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Working Wood at Weekends

DSC_0049I think about people escaping their place of work on Friday evenings traveling home and thinking of the weekend when they can wear different clothes, pick times to work, what to work on do what I do during the week. It’s as much in the planning as in the doing. Thinking through the stages, weighing up the materials available, a trip to the lumberyard.

Saturdays somehow grab meaninglessness from the midweek workdays and translates us into depths of meaning we often can’t describe with words. The saw rips along thin lines with strong, intense strokes and the waste falls away. For me, I look at the kerf as I cut and see 1/2” travel with each stroke 26” stroke. The wood is 72” and so I make around 150 full length passes of the saw into the board. Then, a few minutes pass from one exercise period to my next. I lift the plane, the jack, and brace my back leg as I push the plane to start straightening the edge and soon the wood feels clean and straight and, well, lovely. I can’t imagine it’s easy to cram family life and woodworking into a couple of days but most people do it that way.

DSC_0023Woodworking with machines is really nothing like woodworking by hand. For the main part they are quite unrelated spheres unless you do what some are now calling hybrid woodworking. Bit silly some might say, but, really, I think that that might be nearer to reality than some might think. I see more and more woodworkers reaching for hand tools than ever before in the last five or six decades. The machines seem to have lost a little of their early 80s “power” and woodworkers started searching for a bit more depth, more skill and more fulfillment. There is a marked difference between UK amateurs and our US counterparts. If I ask ten students in the UK whether they have a machine set up, you know, planer, jointer, tablesaw, chopsaw, bandsaw. almost always, no hands go up and there are no nods. In the US it’s tended to be nearer the opposite. Many reasons account for this. The UK didn’t have its Norm Abram equivalent nor a New Yankee Workshop back in 1989. Machines never took off like in the US and, frankly, the UK magazines fell far short when it came to inspiring the new-genre woodworker. Space is more of a premium than in the US and of course there was no Woodcraft or Rockler chain of woodworking stores. I think US enthusiasm did influence the UK woodworking scene, especially some of the magazines, but other spheres too. It’s funny really, US woodworkers tended to look to the UK for aspects of woodworking while the UK looked to the US. On the British front we had John Makepiece and Alan Peters and in the US we had Sam Maloof and Jim Krenov. There were others, of course, but somehow these men breathed life into woodworking. They were able to impart something more substantive and had a staying power that gave others resolve to become more, question more and even achieve more. They seemed to see the importance of passing on what they had. I do think that people were supposed to go beyond copying their designs, but it did get people going in a new direction and that was important.

DSC_0050Today was a full day. The saws and planes scarcely stopped. I am on my final bookshelf unit. Tomorrow I return to the sapele  tool chest I’ve been building and hopefully those in the nine-day class will begin making their oak tables. Confidence levels increase by the hour and even though there are some setbacks, the work keeps progressing so I feel content in what we are achieving.


  1. Steve Massie on 19 February 2014 at 11:05 pm

    I do look forward to the Weekends because that generally is the only time I can get into the shop. I am working part time also which does kind of mess up my day with a couple hours in the am and and a couple hours in the afternoon. Hopefully this Summer I will have off then I can get some week days in. I am working only when School is in session.

    Paul I really like those book cases in this picture especially that tall green one, these are very nice designs and can’t wait to get started on a couple.


  2. Andy in Germany on 20 February 2014 at 5:36 am

    This is me a lot of the time. I find that working in the week is fine as lon as it is something simple like sanding, but when I’m making things like Tenons or making out, I need a longer block of time, or I just end up repeating myself. It also makes it much easier to spend the day feeding chipboard into machines if I know I’ve got some real wood waiting for my attention later.
    I’m fortunate in that although my employer can’t understand why I use hand tools, he does let me use the workshop to get my ‘real woodworking’ fix when I need to.

  3. Mike F on 20 February 2014 at 10:00 am

    We have a small baby so the weekends are often busy and my wife needs a break from her week of childcare as I work full time. I find myself sneaking into the garage (workshop!?) in the evening once they have both gone to bed to snatch an hour or so of woodwork time.

    Machine tools wouldn’t be practical both because of the noise, space limitations and because my job will require me to move again in a while and we live in a rented house. Stock preparation can be a bit tedious but it’s all good practice for now – maybe one day I will get a bandsaw to lighten the load.

    I’m following the woodworking masterclasses projects (with a bit of a time delay: dovetail boxes and chopping boards at the moment, timber rough sawn for coffee table) but we keep saying that I should go and do Paul’s 9-day course to really get a chance to improve my emerging skills in a dedicated block of time.

    I really like the green bookcase too, it might be interesting to increase the depth of the bottom half and put doors on it to make a dresser. Perhaps a few other alterations to the design would be needed.

    • Paul Sellers on 20 February 2014 at 5:32 pm

      I think that it is important to think design and see that the things we make can be expanded. Coffee table = dining table = computer desk and office table.

      • Sandy on 21 February 2014 at 2:16 am

        Paul, couldn’t agree more. My clock became a display case… And darn fun to build

  4. Dallas on 20 February 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Paul, I think you aptly described ‘life’ for most of us. Juggling family, work and our passion for wood. it seems so hard to increase your skill when you get a couple hours in the shop (garage) a week. Skill is built on repetition and practice, when you get in the shop as infrequently as most of us ‘weekend warriors’ do then it just stands to reason that you do not progress as quickly as you would like and there in lies the rub for me.

    Love the blog and the Masterclasses. Paul and the rest of the team keep up the great work.

  5. Sandy on 20 February 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Yes that about sums up the woodworking life of most of us out here. I too work a part time job along with my full times job and a couple of volunteer activities. The good thing is that I don’t share my woodworkng space with anyone else. Even the cats are not allowed in there. So everything lays as I leave it until I can get back in there and continue. I like my jobs but I can just imagine how it would feel to be able to do my first love everyday and be able to make a living at it. George Burns once said ” success is doing something that you enjoy and be able to make a living doing it”. I might be able to sustain when I retire 🙂

  6. Walter on 20 February 2014 at 7:31 pm

    For me, I love my day job – usually. It is often too consuming, and being able to work with wood using hand tools especially is a way to completely get out of being consumed by the other work. I do struggle with priorities, God, Family, Work, Woodworking is usually the plan. I do try to cross apply my priorities. I admire the Shakers, and their application of wood working or anything reflected their devotion to God… they did it as unto the Lord. I am not trying here to convince anyone to become a Shaker, just to point out that priorities can be cross applied, and perhaps having the right priorities is the key to success if Shaker products is any indication.

  7. Cory on 20 February 2014 at 11:14 pm

    I think Walter makes a very good point. I also think that Paul makes a similar point frequently. Why do we work wood? In some ways I believe it helps us to apply ourselves to something that has a greater meaning and purpose. Paul was blessed to have been able to practice his craft for a lofty purpose in its own right. He provided for his family with it. He often has used the phrase vocational calling. Think about it for a moment. Who is calling you to do what you do? Money, family, God? It makes a difference at the end of the day- whether we can lived satisfied with the work of our hands.

  8. Darrell on 20 February 2014 at 11:57 pm

    This post struck a chord in me that was surprising. Memories of using a few hand tools as a child stood out. They were followed by other memories of the disaster called shop class, where the instructor demanded we use hand tools, including that alien looking device, the hand plane. Of course, he would give instruction to his favorites while the rest of us struggled to figure out how it worked. After that, we were bombarded by media on the newest, latest, greatest power tool that did all the hard work of hand tools with 1/1000th of the effort and they always promised professional looking results. In the past 30 years, I have accumulated a variety of power and a few hand tools, usually giving preference to the power tools. I truly believed that the had cut dovetail was beyond me and I could only make one using a router and jig. The local university offered a woodworking course. The first day was spent reviewing power tool safety, then we could pursue what ever project we wished, using mostly power tools. In recent years technology has opened the world. The internet, You Tube, and blogs have allowed amateurs such as myself to view woodworking in a new light. I can now learn the skills that have eluded me for so long. I have started using hand tools in addition to power tools, so I suppose I am one of the hybrids. I find my focus in tools shifting to hand tools, and I suspect that my inventory will increase as I learn to use them. Many thanks Paul, to you and your staff, for offering platforms to increase the knowledge, experience and skill of weekend woodworkers.

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