All in a Hard Day’s Work – Do Your Home Work

DSC_0476Thank you for your responses to the blog about woodworking on the weekends yesterday. I was of a mind not to post it, but then felt that I should and did. The important thing is to keep whatever time you can spare beyond your work and family as a special time of re-creation. A time when you can rest from the pressures of work, spend quality time with your family and then dedicate some re-creational time making this things that help your family. I don;t care if it’s a lifetime cutting board, a spoon, a spatula or a bedroom suite. My dream came true each time my sons came in the workshop to make their first spatula and use a spokeshave to do it. Seeing them grow to make benches and mallets as part of their income-producing life in their teen years meant they were working to standards of excellence and then suddenly their are selling pieces of furniture or making a violin. I equipped them by passing on my skills to them. Now, in my daily life, I am equipping others. It’s empowerment that translates into humanity, family, shared life, shared space and much, much more. My weekends are seven days a week. The weekend is Sunday evening. Why, because I found my fulfilling work passing on what I have to others regardless of their background, age, gender, religion or whatever else causes barriers.

DSC_0031Today I worked hard all day. I am currently teaching a nine-day class here at my Penrhyn Castle workshop and I am straining to make certain I pass on the essentials. The foundation must be right. Sharpening, the right tools, the right joints. Thinking through things and the reasons we do what we do. Five decades ago western woodworkers used western tools, western techniques. Someone introduced Japanese saws and suddenly the western tools were abandoned. Gradually people returned to their western heritage and kept some Japanese tools as well, a few anyway. It was very much a marketing strategy in the same way coining the term “power tools” became the new description of machines. It kind of softened the invasion and made it sort of , well, harmless. Once you could persuade the majority that using machines was just a natural progression from the hard work of hand tools (which most of it wasn’t) to using a more advanced system that freed you from needing skill, you were on a winner. For many, the evolutionary process left the same sort of emptiness people felt working with the same factory machines they used at work and after a few decades they suddenly started waking up to the fact they they too could develop their own real skill, become real woodworkers of quality with knowledge and pride.

DSC_0001I am so glad that we have turned the tide and become more independent of the “power tool” trap. Stemming the tide was critical to the preservation of true skill in the lives of those who love the craft the most and that is you. Amatuer woodworking seems to me the best and only way to preserve skill and the reason is this. Woodworkers who love to work with their hands can continue developing their skills even though the demand for what they make may be declining in terms of finding a customer base. I actually don’t believe that to be the case, but I also know that people can earn better living standards in jobs they do to make money and practice their craft working in their spare time whenever they can. My hope one day is to see more and more people not going in to work but working where they live, being able to stop at 11am and walk into their garage for an hour or two doing something with their hands and then going back to income-producing work. More and more people are working from home than ever before. They are not wasting time in traffic queues, two hours a day traveling to and from work and an hour for lunch away from home and family.

We do tend to see industrialism and working in a global economy as somehow normality and proudly use words like global and sustainable growth to somehow depict real progress. Well, back to the bench for me and sanity. DSC_0003John blew it today and what would have been perfect ended up flawed. He told me I could blog on it and show you where he went wrong so that you would never do the same. I did this some decades ago but my bosses were less forgiving and nailed it to the beam above me. To remind me of wedge orientation. I wouldn’t have posted this if John hadn’t wanted you not to make the same mistake when you make your mistake. But, I must say, John’s work is excellent!



John decorated one of my new bookcases with essential shop supplies. He liked the green of the coffee grinder and the green of the matte that he drinks.

Penrhyn Castle opens its manorial doors to the public again next week, so, if you want to see some majestic woodworking, stop by the National Trust and see what makes this incredible place such a terrific tourist attraction. I posted on a tour I took you though on my blog here some time back, but nothing is better than the feel and atmosphere of the real thing. Book into a B&B for a long weekend and spend some time discovering North Wales. For those in the US, fly into Manchester and discover the heart of the iIndustrial Revolution for yourself and then come to North Wales and see wales in all its glory. Better still, consider coming to one of my nine-day foundational courses. Stay for two weeks and take in the sights either side of the class. You WILL love it!

11 thoughts on “All in a Hard Day’s Work – Do Your Home Work”

  1. Haha, Paul your training is sinking into my brain. Before I read the description, I saw the picture of the incorrectly wedged tenon. I assumed it was your work and I thought to myself, “Did Paul Sellers really wedge his tenon that way?!” Kudos to John for giving us a teaching moment. I’ve made far worse mistakes. If that’s the worst mistake he makes I’d be proud of him. At least the dovetails are beautiful 🙂

  2. Paul, you give us a glimpse of reality when you include your friends in the blog. Did John blow it? I don’t think so. It was an opportunity for all of us learn. It shows that both of you have a sense of what matters, and a sense of humor. The other thing you give us is a connection to our past as woodworkers. I am a tradesman, and I would not give up my heritage in the long line of men that came before me. My place has value to a great degree because of them. Thanks for a glimpse into “the making of Paul Sellers”.

  3. Just to be clear, the wedges are oriented wrong because he could have split the side(s) while driving the wedges home. However, once the wedges are in, and in this case no damage occurred, their effectiveness is just as good, right?

    It’s not as if the dovetails where sawn backwards, where all the mechanical strength would be lost.

  4. Paul, I think you were writing about me. I work for a huge company but I now work from home. My desk sits at a window facing the small shop that I build about a year ago. When things start running together I go out to my shop (usually about 11:30) and think about what I am going to do later when work time is over. Have my coffee out there and then go back to work… Sometimes when I have to go into town, I coordinate my trips to my suppliers witha trip to the lumber yard… I look forward to the day when I can box up the company computer and send it back, go out to the shop and create… My mother once told a story about how we are made up of many different people. We take on bits and pieces of everyine we know and that person lives on in us. So you live on in each of us as we take on those bits and peices that you teach us. :-).

  5. The mechanics of the blown joint may be wrong, but the aesthetic is quite pleasing. Perhaps John’s against the grain wedge will start a new trend. 😉

    1. Sorry Eric, Before anyone gets the wrong idea. Some things don’t change and this is one of them, so I hasten to add that some things are non negotiable in any wood and this would be one of them. One extra hammer blow could and most likely would split the side. I wouldn’t advise it for that reason. This method of wedging joints is used on chairs and stools and in other situations. The wedge always must be oriented across the axis of long grain in the mortised piece.

  6. Such a simple thing and yet such a fundamental requirement to understanding the nature of the material. I heartedly agree with the other comments though regarding John’s work. I would be rather pleased with myself at that age and just as much now producing this quality of work by hand. Extending this to your comment “thinking through things and the reasons we do what we do” I think gives great credibility to what you are doing by way of instruction and in itself demonstrates the necessity of all the combined knowledge and application to be a well rounded craftsperson. A lack of depth demonstrates itself in a large number of ways when applying oneself to any number of tasks, it also leaves a sense of shallowness if aware of it and this is something I believe more people are finding in aspects of their day to day lives. There is so much to understand relating to the history and working of wood that every chance I have when following up a point of interest and discovering new(often very old) information it enriches me each time and feeds that other crucial human trait, passion. Without that we would be a rather staid lot and I feel, a lot less interesting. Keep fanning the flames as long as you can Paul. You are a source of inspiration and ignition. Now I might bugger off to my little shop and have a bit of fun.

  7. As someone who loves th e outdoors, North Wales and the surrounding region sounds really alluring, and bookending a stay in Manchester, the cradle of the IR, sounds like an education in its own right. I’d like to check out the Arts & Crafts style of doubt there would be prime examples to see.

  8. This is another Blog that kinda hit’s home. Before I retired I did one of two things each week, I would arrive at the Airport by 4:30 – 5:00am to catch a 6:00 am flight some where or I would drive the 60 + miles one way which could take 1 to 1 1/2hrs to get my office depending on traffic. Yes I loved Atlanta but the traffic not so much.

    And I can relate to some of those mistakes as well. I am making 1 drawer for your bench and after 3 attempts I think I have it right now. I never hand cut 1/2 Blind DT before and 1st attempt was less than stellar, some may have lived with it but I am picky. The 2nd I made the mortice to big, it was more like a rectangle and not square, I am not sure what I did.

    Oh well, this is how you learn, and the person who doesn’t make mistakes isn’t born yet and if he is I want to meet he or she in person.

    And how I would love to visit your Home Place and take a class you offer, but is not in the cards at this time, maybe one day before I get to old.

    Good stuff Paul keep it up.


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