First Class Woodworking – The Real Woodworking Starts a New Season

DSC_0025We worked the past two days making and filming the bookshelves ready for the upcoming masterclass series on bookcase construction. It’s a strange world really, when you think about it. 25 years ago what we are doing now didn’t exist because it couldn’t. I would never have thought that my past prepared for a new career comprising writing books, filming video for online broadcast and making pieces that could traverse the globe. My new book is coming along with a mass of drawings along the lines of but different than Aldren Watson’s book, ‘Hand Tools Their Ways and Their Workings’. I thing this my favourite book of all. It’s a little old fashioned really, my book, but I like old for some things and this is one of them.
When I was a new apprentice joiner in my native Stockport, England, not knowing a wood knot from a resin pocket, I would never have known I would one day become what people call an expert. The men I worked with seemed more expert to me then than I am now, even though at my present age I would be 20 years more experienced then they. I think it’s because they could fold a paper napkin half a dozen times and work out the pitch for a spiral stair case and then make the returns on the stair handrails with such precision using only half a dozen common tools (thats real tools) and without any fuss of wanting accolades for what they saw as common work. I have to say that it has taken me 50 years to make me realize I don’t really know very much, but the saying goes, “In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king” and there are lots of kings in little kingdoms around these days; mine included.
First Class of the Year
DSC_0020Tomorrow will be all go as we take in the first intake of students of the year. I so look forward to our Discovering Woodworking workshops because they unlock the mystery created by our modern age of machine woodworking. If I offered machine classes we would be full six days a week year round. Thank goodness we don’t. Whereas machines have their place and are indeed useful for dealing with donkey work, the new-genre woodworker has so much of a future ahead of them, with or without machines.

I always liked working wood but soon after starting was forced more into machine systems when I was a mere 15-year-old. The thing that saved me from giving up was the percentage of time I spent using hand tools. I decided then that it was worth tolerating my being harnessed to a machine for a few hours provided I could work with my hands and so I stuck with it. It has been such a reward for me to get the zillions of emails supporting our work from countries around the world. Thank you everyone!
DSC_0004So, we had a meeting for future ambitions, hopes and dreams and somewhere in there we did discuss business goals and, you may not know this, but we all work from home when we are not working at the castle. Resi is in New Zealand for a couple of more weeks and hopefully she wants to come back to work here in North Wales. We miss her. But you know, she took her work with her and she has been working the whole time while she is on our other side of the world. She couldn’t make the meeting but we made it this time without her. Katrina was working too. She works her job as a teacher and keeps things in the hopper that makes what we do work outside of her school classes and little ones. When we do meet we meet at Bluesky or Terace (cafes) or someone’s house. We get to the nitty gritty every time, but we also enjoy a relaxed team input dimension that’s always been very real. As long as the work gets done, we are all happy. Without the input we all give, this would not work. And I would also like to say that without the volunteers behind the scenes out there we would not be offering such a rich and diverse way of working wood. Thanks everyone!

For Tomorrow’s Class
All I have left to do now is mill my wood. I like looking over the workshop the afternoon before a class starts. Clicking off the switches adds a sort of black and white image of substance to our work. You know, nothing of excess. A sort of distillation reality it brings in moments like this – tools out, wood prepped, floor swept and ready for the first hour tomorrow at nine. It’s a fast-paced course that totally dismantles some of the modern-day misconceptions of what real woodworking is all about.

I will keep you all posted over the next couple of days.


  1. Hello paul, I have come across two saws, I believe them to be rip and cross cut saws, they look very old with beech handles and they have have stems with leaves carved on the handles. I am curious to whether due to there age can they be sharpened again??

  2. Will you come back and teach woodworking classes in American anytime in the future?

  3. What I would have given as a young man to be able to learn this craft and be able to pass it along. I’m not quite over the hill yet so I hope to learn even as a senior and pass this along to my Grandchildren. I know it would be a bit to wish for but if you ever decide to start anther school in the US we need one in the south…. Georgia maybe! 🙂

  4. We could use a school in California also. I am so glad we have the DVDs and books. I am patiently waiting for the new book to be available.

    1. I confess enjoying a Winter not sitting in airports and on long haul flights this season. Three months on the road can be disorienting and the seasons somehow not quite synced. I like the slightly later starts in the morning and mid afternoon chats at the bench with Phil or Joseph. I also confess I like my slippers from time to time too.

  5. You should do a book showing your hand drawn designs. I know you encourage us to keep a journal but being able to see how you lay out your projects would be extremely useful. I’m looking forward to seeing what you have in store for us this year.

  6. So pleased that you are familiar with Aldren A. Watson’s works. His book “Country Furniture” has been a favorite of mine for years,..superb illustrations. Regrettably I missed an opportunity to visit him here in Vermont prior to his passing away last year. A great artist and creative individual.

  7. This is so interesting, the clean slate and new beginnings. I first got the woodwork bug as an 11 year old at school, sadly the man who taught us was a bully and a sadist and I was invariably the subject of his brutality, so my interest was stifled and buried. Over 5 years ago my passion was rekindled, discovering power tool woodworkers on YouTube. Naturally, I went out and set myself up with an array of equipment to do it as they do it.
    Recently I’ve discovered “Hybrid Woodworking” and over the last couple of months been fortunate enough to find your output on t’interweb. Setting myself up with hand tools from Stanley and Tyzack has been a pleasurable experience and hasn’t cost a fraction of what I invested in the power tools. Yesterday I completed a cabinet for tool storage and as I cleaned up I surveyed my workshop and was overcome by a feeling I haven’t felt in many a year…that of potential. I’m restarting in my 62nd year, maybe I’ll enjoy 15 years or so of creative productivity but right now I’m enjoying the shameless excitement that my workshop brings. Thanks for the part you play in that.

  8. Sounds like you are enjoying some of the finer things in life. I have spent a lot of time in airports traveling so I can appreciate what you are saying. Enjoy!

  9. Good for you Paul, I can also relate to the long waits in Airports and the weather changes etc. For over 12 years I traveled around the country for the Company I worked for attending trade Shows putting on Dog and Pony shows for Architects on new products, educating our sales Staff on our products etc. Believe me it gets old real quick, living out of a suit case Monday to Friday and eating out every day is not all that glamorous.

    Now I can enjoy my favorite hobby and continue to learn thanks to you and your staff.


  10. I’m just plugging along in the workbook. Have done everything except the bench because I built one to get started.
    I took the bowl gouging concept and bread board concepts and married the two into what I call a tomato board big enough for one or two tomatoes, and made in the shape of a tomato, with an indented stem at the top for a handle. Also the handle I made with indents for the fingers both right handed and left. Where you cut it up, is gouged down about 1/4″. It is a little hard to get the side slope to meld into the flat bottom but I’ll overlook that until someone shows me a better way. My sister who is single gave me the idea for she is often cutting tomatoes with juice running all over the place plus they are too big for one person. Anyway these little tomato boards are a real hit even for bigger families.
    Larry Weaver

  11. In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king? I will challenge that with ‘We don’t know what we know.’ By that I mean that the accumulated experience that experts acquire becomes, to them, second nature. An expert might pick up a saw or plane and instinctively cut to within 0.5 millimetres of a line. The same expert might assume that one of ‘the blind’ might easily do the same. Not so.
    Many retirees like myself look at a plane and wonder if we could sharpen, flatten, adjust and then handle it in a way that could give us a flat square piece of wood ready for marking out. Many retirees like myself then wake up.
    One of the roles of an expert is to pass on his accumulated knowledge and in my view Mr S does this extremely well in a mythbusting manner. Simplicity is key and for me his teachings really work.
    Cheers and a happy new year!

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