Bringing it Home
Today I received two emails that made me realise that we are indeed WINNING! It may not be easy but it has been so worth it. Many years ago, nearly three decades ago now, I thought to try to help woodworkers return to their roots and the wonderful world of doing things yourself and especially through hand tool woodworking. Back then we were up against so many giants and it was indeed a very daunting future for real woodworking. My work seemed slow and sluggish at first, a few people gathered around my bench here, a few people there. People scoffed and mocked and especially this “in the industry”. Today I consider my work all the more successful when industry continues its scoffing and those “professionals” who consider my efforts old fashioned or mere nostalgic reenactment; two words I never use nor care for particularly. Nostalgia has a ring of regret and reenactment that sense of playing at something when in reality my work always was real and rewarding and I never really longed for the past days but chose to live a way of life in the todays of life that simply provided for my family.
I looked through a trade publication this week that struck me because looking through its 36, 30 cm (12″) x 42cm (16 1/2″) pages I saw only engineered boards and machines and only two very minuscule nods to wood at all. So, why call a publication Woodworking News if it’s pages are crammed with adverts for monstrous machines and a mass of equipment used to feed the machines.
I also noticed one software supplier use of the word “bespoke” when describing its software package. When everyone uses this word in the description of a business of course it loses meaning and so I wonder what worth it has and especially if a machine is the maker and not the man or woman. Of course bespeak means to speak out and in times past the workers work spoke of the quality of the maker handling the needle and the thread or the plane and the wood. Hence the word bespoke.
Of course to be fair we are not really talking apples for apples here. Because the mag is not really a woodworking publication it would be wrong for me to expect anything different, but snatching back what the world of mass making has indeed corrupted and robbed us of is critical to the work we do as a major educating entity. To me it is funny seeing ‘Woodworking’ as a part of a title and then trying to reconcile men working in hard hats and hi-viz garb. This uniform does indeed do what all uniforms are designed to do and that is, in part anyway, to identify who owns the workers. Whether threading the end of a stick or beam into an angular box skirted by 20 feet of track to convey it into and through multiple cutterheads is actually woodworking or machining I will leave you to decide for yourselves. I have made my decision. It’s not!
So what are we doing?
Well, we are enjoying success now. This week I received an email from a man who was surprised when his five year-old sank into his lap and sat and watched some of my videos. The youngster continued to watch on a tablet long after the father went take care of other things. This goes beyond my wildest expectations and despite opposition along the way we are equipping families to reengage in real family woodworking. Why is it that I hear from many women I meet that they would love to learn woodworking but never had the opportunity? I know the reasons now and it’s remarkable that culture today can still make change very difficult but it has and still does. Machines are very intimidating and rightly so. Hand tools on the other hand open the door and if you get it right and early enough it can be the single most impacting influence on engaging youngsters. Forget CNC developments in Design and Technology (D&T) classes that are programming your children for “the workforce”. Yes, they may have to comply with school requirements and it will have some qualification for when the enter the workforce but spending a few evenings and weekends working in your home shop will have amazing ramifications but, I urge you now, don’t miss the narrow window of opportunity. Leave the smart phones outside the garage door and off the bench and pull out the spokeshave and start engaging them with you in the shop. Real woodworking begins with parents learning alongside their kids. It’s a gentle thing not a macho issue and learning to work with wood is made all the easier if you follow my tube videos or subscribe for free to WWMC. The way we change the world view of woodworking is by taking charge of our lives and our families and not relying on state schools who unfortunately are defined by the needs of industry not creative arts like woodworking and pottery, blacksmithing. Imagine you son and daughter making a tools like these. What about metal working skills using a barbecue pit and some barbecue charcoal. You can teach them about molecular structure changes in metal this way and then you can talk about the trees the wood you use comes from. Let’s take back what 50 years robbed us of as families. Start with some hands on stuff. make a cutting board and wooden spoon. stay one step ahead of the kids and soon you will spreading the good news about more natural ways of sustainability through relational knowledge and work. It’s all about physical and mental aptitude and development. Don’t rely on schools for everything. They can never give your kids what you can.
Let me close with this. I have reached a point when I can no longer answer every email because many of them begin and end with a very big and emphatic Thank you! The mid sections are filled with how lives have been changed, how we have indeed dismantled attitudes and false impressions from a world that until recent years went quite unchallenged. We answer around a 1,000 emails a month these days. We have the same number of staff and it does indeed stretch us all the more but all emails are read from start to finish. In a given month we reach many many thousands. Real woodworking is still proactive and thriving in the lives and hearts of real woodworking enthusiasts who do it because they, well, just love it. THANK YOU!
Funny that you mention nostalgia in a negative way because the word itself refers to a type of melancholy sickness longing for things lost, but woodworking was never lost at all. The process we were taught as youngsters perhaps corrupted, but the hand saw, chisel and plane have been right in plain sight all along, but many have chosen to ignore them in favor of instant results much like the foods we eat. Sure, we could all go buy a cow if we had the space in our backyards and churn our own butter, but most of us won’t. We’ve gotten used to our butter being precut into 4 little slabs as if using a knife to cut a block of butter is pure drudgery. Hint: It’s not. Really.
Woodworking is really not that much different than the kitchen attachments that collect dust that we’re all sold with the notion that those extra 2 seconds of our lives is SO VALUABLE that we can’t be bothered to cut a pound of butter into 4 pieces with a dull knife so we pay someone else the extra dollar or pound to do it for us.
As George Wildman Ball said in Newsweek in 1971, Nostalgia is a seductive liar.
I’ll wait for your next video of how to cut a pound of butter into 4 pieces except where would I buy such an amazing tool? Surely a knife wouldn’t work!
I’m not so sure that the craft isn’t lost if people in the trade have lost the penchant for hand work, hand skills and hand tools and indeed lost even the basic skills of sharpening, which I believe in my experience being with them most have. There is little point in seeing the tools as a positive way forward at all if indeed they are always dull-edged, in poor condition and generally unusable. It’s a sad state but I can say the almost all school tools I have seen in state run schools have always been in very poor condition. This indeed speaks of an era when hand tools were indeed lost to at least two generations and all the more today. I never really saw hand work and skill as negative and have never yearned with sick longing for things past but more taking steps to ensure that they are never lost or forgotten.
Dear Mr Seller and team.
I remember a couple years back asking you in the blog about what was a #4 hand plane.
I simply didn’t know.
Now I’m in a middle of making a full size bed for my step-daughter out of rough saw pine and with less money spent then the price of cheapest Ikea model.
So, I can only say
You taught me “how to catch my own fish”
That’s great! Very inspiring. Thanks for the update, Coisas.
I’m more or less in the same boat as you except I knew what a hand plane was. Still I’m currently building a boat bed for my two children and working with recycled and new pine. Just about finished a simple box that my son is calling his treasure chest and it will be mounted in his bed!
Thanks to all of you. you have inspired much in me and others I interact with at job sites doing trim carpentry at new home construction.
I know i can soon escape the dull drum/ soul killing work of using power machines everyday and help spread the work to parents to get their kids involved in learning about woodcraft and arts in general versus staring at their electronic devices all day.
Thank you guys
Paul’s point about “old fashioned” and “nostalgic reenactment” caught my eye. I’ve owned a Stanley #4 for about 20 years (a gift) but it always remained an object of obscurity; interesting, but I didn’t know how to set it up or use it successfully.
Since gaining a young family I’ve found my woodworking time greatly diminished, but also the times I get are more antisocial (i.e. late in the evening). As such, the howl of a router or planer thicknesser would be a problem.
Turning finally to hand tools (building up a small collection, including router and plough planes), what’s surprised me is how often the hand tool is a better choice than the modern machine; regardless of the time of the day. A quick skim with a hand plane is often a much better, and indeed more satisfying, job than firing up a powered planer (jointer). You’re also less likely to lose your fingers, when engaging in your hobby at the end of a long and tiring working day.
I’d still consider myself a machine tool woodworker, but there’s nothing “old school” or dated about using the most convenient and quality methods; even if that means using an “old” tool. I just wish I’d known that 20 years ago.
Nostalgia. Melancholy. Re-enactment. What words to convey a message to mass readers for whom the ‘old ways’ are that. I packed mules, shod horses, broke horses and then learned to train horses, cowboyed at bit also. These are old ways and old arts- we were considered a dying breed practicing a dying art. I put 21 years in the saddle that I was paid for, many years before that for my own fun. That 21+ years was a ‘lifestyle’, one I miss.
Funny, my grandmother and mother canned vegetables from their gardens and fruit that we picked. Us kids helped all the time when we could be corraled long enough. I still can today and have my kids as part of it. I can also make butter, although I have no cattle at this time, we have an old style glass hand churn.
Old ways. Well, for me, they are sufficient and satisfying. Appreciation of something worked for and sweated/labored over.
Please keep up the great work. After a lifetime of tinkering with wood, tools and machines, it is indeed satisfying to find something as soulful as my days in the mountains.
Paul, I like to cook and I like woodworking. For some reason this blog entry made me think of you at your bench with your saws only a reach away and a picture of Julia Child in her kitchen with the big pegboard wall behind her where all her pans and utensils are hung. There is a reason the title of here seminal work was titled The Joy of Cooking. Would have been an apt title for your new book: The Joy of Woodworking. Cheers, Al
Hello Paul, When I came on your course in October 2014 I said that one of the things I wanted to do was introduce my grandchildren to woodworking. Last week 6 year-old Logan asked what a chisel was for. On Saturday I took him and his 8 year-old brother, Liam, both of whom are left-handed, into the garage and they tried using chisels, saws, a brace and bit and a spokeshave. We did nothing more than take a piece of 2 * 2 and try out the tools. They loved it. I then showed them your video of making a mortice and tenon joint, Logan soon lost interest (at 6 he doesn’t have a great attention-span) but Liam was totally fascinated and now wants to have a go himself. Perhaps a small glimmer of a future woodworker. I now need to work out what an 8 year-old can make with a mortice and tenon joint. So, I have to conclude this with a “Thank you” as 18 months on from the course I’m continuing to achieve my goals.
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