Visitors Welcome

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

In a given week we have a few hundred people come into the workshop and I started to do that way back in Reagan Wells in Texas back in1988 when we built our home and workshop side by side. At that time the www was introduced more as a concept and the computer I knew was more a word processor compared to a smart phone. Kicking the dry and dusty dirt and talking to a friend talking about people “having shops and buying and selling things online” seemed a little far fetched if not more science fictiony but one w after another linked up and the world became a massive wide web to buy and sell through.

It was back then that I started to have printed brochures printed up and lodged in the local department of commerce in Uvalde to direct people to my workshop. It was simple enough, mostly rub on letters from Letraset alongside typed sentences with bullets telling people we were 28 miles north of of a county road in a dead end canyon and that you crossed 5 low river crossings 8 miles into the Reagan Wells Canyon and you’d look for the Old English Workshop sign where we were. Ask any banker or business advisor for a loan on the strength of this business plan and I doubt they would see the dynamic of it. Guess what? All you need is a little faith. It worked. 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

People, couples mostly, started to drive into the canyon and into the workshop they came. I showed them how I cut a dovetail by hand and they wandered in between the equipment asking questions and looking at the things I was making. I had a large oak sideboard and bookcase for sale and a young couple came in and bought it almost on the first day and someone else ordered a custom piece. I made many wooden spoons and a lady came in with a knockout spatula advising me to make them and advising me that to was the very best wooden spatula she had ever used and wouldn’t be without it. I came up with my own method of making the wooden spoon from my scraps of mesquite and it was an instant hit.. Where else in the world could you buy a wooden mesquite spoon hand carved by an English furniture maker? $18 per spoon and $10 for a spatula put me on about $15 an hour starting out nearly 30 years ago. People bought them as the single most perfect gift they could think of and I paid my bills, met new friends and we were in business.

Craftsman rocker 3 2004Since then many thousands of people have passed through my workshops as we maintained and open-door policy as much as we could. Hanging my shingle with ‘Visitors Welcome!’ was intrinsic to who we were in passing on the good news of our work no matter where we lived and to date the memory of people watching me carve a spoon is my way of sharing lifestyle woodworking with others.

People passed through the workshop yesterday as they do most days and of course the footfall is much higher as the holiday season (vacation) gets off to a start. People want to buy what we make but we don’t try to sell any more because of time constraints. But it’s the people passing through the workshop  that mean so much. Young and old, people from around the globe walk in and sniff the air and they all say the same things. “I love the smell of wood.” “Reminds me of my woodworking in school.” “The girls couldn’t do woodworking when I was in school.” “I was never any good at woodworking.” “I love woodworking. My dad was a carpenter.” Of course no one will realise that these comments are repeated by almost everyone passing through and no one will realise just how evocative wood truly is in its prompting such comments. I think it’s possibly truer in the US where whole houses are made from the highly evocative pine stud and plywood that smell so very strong, but Brits non the less are drawn into our workspace by the smell of wood, the tap, tap tapping of a mallet and the sawing of a handsaw. They stand at the door recording the scents and the sights as if sensing something they really value to take home with them and the sense something I call hope that something is still alive and well by visiting my workshop wherever I live.PICT8761

Of course I’m retired and have been for about 40 years. I retired from what people expect me to be. I retired from the status quo, the normal, the pursuit of things  now normalised. I retired from pursuing security and just kept picking up chisels and planes when everyone else was following the epitome of noise and scream and face masks and dust extractors. It’s been a little different for me than for others in that I live to work rather than work to live. I live to get woodworking back to where it was and then to add a little more back in as people, individuals around the world, make the decision to get off the conveyor belt and realise the real joy of woodworking is doing it with your own two hands.

24 Comments

  1. Thomas Tieffenbacher on 29 July 2015 at 6:30 am

    Nice flow of thought !



    • Paul Sellers on 29 July 2015 at 8:59 am

      The first para was dropped so it makes more sense now. Sorry.



  2. nevynxxx on 29 July 2015 at 11:47 am

    I’m looking forward to being back down you way again, to drop in and hopefully have a chat. I have no idea when that will be, since our summer plans changed, but we need to spend some more time wandering the grounds of that castle again. One afternoon isn’t enough.



  3. Bill Morris on 29 July 2015 at 12:05 pm

    One of your best posts ever and I’ve been digitally with you from well before Masterclasses got started. So calmly but understatedly and powerfully said. You are what you are by grace. You have changed so many of us profoundly one at a time. I am so grateful for your unselfish sharing character. My grandchildren love to come into my shop and safely drill holes in pine with hand drills and my brace and auger bits with no fears of loud noises. Accountant Bill in Kerrville.



  4. Simon Richardson. on 29 July 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Paul, thank you for your videos and blogs, I like your quiet unemphatic style very much,and am watching all I can. That said may I remark that the rocking chair shown in your latest blog seems to me to need its arrises and corners softening,certainly if I meant to share space with it ! knocking lumps out of me seems to be the ambition of a lot of furniture I’ve come across, the same goes for front chairlegs that project unnessacerily into the area your leg should be occupying !
    Can I say how pleased I am to hear someone defending the good old Stanley and Record steel planes against high priced newcomers, they’ve always worked for me, and much better tradesmen than me. The big old full length jointers seem not to be not much in evidence these days,they always looked serious no matter their real utility.But I ramble…..
    yrs S Richardson.



    • Paul Sellers on 29 July 2015 at 2:26 pm

      I appreciate your concerns and comments. I think some people like their furniture to look like a rounded 2×4 (4×2 UK) and we always avoid that roundover look. In this case the arrises are off and the corners absolutely perfected. No issues there at all. Sam’s work is exemplary of a 20 year craftsman already. After fifty years making furniture I would never leave the arrises on except in unique situations and certainly I train my apprentices to this end. So this is not a ticking off but just letting you know we did think this through. Style and protrusions are something people do get used to as in rockers on rocking chairs.



    • Mike Ballinger on 30 July 2015 at 11:50 am

      Simon I see that more as a personal preference than anything else. Round overs are good, as is leaving it square. I quite like bevels myself.



  5. Ed on 29 July 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Paul- Your approach of engaging others through them visiting your workspace sounds powerful. I’ve heard others say this, too. But, how is an aspiring woodworker to do this when starting out? It is hard to imagine that someone would be comfortable following me down into the niche in our basement where I work, back behind miscellaneous stacks of stuff and the laundry. It isn’t an attractive space, although I find it peaceful to work there. Building a separate shop next to the house or renting space is really beyond possible. So, I’m not disagreeing with your idea, just struggling to see how to apply it.



    • Paul Sellers on 29 July 2015 at 7:18 pm

      I know not everyone will make the decision for their home location based on their workshop. One ad I placed said,”Wanted, workshop in rural location with living accommodation if possible. Lease to purchase agreement preferred.” The phone rang and the man said we have two places we want to sell. We looked at both and entered into a verbal agreement with nothing written down. We agreed the price and the payments and I made the payments for four years and bought the place with no signatures until we closed to facilitate our selling the place to a third party. We paid off the balance to the owner who became a close friend. We had enough money over to buy another home outright and we moved on.
      The house we bought was on the number one wildflower route in Texas and we couldn’t help but make our livelihood all the time we were there as tourists were passing through every day.



  6. Derek Long on 29 July 2015 at 2:52 pm

    Reagan Wells? Wow, Paul, you really did live out in the sticks.



  7. Andy in Germany on 29 July 2015 at 4:06 pm

    I’d echo Ed’s comment. I also have a real problem with the culture and legal system which would be stacked agains me if I tried to do something similar locally: Making a Spatula for ten Euro would perhaps sell in a Christmas market, but I’m not sure otherwise. How do I find the people able and (more importantly, willing) to pay 10 euro for a Sptaula.

    Even if I made a profit I’d have to be careful what I made or it would be declared ‘illegal’ because I’ve not got a masters qualification and I’d be shut down.

    I’m moving on towards work therapy to see if that gives me a way through the legal and cultural web, but I can’t really see one at the moment.



    • Paul Sellers on 29 July 2015 at 7:22 pm

      Location is everything I suppose. Not much i can do about adverse cultural control by governments, Andy. But one day things may change, even there.



  8. Derek Long on 29 July 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Andy, with the Internet there’s lots of venues for selling your wares. Etsy, for example. I do think its sad that there are so many roadblocks in some countries to working for oneself. A license to be able to make and sell woodwork is absurd. Busy bodies are everywhere trying to stop makers from making.



  9. Thomas Tieffenbacher on 29 July 2015 at 8:31 pm

    LOL!

    Paul it was really good. I’m not being sarcastic. You’re sort of a present day James Krenov!



  10. Tom Angle on 30 July 2015 at 1:48 am

    I have no idea what the laws are in Germany, but could you sell on eBay? Here in the U.S. we have a site called craigslist that people sell things on. But a German craftsman made anything would sell here. I grew up in the largest Amish population in the world. People go bonkers over hand crafted items. Especially if the have and unusual angle. Just a thought.



  11. Tom Angle on 30 July 2015 at 1:51 am

    This was to be for Andy in Germany but somehow from my phone it got post in the wrong stop.



    • Mike Ballinger on 30 July 2015 at 12:01 pm

      I have that posting thing on my phone too. When I hit reply it doesn’t post under the correct post. On a desktop it works perfectly.



  12. David Gay on 3 August 2015 at 9:09 pm

    Paul, do you ever make it back to Texas?
    San Antonio Dave



    • Paul Sellers on 4 August 2015 at 3:43 am

      Probably. San Antonio was very much a part of my life and so too Texas and both as favourite places to live and to work.



  13. Tom on 8 August 2015 at 8:01 pm

    Paul;
    Pardon my ignorance but I know you visited the US but is it my understanding you have a home and shop here?
    Regards;
    Tom



    • Paul Sellers on 8 August 2015 at 10:16 pm

      No. I decided to settle here for the remainder of my life. I have lived in the US for 23 years but never took citizenship. Traveling back and forth on long-haul flights gets harder these days.



  14. Chris Helms on 6 October 2015 at 11:29 pm

    Hey Paul,

    I was wondering, since I’m going to be visiting England in about 2 years, if people can just come visit you in your workshop during the day? I know it’s a long ways away but I might as well ask before I forget. I’m 18 now & I learned everything from you (been doing woodworking for 2 years) & I would love to meet you & see the workshop in person.

    So I suppose I’m asking if where you work is public & I can come visit?

    Thanks!



    • Tom Angle on 7 October 2015 at 12:33 am

      You’ll find Paul and Phil to be very hospitible.



    • Paul Sellers on 7 October 2015 at 4:36 am

      It will depend on the time and the date. Two years is a ways off so though we do try to work things out when people are traveling to see us it depends on our schedule. Best thing is to email a month before to see what we have planned. No good coming if we are off in Europe for a tour.