I very much enjoy reading your blog Paul. I went to college to train as a furniture maker after I left school but was unable to find suitable work so re trained as a carpenter (don’t worry I don’t sharpen chisels with a belt sander) your blog is like a window into my dream job. I just can’t see how it could be possible I look on line for things that I could make in spare time , it just seems like there’s so little profit with the price of timber and a society that can’t tell the difference between Ikea or oak furniture land and craftsman made pieces . Any ideas ?
I think celebrate the freedom we have to live outside the box of educators and plan a career in spheres of creativity that actually defy many constrictive practices and extraneous input. Now we can move forward. Being self employed and in creativity also defies banks who treat you exactly the opposite and really don’t want you sitting on their office seat if you work as a woodworker. Anyway, being self employed takes guts, critical thinking, risk, initiative, entrepreneurialism and generally these essentials don’t fit people that give up. Now I’m not saying you gave up so much as perhaps the time was wrong and now it’s more right than it was then. You won’t find many successful businessmen or women teaching in educational establishments because they were successful but because they were not successful. Same in schools too often. Those that found their sphere of creativity and became successful live in realms that have nothing to do with money or, more likely, money happens as a byproduct to lifestyle craftsmanship. See, what banker hinges his bets on risk takers, free thinkers and those inspired by people like PS. People occupying these creative spheres defy quantification and yet the business world is made up of a massive section politics and economics cannot quite ignore. Join the team and enter the world of small businesses.
Remember this as you look forward to your future. Many colleges and woodworking schools may have something small to offer, but its usually smaller than they make out. You’re convinced (by them and others around you) that they are the gateway to your future and it may be true to some level but not for the reasons they and you might think. The qualification often doesn’t match the reality of real life and that’s probably in some measure what you discovered after going to college. You joined the ranks of many thousands and then you thought the problem was you or the circumstances. Fact is when you are young and inexperienced in life in the real working world of wood, which is not college, people, customers and businesses that might further engage take a lot of persuading to trust in you because they have very little to go off.
Colleges and schools do indeed make promises that rarely pan out in actual jobs or career paths for furniture makers as far as I have seen over the past couple of decades. Like many sources of misinformation they flounder all the more as they rely on ancient models. It’s mostly about bums on seats I am afraid and you pay for it. Now, before you give up, this then leaves me with a lot of hope because if anything this gives us face to face reality for our situation.
I doubt that apprenticeships will ever return in the fulness they once did except when craftsmen and women find a space in their workshop to add in someone who they believe they can help. That’s what I and others have done for decades. Often of course, to do this, we have to work outside of our comfort zone because trainees often take too much of our time for very little return. Make no bones about this. As I said I doubt that apprenticeships will be as available as they were in my day, not without some radical transformation in global economics back to more sustainable local changes we can live and work in and with. Now there is something you can believe in.
I have always liked challenges and when I made my mind up to be a furniture maker making pieces I decided many things not the least of which was that it was my responsibility to find and educate my customers, not to sell them furniture like a salesman. Generally customers find us because they are already on the lookout for something we have. Sales is not a nice job for a creative crafting artisan. I decided that years ago – decades. Soon, when you see you have a good product, you also see that there is no need to manipulate them or use any stories to bolster your case and that absolute honesty is essentially our responsibility too. We craftsmen and women should always make sure we have an honestly made product that never compromises forested lands resulting in deforestation, prices that are always just and fair, staff always paid appropriately according to skill levels and that the presentation of a finished item always represents appropriate quality according to price. My work always carries a lifetime guarantee that I will always repair a piece if the damage results from negligent workmanship or materials. I have never been back to a piece in 50 years that I can recall. I always stick to my estimates even when it costs me if it’s because of my own failure.
But above all of that, I have been a lifestyle woodworker as a furniture maker and woodturner and the emphasis here is lifestyle. Lifestyle for me means more than anything; that I came to a point where I chose to continue in my craft and that economics, social recognition, political movements and so on could not influence me to change. That means I no longer had the choice to do or be something else. I was going to make my craft work as a provision for me and my family even if that meant I would work twice as long for half as much as the expectations others might have as employees.
Though my life has changed somewhat over very recent years, 95% of my working life over a 50 year span has been as a producing craftsman. Even now I still make several pieces in any given month. My chosen and self imposed lifestyle of woodworking can always be applied to all crafts requiring skilled work as a lifestyles and this includes gardening for food and small animal husbandry, farming and market gardening. It’s not really to do with the costs of materials but educating our customers and elevating the meaning of craft so that they feel inclined to support a lifestyle.