Stop and Stir, Don’t Just Stare

I think it might be true that many people suffer a period or periods of depression in a given lifetime. Wellbeing is hard to quantify and with so many working people gainfully employed in meaningless or should I say more mindless work it’s not going to get any better going forward. Politicians of course speak from their vast experience in politics where underlings feed more and more statistics to them so that they can reconstruct their manipulations from the previous debris they caused in education and the governed welfare of the populous. Meanwhile in quiet backwaters around the world more and more people say quietly to themselves, “Whoa, I don’t think that this is me!” Today I worked all the more to get my book together and while I did this Kat and Joseph continued their coffee table and Phil worked on repairing some stools he bought from the car boot sale.


John took care of everyone as usual and in between sharpening tools and serving me with coffee he worked on his stuff too. It’s busy at the castle with visitors from around the world. They drift in and out but not without realising something’s wrong. They have never quite seen anything like what they see in the workshop. They see hands working and people talking as they work. Could it be that the real world outside that they just stepped out of is not the real world but one of fantasy? Could it be that they just stepped into the real world for just a brief moment?


Everything surrounding structures like the castle is more linked to the archaic past. Most are like museums and no matter which way you dress it up they all look very much the same with the same speak and the same displays. Generally they are mostly presented as the past in a way that offsets the disparity between the rich owners of the properties and the poor that made them tick. Not much you can say about the upstairs-downstairs difference, but I must say that when they come into the workshop and see everyone working there, an almost magical sensing happens where the best of the past unites with the present and some gives bright hope for a future that defies the colleges and universities, health and welfare entities, politics and education and so on. Yes, it’s here that we did switch off the conveyor belt for them. They stop thinking about their thumbs on their cell phones, their software engineering jobs and the mindlessness of work. They even leave their cell phone cameras in their pockets for fear of somehow invading what they discovered because somehow they just know inside that what they see is very real. Unbelievably there is a ‘wow!’ thing factorising reality they simply cannot explain or understand and though we tell them who we are and what we believe, they start to assimilate everything for themselves knowing that what they see could be very relevant in the future again. In other words they store it away and treasure it as if it were valuable. For me the word relevant should be reviewed and placed on the page as ‘real event’. Their ears are pricked up like a spaniel when the gun goes off. The eyes spark, the face points and the nose engages and suddenly they imbibe something that drugs and alcohol, and conversation and explanation cannot bring to them. Suddenly something seems to make so much sense and even though they don’t believe this could ever be possible for them, they still feel a hope for the future. So, I ask myself just what is it that people feel they want to connect to? What is it that halts them in their visit that causes them not to smile or laugh, ask questions or whatever, but suspends them in a long and wide gaze. The planes keep stroking the wood and the saws sever the waste from the wanted. Those working look up momentarily but keep to the work. There are no computers guiding routers. If there were they wouldn’t even walk in. I smile at their internal smiles and the sparkle in their eyes that defy the indifference and the bemusing. I love to think that they would embrace what we have if they just had the opportunity, but then I think about the thing called economy and then I think about the polity and then I think about the educational providers and I see why it all stopped.


I personally think that woodworking almost stopped when it got so caught up in the same a consumerism and then, thankfully, things seemed to change and people asked “Why?” eBay came along too and thankfully we could find the tools that were hidden in dark cellars all over the western world. People asked questions and answers started to emerge when we looked into those old mothballed museum entities and saw that these old tools made some of the finest woodworking ever created and that that was before the age of industrialism and mass manufacturing, globalisation and the depletion of craftsmanship – it was even before the age of the machine and the router! The wake up call went out and people responded one by one. They were bored with the machine only world of working wood and other crafts and aspects of life too. They started growing food and baking, raising chickens and eating organic again, but this time it became know as self sufficient and then sustainable culture and so that’s what happens when someone walks into a workshop and sees ten people working with their own hands with tools that are about 100 years old and that don’t cost much but really, really work.
I say all of this to say that that’s why we do what we do and it’s working!



  1. Interesting post…. Idecided after thirty years in providing mental health/behavioral health services that I am now a “Woodworker in Psychologists clothing!”

  2. Wow, Paul. You’re on a roll. Keep up the good work. You’re inspiring us. Did you do a video on sharpening a cabinet scraper?

  3. Interesting post, I decided after thirty years of providing behavioral health/mental health services that I now am a “woodworker in psychologist’s clothing.”

    1. Thomas, and here I am thinking Paul was a “psychologist in woodworkers clothing” ! I guess in a system where everything has to have a label it’s far better that we choose our own.

  4. I’m going through a bit of a rough time currently, burnt out. And has that feeling you put so good in words here: “Whoa, I don’t think that this is me!”. Just wanted to say that reading your blog gives me hope. Thank you.

    1. I’ve been through that and come out the other side. Hang in there buddy, and follow your heart. Do what is right for you and don’t get caught in the trap of doing only what other people find acceptable. Be prepared to raise a few eyebrows in your life choices if necessary. Good luck

  5. Paul
    Please please keep up this exceptional philosophy and work. I moved to Thailand 12 years ago to retire from work and the US sold all my power tools (120v) only to find that I could not repurchase them here at the time. So I started to do things by hand with hand tools and your blogs and posts. I find it very refreshing to have found some one that speaks of old in a kindly usefull way. Thank you so very much
    Koh Samui

  6. Just to add to David’s point a bit, even here in Queensland great changes are happening albeit slowly. Here’s a link from a local paper today about a general store I used to live near 12 years ago.

    It’s a wonderful story. You’ll note that they sell a product called 4Real Milk. An even better story ! see

    We pay twice as much for 4REAL milk because the money goes straight to the folks that that produce it. Many of us have stopped swallowing the line that “if you can find a cheaper price anywhere we’ll beat it by 10%”. We want real things of real quality and we want our sense of community back.

    Keep stirring the status quo for sure because we are definitely making real progress.

  7. Not sure I’d call software engineering (the terms actually a little out dated in any case ) mindless. I’m a coder and a hobby wood worker. Coding to me is one of the most mind on jobs you can have every action requires thought on how this piece will work in the system as a whole. There is no one way to write any piece of code it is in fact a very creative process. That constant decision making can also make it very tiring. The reason I enjoy wood working especially with hand tools is I like that I can follow well defined century old processes and create nice stuff I guess a bit more mindless than my day job. 🙂

    1. “Coding to me is one of the most mind on jobs you can have every action requires thought on how this piece will work in the system as a whole. There is no one way to write any piece of code it is in fact a very creative process. That constant decision making can also make it very tiring.”

      I’ll second that. I design hardware and frequently write the firmware that runs it for a living. It’s a “keep your head in the zone at all times” thing. And it sure can be mentally exhausting. While I can appreciate the beauty of a well laid out circuit board design or the elegance of various coding solutions I find the process of working wood really de-stressing. I’m beginning to find it’s essential therapy

    2. You’re right of course. Not everything is mindless and the demands can be high. I go off what people tell me what they do when they come in the shop and about half the people say they are a software engineer and actually always use that term. They also tell me they hate it, mostly. So, assuming they are telling me the truth I base what I say on that. That said anything and everything can be a craft depending on how we see it. Didn’t mean to be offensive. I’m very lucky.. Software engineering wasn’t around when I was a kid. All punch cards and punch card operators then.

      1. No offence taken. I do think you could do those disenfranchised developers a service by suggesting they approach their work as they would a craft. They can hone their skills, they can take pride in what they produce and not compromise they can have nice tools and become masters at using them. One of my favourite programming books is the ‘Pragmatic Programmer” which ironically has a nice wooden plane on the front cover

      2. None taken here either. It’s skill set that like all skill sets takes time to develop and needs to be constantly honed. I can well understand how people doing it can find it pretty unsatisfying at the end of the day. It’s a mostly internal process that’s neither easy to explain or share.

        Woodwork ( or gardening or jam making ) on the other hand are things that we can share even with the grand kids, and that engage all our senses. I guess it’s all to do with your point that we are basically hardwired to create things and while some of us make a living at creating things in our heads like software, it doesn’t satisfy our need to create things with our hands. Things that we can touch and feel and share.

  8. I spent all morning in my shop making a proper joiners mallet, solid maple head and an ash handle. I use both power tools and hand tools however I am using my big power tools less and less and enjoying my time in the shop more and more.

    I have always looked at my time in the shop as mind therapy, even when I was making things for customers and I had little time to make a project specifically for myself and my family. I never had an office job, never sat at a desk to earn a living, I never wanted to. Using tools, working with my hands is something I always loved to do. Some of my earliest memories are of being with my Dad and watching him work, applying his trade. By the time I was in second grade I knew what I was going to do, I would do what my Dad does, and I did. I don’t see as many young people entering ,the trades as there used to be. We as a society are in trouble when we are not producing tangible things but instead what is being produced is mega and giga bytes of information that can be deleted forever with a push of a button, “delete”. It is almost unreal, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I am not one to say that technology sucks. The technology I am using right now allows me to converse with all of you from around the world and learn from Paul Sellers from across the pond.

    This morning in my shop making a mallet I will use for years to come, time went a little slower it may have even stopped for awhile as I chopped out a mortise in the head of the mallet. Yes, there is something magical for me when working wood with the tools men used before the invention of electricity. The planes and chisels I use are over a hundred years old, and I wonder what craftsman owned and used these tools that I now use. Yes Paul, for me there is a connection between working with my hands and peace of mind. I just hope the younger generation will learn that their thumbs and fingers can be used for more than just texting and surfing the web, but the way things are now I don’t think it’s looking good.

    1. John your second half of your second paragraph echoes my thoughts…. Losing the tangibles in this ‘virtual’ world, and feel a bit like a hypocrite for wanting it both ways.

  9. Paul, I love to read the discussions that you lead about how to approach a particular problem, how to use or tune a tool, but for me, the thing that you do best in your writing is convict me in the need to find purpose in what we do day to day. As a doctor, I love what I do, but it’s not because of what I do, it’s because of why I do it. For me, it’s about people, easing pain, restoring function. When I go to the workshop, I get that same sense of restoration in myself when I can tune out the rest of the world, the worries, the distractions and concentrate on just one thing.

    I believe there is real reason to be hopeful. You and the following you have generated are a great example of those seeking meaning in the mundane. There seems to be a significant trend towards locally produced, sustainable, and unique in my part of the world that I believe is the backlash of too much emphasis on the bottom line. The pendulum swings both directions and if it overshoots, there usually is a revision to the mean. Keep up the good work and encouraging words, they are necessary and well received.

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