My past was shaped with a future in mind

Short post today.


Lea is still with us for a few days. She’ll be back in the fall for more training.

My world is constantly shaped and reshaped by the interaction of people sharing time and space with me. It’s always been that way since I migrated to the US and after I came home to the UK. Mostly I’ve found my work is always moving that way, moving in pockets and periods of transition when change transforms anyone being shaped to change. Mostly it’s people with people that make change happen. In times past I created workshops of isolation to work in. Places where I could make my furniture or make my woodworking alone. I took wood from trees I cut and slabbed and made what I wanted to make and I sold them. I took trees down alone in pockets of isolation that I treasure today as memories. In those days I’d work long days in the wilderness watching for out wild boar and snakes of every kind. I learned to sense danger as I worked with come-alongs and winches, iron lever bars and crow bars to leverage the logs and limbs from the ground to the truck. My 52 Dodge flat bed never failed to start and driving through gravel river beds laden a ton or so of fresh-cut  wood after many hours of cutting and shoving and winching probably wasn’t the best use of my time, but back then the work insulated me from humankind.

Often I needed those pockets of time alone in the desert. For me it was a period of discovering more about my limits, weaknesses mostly and then my strengths too. Pitting myself against what seemed to me impossible helped me to develop something I had never seen before. I saw that no man is an island. That he needs others around him. Not all the time, just most of the time. It was the interaction and interdependency that striped away the fallacy that being some kind of rugged individual was to be admired. That the self-made wealthy man was a success and those that had very little or even nothing were somehow less. I saw that my stripping down my chainsaw somewhere in the middle of nowhere in harsh places with nothing but wildness and a shotgun was indeed an achievement and that I wanted to share the experience with my father who feared snakes and came from a city of five million. Several times after me wanting to share it he came with me. He’d never seen 500 longhorn cows before in one place on a ranch of one million acres in a single spread. We shared these things you see.

P1040760 Today I’m back in the UK outside a small town on the coast. Its a funny thing but I go to work each in a massive castle and people I enjoy being with join me most days. People today use a term phrased as reinventing themselves, but mostly they are simply being defined by a life they think they can create but is one that’s creating them. In the desert there are many things you learn and understand when you are alone—no people, just nature. Today there are too many influences surrounding us that we seem to have less and less control of. These influences flow in and out of us all the time and mostly they go unnoticed. This cultural kinesiology is always changing us in subtle ways and unsubtle ways. Culture defines who we are and what we do, how we speak, walk, talk and relate to everything we live in, live by, live for and more. Culture is a powerful influence we seldom see the power of, let me tell you.  People I work with, work for, live with and live for are all the more important to me now. My world is a unique world filled with life and that seems to fit me and fit others and we are all pieced together in realms many may never know, but my hope is that they will all in some measure come to know what I’m speaking of. It’s a world where I can now share a way of life with people who are not reinventing themselves but discovering themselves.

DSC_1009 You may not know Rhodri Owen but I do. He did a month long course nearly three years ago. He came over Friday to see me and we shared some time together. I caught up on him as he told me about the business he started making furniture. I knew that was his goal when we first met. Well he went home to the town he lives in and started his business and its been a real struggle, but he’s survived and this year is filled with lots of promise for him. It takes guts not money to start a business like this with nothing.

Sometimes I think people perceive my apprenticing years with some kind of magically wrought spell that somehow transformed me from boy to man—unskilled to skilled. Distractions for me were the same as for any other 15 year old transitioning from days filled with entertaining toyish things and playfulness, playful things to the things of work, where any minute of unfocussedness left a void, a place for a voice that recalled me to the task. A place where accidents were common and the dangers as real as being in ht wild places above. In such times I missed the mark many times but I changed because when someone asked me why I did so and so I couldn’t just say, “I don’t know.” There was an accountability for carelessness that had to be faced.

P1040865 Sam came to a nine-day course a few weeks ago and he was a determined man. I invited him to come join us for a month more and he has. He has only a week or so left, but now he will be staying on at the end of the month because I felt I wanted to help him discover his dream. Inviting him is perhaps selfish for me because I get so much out of apprenticing this way. And anyway, what would you do if you had all of these empty benches between classes. On Saturday we picked up wood for him to start his own bench. I’ll keep you posted. Looks like yet another new maker begins his journey home. DSC_0001

You see woodworking is all about helping others to grow into creativity and then you create a sharing environment in spheres that have worth and value. It’s not something you export as you might say a product, it’s much higher than that, so there is no government backing because you own something no one can ever buy into that way. Apprentice training will never be like it used to be because it can be a shared responsibility. That’s what makes change happen.


  1. What an awesome opportunity! If I was 25 years younger I would be begging for the same chance.

  2. This post is really tugging at my heartstrings.

    I grew up in the UK and my only experience of woodworking came from the TV and the New Yankee Workshop. Yet I didn’t have a workshop, or the money to have one, or anyone to show me how to even start!. I emigrated 5 years ago now to Kansas with the dream of a house, land, and my own workshop. A dream, a better pace of life, contentment. It’s been a long journey but I feel that the stars are aligned. I have found this community and what I feel is my calling, it always has been I think. I’ll be 40 this May but I’d sorely love the chance to be in that mans shoes.

    Thanks Paul, great post!

  3. I visited Penrhyn castle last week what an amazing place crammed full of furniture showing the levels of craftsmanship from years gone by .Some of the doors are works of art in themselves I understand that it was basically a show piece for the earl of Penrhyn in the 18th century so is not really as old as expected still well before machinery,just goes to show what can be accomplished using handtools alone .The place must be a great source of inspiration for you Paul .

  4. Thanks very much for your blogs and videos Paul. I have recently retired, and memories now flood back from schooldays’ woodworking, engineering drawing, and metalworking and of the main two teachers I had when I was 12 to 14 years old (in the late 1960s). I recognise now that each project I did contained a number of techniques and various materials which (had a taken an apprenticeship) were a grounding for starting many trades. Much of what they said and what I did (prior to me following a more academic route at school) is in the memory, but has many gaps, which you fill and enhance so very well with your blogs and videos.

  5. Thanks for sharing, Paul. With us, and with your students and apprentices. When I’m in my shop with my #4 and a bow saw and some chisels or whatever other tools are on my bench I feel confident that growth will occur and that it can take its own pace and that the thing I’m making can be a beautiful marker of my life at this point in time. This confidence is due in large part to what you convey so thoughtfully. Not everything should be machine made and making things by hand has its own perfection that defies the demands of an IKEA world. You have helped me to love the woodworking process as much or even more than I love the end result, and that means that I approach the various challenges of executing a design with joy and peace rather than fear or anxiety. And that is the case even though I am no master craftsman at all yet. It truly is discovery not reinvention, and the discovery is what makes me so grateful. Anyway, thanks again.

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