Black and White Woodworking

DSC_0060I have countered the prevailing culture of machine only woodworking for two decades and more now; proactivity gets results as long as there is consistency. It’s not always been easy, in fact I’d say it’s been a difficult passage in many ways, but if I were to take a sector of my life and say which has been the most rewarding I would have to say it’s been this last decade. I have never felt more fulfilled than seeing the results of getting people off the conveyor belt and especially so because it wasn’t easy, but a conscious decision.

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Discovering my bent for hand tool woodworking came when I saw how little I liked to work only with machines. It wasn’t ever that I despised them but that my hands wanted to do it – my hands, my arms, my heart and head wanted to somehow take the wood and work its fibres. You see here a man working. An ordinary man, A working man. A, well, a workman. He didn’t turn a machine on to get the results you see in the table he’s making. in fact he planed each surface and split parts to plane them by hand alone. He passed his saw stroke by stroke down a secondhand board and formed some shaped mahogany aprons by his own will and his own choice and tonight, the man, me, turned out the lights and felt happy as he headed home.

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I will sell the two pieces over the next few weeks i suppose. Perhaps someone will get married or have a birthday or something like that and they will make a handsome gift. My choice. On the other hand perhaps someone will walk in the workshop and say, “How much are these two tables.” I will say, “They are £200 each.” and they will say, “OK. We’ll take them.” Who knows if you don’t try?

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My lifestyle is chosen, developed, designed and intentional. It took some time to establish it but it’s who I am and have been for decades. I am a woodworker.

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When I decided to pursue handwork rather than machining I admit it wasn’t too easy to let go of the ease using power machines afforded my work. If I were to suggest a two-man saw for logging out my wood and a then a saw pit to slab it it would be far from realistic, but from there on I can do a lot of my work by hand and so enjoy it machinists think I have lost my marbles. Then they stand and watch me as I work and they can’t usually pull away. They can’t understand why I want to do it by hand let alone enjoy it, but still they hang around and watch and I see that look on their face and I say to myself, “What a wonderful world” I have found here.

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I feel the same way about exercise when all it produces is a useless muscle that pops up when an arm or leg flexes. If the muscle doesn’t do more than that I don’t try to understand it. if the muscle is developed for a reason beyond just being there as a flex then I understand. Each to his or her own though. I say all of this to say making this table really meant something to me. My muscles flexed and sinews and tendons pulled. They had purpose and it’s so very black and white and tangibly enjoyed and I feel in love with people when they walk in my workshop or work alongside me because I so loved making what I made by hand. I like taking my time. I like feeling the hard work. I like correcting the plane to cut square and I like chiselling the shapes with and upturned chisel; the way it works in the mahogany 150 years old both chisel and wood and technique. I like work that demands every ounce of my attention. I like work that makes me think all the time. I like work that pays me back for my efforts that cannot ever be calculated by an accountant. I like work that makes me write about what I feel for others to read about and enjoy. I like putting this in the bank no banker can ever get his mits on. You are my depository. My banker. My storehouse for the future of my craft. DSC_0143

I like looking back into the shop as I close the door and seeing what I made on the benchtop and thinking the words, “Thank you!”

7 thoughts on “Black and White Woodworking”

  1. Thomas Tieffenbacher/aka DocSavage45

    Nicely said Paul! It is you.

    I am exploring using hand tools again. I am rehabbing hand planes and hand saws. I even rebuilt my metal working bench into a hybrid woodworkers bench with a decent vise for woodworking. I’m appreciative of your respect for the and tools that live on past their original users. I don’t have to buy a super expensive brass and polished steel hand plane to get good results. “Paul uses one of these.”

    I did have to behave myself as I now have a bevy of hand saws. Mostly Diston’s. I am learning to say “do I need it or want it?” LOL!

    Thanks

  2. I’m currently also trying to build a couple of small tables and I’ve been thinking about options on how to attach my table top to the leg frame. In your post above I could see that you have made a type of “pocket hole” at an angle in the aprons to take the screws that will hold the table top. Could you please tell me if you have some advice or instructions on how to best make holes/recesses like that in a controlled way. Thanks.

  3. Paul….I agree with your sentiments and absolutely,unequivocably love your methods and teaching,but…ditch the digital and buy some black & white film! Regards,Dave in Dinas Mawddwy.

      1. Ah…you young kids with your modern machines….the old time crafsmen would turn in their darkrooms! Keep on bloggin’ then.Regards,Dave.

  4. I am proud to say that I can now make cuts more accurately with my hand saws than I can with my power saws. I love it. I just built a patio for my sister using hand tools. Notched beams and bead board ceiling. All trimmed with a hand saw and no miter box or chop saw. Thank You Paul for teaching me how to love what I do.

  5. What a lovely article. I’ve been working with wood for just a few years now and have come to the conclusion that hand tools are best. Although it takes far longer there is a kind of romantic connection that develops between oneself and each piece of wood as one cuts it, planes it, shapes it. Although I still use machines to cut the big pieces I feel that that will gradually dissolve as well, to be replaced by more manual techniques. Thank you Paul for sharing your immense knowledge with the rest of us, it has inspired me to go solo and do what I (accidentally) found I love doing…making stuff from wood.

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