This weekend marks the official launch of my book Essential Woodworking Hand Tools here in Oxford. It’s a strange thing to see this as progressive but for 25 years I have watched state schools and colleges close workshops and sell off their workbenches and hand tools for a few baubles. Such actions left whole societies bereft of the inspiration that once spawned skilled artisans. It’s narrow-minded to hamstring the cultures that once transformed western craft by such crippled attitudes to art but it happened. So I am especially happy to celebrate my 50 years as a working man by writing this book. I wanted to pay tribute to the tools I’ve relied on all my working life, that put food on the table and provided for me and my family throughout those years. At least now these tools will not be forgotten.
In preparing for this weekend I have been pulling the tools together to take to the venue. Clustered together they don’t really look much, but then I think of how they have served me in creating my pieces through many decades now. I was reminded of this when someone wrote me a year ago saying he and his wife had bought a dining table from two decades and they were still enjoying it in their country home in the Texas Hill Country. Last week a man wrote me recalling I had made a post bed for his parents and that it was a Paul Sellers Lone star piece signed and dated in1992. These pieces fed my children and the tools in the book are the tools I used to make them.
Today, talking with my friends over home made scones and clotted cream coated with blackcurrant jam, creative artisans all of them, I shared how over the years I had seen my pieces carried off in aeroplanes and Hummers and that I had delivered chests to oil barons and lawyer offices many stories high and a whole city block square. I shared also with a friend that I never became rich and didn’t return to England with much more than I left with. Possibly less. It’s still hard to imagine that my most prestigious pieces came from the cutting edges of tools I bought when I was 15 or 16 years old. It’s hard to believe that a few hand tools could give me such wonderful support and memories I could never imagine.
This is truly a wonderful craft and the book is my legacy to woodworkers who celebrate life working quietly and not so quietly with their own hands too.