Working for Yourself – Love It

IMG_7266 adj - Version 3To show you the beauty of mesquite as a furniture wood, here are the pieces I designed and made for the White House in 2008-9. Two identical pieces for the Permanent Collection in the Cabinet Room. Stunning wood!

My wife and I were reminiscing about past years and ‘doing’ craft shows to sell our furniture and other wooden products we made through some of my earlier years and especially our early days in the US. This started in 1987. Those were interesting days out west. Yes it was a culture shock, but I loved what we did.
The ranches surrounding my home were ranches where I harvested mesquite trees for wood were many miles square, one was 36 square miles owned then by a man named Happy Shahan near Bracketville who built the Alamo village where they filmed the Alamo film. Another property was owned by Dolph Briscoe who owned a million acres back then. In that season I owned a 1952 one ton flatbed truck, a very old Subaru station wagon and a home made trailer strapped to its bumper with a loose welded chain. Between these three vehicles i harvested wood for about four years. I drove through several gravel river bottoms into a wilderness as wild as any in the west to cut trees with an echo 16” chainsaw, a comalong and a few ropes. Back then I never owned safety equipment because i had no money for it. The truck was always filled to over full and never failed me in hauling my rough wood. The Subaru with it’s four wheel drive pulled the trailer filled with wood several times a month and I felt deeply indebted to both vehicles bringing in my supply of raw material. I understand the US law for the right to bear arms even though it was illegal for me because I carried two guns to protect me from everything from tusked feral hogs weighing upwards of 600lbs to rattlesnakes, water moccasins and of course the risk of mountain lions. I always worked alone except when i took my father with me if he was there on holiday.
DSC_0616I went to four craft shows a year and took my furniture. My booth was often up against the one-by pine guys who made ten times what I did because they brought to market what I refused to. My coffee tables and rocking chairs were all hand jointed and fully together with traditional finishes and were intended to last about 150 years. The guys next door had a 30’ horse trailer lined with bins filled with parts ready for assembly with a Kreg pocket hole jig and air nailers. You ordered at the front from the line on display, paid the lady at the register and picked it up ready to go at the end of the show. Whatever you bought could be carried under one arm no matter the size, such was my competition. My coffee tables took to people to lift and that’s not always the best selling point at a show.DSC_0575
Most people attending the show didn’t realise that i often worked for three months to get stock ready for the show. As we neared the show we would be out of money to buy food. On the first night of the show we stayed in a cheap motel out of town (feet stuck to the carpets). The next night we moved nearer in on the strength of the first day’s takings and on the Sunday night we upgraded again for the same reason. At these shows we would take enough to pay all of our bills and live for the next two or three months. Our orders for new furniture came home with us and I would make custom pieces. This has been life I wouldn’t trade for a “real job” no matter what. It wasn’t easy but, you know what, I was always home, I was always with my wife and children and saw each one of them grow up every day. Yes it was lifestyle and we made it and paid every bill.

18 thoughts on “Working for Yourself – Love It”

  1. I’m glad to see the Whitehouse pieces… very beautiful work! Thanks for sharing about your past. I find myself in similar circumstances now, just in a different place and time. I just started your master classes, and finished the clock (though I scaled it down to a mantel clock). I love woodcraft, and am gracious for your time and effort. I’m not sure that I would have even gotten this far without your inspiration and wisdom.

  2. Paul, my parents lived on Ft. Clark. My mother grew up there in Brackettville. Tully Shahan is a good friend of ours. Small world.

    1. I met Tulley once though he may not remember. Happy asked me to speak at the Lions club (I think it was) once after I had visited Happy at the Alamo village.

  3. And i for one thank you for doing as you did because this is what has brought you to where you are today teaching the likes of me and many others that would still be searching for real woodworking hints and tips and coming up against wood machinists trying to sell us the latest jig or machines ,i cant help but think why would one man put himself through all this( at the price of Masterclasses it can’t have anything to do with money) for me who he doesnt even know i suppose richness means different things to different people Thank you

    1. Thanks, Eddy. We have so much planned for the future and hope we can indeed keep turning this juggernaut around.

  4. Michael Corley

    Howdy, talk about passion, you have it Paul. I am surprised you didn’t mention the pesky copperheads. They abound in the hill country. Wish you were still here in Texas, because I’d love to attend your workshops. You have caused my power tools to be covered in cobwebs… Thank you, indeed!

  5. Paul, I’m loving the winsor-style chairs, especially the low back one. It must be a Paul Sellers exclusive as I’ve searched and searched and haven’t found anything similar.

    I’m afraid if I show those to my wife ill have to put everything on the back burner to make her a set for under-the-tree-sittin. I can taste the margaritas now…

    Beautiful, inspiring work.

  6. Charles Braden

    What a story. I knew Happy Shahan’s nephew Cliff and he told me all about the Alamo village years ago. Cliff himself had a place known as Packsaddle. It was and is a little rustic. Quite a difference than building and teaching from a castle. Character, grit and determination and oh what talent. Thank you so much.

  7. Nice bio’ Paul, Know starting your own business is a hard graft. The presence of a supportive partner, is in-valuble, and rarely acknowlaged. Your perssitance and success in following your passion has benifited many more than your family. Thanks for all you give to the wood working world. cheers peter

  8. I’ve always thought it’s people such as yourself who should be admired just as much, if not more, than the self made millionaires. To stick with the job, and way of life, regardless of the hardships, because you love what you do. It is easy to take a job, especially if it’s a decent one, which is where I’m lucky, but it’s not and never will be the same. Good luck.

  9. Your logging operations must have been quite an adventure by the sounds of it! And you must have felt like the Lone Ranger at times going to local wood shows but it’s nice to see someone who remains true to his principals to produce work of quality. I like mesquite too and have tried to use it for a few small items but I believe our Arizona mesquite is a little different species then you had in Texas. It’s hard to find a large piece that’s straight and clear without a lot of cracks or holes in the wood. Some local craftsmen use it for rustic table tops, filling the cracks/holes with black epoxy and smoothing over. It’s a look but doesn’t look right everywhere.

  10. Forgot to say – Those chairs are wonderful! Are those Welsh stick chairs? Will we ever see those as Masterclass projects? (hint)


  11. mmelendrez1955

    Thank You Paul for the wonderful story. How wonderful a feeling to say I was always home. I was so busy chasing a dollar I was never home and missed most of my children’s events. I admire you more than you could possible imagine. I would love to read your autobiography if you ever publish it. This week I took a vacation to the beach and it was wonderful and miserable at the same time. Only because I am making a coffee table for one of my kids and that was all I could think about. The pictures of your furniture are just stunning and I thank you for sharing them with us.

    1. Paul Sellers

      I believe in present and future. When our children grow we have time to future-invest in them as grown people with children of their own and understanding gained from our input. Talking to our children and explaining the rights and wrongs we did clears the pathway to reconsider theirs. We don’t always have the right coordinates for decision making when we are young and the pathway is often unclear because we are promised a lifestyle that’s easy to believe is best. A few years ago, when my daughter was expecting her third, I made her a rocking chair for her birthday when i was in the US and put it in my luggage as parts. When she was out one day I assembled it in the nursery. She knew I loved her. Soon I will be building her a new kitchen. I look forward to that too.

  12. In a sea of faulty consumerism, fake arm chair “experts” pushing unwise practices as gospel, as the only way to do things without real world experience to validate their claims, you sir are a life raft I feel fortunate to cling to with a deathgrip. The fact that you have truly been there, lived the life of a real honest apprenticed woodworker striving to turn a dollar, to feed your family, and with success, lends more weight to your every word than any academic, eruditional, or market driven “advice” spouted by said “experts”. It has bothered me for years how we (novice woodworkers) follow the ramblings of men without practical life experience, I can only compare it to men wishing to be fishermen taking their advice from salesmen at a sporting goods store, or lawyers who often read books dedicated to fish than just listening to simple man who has spent his entire life catching fish for his livelihood and the sustainment of his family. Thank you for all you have taught and please don’t stop, we need a genuine voice!

    1. I wish I’d seen this blog entry when it was new, even more I wish I’d met you back in ’87. I was about 600 miles to the west in central New Mexico at the time. I can’t say I was making a living making furniture, can’t even call it furniture but it’s where most of my money came from. I was enamored with hardware-less knockdown furniture and made things like simple tables and book shelves, mostly for other college students using simple hand tools that they could knock apart and take with them.

      Eventually though life sped up, had to find a more lucrative income and I essentially stopped wood working. I did a bit of carpentry here and there, mostly additions on my own house or the odd cabinet and most of that with the more 120 to 240V style motorized tooling. About 15 years ago my wife and I were at a party and there in the hallway of the house was one of my book shelves so at least some of it survived.

      30 years later and I’m finally returning to what I used to dream of as my real job, a lot of catching up to do but it beats the alternative.

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