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.
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.
Since 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.
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.