Real Woodworking and the Campaign Continues

p1570900When the show ends the reality hits. It’s a lot of work pulling everything together. But then two small girls 3 and 8 sat on the front row called Ira and Kitty kept jumping in with comments and questions and the reality of woodworking for a new generation reminded me of how important my work is. One thing I might not like about shows like this is being surrounded by reps from Milwaukee, Bosch, Axminster and many others. Here the kids walk amidst the great giants with demonstrators standing with a random orbit sander and no protection at declaring the safety and the freedom such equipment brings and they were a suit and tie on the scheme of it all. And then I peel of a shaving with name ‘Ira‘ on it and curl it round her arm as a wrist band of friendship hope that that single shaving will reverse the invasion of bright red  and then yellow boxes stacked like a wall of obsession around its reps. p1570894A university Design and Technology teacher of D&T teachers lamented the losing of elements once seen as essential in the closing years of school. I signed his book as he thanked our team for the work we do going against the tide.  In the face of those versed only in the art of selling I found myself comforted by the dozens that came each hour to thank us for fighting the cause of real woodworking and providing a way out as an alternative reality. Ever-immersed in a sea of people knowing the importance of our work is a far cry from 25 years ago when we first began. Back then we were quite alone, seen more as poor neanderthals, but that’s far from the case today. We were never too far away from people who loved us and cared about us and have supported us through the years. Surrounded as we were by gladiating giants hiding behind the facade of being experts people see the truth. That said, several people said they came looking for help but felt confused by the offerings. Anyway I did lots of demonstrating and those who knew nothing of our work discovered perfect dovetails stacking up on my bench, mouldings coming from 150 year old moulding planes and a dozen more examples of what they came to the show looking for.p1570916

Coming North wasn’t so much to be with salesmen selling machines, equipment, consumables and such or even hand tools, but to meet with friends from many different realms of life who love woodworking, are looking for something different and are above all looking for real woodworking. That’s who we are and that’s who are the ones searching. Anyway, we met with little input from anywhere else or anyone else.

Two of my favourite people carving remarkable things.
Two of my favourite people carving remarkable things.


In three days time I have two-day discovering woodworking workshop for 15 people. A full class plus three. I will be rested by then and the class will change the lives of 15 people. Reaching out without gimmickry or being sponsored will always be the art of any artisan. I have grown weary of such shows in many ways because we might be seen to validate them, but through the years I see the D&T lecturer buy a book from us for one a student he has who works from a small shed on garden allotment somewhere in Sheffield. I see children like Ira and Kitty, John and his dad, and then Julie with her two daughters telling me, “My mummy’s got one of these (#4 Stanley plane).” and I sigh inside and I say to myself, “We’ve won!”


  1. I think, far from validating the corporate grandstanding by the big names at these shows, your attendance is a much-needed antidote for those who may well have grown weary of the huge demands the latest technology places on their wallets but haven’t become aware of the much better alternative.
    A better alternative both financially and psychologically, I am convinced. A quiet day’s work, everything powered by one’s own muscles and skill, being at one with the wood worked, satisfying the urge for creativity: I don’t see any downside. Which is why I will be eagerly awaiting a chance to come to one of your future longer courses.

  2. I watched the Shannon model boat be built in the Hands Series on youtube. The one in the top pic looks just like it.

    1. Hello Anthony,
      Thank you, oh-my, I’m just now watching that Shannon Hands series you mentioned, it’s wonderful.

      Reminds me of Lou Sauzedde and his totalboat series on building a skiff.

      This is good stuff!

      Tony in Michigan

  3. Ira and Kitty……..Love the post! You realize, Ira and Kitty will remember seeing all the humming whizzing whirling machines, but, the person they will remember is you. I have always admired you for the personal touch you add to everything you do. This is a great example of that.

    From all present, and future woodworkers, “Thank you Sir!!”

  4. I met you quite by accident at the New England Woodworking show in Springfield Massachusetts. I was tired and just happened to sit in your display area to rest a bit. You made perfect dovetails in minutes with basic tools and my son and I were hooked. As i remember you said “why do you need all that machinery when your just going to make a few drawers or one or two items.” You changed our direction that day and i never did buy that power feeder for my tablesaw.
    The show has been boring ever since, come on over the pond and visit again!

  5. Paul,

    You’ve made the lives of Ebay sellers better, as they now charge much more for the planes I use to rehab. You have a calm demeanor which makes people want to listen. You have embraced technology such as this and connected with people around the world. I love tools all tools. And you have helped me appreciate my body as a tool. You promote the process and not the end which helps to center all folk in today’s crazy world.

    Those big shows do promote new tools ( which I cannot afford) and they also provide learning vignettes from people like Paul Sellers. There are people who still do not know who you are, but will remember you after they have met you.

    Keep up the great work. I love the Q and A. I learn something subtle and not so subtle every time.

    1. Yes, gone are the days of getting super bargains on eBay. Now these tools will live to cut and slice wood for perhaps hundreds of years more.

  6. A wonderful post. The only thing that makes me sad is finding out that Paul was right here in Texas for many years; that I could have learned directly from The Master with only a short drive, a few hours involved.

    Love, love, LOVE watching his videos.


  7. lots going on here. I still think the biggest danger is ignorance – a lack of education as to what hand tools can achieve, or actually the limitations of power tools. The latter is really important because you dont really discover that until you have forked out, unpacked it and found out it can’t do what you wanted without a jig, its hard to control and makes a mess when you dont. Or that you can’t buy a good new bandsaw for £200 or a tabe saw for that matter. Or that even if Makita do make the toughest power tools a power plane is still a hideous, imprecise nightmare of a tool! Because we no longer teach kids in school the value of their own enterprise or to take pride in doing things with their hands we raise a generation of slaves.
    I am just getting back into woodwork, I have almost finished my reclaimed timber bench, mostly using your guide, all by hand! The mortices were satisfying although my neighbours weren’t happy but a sharp £8 Disston got through 4x2s with much less fuss than a circular saw, Marples blue chisels handled the mortices (although my hideous Stanley rubber mallet gave me tennis elbow!) , a nice backsaw the tenons and a No4, 41/2 and a 5 handled all the planing duties.

    not sure i’m quite so enthusiastic about the effect on ebay prices because it attracts the collectors and “retro” enthusiasts. I have picked up a couple of nice saws but had much more success with used tool shops, a fabulous if dirty no4 for £5 a Disston panel saw for £8 etc.

    As long as the tool shop stays in business i can happily ignore ebay

    Would you ever publish drawings for the bed you made?

    thanks for the inspiration

  8. Paul, a long time ago you had me convinced with “safe, quiet, clean, and artisanal.” (My distillation/paraphrasing of the parts of your message that strike a chord with me.) I won’t be dumping my machines anytime soon, but thanks to your thoughtful and informative demonstrations they will be reserved for very SPECIAL projects only (such as building a few hundred feet of shadowbox fence!) While I can’t be certain that all your readers will readily come on board because of your straightforward and positive arguments alone, I nonetheless suspect at least that you’re more often than not preaching to the choir with the repeated doses of rhetoric and evangelism sprinkled throughout your posts. I believe that you could strongly promote preservation of the traditional form of this art with fewer of the lamentations you often throw into the mix. Just a thought. I remain a devoted fan, greatly appreciative of your teaching and your dedication. Thank you!

  9. Meeting you at the show was a privilege, thanks for signing my book I wanted to chat more but other people need a chance also. I was wondering if you could ever do a video on curved mouldings and curved raised panels. Thanks

  10. all about selling these days … On my way to Austin the other day, the co-pilot came on the PA system to advertise the airline’s credit card! They are always figuring out new ways to take our money and productive energy in exchange for nothing. Figure out how to insulate children from a consumer mentality and maybe they will grow into self-directed and self-motivated human beings. Rant ends.

    1. PS — on the list of future videos, I’d like to see you making and replacing handles on things like chisels, planes, saws — even draw knives and hammers. Carving, turning, shaping and old methods of attaching (like a strip of wet leather down in the hole of a chisel) — just a thought for future episodes of the neverending story of woodworking. Thanks

  11. Hi Paul, I work as an IT teacher so I spend every day on a computer, the part of the day I like best is when I get to rush home to my workshop. The only power tool I have is an old Australian made table saw that belonged to my grandfather (built sometime in the 50’s I reckon). It is a beautiful machine, all cast iron and wonderfully accurate and it is the reason I started woodworking after I found it in his shed after he died. It had been sitting there for more than twenty years unused so I thought I would give this woodworking thing a go; I couldn’t afford or justify power tools so started hunting on the net and around tip shops for old tools. Then I discovered your videos and I was hooked. Just last night I finished sharpening and setting a Disston D8 cross-cut saw using your video to guide me. Took a few goes but I turned a $2 tip shop find into a wonderful cutting machine – just amazing. I now have a nice collection of hand tools and have started on a little work bench for my grandson (who is 3 and a half) and I’ll fill it with lovely old (blunted) hand tools for him – you see, he loves watching me in the workshop but hates the noise of machines. Over time I will pass on the skills I am learning from you to him and a whole new generation will come to love and appreciate the joy of making something by hand. My motto now is that it is not the destination but the journey – I’m slow to make things and the quality is not great (at the moment) but I just love the peace and the escape from a mad, too busy world. No pressure – but keep up your work for the sake of my grandson and all the other kids out there who need to know and understand the importance of slowing down, doing things by hand and doing it well.

  12. Ha ha! Tool vendors. Paul’s videos have been a revelation to me. In particular, my interest in doing woodworking WITHOUT a shop full of the high-tech power tools is very, very interesting. I don’t have much shop space, and my dust collection system is a shop vac to a pail with a cyclone lid. The hand tools make a lot less dust.

    Somehow or other Paul’s matter-of-fact presentations have given me the confidence to try things that I would never have dreamed of doing. Hand-done dovetails! I am still practising on inexpensive lumber, but I see progress. I have also managed to do some creditable mortise and tenon joints without power tools. What fun!

  13. Hello Dear Mr.Sellers,
    Don’t despair , human powered things are surviving ( or should I say “Solar” ), I figure that I can do an hour’s work on a Cheeseburger which suggests that Humans are Solar Powered. Hmm.

    I’m an old-school Tool Maker, holding .001 is “everyday” for me but I can’t hold that tight with my many Festools , they are about the best powered tools available ( which is why I purchased them ) , my Track-Saw is now my Table Saw, my pendulum saw is my band-saw but they are crude solutions compared to “hand” working.

    Still, most of the World builds with hand-tools, Asia is filled to brimming with skilled workmen who never had access to electricity, they’ve managed to build buildings that survive hundreds of years, they’re still at it, just like they always were and travelers with little Cameras are filming them for us to see on youtube, god bless em.

    Working with our hands has been around forever, we’re not gonna loose it to DeWalt.

    Tony in Michigan

  14. It has taken me nearly a year to put together a workshop, find some tools, commission them ready for working, learn how to commission those tools and finally decide upon what type of woodworking I wanted to do, initially it was carving. But when I saw your videos Paul, your natural ability for teaching to the beginner and what you produced I changed my mind and have begun your course to do Essential Woodworking. I made my first item last weekend, a spatula, you knock them outI in10 minutes, it took me a weekend. What I was most pleased about is that on Saturday morning it was just a beech log but by Sunday it was a chunky spatula that will last a lifetime, it was completely crafted by hand and I am sure I could have produced the same thing in half an hour using power tools but where would be the joy in that that. That is all because of your teachings and I feel sure you have started the retro movement in woodworking.

  15. One of the best things about working with hand tools is eventually becoming aware of Japanese carpentry and tools. I noticed several Japanese planes on e bay last week with mysterious symbols set into the blades. Even one advert where it apologised because the maker`s name was not known. And nearly all their work is done the other way round .Pulling instead of pushing . But you are flying the flag for our own national tradition. Two opposite and wonderful traditions .

    1. Not sure if that’s a compliment or you are suggesting the Japanese way is the higher ground. I saw pull stroke saws being demonstrated at the show by suited salesmen who were utterly unskilled and it was a very sad and sorry thing to see. In two years time they will look like most western suits I am sure. But I used to see this with high end plane salesmen a decade ago and they look pretty slick nowadays.

  16. Dear Paul
    My wife and I were lucky enough to watch you demonstrating at the show and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We returned several times throughout the day to find a large and captivated audience each time. Your teaching style and personality are so relaxed yet at the same time so full of little gems of information and tips I could still be stood there now. You may recall we had our photograph taken and spent quite a while chatting. I was very impressed when you explained about your company and it’s ethos, very commendable in this day and age. I must say it was a privilege to meet you and if there were more like you we would see a lot more hand tool woodworkers and people would that it’s not all about pressing buttons and switches, that there are other ways that bring infinitely more satisfaction and contentment. Thank you and hope to see you again.

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