Finding Your Sense of Completion!

DSC_0044Yesterday Phil finished his workbench stool and it looks very nice now he’s done. I was just about to finish the last of five bookshelves as a medley of useful shelves scaleable as options for people to build and John hinged the lid to the tool chest he has been building. All of this was yesterday and all of this is to say completion is critical to our wellbeing and its something Henry Ford deprived his workforce of as he introduced methods of production line manufacturing that destroyed the reward of being skilled and honest engineers, farmers and craftsmen. This all happened exactly 10o years ago. I know the ten million model T Fords that became possible from his conveyor belt mechanics meant “about everyone (would) have one.”; it remains to be evaluated whether we or our children will pay far more than we ever though possible for four wheels and a box, but for the factory mechanics he employed as wage slaves, their skills had to be dumbed down to an assembly line moving at six feet per minute so that they were specialised for speed assembly. That’s what everything you own right now is based on and that’s why people pursue fulfillment outside of work. Conveyor belts reign in every walk of life today. Hospital beds and bus queues, carpenters in construction and check out counters and checkers, Big Mac stuff and everything else is about quantity and down time so we can live cheap in cheapened life, but, in tiny clusters around the globe, are individuals who stopped, ask themselves a handful of questions, pushed the red emergency stop button and reevaluated what they felt was important enough to push, stop and get off.

This blog is about the completion most people rarely find but can have in some measure if they pursue it

I have never wholly understood what it is about the words, “It is finished.” that I always say at the end of a project, and that seems such a reward in and of itself, but somehow there comes with it a sense of joy-filled completion when nothing is to be added to it or taken away from it. It’s that quality completion you feel when you have put all of your efforts into the work and the final effort stands in bright light before you.

Fixing your mistakes

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Many people say to me that the art of being a craftsman is “knowing how to fix your mistakes.” That’s not true, yet it’s common enough that I think many find comfort not being on their own in their mistakes. So, if it consoles them, let it be. Of course we all do make mistakes, but the art in being a craftsman is to learn from earlier mistakes and not repeat them. the art of being a craftsman is to anticipate what might go wrong, think critically throughout the work and conclude the work well.

When I work on a piece things do happen that go wrong. You plane a piece of wood and the grain tears even though you were indeed careful to look at the grain direction, followed the “cathedral lines” and such. Life is like wood, it comes with knots in it. Wood splits unintentionally and in the wrong direction, again not a mistake. Woodworking is more about fixing natural occurrences and knowing wood well enough to anticipate happenings that can impair the quality of what we are making. I think that the art of being a craftsman is working through critical problems and knowing what to do with a material that changes as you are working it. It’s about constraining it, reducing it and minimizing its ability to distort after the project is completed. It’s not about resorting to using materials like MDF and engineered boards that substitute for that which makes wood wood.

DSC_0114Phil has many other responsibilities as well as woodworking, but it is critical his wellbeing to make and complete all that he does. We do not mass-make anything in our workshop. That means sanity and enjoyment, peace and fulfillment. As he pulled his stool to the bench and sat to work on his computer yesterday I sensed his sense of fulfillment as he smiled across the shop floor at me sitting on my workbench stool.DSC_0002 John was fitting his lid to the tool chest ready for the hinge recessing he was about to do. He set his new I Sorby plane carefully to level the box rims. There too was another completion in that his plane was fully restored and functioning. All of these completions mean wellbeing and fulfillment as we banter back and forth throughout the day. DSC_0019For me it was snugging up the last back panel with the vee-jointed T&G boards installed within the framework and turning the last twist on the clamp before I left the shop. I glanced back as we turned off the lights and caught a quick glimpse of the panel in the evening light from the castle workshop window. I wanted to take  picture of what I felt, but I knew it couldn’t capture that swell of completion in my chest. Imagine feeling that way after fifty years of making things out of wood!

11 Comments

  1. Andy in Germany on 28 February 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. I’ve decided to look for a new company to finish my carpentry apprenticeship with and I visited several so far. While I was touring one they said that you do a task a day, that is, you attend one machine a day doing whatever the computer needs. In other words, you have no idea what you are making or what it looks like afterwards… just lift up the wood, put it in the machine, take it out, and put it in the next pile…
    I left very quickly after that.
    Fortunately there are still small companies dotted about. I’m discovering them, slowly and applying to work there…



    • Paul Sellers on 28 February 2014 at 7:21 pm

      That’s great. Maybe there is someone following the blog that knows someone who can help you too???????



  2. Randy Allen on 28 February 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Thank you Paul for such a profound little piece. I confess that I’d never thought about the subject of completion much but maybe it has something to do with the unfinished projects i have around and not just in wood!



  3. Joe Bouza on 28 February 2014 at 5:53 pm

    ‘Life is like wood, it comes with knots in it’,…so well said.

    Paul you have touched upon probably the most important aspect of any useful attempt. Without ‘final’ completion we appear to negate all the efforts made to arrive to ‘near’ completion. Most of us have so much unfinished business dragging around behind us we become like polar explorers who come to within six miles of the pole but never arrive even after the enormous effort required and expended to get that far. It is a shame to quit on anything when victory is so close at hand. Please reinforce this thinking in future blogs.



  4. Carlos J. Collazo on 28 February 2014 at 8:09 pm

    Enjoyed this thought-provoking piece…as i read found my head nodding up and down in agreement frequently.



  5. Bondi MacFarlane on 28 February 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Paul, I’m glad I found you, this blog and your masterclasses.
    Apart from a drill and a jig-saw which I bought many years ago for some DIY, I only have two machines (plunge router and chop saw which I bought a couple of years ago before coming across your work. They’ve hardly ever been used and I wish I hadn’t bought them. What a lot of decent hand-tools I could have bought to get me going.

    I long for a life off the conveyor belt as you’ve said in another post, and want to fill my house with beautiful and unique furniture. I’ve built us a bed out of reclaimed oak beams that came from a stately home when they were having an extension built, and it is absolutely lovely. More importantly my wife love it too.
    It’s so sad seeing all the clones out there who just buy their furniture flat-packed from you-know-where and their houses look like everybody else’s house down the street.

    Now I just need to finish the workbench – i pretty much used the top of an old chest of drawers and a work-mate for the bed – both of which are so low that it killed my back. I’m 6’4″ so will need to make the bench sufficiently tall for me to work at.

    My daughter (7) always wants to join in. At the moment she just loves to plane so I give her a piece of wood and a plane and off she goes.

    Thank for you what you’re doing, inspiring a new generation.



    • Paul Sellers on 28 February 2014 at 11:05 pm

      I think that’s great. I just sent up today’s blog on a follow up to yesterday’s. I think this will help others see the target I am aiming for. You are my piece of wood on the bench. I look inside for hidden beauty, tension I can relieve, qualities of character and strength.



    • Damien King on 1 March 2014 at 3:28 am

      Bondi, Paul has made some previous suggestions about tools that are appropriate safe and fun for kids to use. Some of his the ones he has suggested are spokeshave’s files rasps and the like. I hope your daughter develops Love of wood working as it should provide her a lifetime of happiness. I wish I would’ve gotten involved in it sooner myself. I wish you both the best of luck.



  6. Paul Graeber on 28 February 2014 at 11:21 pm

    I agree with your concept of completing something, I disagree with your statement about what Henry Ford did by mass producing automobiles.
    In my youth I worked for the Chevrolet Motor Division of General Motors. At our plant we manufactured automobile and truck engines. We made 10,600 engines a day. Over our heads were streams of engines on over head monorails heading for the loading dock to be shipped to assembly plants. Myself and the guys who worked there took a great deal of pride in those engines manufactured, assembled, tested and painted by our hands. I put water outlets on two-hundred twenty-five engines an hour and although I did not build the whole engine the group of guys I worked with, our team, did.
    I am a woodworker and when I complete a project and I give it that final wipe down and inspection before it goes to it’s final destination and that gives me that feeling of pride in my handiwork, just like it used to be hearing a Chevrolet motor start or see a Chevy drive down the road. Pride in my craftsmanship, whether it be individual or a team, building something with your own hands changes you.
    Work safe and God bless



    • Carlos J. Collazo on 1 March 2014 at 6:04 am

      You rightfully felt pride in a job well done but you were still part of a rationalized process based on volume not quality. Say if you wanted to spend more time and care testing or painting an engine, could you really do it without slowing production down?



  7. Matt on 1 March 2014 at 12:11 am

    Great point about Henry Ford. Seems in come circles he is celebrated as a great success while the collateral damage that followed his factories is now so diffused in culture that no one thinks it strange that machine made products don’t last. Interestingly, Ford derived his factory method from visiting meat processing plants in Chicago. Instead of taking animals apart step by step Ford took the model and ran it backwards in his car factories. Some interesting social commentary contained in both.