Another week’s work – Exercise in work

DSC_0048 There can be no doubt being creative makes demands on me and those I care about. When I am in the middle of any project, I find myself conditioned by the work and exercised by it and at my age I think that that’s important. When others my are retired or looking into that sphere, I find myself planning beyond it, way beyond it. I rarely have only one project on the go and now that we are training and teaching others a larger percentage of the time, some of my weekly projects include making projects to camera. The Tool Chest came out well. It looks basic in some ways, but it’s one of those unusual projects that has a variety of complex issues new woodworkers struggle through in developing their first substantive project. In this particular case (literally) we have complex issues surrounding the making of larger scale dovetailed boxes. This box has a split top; an issue of sawing through the dovetails to create two halves aligning perfectly. Once the box was made, the outside had to be planed and scraped so that the joints were levelled and the surfaces made ready for finish to be applied when that came around.

DSC_0123 The frames that form the top and bottom are mortise and tenoned using hand cut tenons. These areas can be tricky and always take scrutiny by other woodworkers and especially those who use only machines for their work. My work is no different and is especially examined by the hundreds of people we invite through our Penrhyn Castle workshop on a weekly basis. The raised panels are impressive only when people see that they were indeed made with a #4 Stanley. At first, the visitors think that the dovetails and the frames and raised panels are all made by machine. A joiner and his wife came in this last week and he scrutinized the chest all the way through. He said that he always dreamed of making something like this but his path had always been machine work. I felt saddened that he had never done this type of handwork. I could have gone the other way. This is my workout work. I get the upper body exercise I need that demands strength and muscle development for maintaining my physical wellbeing.

DSC_0078 Within the superstructure and the common dovetails are two drawers with more complex joinery. I added extra joinery details that most will never see. These complexities enhance my spiritual wellbeing in that I make demands that machine-only woodworkers would be limited from. Handwork allows me to demand the extra mile it takes to continue self development through exercise and mental astuteness. Instead of programming and dialling in programmes to computers and machines, I continue as I always have to programme my physical body to the demands of handwork. Who can understand this? The joiner admired the work yet could in no way comprehend why I would poise my body in the intenseness it takes to do some of the work. Until you enter these spheres you cannot understand. It’s as if you are held in an undeveloped stage where something is actually not there to give you the understanding. DSC_0058 An observation rarely conveys the essence of making what you see with your hands on the work and carrying it out. These spheres are reserved for the maker-artisan and the risk he and she enters and it’s this element of making by hand that is increasingly disappearing in the younger age groups passing through the pastrami cutter of education. Design and technology seems bent on eliminating craft and the art of handwork. Removing these elements reduces involvement at these deeper levels. How do you express this inner demands to a people working less and less in the demanding art of craft working.

DSC_0126 I added drawers with detail to the task of the chest-making. Half-lap dovetails with laps in different places followed by cockbead made with moulding planes and then inlayed ebony to line the internal corners with crisp black lines. The rear drawer backs are tenoned housing dadoes, cross-wedged and secure. I felt these transformed the unseen elements and made me feel well. DSC_0056 Adding the hand made four-part handles increased my own sense of involvement to snatch back an element we assign far to often to manufacturers that somehow manage to reduce our personal work. These handles make the whole mine. They complete my work because of my involvement, no, investment in the work.

Presently I am working on canes and staffs, a stand for my tool chest, a large man’s desk, an oak bench stool with a back and two secret projects needed by the end of the year. The journey through these weeks of making the tool chest preface other work to be done between now and Christmas. Small work and large work. Who knows what will get done. At my present age, I make fewer promises and more commitments.


  1. Paul, I totally agree with you about using traditional methods, the exercise and the satisfaction that “I made that with my own hands” you get from using hand tools. last Christmas I got bench morticer as a gift, which at the time I thought it was brilliant, but by the time I set it up with the correct bit, I could have cut 2 out by hand!

  2. A philosopher as well as an Artisan. You know they say “a philosophers work is never done”… and i hope you are never “done”, you inspire a lot of people Paul, me included. Keep up the hard work. Thank you.

  3. your tool chest is stunning Paul i really like the way you used the “diamond grain
    pattern “on the two lower drawers did you book match them

  4. Hi Paul,

    That tool chest looks just wonderful. And I see that drawer pull is so much nicer than a store bought one.

    I can’t figure out how you have attached the pull to the drawer face. It looks like the pull has a trapezoidal stem which is attached to the drawer face. So, how does it resist the pull exerted on it?

  5. I suffer from a lot of back issues and have bought myself a little stanley plane. The workout it gives is invigorating and I feel great for it. Not just my back but it’s cold here at the moment, we don’t have heating in HK, I’m walking around in a tee-shirt where a few weeks ago I was wearing jumpers.

    Most importantly I found that planing wood is quite enjoyable, it gives some pleasure back, unlike walking for the sake of walking or pumping some machine in a gym where the end result of all your labours is essentially nothing.

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