Is it ever possible to be content in work when you are a designer maker or whatever working wood? Your mind can jerk you around like a bull whip on a spinning top sometimes and mine is no different, but as I answer with a resounding, YES, I think contentment is key to a sane life in work. I also know the reality of running shy of the mark on different fronts as I envelope myself in a project. Being self employed, whatever that really means, means greater responsibility and not necessarily greater freedom. It takes a lot of self discipline to be self employed.
I confess two or three times investing lengthier periods working for others and feeling that undeniable sense of lostness because it was indeed always a question of bosses demanding a 1/2” more on a 60” length when the stick was already cut. Over expectation always leads to disappointment and yet many people are subjected to the unrealistic and selfish demands of others in the work place. I have decided to get off that conveyor belt at different stages in my life and that can be a bit like a diet in that many people lose weight but can’t keep it off because diet must lead to a permanent diet change and lifestyle. So it is with our work and the way we think. Often we get off the conveyor belt and end up climbing right back on because we or others measure success by how much money we make and how many we can sell to make that acceptable amount. For me, the key will always be lifestyle. When I saw that with care and a simple plan I could fashion a lifestyle that would honor and respect others and especially those I worked with and shared my life with I pursued it. Today I will go to work with close friends and family, pick up my planes and handsaws and carve something from rough wood using my hands. Sometimes someone will walk in to the workshop and buy what I made and leave. Sometimes, often, they don’t. I will sharpen my planes and handsaws with files and stones and get on with yet another mortise and tenon joint. I’m making a new film series on building a Craftsman-style lamp from some oak I have had for a few years. I cut down the strips on the bandsaw and then hand planed the surfaces using a wooden jack plane, a Sorby jack plane and a Stanley #5 jack plane. I also used a Veritas low angle jack plane too. I actually used the Stanley Jack plane the most and it planed unfalteringly for hours. When I was doing this we filmed the video on bevel-up bevel-down planing, to show there was little if any difference really between the plane types and makers.
Lifestyle matters and yet I realise that not everyone can do what I do or have done full time for so long. Fact is not everyone is supposed to do exactly what I do the way I do it. Some times, in the past, I thought that I might have liked to have had another job and worked only my spare time making things from wood. But I learned to live through many years without the steady income of a paycheque in the bank every month. Contributing to pension scheme for the extras after retirement just don’t happen without that steady income either. Health care. Imagine living in the US with no health care. I did it for 22 years and more. Thankfully we never needed it once. You know, one time, when I took a new job offer, I sat in the parking lot outside the works for four hours and then drove away. I just couldn’t go in. The difference was I knew I had to. Eventually I went in and started work and it worked out fine. I fed my family making oak doors and window frames by hand and machine for about three months. Just enough time for me to take the next step and start my business back up. The business move worked fine, even though self-employment is not always easy, and I was able to get back off the conveyor belt. I am already at retirement age and I could retire in a few months time but why on earth would I when what people retire from is the soul-destroying world of industry and commerce. That’s not my industry at all. Aside from that, the work I am working on is not yet finished and it wont be for years yet. Being able to counter the world of media advertising and the sources of misinformation as I train and equip the new-genre woodworker wrought in me the conservation and preservation of my skills in craftsmanship. It’s not going to happen in the closed mindedness of industry and the education systems that program its support workforce who see craftsmanship as outdated outmoded methods of working. I am sure we will never see the return of small cottage businesses in local communities as I once did in my youth, but we will see men, women and children working with a new and different purpose using the same skills I have used over the decades. Real woodworking is happening more today than ever and I like to think that what we are doing is making an impact. Going off the dozens of emails I get from supporters each week, you are the ones that are becoming the skilled woodworkers of the future. That’s wonderful news!