Home » Paul Sellers’ Blog » In 2013 I Traveled the USA

In 2013 I Traveled the USA

Tuesday 21st March 2017

Busy schedule demoing but so worth while.

It’s hard to believe but in 2013, starting in January, I traveled 12 US states to demonstrate my belief that hand tool woodworking could feature a thousand percent more highly than it did if we could seriously consider what we wanted from being woodworkers. I knew from my experience living and working in the USA the pulling power of hand tool woodworking always caused the aisles around my booth to clog like a log jam within minutes to each of my demonstrations and that didn’t happen with the so-called power-tool sales outlets that were there purely to persuade attendees to a contrary view of my own. Every time I would demonstrate they saw that the progressive way of the machine-only world paled insignificantly every time I pulled out a hand plane and a tenon saw. Such is the power of hand tools. But it’s my view that America was on the one hand possibly the hardest place to change people’s minds. You know, that such methods as hand tools, being archaic, had no place in the modern world, but then, on the other hand, sticking firmly to the beliefs I had that they were just as viable to the majority of today’s woodworkers as they ever were, I saw a willingness to entertain the idea that the old ways were necessarily just old fashioned ways. That being so, I continued pressing in to row against the tide and soon I couldn’t move much around my show workbench with each of my 45 minute demonstrations, which I did on the hour every hour—it worked. 12 states, 12 shows 36 days out of a 96 on the road tour, and then being in hotels and hire  cars the trip I took was quite a trip. Whereas it’s unlikely I would do such a thing again, my reasons for the tortuous endeavour were different than all others vying there for an audience. I didn’t  go for pay or money from any source, I wasn’t selling a thing, not buying a thing but only to change people’s perspectives about my craft and the art of hand tool woodworking. Whereas I agree that the USA is mostly about buying and selling, that’s mostly superficial. Yes it is a lot about getting the job done and getting it done yesterday, and I like that, it’s also that Americans are lovers of craft work of every kind. Beneath or beyond the surface of productivity and progress is a penchant for craft; for art of every ind and for skilled workmanship. And by that I mean true craft.  Something that costs you. If it wasn’t for this I would not have left the UK to be there.

Carrying off the prize!
Another winner of the workbench.
Love these guys!

On this tour, fighting blizzards in January, low visibility and long hard days of driving, I chose to do something to prove a point. I was inspired to make a workbench as I traveled the states that I could give away at the end of the tour through a drawing from hat at the last show. When people knew this they wanted a piece of the action and volunteered their labour into the mix. The drawing was for under 25 year olds. With each state the bench grew. They and I planed and chopped, sanded and glued. At the end of the show the raffle took place and we gave the bench away to the new owner. As a consolation we gave away a second bench, the one I was travelling with. Happy owners all round!

My friends at Highland Woodworking in Atlanta, Georgia are wonderful online and catalog suppliers. Visiting their store was one of the highlights of my trip.

The camaraderie for me was as much a part of the process as anything. Others traveled from state to state each weekend to continue in the work. We became friends and every so often they’ll drop me an email or message me asking me when I will be back to do the same. Woodworking always has had a unifying factor and that has been to share skills and knowledge, lend a hand, teach one another and much more beyond.

Today of course our audience is bigger, much bigger and it continues to grow. It’s also become very different but the need is ever there and I am glad we are able to continue passing on the good news that the tide has changed. Who knows what the future holds?

22 comments

  1. Andy W. says:

    Paul,

    I had the good fortune to meet you in March 2013 in Columbus, OH. Although you were likely exhausted after a long day, you took several minutes to sit down with me and chat. It was truly exciting to meet a hero of mine in person. Back in 2013, I just wanted to say thank you for introducing me (and so many thousands like me) to the world of hand tool woodworking. Four years later, the message is still the same – thank you so much for what you do!

    Andy

  2. Patrick says:

    I’ve been meaning to thank you Paul for helping me quit smoking. I’m a man of thirty years with a small and growing family who always wanted to get into woodworking for fun not necessarily as a career. I was intimidated at first by the sheer amount of information there is about power tools and how to use them. So naturally the first real “machine” I purchased was a table saw based on the conventional wisdom of everyone’s advise. I regret it now but am glad for the labor saving that it does allow. However after you purchase a table saw of considerable expense you’re left with a loud dangerous machine that is really only good at one thing making straight cuts in wood or sheet goods. After that you have to buy routers and planers and joiners and bandsaws and dust extractors and chop saws and oscillating spindle sanders etc. I was a bit discouraged so the table saw sat dormant for about a year and life continued on and then I found an old jewelry box I had made my grandmother when I was in shop at 12 years old and it came to me it doesn’t need to be this complicated that box was put together with butt joints and nails. The box was 4″ deep and was rounded on the top with a hand plane. All of the pieces were cut to length using a smallish handsaw. The most important peice of equipment in that shop was a workbench not a table saw. So I went searching for a workbench plan to follow of which there are many as you have addressed on your blog. I was at another point where I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available to me. Then I found a YouTube video of a middle aged man making a no frills workbench by hand with only a couple of tools and it clicked that was what I had in mind “simplicity”.
    So I found a couple of cheap hand saws and a few other essential hand tools and got to work. Tonight I will be gluing up my second apron after work and I will start preparing the legs after that hopefully I will finish the bench before I take delivery of the vise I just ordered.

    Back to why I owe you a thank you for helping me quit smoking. I read a blog post where you said you motivated yourself to quit smoking by rewarding yourself with a tool. I have used the same method and so far I have been quit for a month and a half thank you so much Paul you are teaching all of us more than just woodworking.

    • Paul Sellers says:

      Thank you, my friend. Keep going. The kiddies and your wife will love you for it too. I’m on a tough one right now. One year with no cakes, cookies candies, jellies or jams. Gone three months so far. Just done three months dairy free but that ends today.

      • Patrick says:

        It’s funny you talk about cutting out sweets cause if it weren’t for candy I’d be having a pretty tough time. Also the planing out of imperfections in bad glue ups helps me deal with the anxiety that comes with quitting. No joke I had to plane 7/16” off 1 1/2″ thick apron piece which will now become the tool well. Best of luck with the diet; by the way if you have the time look up a program called NSNG it stands for”No Sugar No Grains” best part is the diet includes ice cream and whiskey ….. I’ve lost 20 lbs

  3. Tim says:

    I remember meeting you just outside Chantilly Virginia show in the lobby, I think you were trying to catch up on your emails but still took time out to visit with me.. Thanks for all you do Paul you are a treasure to us here on the interwebs and at home in England to i’m sure.
    Tim

  4. Mike Benoit says:

    I am a retired physician. In the past I had little time and used all power tools. now I have lots of time and am finding the pleasure and rewards of learning to use hand tools. I still find it hard to give up my power joiner as I can not make as straight an edge with a hand plane. Time will tell. As I never had to make a living with my woodworking the bottom line for me is time. Now I work for the pleasure of it and do not care how much time it takes. I am here to tell you it is a lot more fun and rewarding with hand tools.

  5. Richard says:

    I still have the picture I took with you at one of your shows. You can explain things that very few (almost none) other hand tool experts can, and you made woodworking by hand look doable by anyone who wanted to try.

    Your presence online is the best thing that has happened to educating hand tool techniques in the world. Please keep on your generosity and sharing some of your videos free with us.

  6. Spencer Gaskins says:

    I have an electric table saw, an electric jointer, an electric planer, an electric chop saw and an electric router. I have an electric palm sander. I have an electric dust collection system that does nowhere nearly a good enough job removing dust from the air. What these machines have in common is two-fold:

    1) They all make a LOT of noise
    2) They have sat mostly idle since purchase

    Mostly because there isn’t a lot of creative juices flowing whilst listening to dampened 120+ dB, while wearing a respirator, while trying to keep the safety glasses unfogged AND focusing on not chopping, sawing, routing or otherwise damaging the only body I have to live in.

    Don’t get me wrong; I love appropriate technology. I cannot imagine the loss I wouldn’t even know I’d missed were the tablet I am typing upon responding via the Internet to a man I hadn’t even heard of a few months ago in a continent and ocean away from where I reside, not existed
    .
    But I have been given the freedom to create with my mind and my hands. Since finding Mr Sellers, the electric tools are still silent, but I have built a saw, a spokeshave honing guide, a dovetail marking gauge, a mortise/marking gauge, purchased and restored two #4s, purchased and sharpened a set of chisels, learned to use winding sticks and am coming right along with my sawing a straight line (rip is harder than cross). Along the way, I’ve built two chairs (my take on a Morris chair for the back deck) using nothing but motise/tenons joints and glue. I’ve carved cloud lifts and corbels using sharp chisels and a spokeshave (the spokeshave is vying for Most Favorite Tool…love that thing!) applied to flat and straight wood that I flattened and straightened.

    Most impotantly, it has opened up a world where I am in my element. The “swish” of a sharp plane gliding with the grain, the “tap” of a mallet on chisel (oh, I forgot; I built a mallet as well…), the fall of heavy sawdust to disappear into the curly shavings littering the shop floor. The sound of work being done and the ability to think while doing that work. Craft might be someday created – for I am not a Craftsman yet – but for now, the learning is enough (too much!). And I am glad you started your journey to remind us of our love of true craft. Of making precise with one’s own hands. Of shaping wood not with electricity, but with nothing more (nothing less!) than mind and muscle.

    I understand when you write that it almost rises to worship. To create is also to give praise to the Creator.

    I wistfully wish that I had found the lifestyle taught by Paul Sellers earlier in life. But regardless, I say “Thank you”. Every knife wall made, every chisel to solidify that wall, every saw kerf, I say “Thank you”.

  7. Ben Tyreman says:

    I want to say thankyou paul for your amazing book ‘working with wood 1 & 2’ I have made almost everything in the book, including a giant bookcase, and I am about to tackle a pair of side tables, the workbench I built is the best one I’ve used yet! Everything is just so much easier now, and it all makes sense.

  8. Bill morris says:

    I join the chorus to echo all that’s been said so far. I met you in Fort Worth and attended at least six of your sessions over the two days. I’m fortunate to live in
    Kerrville, now in retirement since January this year. I first got you book and DVD set in 2011 I believe – to scratch an itch Jim Toplin’s book started in me. You and Jim changed my life. I must confess to being a hybrid woodworker. I still use my machines in my machine garage – I’ve found the best way to buy hardwoods is in 8/4 or 6/4 or 5/4 and mill it down with tablesaw, bandsaw, jointer/planer to rough thicknesses – then I make with handtools. Sort of what y’all do for the students in your classes. Somebody’s got to get the wood ready for your class participants, that’s me in the machine room – ah but then I take that wood into my “clean” bench room where I use one of my four benches (one of them a Paul sellers I built with Douglas fir) to “make” the Paul Sellers way. And I use my planes (most of them eBay finds I’ve restored with your encouragement from Blog posts/books) and chisels and handsaws (way sharp always thanks to you).

  9. Richard Villamil says:

    I had the good fortune to attend your workshops in Saratoga Springs, NY during your tour – hard to believe it was 4 years ago. You jump started me into using hand tools and sharpening planes – I now have many hand planes – all tuned and sharp as well as hand saws. The switch on my table saw broke and I have depended on the hand tools ever since – and love the quiet sounds of a plane blade slicing off a sliver of wood. I have taught the grand children also and they always ask (when visiting my workshop) – Grandpa, lets make something! Thank you for this opportunity!

  10. Anthony says:

    I hope to some day meet you Paul. I may try to travel to England for a summer visit with my family. So a number of years ago I moved into my current house and did some renovation work. Nothing major. Work on my house lead me to woodworking. I started with machines and quickly realized that I did not like the noise and violence of machines. I had 2 close calls that ended my experiment with machines forever. One was when I turned on a router in a router table and the bit was loose in the chuck and whizzed inches from my left eye. The second was when the blade in my chop saw spun loose from the arm and barely missed my torso and stuck itself into a CONCRETE wall in my basement. I didn’t do anything with woodworking for awhile until I decided to work with hand tools. Its been almost 3 years since I learned to properly sharpen my chisels and I haven’t stopped. I’ve worked in my shop almost every day since in some way.

    • Mike Ballinger says:

      Yeah Anthony; I had a flush cut router bit (the one with the ball bearings) come apart while routing at I don’t know how many thousand RPM and little metal balls went flying in all directions. I stopped what I was doing, unplugged the router and counted my lucky stars that nothing hit me. When things go wrong with hand tools I have normally a small cut, but never anything serious.

  11. Tom Bittner says:

    My goodness how can I compete with all the complements!
    My son and I met you in Springfield MA in 2013.
    Your booth was in the front of the show and so we sat down to plan our walk about.
    It just so happened that I was looking for the ultimate dovetail jig and was going to plunk down some hard earned cash to buy one. We then saw you make a bunch of dovetails in just a few minutes with a minimum amount of hand tools. We went down to the booth where the dovetail jigs were and they were still setting it up, we came by a little later and they were still setting it up…..
    I didn’t buy a jig that day nor will I ever!
    Having said that I still use power tools, big time!
    Mostly for the rough work, I finish with hand tools. Your methods have made me a better woodworker. I am much more accurate than I ever was because of the methods you teach. My work has improved immeasurably and I am improving my skills.

  12. Greg Washburn says:

    Paul,

    I met you at the Garden State Exhibition Center in New Jersey. I was just starting out in woodworking and had purchased some of the basic power tools. I was about to invest in a mortiser and dovetail jig. Then I watched your demo. I have since sold most of my power tools and never did buy the mortiser and jig. The quietness, cleanness, and comfort from a safety perspective is the way to go. I worked for a large telecommunications company for 20 years and am about to complete 20 years of teaching math and physics. I hope to spend 20 more years in “retirement” in a third career of hand tools woodworking. Thanks!

    Greg from Flanders, New Jersey

  13. Michael Stauffer says:

    I too am so thankful you came to Kansas City with the Woodworking Shows. You opened a whole new world of very satisfying woodworking. I check you blog almost daily and feast on your YouTube offerings. What more can I say than a deep heart felt thanks.

  14. Don Garrett says:

    Paul,
    I want to thank you for the inspiration and excellent instruction in your books and videos. I just completed a rocking chair following your Mastercraft series. I had never chopped a mortise or cut a tenon until I made this chair, and I would not have had the courage to even start the project without such detailed instruction. The videos are great. Thanks for all that you do.

  15. AdrianB says:

    So many people maybe, tens, hundreds of thousands have now watched you illustrate the true nature of making something of beauty and purpose out of wood. You had only a few sharp hand tools and the willingness to use them as they were meant to be used .
    . We are so lucky to have had the good fortune to witness you at the bench, live in person. I have been following you since your early days on You Tube and hoped someday to see you in person. My chance came at the Woodworkng Show in Tampa Fl., I think at the end of your tour in 2013, not sure what year it was.
    You were not the typical showman that so many of the power tool or product pushers are at these type of events. You were the shining light on the craft of REAL woodworking. Sure the power tools are there but there is so much more to the craft
    that you have been forever willing to share with all those you spend time with.
    It is so very wonderful that you did not stop there either, You continued with the
    Woodworking Masterclasses . I am now devoted to following and learning from everyday.
    God Speed to you and to all of your crew , We do so appreciate the hard work and effort that it takes to share your skill set.
    Thank you so much , I am one apprentice who owes you a great deal.

  16. Ethan Hart says:

    I see a Univeristy of Alabama shirt in your second picture. Roll Tide!

    I’m only 24 years old, but I’ve fallen in love with traditional woodworking thanks to you. I’m a paying member on your master classes site, and I’m loving every minute of the outstanding content you have up there. I’m trying to learn from the bottom up, purchasing antique tools for next to nothing and restoring them for my own use. My sister is going to attend Newbold College in Bracknell for the next couple of years, and I’m hoping I can roll a trip to visit her into a trip to attend one of your courses.

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