Amateurism—Such priceless artisanry

DSC_0018I think it’s important to understand that amateurism is very alive and thriving in lives that so defy external pressures others impose with business plans, commercial-isms and faceless partnering with sharks and rogues in suits, ties, enforced dressiness and all else. These artisans invest great portions of their free time to develop and grow their skills. It is something I love to invest large chunks of my life in to bring about change and now I see that its gathering its own momentum as all such investments have a habit of doing .

Amateurism has pureness that needs no support, no self-elevation beyond the doing of it in the and working with hand tools equips us to split off from the herd into a wholeness of sustainable sufficiency that defies our being called mere professionals. Because someone masters reading and other such natural ways of communicating with our friends and family and associates; because we learn to form clear sentences and speak our minds, doesn’t mean we became professional speakers, even though we do it well and all the time. We don’t dub them professional readers and speakers. So it is with craft, skill, art and such thingDSC_0057s naturally occurring through due diligence. We have no need to prove ourselves by selling to a high bidder. We just sell as we need. We sell to take care of our families of course, but then we make to share our skills in finished works that extend our lives into the lives of others, technically our customers but mostly people we may not have known but became friends with as we designed and built their pieces. My customers were always welcomed as the build took place. Delivery was one of the greatest joys of course. But then, also, there is the making of things for our families and our parents and our children and grandchildren.

Sometimes, often, alone in my workshop, when my hip leans into the bench, and my arms reach forward into yet another cut, and then over and beyond my working, there slowly wells inside the cleanness of silent praise work alone brings, where work itself becomes the very essence of worship, and the thought inside rises into words of Thank You; edging gently into the silence surrounding me for fear of losing the pureness of amateurism. It’s here where I sense my amateurism reaches the very Source of life and it’s here that peace rests on me. This happens in the process of living out your work.

DSC_0016Sam’s work came together this week as he made his third set of dovetails for his third box—his joiner’s traveling toolbox. Each corner looks this way. The door and back panel are glued up twist-free and the panels he raised with a #4 Stanley came quickly. It’s the three joints and ten hand tools a man and a woman needs to make almost anything from wood. His apprenticing is working well. It defies what our modern world calls apprenticeship these days. No machine will touch his work beyond the wood we buy that’s milled smooth or rough cut to dimensional levels. He doesn’t strain in aspiration toward the machine as a measure of his arriving or his confirming. He knows  machines often interfere with the senses in the same way the computer destroys the senses with artificiality and the shop bot denies a man his learning to carve and shape wood into leaves and sweeps from a gouge edge or a tenon and a dovetail from the chisel and the saw.DSC_0051

Sarah came in to finish off some work she needed guidance with. She’s a serious woodworker with serious goals and little time spare to make and be. The time she spends woodworking defies peer pressure as does my work with Sam and Phil and John, Lea B and others along the way. We don’t always make to sell but to do and to be. That doesn’t at all mean selling is something wrong and unnecessary, just that we see it for what it is and that’s a means of exchange  rather than the ultimate goal some have in life of being rich and well off to the point that work becomes unnecessary. Earning is down there in the list somewhere, of course it is, but learning to live within your means has the greater reward indeed. These are simple limits we see as important.P1040748

Sarah works hard when she comes in. Remember Lea B too, from Slovakia, she does the same. I like to watch the carefulness some people have when they work; those that put love into the work they do reap greater benefit minute by minute. I like seeing the way the chisel rests against the cheek of a tenon to pare away a thousandth. It takes skill that doesn’t usually happen straightaway. These things take time to learn so that force always becomes more measured and meted accurately to the task and when resistance is met it’s seldom harshness and brutishness that develops fine work but care with kindness. The chisel shifts askew to alter it’s path slightly and fibres part, sliced cell by cell by sliced cell. The fibres peel away in upward scrolls and ribbons and the work reveals the hand of a master. This is the work of the amateur. His work, her work, coexists responsively as each sense directs the work. Such things are priceless, non commercial, transparently honest and highly revealing. I think it’s being a master craftsman you see. Of course there is no such thing as a master craftsman because too many things exist to master, but it’s a better title than being a professional.DSC_0107

Anyway, our future extends into changing lives of those who aspire to become fully qualified amateurs. No certificate or diploma exists for this. You need no exam to qualify your work. You see Sam’s work is exemplary of a level of workmanship few professionals actually have. That’s not to say that none do at all. Most professionals I know that do achieve such levels are true amateurs too.


  1. Peter C on 1 June 2015 at 10:51 pm

    Paul, Another interesting post which to the general public would seem to put woodworking on a pedestal, an exemplar of what it means to be passionate about a craft and something which brings out great virtue in its practitioners. Undeniably true for those who can dedicate the time and have fewer commitments than those who really enjoy and benefit from your YouTube lessons and treat small projects as downtime from the demands of modern life. I believe that other skill sets in other areas can provide similar satisfaction – as mentioned before, I spent many years in management of telecoms and computing operations and projects, and was in awe of some of the skill and insight I saw daily from truly dedicated and talented individuals and teams (many the amateurs of the technology world, as they were real enthusiasts as well as providers for their families). I had the honour of working alongside truly generous and some quite brilliant individuals (technically adept, as well as great leaders of people who delivered much to the company and society through sheer hard work and dedication). Indoubtably others could quote similar backgrounds and such life experience. I think we are bound by appreciation of your work, teaching and high quality communication, but without the time or inclination to become the complete artisan; this may be your otherwise silent majority, who benefit greatly from your teaching even though the projects are probably the smaller ones. For the last four years I have been caring for a dementia sufferer, as now retired and full time in the role; this is perhaps the biggest single health issue we face as a society, and which makes no distinction between artisan or business suits, and which requires true dedication to comprehend and deal with 24×7. The UK now spends more on it than cancer and heart disease combined, yet we are just scratching the surface in our understanding of the 80 or so types, many of which go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed. For more information on dementia and ways to reduce the risks I’d suggest seeing Teepa Snow on YouTube and possibly buying her DVDs and books. Sorry to go off-piste, but here is just another example of virtuous amateurism (Carers and dedicated nurses etc) working creatively with limited tools to try and cope with a societal issue, the extent and nature of which (dementias) requires awareness by all as it will reach epidemic proportions as the population ages (though it’s not a natural consequence of ageing, it’s the destruction of the brain via various diseases).

  2. NZ Pete on 2 June 2015 at 12:46 am

    Hello Paul, When i first read the title of your latest blogs I immediately wondered why you were putting yourself down as an amateur, but the context became clear as I read on. An Amateur is described in my dictionary as “someone who is incompetent at a particular activity.” But also as “a person who takes part in a sport or other activity without being paid.” Your context of an amateur is clearly towards the latter definition and is not demeaning of their ability to preform a task, but I’m sure we can all think of examples of incompetent professional’s.
    Throughout my “professional’ working life as a joiner/cabinetmaker I’ve always felt out of step with “normal” practice. It’s only in the last few weeks reading and understanding your philosophy of woodworking that I’ve begun to realise I’m a “amateur’ in a “professional” world. I’ve always been more interested in making things with wood or metal rather than making (lots of) money from what I make.
    I realised this yesterday when I was asked to alter some kitchen units so a larger fridge can fit in. This will entail cutting down two units and making an over cupboard bigger. A local professional Kitchen firm was asked to do this work, but the people were told this was impossible because the panel colours are no longer available…maybe they should consider a completely new modern kitchen instead, with bigger $$$ for the kitchen firm of course.
    This job will have little to offer with hand tool work, the man-made “wood” being more suited to machinery and I won’t make a fortune from it, but i can already sense the satisfaction I’ll gain from the challenge of doing this work. Maybe being an Armature isn’t that “bad” after all.
    Keep up your wonderful philosophy of woodworking,

  3. Joe Bouza on 2 June 2015 at 1:52 am


    These last two blogs have struck a chord with readers and viewers alike judging from the comments and replies to each. The field you are plowing and seeding with this topic will bear immense fruit because it is speaking the language of creativity and freedom of expression that is at the heart of all of the arts and humanities.

    Getting people off the highway (abstract robotic society) and back to appreciating country lanes (fields flowering with creativity) is truly a noble goal. One only needs to review history to appreciate the influences of ‘amateurs’. A ‘Professional Amateur’ is a freeing badge to wear. It says on it: ‘I’m not sure if I can do this, but I sure am going to have fun trying’.