Digging Into the Past and a Future Woodworking Generation Emerges

Bridging the gap

This was my dad at 86 years old. He and I worked together in his latter years and I treasure what he taught me in serving others through his serving me.
This was my dad at 86 years old. He and I worked together in his latter years and I treasure what he taught me in serving others through his serving me.

One thing I have learned through my lifetime as a lifelong lifestyle woodworker is the value of drawing out my work, looking to the past for a present generation. This means copious note making and measuring the details of life meticulously and searching out for the many small nuances a particular craftsman had  and left behind in tool marks such as plane and chisel cuts or saw marks. Even the chips on the floor tell a sentence in a story. From these I tell whether the plane was square on, inline, pushed and lifted to feather the out-cut or a full through cut. I must say that I like the workmanship that predates mass-making beyond slabbing the tree into boards.

Walnut slabbed in a small woodmiser mill is enough machine work for a hand tool man like me.
Walnut slabbed in a small Woodmiser sawmill is enough machine work for a hand tool man like me.
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Not the old streets of Hillgate, Stockport where I grew up but it tells a story here too.

You know, where hand planes skimmed off the saw kerf of frame saws and circular saws leaving slight undulations in the surface and vernacular evidence where I could relate to the man, his wisdom in workmanship and of course the fact that say two hundred years ago he was sharpening on local stone or slate quarried from an open cut a few miles from his bench. Life you see for a man like me and them was unfancy. A walk on cobblestone setts to work sparked from the hobnailed clogs in the dark of early morning and in the shop the same clogs clunked on the wooden floor in an era unknown to concrete, plywood and pressed fibreboard. It was an era of real, earthy life when a man planted seeds in early spring and covered the rows with straw at night and opened up the rows at first sunlight to heat the dark soil through the day as he worked wood he’d cut with his own hands. His kids worked with him; I mean alongside him. I recall a lady saying to me, “no man should ever teach his own son and no son should ever work with his father.” That’s the silliest thing, but I’ve heard it said by others too. How narrow a mind on the one hand and how reckless a father who didn’t train his own son and raise him to respect the world he brought him into.

This was my youngest so learning to research and draw and to to 'see' more deeply.
This was my youngest son, before my beard greyed, learning to research and draw and to to ‘see’ more deeply.

Working together was for me one of the richest rewards of being a dad. I cannot remember once where my boys and I did not enjoy working together, alongside one another in the evening. The stove filled with warmth and glowing hot was a magnet at different points throughout the winter time; snow outside and steam on the windows in. Those of you who have sons and daughters will have a greater struggle than I did encouraging your children away from computers and role playing instead of real living but it can be done. I cannot remember once forcing my kids to come and work with me. More the reality was getting them to stop and walk home with me at 9 and 10pm. At home I would hear something scratching as I lay in bed and realise, no, it wasn’t a mouse, it was sandpaper as one of the boys sanded a spoon or a cutting board.

Life is changing but relationships very much matter

Dads and daughters work together only rarely but this was a very happy week for these two students who took time out from working for IBM
Dads and daughters work together only rarely but this was a very happy week for these two students who took time out from working for IBM

It is a different world for us today and especially so for you young parents, dads especially I think, to switch off work you do to make a living and switch on living for working with your children. If you start early with them they will not only have the rich rewards of working with you, they will wait for you to come home and walk out to the shed or garage, stoke up the stove and start the real work of building bonds in the next generation of woodworkers. You’ll be building relationships that never die and character that stands true to a loving relationship you most likely won’t get through the isolationist confusion of a computer keyboard.

And then there are husbands (Joseph my son) and wives (Katrina my daughter-in-law) making  a coffee table for their friend's wedding gift.
And then there are husbands (Joseph, my son) and wives (Katrina, my daughter-in-law) making a coffee table for their friend’s wedding gift.

My dad and I bonded late on in life when i welcomed him into my workshop and in reverse taught him to make things with his hands. See, my friends, there’s more to working wood than mass production, machines and wearing self protection.  Drawing and making notes is often making your mark on human lives. Passing on what you know by sharing what you have with someone very close to you can change their lives and yours.

And then there are children and grandchildren too.
And then there are children and grandchildren too. Another of my sons, Aber, with my grandson Ian.

Parents don’t have to lose their children as they grow to adulthood at all. The thoughts and memories I have watching my children planting potatoes, picking tomatoes, making their first table, chicken coop, a cello, a coracle, a cold frame perhaps their first canoe or just a wooden spatula we still use in the kitchen after 25 years have now panned out in pure gold. Start them young. Remember the ancient proverb from times past to “Raise up a child in the way they will go and when they are old they will not depart from it.” Enjoy your kids. It’s up to you to dig a little deeper and find that there is more to woodworking than meets the eye. What was the single most important ingredient in all of these photographs? Hand tools, hand work and real, real woodworking.

10 comments on “Digging Into the Past and a Future Woodworking Generation Emerges

  1. This one resonates with me very much Paul. I will be moving end of month into a place that has room for a proper basement shop set up. I will be asking my dad, and my son, to help me set up the work bench. (Side note, love the shave horses, been looking at different types to assist when i do canoe paddles for instance.)

  2. I’m so happy I found Mr. Sellers on the net. My 7 year old loves watching the videos with me and working in our tiny shop while learning hand tools. We try our best, side by side, and manage to turn out some small projects together. Our budget is low, but our aim is high. God Bless All.

  3. A wonderful post, Paul!
    I am a young dad who just (31. December) become 33 years old. My son is 2 years old. Everey evening when I come home from my job I take him with me into my workshop doing some fulfilling REAL WOODWORKING. Because there are no machines in my workshop safety issues are rare. So my son can move and play freely in my workshop while I am doing my work and always keeping an eye on him.
    It is very enjoyable to hear my sons comments on my work using his little vocabulary. He is very nosey and so it happens that he comes with his toy saw to help me. Or you just turn around and see him carrying away your 22 inch Spear and Jackson panel saw for making some ‘accurate” cuts ;-). Thank god Paul taught us saw sharpening! And thanks to my son who let me stay in practice.
    There are many more such little stories which let me smile. I enjoy it!

  4. My father was a part time woodworker when I was a small boy and he would often take me with him to the workshop, teaching me and passing on his knowledge.
    Lately, I keep returning to those days and memories keep playing back.
    More than 40 years had passed since those days we worked together, but I feel blessed and cherish every moment with him.

  5. Great post, Paul. My daughter is ten months old and I can’t wait for the day she wants to be in the garage with dad making wood shavings.

  6. My two year old grandson helped make his Nana’s Christmas gift (a garden tool tote). His mom cringed a bit when I held the wooden pegs and let him hammer them in with a small mallet, but his aim was true and he didn’t smack my fingers once. The tote turned out great, and is valued even more since those two little hands helped make it. I’m looking forward to the years ahead, when my grandsons (the other one is only 3 months old) spend time with Papa in the workshop. They may or may not become woodworkers in the future, but I know that skills learnd will not be soon forgotten, and the memories we make together will last our lifetimes.

    Your life is an inspiration, Paul. It’s been said many times, but I’ll say it omce more – thank you!

  7. The image of you and your son is priceless. I love working with my sons. Some of my fondest memories in my life were from working with my father.

  8. Keep on inspiring and teaching. You do it well. It is a gift from God, so continue to share your life with us.

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