When Work Loses Meaning

DSC_0051I suppose woodworking once found meaning in making a living but for most woodworkers today it actually means more than that. Whereas in times past woodworking made sense because it supported life and those essentials of life we once really and truly depended on, today it’s more about making sense of a life that for many makes little sense. DSC_0002Before about 10 years ago I never used a computer. The woman that supported me with Internet work and computer work suddenly quit and I had to find out how computers worked and what they did. Suddenly I was learning Pagemaker then In Design to develop my curriculum and to pass on what I knew others wanted to learn from me. DSC_0044Woodworking came easy to me. It was natural. Writing hasn’t come easy to me and it cost me something to have to spend hours over and above my long days in the shop to become at least capable of transforming my energies into the keyboard and the world of media for educating the new genre I now started to care so much about. Even now thrashing a few hours on the keyboard is painful for me. It’s not my gift or my calling but teaching and training is and so is making and designing. At one time I wrote articles for magazines until I realised that the energy I was giving to it was supporting the very things that caused so many problems. DSC_0076If I could divert those energies into life elsewhere I could keep my own voice and instead of being so really counterproductive I could revitalise the life of craftsmanship in the lives of people like you. When the internet came along I never thought much about it because I was never programmed for computerism. I hadn’t grown up in it and was not defined by it or for it. When I left school at 15 my head teacher (School Superintendent US) told me that I was ineducable. Uncertain of any future I found an apprenticeship and suddenly, behind the workbench, I discovered craft and the art of work. I found interest in everything surrounding my bench and my tools. Each one of the tools I needed cost me a full week’s apprentice wage but unwrapping a #4 from its yellow box and inner paper meant more to me than almost anything I could buy today. The tools gradually grew and the men I worked under took me under their wing. I soon learned that they were willing to invest when I showed interest. When I asked questions they toyed with me yes, but they always gave me the answers I searched for in the end.
When I stand at my bench life makes sense. When I,place the tools against the wood something feels all the more,honest and I am so thankful that I don’t have to pretend. I think that’s how my students feel when they come to my classes or follow a class online. Most of them are indeed strapped,to,a computer most of the day but when they arrive home and pull the tools out they suddenly feel a wave of sobriety and solidity that strengthens their resolve to become truly skilled in their work.
I am currently training two apprentices and who know, perhaps soon they will start training two more themselves. Part of their work is to make videos and edit them. We have others unseen in the background doing the same and they all do what they do because they truly care about the goals. They form a very unique team together that I seldom see and have not really seen to the same degree before. They too in some degree are woodworkers and I like that they can both see and feel what I feel and want to convey for themselves those same feelings, thoughts and emotions into the films, the blogs, the websites and everything else that make this so much a solid reality for the hundreds of thousands that read the blog, follow the films and so support our training endeavours.
Today I worked more on the next training project to get ready for a new training session next week. The same people that now make films and edit what you see work on prototypes, build furniture pieces and even help in teaching some of the workshops for visiting students. You see it makes so much sense to pass on skill and train others. I have lost track of those I have trained for the past two decades but there are a couple of dozen out there that had their raw beginnings on the other wide of my workbench or at one of the student benches.
Our online broadcast has made a big difference to our direction and I so enjoy this relatively new aspect of my life. We have over 100 films out there now for people to learn from. Half of them are free and we have plans for many more. This has become something of a release of energy for me. I feel I can pour myself into a new generation by the thousands. That still seems amazing to me. People in Perth and Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, China, India, Africa and throughout the whole of Europe are now learning online and from my blog. Yes, I wish that all of them could be here with me for a few months, but, you know, in some ways I feel that they are. My not traveling this past year has been much easier on me and it has meant I could reach far more than ever before. I don’t know what the future holds at all, but I know it matters and I know that you matter.


  1. Thanks to Paul and crew for all the great work. I’m a computer programmer myself, and am finding what Paul says here to be totally true. I think the physicality of woodworking is great, especially by hand. You get exercise and make something at the same time, it feels much more satisfying than sitting in front of the computer.

  2. You sure learned to write well, for someone who is “ineducable”! Keep up the good work.

  3. I spend my days at a computer. Programs like InDesign are my bread and butter. While I enjoy web and print design, I have found that I get more satisfaction in a wood working project gone well than in a perfect website launch.
    I can relate to projects that divert energies needed elsewhere. Thank you for directing your energy towards teaching. I very much appreciate what I am learning here.

  4. Great post, Paul. I learned how to construct a basic website in WordPress in my evenings off from working in print publishing, (magazines). I now split my head into two separate parts. In the daytime I do the print work that pays the bills and in the evenings I trade old tools and blog about woodworking. If I didn’t have the ‘evening bit’, my soul would be very unfulfilled.

    I hope in the near future to get some space for making, but in London this is very expensive. However, one day my evenings will become my days.

  5. Great post Paul; as a software engineer by trade your post resonates with me. The content and craft you are creating here are wonderful things. Thank you from West Virginia. =)

  6. For me that was very moving. My respect for you goes very deep. Thank you Paul.

  7. Paul, I’ve been a fan since your 1st masterclass at the European woodworking show when I bought the whole package. The blog and videos since then have been a great source of information and inspiration, looking forward to the 2nd book. Meanwhile from myself and many others I’m sure, a big thank you for all that you and the crew have done and continue to do.

  8. Paul, I read your post with interest and it strikes a chord. The comments above underline the importance of an interest outside of work, that can become a passion. Having a job that you’re passionate about is a blessing and something to be thankful for.

    I have a pretty big job which I have devoted a lot of time and energy to over the years and have enjoyed many aspects of. It pays the bills and enables a comfortable lifestyle but I now derive much more satisfaction from making things myself, learning the techniques, and resolving the problems that arise when working on a project. I started to get serious about woodworking around 15-16 months ago. I don’t get to spend a lot of time doing it, and my progress is slow and sometimes painful, but working with wood has become the antidote to a job that involves many hours each day spent staring at a screen, on conference calls, or travelling to meetings.

    I have so far made a dovetail box, my own workbench, many spoons (as gifts), and a bookcase. I can see flaws and mistakes in all of them, but they’re mine and I look at them with a degree of pride and satisfaction.

    Gary Cook’s comment above resonates well with me “However, one day my evenings will become my days.” Who knows?

    Your talent, experience and the work of the team is very much appreciated.

  9. Paul,
    Many of us strapped to a computer all day have to contend with many health issues as well. The carpal tunnel is a major problem which is made worse when we use machines that run at thousands of rpm. Hand tools make it possible for us to continue to tinker with wood and enjoy it, instead of trying to manage pain afterwards.

    I’m a novice woodworker enjoying my bit of time in my corner workspace. We all have a creative side and that creativity must be expressed. I’ve always had something creative to do after my workday, whether it be photography, art, learning an instrument. And when I don’t, I’m miserable. Woodworking allows for that creativity to be expressed.

    It reminds me of the runner from “Chariots of Fire”, Eric Liddell, who said ” God made me fast and when I run I feel His pleasure”..

    Thank You for helping us “run with our tools”.. To feel pleasure in what we do and create…

    1. It is a sad and bad thong that diseases like this become accepted and because we have been exposed to the job that caused it for so long we cannot usually change until we lose our job or leave because of the pain. Many big businesses employ HR to dehumanise the process of handling life and protect the company. I feel sad that people do have to sell themselves to the highest bidder to make their living. Some, many, have no choice and cannot change. It’s sickening to think how we regale progress as such a wondrous thing when people who really care are still being spat out when they are used up in the vain hope that their future rests in retirement and a utopian dream when in reality it’s more an illusion based on empty promises. I encourage anyone to make changes as early as possible for changing their lives to find something meaningful beyond their workplace if work is soul-destroying and empty. When I work at my bench I feel His pleasure too.

  10. Being a traditional woodworker I enjoy far more working with hand tools than I do with machinery, unfortunately for me I suffer with severe neck and back pain and sometimes due to that I have to resort to using a power planer but still no matter how bad the pain is it can’t keep me away from my bench. At the age of 43 I feel there is so much I can learn from you but 20,000km keeps me away from attending your classes.

    It’s skilled craftsmen like you who keeps this tradition alive and brings out the best in anyone who wants to learn it.

    Cheers from down under.

  11. Paul,
    I am deeply appreciative of what you’ve done for me and all of us. I’ll never forget when I found your sample DVD in American Woodworker in the fall of 2012. I knew instantly that what you were showing us was what I wanted to do with my life. It was a life I had never seen before. And now, having opened my business, I get to enjoy both work and life on a level I wasn’t sure was possible before. So thank you. I hope one day to do the same for someone else.

    1. Thanks for your support and kind words, Erik. I never knew we could make such an impact when Joseph encouraged me to write a blog, developed a website for me and of course started the training program to teach people long distance. I am very grateful to be able to say that what was given to me so freely I have now given back. I have much more to do yet, but it has been so rewarding knowing people are indeed changing their lifestyles to become lifestyle craftsmen and women. Great!!!

  12. wow! inspirational words. thank-you so much, paul.

    i completely agree: there are few “professions” where you don’t have to lie or pretend.

    your videos are incredible; you are the best teacher i have found.

    you are a true woodworking philosopher!

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