Getting connected

PICT0380_2I started making things from wood with nails to hold the pieces after seeing my dad clutching a handful of 4” ovals making me and my siblings a go-cart from an old mahogany table. Clenching the pointed nails now protruding over and sending them back seemed the cleverest thing to me and two three-foot pieces gave use a five-foot chassis in a matter of a few hammer blows. Two cross members, one fixed and one pivoting on a bolt in the centre held two sets of pram wheels and I knew freedoms I’d never known before. No, not on the the four-wheeler! It was the hammer and nails, my introduction to woodworking and the power of nailed wood.Making a Cello 2 (70) PICT0016_14

From there my go cart made frantic trips to the bottom field and the tip (city dump) where the trucks lined up filled with thee worlds rubbish. Loaded with everything from old wardrobes to new offcuts of plywood I loaded my cart and wheeled it home and my dad and I nailed stuff together to make ‘furniture’ for the house. I’d found two cans of gloss paint, light green and pink and he taught me to paint too. From these all too brief encounters I became the happy maker of things from wood and the painter of things from wood. At fifteen I entered into my apprenticeship and 50 years later I’ve made hundreds of thousands of hand cut dovetails, mortise and tenons and many more joint types; possibly as many or even more than any man living. I’m not claiming that, but it’s possible in today’s world were machines have indeed taken over.DSC_0011

This last week I watched different people being trained or who I had trained working in my workshop and thought how amazing to have seen 5,500 people standing at my benches being transformed and changed to think differently about wood. I remembered some of how it began and seeing men standing with sons waiting by a bandsaw ready to cut out shapes and wondering why. DSC_0015I took them to my workbench and introduced the mallet and the chisel and a tenon saw and suddenly the line and queueing stopped and the fathers and sons engaged in the real work of real woodworking and real relationships with wood and one another started developing. These are the ways that young people become woodworkers and fine furniture makers. DSC_0002Dad’s engage with their children when they use hand methods that, yes, they have dangers, open doors at the right age in the right place just when it’s needed. DSC_0020What I teach today began with a handful of dads trying to connect with a generation that many are losing all the more to two thumbs tapping smart bits of glass and plastic in pretend worlds everyone would have seen for what to really is at one time. When some pursue dreams of wealth and prosperity, others discover their hands were made to create something real. Relate to the real world, reconnect when their little and one day you’ll make a go-cart with them or a cello. DSC_0017 2One day you’ll see them making coffee tables as wedding gifts for their brother’s wedding gift, wooden spoons, mallets and workbenches for a living and a guitar, a violin and a cello they can play. No matter how good the computer and the smart phone apps, they are not smart enough to compete with what I enjoyed in watching my sons around me in the workshop over these past 30 years.

8 comments on “Getting connected

  1. i’m so sorry i didn’t listen to my dad when he wanted to show me his woodworking skills with hand tools ,i said to him why do that when you can plug a router/saw in and do it in half the time,oh i wrong i was, i suppose they do know better.

  2. You’re right, Eddy. A now more-than-middle-aged friend in Houston has a garage full of hand tools, wonderful shop. He has two daughters that he tried to get interested, who never showed any interest. I now look back ten years ago to that conversation and feel very sad that he couldn’t share it and his tools will end up rusted in the sub-tropical humidity of south Texas and end up in a yard sale one day.

  3. A great post. I remember working wood with my Dad. They are some of my most treasured memories. I know he learned his skills from his Dad. Thank you for this. Tim in Texas

  4. Paul,

    We had wood-shop, foundry, electronics, and machining in the High School I attended. 5000 male students in Chicago. Taught college preparatory as well. Physics, calculus and chemistry. Oh yeah radio shop…LOL! I watched my dad do maintenance with hand tools, including rebuilding our two story back porch ( the ones you see in the movies). I learned by watching, being curious, and taking his tools from his locked tool shed, until he found me making crude boats to sail in the park lagoon. Guess he figured he should teach me how to use the tools and gave me my own. I had to promise to stay out of this tool shed. I crossed my fingers and agreed.

    My attention went toward “what makes tube radios work?” Another story.

    I’m working in wood again. Going to mill some logs (hopefully, have some small ones with spalting done) to make furniture from nature.

    YouTube has opened a world of woodworking along with Facebook. Isn’t it Ironic, that I learn from you through the media you say is replacing the joys we knew. Maybe it’s just different, and brings us all together?

    • I think I can only speak for myself. Somehow I made it to the other end of my worklife looking back and saying it was good at work. Most of it’s been pre-internet. I’m glad I am not forced to make films, write books and teach classes to make my living and can do it based on sincere working knowledge. I’ve never had to copy anyone’s work or ideas. I’m glad I do use the internet to reach a million people a month instead of the few hundred a year that I reached in past years. I’m more glad that I do it from a lived life as a craftsman who actually made it working wood for a whole life and was able to sell what he made to customers he liked and liked him. It’s been a most real life.

  5. When I was in my late teens and twenties you’d have said the same about me, and my dad. Now, in my 30s, I’m re-learining the skills he showed me off an on over years of Saturday work. He’s obviously liking seeing what I do, and chatting about techniques and tools.

  6. Your post has brought so many memories to the surface for me: I got interested in ‘making stuff’ when my Dad helped me build my own version of Tracey Island in the garden rockery next to the fish pond when I was about five. All my Dinky toys used to live in this base that we built together. That got me interested on making model aircraft and before I knew it I was often helping (well, getting the way if I’m honest) my Dad when he did any decorating or DIY; I’d be in charge it handing the correct tool to Dad when he needed it. I learnt an awful lot from him just by watching.
    I remember when STAR WARS came out in ’77, my Dad sitting down with my and showing me how to draw Darth Vader which lead me into an interest in art. Things came full circle when my son asked me to build him a go-cart (pretty much the same sort of thing you describe Paul). It lasted two summers of play and became their car, rocket ship etc. I’m now teaching him moulding and casting techniques for a project he has in mind but it’s my daughter who really shows the most interest. The times when they come down to the workshop to see what Dad is getting up to are some of my most treasured moments.

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