length. Thirty years later I still give thanks that I made a decision and stuck to it.


  1. I give you credit for making the change. I think many people are scared to make such a move.

  2. wow ! i am so thankful you made that very brave decision, you are inspiration to many its a pity your career in the police had to be at a time when the northwest went nuts i can see you being an asset to that profession its a pity they don’t have more people that have a knack of teaching instead of a knack of antagonising people (not that i’ve ever had the pleasure of their skills apart from not wearing a seatbelt once) well thats me well off track again thanks for what you do

  3. Hi Paul. My daily life of running the smallholding, building with stone, plastering with lime and hemp, carpentry and joinery in the name of barn conversion leaves me with very little time to read your blog and follow the masterclasses just now but having just caught up with this entry I found myself quite moved by your words and how your life changed through your brave decision all those years ago. Isn’t it funny how we think we know what someones life has neen like even though we probably hardly know them. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck as I read how you resigned from your job to follow a different path. Were there any guarantees of success? Of course not. It brought memories flooding back to me of how I agonised over my own life and wrote and re-wrote my own letter of resignation many times before plucking up the courage to press send from my emails. Its the best single push of a button I will ever make even if I too have doubled my working hours and sometimes find myself forgetting how I climbed into bed last night due to physical tiredness. My troubles are now real instead of imaginery and I am fulfilled emotionally and physically as I never thought possible. I am still astonished how happy I can be with so little money where I was previously well paid but miserable.

    Perhaps the Paul we are all gradually becoming aquainted with should consider writing his memoirs. Now that would be a great read!

    1. I am glad that you took the course you did too. We never know when things will change and our dreams for a future we hope to live are somehow not achieved. I was listening on Alternative Radio to a lady who did as you did here in the US and took herself off the conveyor belt, bought a rundown homestead and started tilling the ground. Today she has over 100 animals to tend and her farm has become productive in supplying restaurants in Vermont with fresh produce. Was it an easy choice? No, it wasn’t, but it was her choice and she had no regrets. In here 70’s she is still working doing what SHE wants to do with her life and loving it. There are lots of people reversing the trend and learning to live life differently than the corporate dream. Some call us losers but I say it’s more healthy choice for hard work and an unpackaged lifestyle.
      Thanks for taking the time to write. I really appreciate it. As for the biography, my life has been so unbelievable I can hardly believe it myself.

  4. I started out life as a pretty good artist, but my father worked in the advertising and newspaper business so he was always pushing me towards commercial art which really consisted at the time of doing layouts for ladies fashion and drawing toasters perhaps. Dad worked at a department store awhile and I can still hear him telling me that the store just doesn’t sell wild animals and scenery or my favorite things to draw, naked ladies.
    I eventually gave it up to pursue things that gave me the chance to use my hands to create something more than just another newspaper ad. I’m still poor, but haven’t had to wear a suit and tie since my 20s and I’m the only one of my family who can actually make things.

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