DSC_0030Is 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.

DSC_0037I 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. DSC_0013Sometimes 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. DSC_0024I 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!DSC_0039




  1. Roger on 25 April 2014 at 10:27 am

    Retire! I’ve only just found you! As one of the faceless millions caught up in the trap of a regular wage, mortgages, annual holidays to pay for, etc. I stumbled across you after being laid low with a prolapsed disc. Your blog and videos have rekindled a life long enjoyment of woodworking that started when I used to watch my Dad in the garage, was honed at school by my woodworking teacher and I have kept alive with infrequent but always satisfying projects around the house and garden. Cabinet making has always interested me but I never learnt the techniques for accuracy to make it possible… until now! If I may be so bold as to encourage you to never retire (!) not least so that you can pass on your invaluable knowledge to many more to come…

    • Paul Sellers on 25 April 2014 at 11:35 am

      I think I did make it clear that there are no signs of my retiring anywhere in the near or distant future. There has been too much damage done to woodworking that will take decades to repair.

      • Roger on 25 April 2014 at 11:41 am


  2. bit101 on 25 April 2014 at 11:58 am

    You’ve done something right Paul. I’ve always felt the ideal work was an activity that you get paid for that you’d be doing anyway, even if you weren’t getting paid for it. But that conveyor belt, as you put it, can often destroy your love for that activity.

  3. Ryan Lambert on 25 April 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Very nice article Paul. I agree with you. I wish I would have learned woodworking a long time ago. It is very refreshing and therapeutic. I appreciate and enjoy all your efforts to teach and share the benefits of woodworking. A big thank you from Texas.

  4. Brianj on 25 April 2014 at 2:35 pm

    I recently gave notice at a company I’ve worked for for over twenty years. My wife and moved cross country a few years back for a promotion, leaving abehind everything that was familiar. Well, our house is now up for sale, and we are moving back halfway cross the country to be closer to our family and friends. It’s been a good job, benefits, pension match, and I’ve enjoyed many aspects of it, yet the stress is high, and I have very little control really due to the constraints of corporate culture. We have family to support us back ‘home’, and it’s a blank slate to start over in a career or calling. I am seriously soul- searching and excited for the unknown path ahead. Thank you for writing things like this Paul, great perspective.

  5. Eric Potter on 25 April 2014 at 3:00 pm

    Paul, these kinds of posts are immensely motivating for me to continue/renew efforts to get off the conveyor belt myself. Sometimes in the daily grind it doesn’t seem like much progress is being made, but perhaps we’re inching forward in that direction.

  6. xavi molina on 25 April 2014 at 11:11 pm

    Superb! I agree!

    I wish you good health Paul.

    1000 Thanks

  7. Greg Merritt on 25 April 2014 at 11:30 pm

    Fantastic post Paul.

    I’ve worked hard all my life for other people and at tasks that in no way feed my spirit. That may be my future for some time to come. As I fill the spaces of my ‘free’ time with the activities that do feed my spirit, I’m finding that those activities are growing and edging out the mundane portions of my life. So I keep feeding my spirit in hopes that it will completely take over my life and allow me to live and work in a fulfilling way. Yours is a shinning example of what I’m striving for.

    Thank you for being you.


  8. Paul J on 26 April 2014 at 12:00 am

    Wise words. And if only for selfish reasons I hope you continue to teach for many years. Your blog and the master classes have changed my life. I went self-employed a few years ago: a different world, computer programming, and it pays the bills and I can work from home. But these days the real satisfaction comes from working wood.
    Weekends, and sometimes grabbing an hour or two of the working day away from the tyranny of the computer screen in the workshop, it feels as if I am at last achieving something.
    Soon, I hope, I can earn my bread with the physical things I make, rather than the ephemeral products I now produce.
    Without the virtual apprenticeship you provide, that would not be possible.

  9. Steve Massie on 26 April 2014 at 5:45 pm

    Paul enjoyed reading this, I retired in 2009 not by choice necessarily but glad I did. All most 40 years in Corporate America working 60 – 70 hrs a week began taking a toll on me. Now no stress, home all the time and finally able to enjoy my favorite hobby WOODWORKING.

    I did nothing for the first two years except fettle planes, chisel’s etc. and learned how to use them properly. I then decided I needed to find a part time job, yeah I know I am crazy but needed to do something and I did. I work 2 – 3 hours in the morning with about 4 hour break and then another 2 – 3 hours in the afternoon. This is perfect and gives me a little spending money to support my habit.

    Glad to hear you are not retiring and keep up the good work you and your crew are doing.


  10. Andy in Germany on 27 April 2014 at 10:35 am

    Now in the second year of my apprenticeship I’m feeling the rentless pressure to be part of that conveyer belt and measure success from my income and possesions. I’m not interested, because I want to live in a way that respects and honours the people around me. I’ve seen the industry the college is preparing me to join. I’m not interested, in fact all it has done so far is convince me there has to be something better than what they are presenting.

    Tomorrow I’ll be back there and asking me boss for permission to make more dovetails and will get the usual mocking response and grudging permission I expect. Thanks for reminding me I’m not as stupidnäive/out of touch as my employer tells me I am.

    Only a year left until the final project.

  11. Sandy on 28 April 2014 at 4:22 am

    I enjoyed that Paul. I’ve been on the conveyor at the same company for 34 years and am considering retirement. I won’t be able to retire and do nothing and I’ve considered woodworking. I’ve got a long way to go to be able to build and sell anything but I am going to give it a go. Hopefully the pension and investments will put food on our table while I learn. If my projects don’t work out maybe I can sell firewood.. 🙂 I’ll bring warmth to people’s lives in one method or the other!

  12. Mike Melendrez on 1 May 2014 at 5:11 pm

    Thank You Paul for the wonderful article. I am pleased that you have no planes of retiring because we all need you. I recently retired from my job due to an injury I sustained while working at a California State Prison as a Correctional Officer. Your teachings have helped me recover and gave me a purpose. A reason to get up and get moving and stay off the pain meds so that I could focus on the task of accuracy. I am now creating things that I never thought possible. As I to was a power tool freak and never fell in love with the wood. Now I find myself admiring trees and anything made of wood. I could go on forever But my tools are calling me so for now THANK YOU SIR.

    • Paul Sellers on 1 May 2014 at 5:54 pm

      Thank you for this Mike. I am glad that more people DO understand my goals and ambitions than those who THINK they do. It’s a tough passage much of the time and I want to continue the dream I have to get people into real woodworking to compliment their lives. I have seen #4 planes go up in sales and in price in the past three years since i started explaining what I know about them. I have seen my mailbox fill a hundred times more in the last few months than ever before and I know we are on the right track because of what people are saying so it really has been worth the effort.
      As a side, I am especially interested in people who are finding relief from pain by working with their hands as you say. That’s really interesting to me and to others.

  13. Phill on 24 March 2016 at 12:12 pm

    As long as there is some efficiency (ie profit) to be had in organizing (or organising) the work of others, we will not dissuade the factory owner (or the politician or the priest) – but you can lead by successful example. In the long run, Steve Jobs may have done more for entrepreneurship than for telephones. We shall see. Stay the course old man.

    PS: “old” is a concept like “quality” that needs to be rediscovered in a modern world. As one old man to another, I’d much rather live on the product of my mind and my hands, than on the backs of my children.

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