Take your calling seriously

“This is my man cave!”, a man says as he peers into my workshop. I make no comment outwardly but inwardly I groan. I don’t suppose keyboards and tech stuff carries that same sense as a workshop with workbenches and vises, tools waiting for use and wood stacked and racked, so I roll with the punches knowing that they just don’t understand my life as a workman, a working man and a craftsman. A partner comments at another time with, “There you go, the best man toys to play with right here!”  PICT0047 So this time I turn my head and roll my eyes a little. When did real woodworking take such a turn. When did real work, even on a Saturday afternoon for two hours become so demised by jokiness? Anyway I put up with it until a tee shirt turns and there it is again, “He who dies with the most tools wins.” or they replace ‘tools’ with ‘clamps’. Such is the demise of how people perceive craft. Perhaps machines too have become that to some and so too big trucks glorified to be the all-power trucks yet never pulling anyone except a man or a woman down the highway to work. But then there are those who use big trucks for working. These are working people hauling heavy loads, harvesting trees and, more even than that, they are honest.

Being a craftsman gave me independence and freedom to work outside the factory, outside the technologies and in many ways free from the over-influencing of government officialdom as much as you can. I worked with my sons as I trained them through two decades to give them my craft. Which employer allows that? I have allowed that since 1990. IMG_6298 Writing my book these past few months has brought some things home to me and especially is this so when it comes to anyone starting out. Working with your hands and seriously working as a craftsman (in my case) and craftswoman means something different to you. So right from the outset, when you consider moving into working with wood whereby you earn your living with your own hands, change the dimension of how you view this work drastically. Why is that? Well, now it’s down to you. Your choices, your views, your economy, everything you do when you switch on the lights and unlock the door is affected by you and how you control your daily efforts to make your living. The phone rings and you must be direct. Distractions can rob you of two hours in any given day. Suddenly the tee shirts flash before your eyes and you realise this is not play time and the machines are not Tonka toys. Your hands and ears and eyes and throats are key to your future. Dwell on these things and you will understand that without any one of them makes life all the harder. Chances are the insurance you have won’t cover them. PICT0380_2

Look at this plane handle on my Sandusky plough plane and tell me this thing; is it playfully made and cute or was it the serious efforts of a man who took crafting it seriously to the degree that it is the single most perfect fit to my hand of any plane handle ever? P1100856 It’s designed for a right handed man and the company also offered left handers too. I know, some of you will take offence here, “Lighten up, Paul!” Well, those that know me, that work with me in the everyday of  life, know that we joke, whistle and laugh and sing throughout any given day. Sometimes the tee shirts cause a giggle, but then, when it comes to me talking to people about finding their calling, I take it seriously because it reaches out to the serious and the serious have to know that it takes a serious determination to stand against the majority view. P1100851

A man called this week and wanted to take the last course of the year. There is one place left. He wants to be a woodworker but faces strong opposition from his family who insist he gets his degree from university. So he will go to university and do what’s expected of him and postpone his calling. Will he return to his calling or will university do what it does best and divert people from their callings? Who knows who would listen to his heart. I am glad my dad listened to me when I was 14. “What do you want to do when you leave school?”, he asked me. “I want to be a woodworker.”, I answered. “Apply for an apprenticeship then.” and I did. Fifty one years later on I am a woodworkers still. I made my living from it and paid my bills on a single-wage income throughout my work life. I could do it again starting today with the little I had then, but I think in the dessert of crafting artisans it would be easier than before because I would have instant printing and graphics rather than buying rub-on letters and running into to town for photocopying my drawings. There would be less competition for qualified work too. I would have an answerphone and auto responses to emails that would free me to work. I would know not to listen to teachers and professors and educationalists and economists and magazine editors who know so much less about life in the raw and real and NOT KNOWING I COULDN’T DO IT I would DO IT! P1100858

Listen to your heart, plan and follow your vocational calling. Listen to others, but look at them and their WHOLE lives and choose which part of the advise they give you to follow based partly on that. YOU are responsible for YOUR own LIFE, not them and theirs.

Had I had access to the information available to today’s woodworker 50 years ago I would have been in hog heaven. The greatest difficulty today for you is who do you believe. A lived life makes a big difference so search out your mentor, look at the reality of a lived life and then live your own. P1100854

Last week another man emailed me and wrote as follows, and I am paraphrasing here:

I have had a serious addiction to drugs and gone through many rehabs and been in prison for it too. I came out and felt lost, wondering when i would fail and return to my habit. That was two years ago. I walked out to my dad’s garage and pulled out a rusted #4 Stanley. I wondered what you could do with it and researched it on line. I came across your YouTube channel and started following. I learned about the #4 and restored it and got it working. I woke up each morning with a new high. But this time it lasted and has lasted now for the two years that I have been ‘dry’. Now I know where I am going with my life. I have new hope.

Now he could be violin maker or  guitar builder. Who knows. Follow your calling and let it stir you.



  1. Wise words for those who will listen and stay focused. Thanks Paul! Also looking forward to your new book … can we pre-order?

  2. Some how you know when to write something at the right time as if you know what I’m thinking about at that moment. My calling is deep, rich and fulfilling, I know what I’m trying to achieve and how to make it happen. People say I’m going overboard with this and I’m taking too much on my plate but I know what I want and I’m working very hard to make it happen. God willing it will happen even if it I don’t sell a single thing it will not deter me from reaching and fulfilling my dreams.

  3. If there is no depth in thought there is no depth in clarity because there is not the facility for this. I fully appreciate what you have said with the slogans etc on t-shirts or that are uttered. They can be funny. They can also be trite, disappointing and offensive. Culture? Attitude? Superficial? Maybe all, maybe some, unfortunately it can create an often invisible barrier that can only be overcome by comprehension. Takes a bit of work, and as you have stated Paul this equates to time. Time often better spent on what matters to you, not the outsider with the off the cuff groundless rhetoric.

  4. Hi Paul I know you might not have time to read this but someone will I pray. Looking back in time of my life’s work I now wish I had possibly gone a different direction but God only knows what is best for us I believe. I went to a trade school when I was a senior in High School, and got involved in the wood working shop but it was just getting started and it was not to be for me. I grew up in a older traditional time of doing things by hand with my dad so we build a lot of stuff that we needed and used. My mothers dad was a carpenter and when I would go over to his house and play I would play with some of his tools, he didn’t show me much of anything but he did show me how to sharpen a hand saw and set the teeth that I appreciate now more than then. These times in my life are worth more that money could buy or give, I wouldn’t trade this knowledge for anything in the world. Thank you again for what you are doing to help bring back the old school of real woodworking it can make a world of difference in the lives of those who will apply it to there lives!

  5. Paul, the things you say are music to my ears. The man cave one hit the nail on the head. People see my workshop and say, Wow! nice man cave! I grumble a little and say, It’s a workshop, not a man cave. A man cave is a place you go to drink beer and do nothing. My form of relaxing is still enjoying a beer or two, but it’s accompanied by doing something with my hands. I get more relaxation and recharging on when I have spent the whole weekend building something than if I sit around and do nothing. I believe an object in motion stays in motion.
    I go to the local Woodcraft store about once a month. Everytime I go in there, there is the same kind of person spending thousands of dollars getting started in woodworking. They think they need the expensive table saw, bandsaw, planer, bunch of exotic wood for a project. They have no idea what they are doing, or where they are going. I usually see the same stuff several months later on Craigslist for sale. Description usually reads, New tools hardly used, like new! Another one bites the dust, they think spending thousands of dollars will make them a woodworker. They could have went to a junk market or antique store and spent under a $100.00 on a nice #4 or 5 Stanley, a crosscut saw and some used chisels and had a better start. The most expensive thing being a sharpening stone… I had to buy cheap tools because it was all I could afford and I got more from them than buying new tools. I learned something! A 100 year old saw cuts better than a new one once you learn how to sharpen it. Thank you for your words of inspiration are always nice to hear. I hope sometime I can get across the big pond and take one of your classes before it’s to late.

  6. “YOU are responsible for YOUR own LIFE, not them and theirs.”

    That bit of wisdom is sadly lost in todays society and I believe is what is holding most back from following their calling.

  7. That young man should go to University and get a degree in business, then he will be ready for the business side… of his new woodworking calling.

    1. You can learn in a few weeks how to manage a business you start from birth in today’s world I think Derek. I mean three years to manage your own business. I’m not saying you are wrong, just that that is a chunk of time if business is not your goal as such. I am not sure that business men would always be too effective applying business management principles to their own businesses. Usually that’s why they work for someone else. Just my thoughts.

      1. I studied business majored both in marketing and management and finished with honours what they call today with high distinction in every subject just to make my father proud and it worked but not for me. I hated that office environment, I felt completely out of place, a place with no honour, integrity, and honesty. It was a meaningless, soulless environment and whenever I visit a companies office I’m quickly reminded of everything I just described and I can’t stomach being there more than I have to. That’s the corporate world for you nothing more than a reflection of parliament house a bunch of ruthless heartless opportunists.who are nothing more than a bunch of self promoters.

  8. Your remarks about the “all-power trucks” made me laugh. I remember working in Brentwood, TN, an affluent town south of Nashville, and seeing little women, only 5′ tall, driving giant trucks to and from the nail salons and spas. But that’s a perfect example of the way the media has corrupted the common sense of too many people.

  9. “I am not sure that business men would always be too effective applying business management principles to their own businesses.”
    Both personal and observed experience has proven this to be true in most cases. Trial and error, failure, correcting mistakes (constant learning) and perseverance are just as important to success in business.

  10. people who talk about toys wins when they die are not about woodcraft as a craft..so ignore them they dont have a perspective about the lifestyle sine it is not the way the world goes nowadays with no god in their life

  11. I was more thinking that going to University for business would placate his parents but still further his end goal of making a living as a woodworker. Maybe even a degree in Art, though most parents would probably discourage that, too. At his age, its still hard for many to say no to mom and dad. What a choice to have to make. You were lucky to have a father that wanted to encourage your dreams, Paul.

  12. Thank you Paul!
    So very different from vocation, job, occupation, and so many other terms we use to define what we do for a living. Once people grasp their “calling” what they do becomes who they are an extension of their inter self. They begin to do what they’ve been called to do not for the extrinsic value but for the intrinsic worth and a sense of peace that comes from being honest with oneself. It isn’t easy today because of societies pressure to follow the masses and conform. Yet in answering our calling and being true to it we find a way and it has value beyond the pay stub with someone else’s signature. Blessings and keep on fulfilling your calling!

  13. Did you hear the results of the spelling bee for MBA’s (Masters in Business Administration)? Then first word was “Quality”. No one made it to the second round.

  14. @Derek – there are a lot of great business startup supports available today (certainly in Ireland) that are geared towards people who want to start or have started a small business. They often run after business hours and one can learn the basics there for little money. From there a business mentor goes a long way. It’s amazing the wealth of sound advice that is around for people to tap into – if I was starting that’s what I would do, not a degree in business.

  15. The point is the young man’s parents aren’t supporting him and are pressuring him to go to college, not that I am suggesting he needs to go to University to be successful. If he has to go to college, then he can still do something that will further his goal of being a woodworker.

  16. There is always a debt to be paid, whether its the university or learning skills or even acquiring tools. A living needs to be made and I pity the poor people I know trapped in jobs they hate.

    Today the cost of higher education has reached a point of incredulousness that many question whether its even worth it. A little over 30 years ago I came out with a professional degree which the loan was paid in 9 years. Today, I have a nephew with masters degree in architecture $140k in debt working for a firm making $40K/yr. He told me he will be 20-30 years paying it off. He cannot afford his own apartment and lives in his mother’s basement and does not seem to have an optimistic view of his future. Its really a shame.

    Lots of discussions these days about “where are the craftsman?” “Where are the men who work with their hands to fix things?” I have friend who are auto mechanics, AC repairman, welders, electricians and make a better living than my nephew.

    Paul is right, it really is all about finding one’s calling and pursuing with your heart and mind. The problem is we equate success with money and possessions. You have to be an efficient worker to be valuable and you have to be a good businessman to succeed if you ever want your own business.

    I am in the medical arts profession but both my sons are musicians and one is also a gifted artist. Sometimes I wonder how they will do it, but who am I to tell them they can’t make a living at it? No, I will support them in the germinative stage of their lives.

    We all need someone to invest in us, and I am thankful for men like Paul Sellers who always have an encouraging word for young people trying to follow their hearts.

  17. I just noticed something today on this topic. Take a look at the list of the Cartouche award winners at the Society of American Period Furniture Makers. Look at the great craftsmen on that list that started off in another profession and started making a living as period furniture makers, and great ones at that. They followed their calling and made it happen. Several made the jump after many years in other careers.

    1. I think it’s an odd thing that the term career has now replaced the dynamic of vocation, vocational calling and calling. Most people following a career realise part way through that they took the wrong path, made the wrong choices and can or could do nothing to change their path. They were careering out of personal control and lost their calling, which in my view is a very narrow window of time no one should miss but if they did they should try to redeem what time they have working to at least retrieve some of what they lost.

      1. I went to high school 1968-72, just before my time, high schools had ‘academic’, ‘business’ and vocational’ tracks for the bright kids, the average kids, and the slow kids. “Vocation” became a dirty word.

  18. That’s interesting Derek – I guess if you’re going to change career you’d be pretty determined and focussed to make it work.

  19. Paul – I very much respect the demands that your craft places on you and your time. I also understand the annoyance that can come when someone appears to belittle the skills and setup that took years of effort and attention to biuld.

    But maybe there is another way to look at it, too. Those T-shirts might have just a touch of self-mockery to them. And the (American English) term, “man-cave”, can be the refuge of the male in the house, not necessarily including any electronics. The fit-up of the man-cave can involve a lot of care, however silly the name ma be. What you saw and heard may have been at least in part, praise for your accomplishments in a style or dialiect that you are not familar with.

    As an aside, I saw your post just after prepping a lovely piece of quartersawn white oak for a finishing class I am taking. I used my favourite circa 1915 Stanley #5, and a Record #7. My workshop is in a corner of the basement – yes, the man-cave.

    I suggest that deep respect for a craft, diligent effort to learn it well, and good humor, can all happliy share the same space.

    1. You may be right. What about yesterday’s comment from a spouse to another? “If you’re good, I might let you have a little play in here later.”

      1. This is the perception of today’s society a one man shop isn’t taken seriously but a factory filled with all sorts of machinery is. A single man cannot mass produce so he doesn’t make a large turn over therefore in the eyes of the world he’s either wasting his time or just scraping by while on the other hand a factory is assumed to be making a lot of money even though in many cases this is false but the perception is there and none of their equipment is regarded as toys but our handsaws, planes and chisels are belittled as slow, time consuming tedious hard work incapable of producing anything in larger quantities nor accurate work at any given time. So they’ve been handed down to the hobbyist who seeks a relief from his mundane job and astonishes his family and a few friends with what he made over a six month period. This is his place of retreat from the modern world and therefore his spouse who truly doesn’t appreciate nor values his work calls it his “man cave” and God forbid should he decide to do this on a fulltime basis would scream poverty before he had even begun.

        The term ” the one who owns the most tools wins” are the ones who produce nothing, they do nothing but keep the woodworking shops in business. They are on a mission to collect every tool and have them neatly stacked in their little museum workshops. They know what every tool does and may produce a box or two a year other than that their tools sit on their shelves and gather dust while they admire them from a distance. Needless to say they are the first ones to say “there is no money in woodworking anymore” how do they know since they’ve never worked wood in the first place.

  20. @tenpennyguy
    Excellent take. While I agree with Paul’s irritation at the seemingly “dumbed down” view of workmen/workshops as evidenced by t-shirts or remarks made, I must straddle this particular fence by also admiring tenpennyguy’s observation. While it is of the utmost to keep craftsmanship and the use of one’s hands to make a living in its proper place of respect, I also agree that one misses out on bits of the experience as a whole if the humor in those perceived slights is lost.

  21. Play is a serious business! If you’re doing it right.
    The shame is that many folk don’t have the time or space to play in their work or even the notion that toil can be mentally and spiritually joyful. Instead enjoyment is relegated to stolen moments in the various caves we build for ourselves.

    Play is experiment, learning, discovery. It’s taxing. It’s work.

  22. Hi Derek,

    I have a business degree, accounting to be exact and have been a management accountant in industry for the past nine years. I can state with confidence that a degree in business does not show you how to run a business, running a business does.

    Andrew carnage said words to the effect that any man can make a success of himself in any field if he perseveres. You’re as well to persevere at something your passionate about that waste your time gaining knowledge in a field that ultimately done really matter to your or the course of your life.

    1. I often feel I am alone in the things I say about careers and finding your own business to build and develop and live in a lived life even if you work twice as long as everyone else. I have loved and lived my own life as a woodworker and when I had to take another job for a season `i never stopped working with wood for more than a single day. In fact, I could count on one hand the number of days I haven’t worked wood in some measure or read about it or talked about it and that’s in over 50 years. If one day I have to stop then I might be disappointed but I will have lived a very full life.
      Thanks for your comment here.

  23. You can make a life from anything you set your mind too and why I struggled making money from woodworking was made clear to me ever so plainly by Paul through his countless posts sometimes not directly on this subject but through his own attitude towards living a life as a woodworker. I used to compete with the big box stores and people responded to me in the like manner, even though in terms of quality there is no comparison my creations speak for themselves but when it finally sunk into my head and I understood that my work is unique and supersedes any of what they can offer on their shelves my business increased. I am busy, I am selling, I am receiving more orders than I used to. People are now taking me seriously as I no longer grovel at their feet begging to make a sale, I have pushed away those bargain hunters and replaced them with people who appreciate the time and skill taken to make something wonderful that will be in their homes for generations to come.

    I have worked wood for 25 years, 17 of those years I was trying to make a successful business out of it and was getting no where until I discovered Paul who unknowingly opened my eyes to my errors and now my business is growing. So there it is in a nut shell. Thank you Paul you are not alone in these things.

    1. I have never met Paul in person as much as I aspire to meeting one day even if it be to just shake his hand I perceive him to be an honourable, an honest man who has struggled his entire life, defeated all odds and came out as a winner. This life experience has made and shaped him into the man he is today. Not many people in this world can hold this title it isn’t just about creation it is also about the persona. God Bless you in life Paul and may you work wood till your very last day and all those who love wood as much as we do.

  24. Now I know I shouldn’t laugh when I watch Paul’s excellent video clips but sometimes I do and here’s why.
    The clip concerned was the one where he tells us how to make a piece of wood ready for work. Said wood is naturally as warped as the morals of a Senator, as rough as a trailer park party and about as straight as a mountain pass road. Paul who shall be hereafter referred to as The Man holds the wood up to his eye line, has a little think and then pops it into the vice. After a few strokes with his No4 his again inspects the job. A few more strokes and the wood is removed and checked with a square. Typically this is where I giggle because this is when The Man says.
    “Oh, look at that, it’s spot on….” in a querulous tone almost not believing what he is seeing.
    This quick work of course something that comes naturally to someone who has trued up more wood than the rest of us have had hot dinners! Then he marks this off as the face edge and continues in his own effortless style to flatten and true the other edge typically finishing another easy session of planing with another amusing comment such as.
    “Oh, look at that, another immaculate edge, would you believe it?”
    Paul please don’t forget that what you do in three minutes with little effort can reduce a beginner like me to a sweaty trembling sobbing wreck after almost a full day of frustratingly slow progress. It is rather lovely to see how it should be done though. Gives me hope!
    Please keep up the good work, we all love it.

  25. They don’t understand why you might need so many clamps, so many different types of clamps, so man rip and crosscut saws.

  26. My day job is serious enough for me to not have to take woodwork in the same vien.
    Who cares what way people view their hobby/craft as long as they’re gaining enjoyment from it? If they choose to dither about in their “man cave” all day, everyday, or for a couple of hours on the weekend, or take it a step further and turn it into a job: what difference does it make? If they want to get enjoyment from using powertools, or wear a t-shirt declaring their tongue in cheek enjoyment from using tools: really who cares.
    Woodworking is for everybody: not just a certain few, who choose to view it in a certain way.

    1. It was a simple enough message. If you feel called to be a woodworker or anything else to make your actual living from then take the calling seriously and follow your passion. Usually that is enough to carry you through when times get a little tough. Just encouraging people to understand that when we are making our livings from the work we do it takes on a more serious bent and we must consider that that’s all. The Tee shirts might not quite be enough for that.

  27. I dunno if people came into my design studio everyday implying that my job is just a bit of fun and play time it would piss me off after a while.

  28. Reading this and seeing your photos shows that it’s definitely not a hobby and not a way to waste time. Some of the tools look like works or art in themselves.

  29. Hi and thank you to you and other great woodworkers who spend the time to share on the Internet.
    I read this post a while ago and I think about it every now and then and although this is a very old post, I’ve been wanting to comment on it.
    While the jokes on those shirts aren’t really my taste either, I think it is unrealistic to say that every aspiring woodworker can make a living from it, there’s just too many. Not every aspiring musician, football star or actor will make a living from it.
    For some of us, it is only a hobby and the beauty of modern first world life is that many of us have the means to pursue a passion separate to a career, perhaps even more than one. I like to make things for family that are better in every way than Ikea and we all have a friend who is brilliant at playing an instrument or loves playing a sport on the weekend.
    The guitar that friend plays or the football boots the other wears may be professional quality and price, a price that will not be recouped through earning potential and therefore can only be purchased with discretionary money, the same money someone else may spend on a holiday or a jet ski.
    If someone wants to pursue a skill as a career, that is great and I wish them luck. However if I want to spend my jet ski money on a veritas plane then I am thankful I can afford the time and the money to play with my toys in my cave, not the language I’d choose but when I’m using my leisure time and the money I don’t need for bills, those words are probably a more honest reflection of the truth than to say that I am of to the shop to work. After all, at my pace, it’s probably very lucky it’s not the passion I chose to put food on the table.

  30. A powerful piece, from the heart and from experience. The part “I would know not to listen to teachers and professors and educationalists and economists and magazine editors who know so much less about life in the raw and real and NOT KNOWING I COULDN’T DO IT I would DO IT!” – seems right “up to minute”, here in 2018.

    The inappropriate casual attitude and jokiness you mention about your craft, I have come across in some with regard to drug use too. So your rehabilation tale seems particularly appropriate.

    BTW I was offered a wooden plough plane for sale this weekend (thin blade like yours) and a filletster (I’m guessing, similar but with a wider blade, maybe 1″). However both used wooden wedges (which needed some attention), rather than wooden threads, to fix the fence in place. I was tempted (at ~£25) but wasn’t sure if I would get much use out of them, nor which would be the more useful/appropriate to my needs, so I passed on them. The seller had 4 or 5 such planes but they are all going to other dealers shortly.

    1. BTW The “man cave”” concept is not all bad. Since my wife came across it she seems less inclined to threaten to “tidy up” my garage workshop for me (which always sent a chill through me!). Given her druthers, much would be thrown away or moved to dark, distant, unfindable places. She now seems reasonably happy to concede this small piece of “her territory”. I call it the workshop, she usually calls it “that mess” (although it seems remarkably well ordered to me these days!).

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