“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!” 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. 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.
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? 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.
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!
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.
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.