It’s Black and White Woodworking Reality

I’ve given it my best shot so far. For 25 years and few more I’ve given it my best shot and I’ll keep giving it my best shot for as long as I can. Seeing things in black and white somehow dispenses with the peripheral and gets you to the core issues and that’s what hand tool woodworking and teaching it to others has done for me. I don’t really care much about cutting tenons with a router and dovetails by the same. I am sure, though I never have, I would find it as interesting as watching paint dry. What I do find fascinatingly black and white is my students and my apprentices and my trainees. They are more vibrant in black and white than any colour could ever bring to me. I sit at my bench, listen to their questions and, old or young, I feel my pulse surge and my heart beat fast and my mind buzz when they ask me a question and they listen so attentively for my answers. Often it leads to another question but i don’t mind at all. I never do. Then there are those new to this who don’t know as yet what questions to ask but soak in everything said like sponges and I mean sponges. They could be 70 or 17. How could I give this up??? I just love passing on what I know and am learning in the minutes of every day.

Today we finished off the dovetailed boxes and you would be amazed at the standards. Amazed! Three days into hand tool woodworking and never used a tenon saw or a plane and they got it. Also today we started  oak wall clocks, which gets finished in two more days. The joints are all tight and flawless so far. I mean water-tight dadoes like most of the dovetails they made on their boxes. Hannah and I are making ours together as demo pieces but she gets to keep the finished pieces. We have gone through saws and saw sharpening, changing pitch, set and negotiating grain with different types too. We have also covered planes thoroughly too. Watching them work them proves to me that they listened and they learned. We are different than other schools and colleges, I know that, so we progress at an amazing rate because of the way we teach what we teach. These guys will go from Shaker box to Craftsman-style rocking chair in 12 days. You better believe it. I have taught this system since I developed it in 1995 and it still holds good. No other comes close and I love it. These new-found friends are a joy to be with and they excite me. They always have and they always will.

I watch their faces closely and I listen to every saw stroke and mallet blow throughout the class. I engage every second of every minute of every hour they are with me and never cut out. I look up at a sound and correct something misaligned and miss-struck. I help them to listen and to feel and they become more highly sensitised as they draw on senses beyond the common five they know. They trust me and they shift stance, alter courser, step back, watch and listen. Their saw strokes the fibre and the cut goes to course. You cannot buy this, it’s given. It’s deposited, invested, built on and gains interest more than the bankers can give you and your savings can afford. This is progressive woodworking and it’s dead real. They are always right there for every demo and lesson time on time unless they get a flat tyre. They never miss a beat when I call out above a dozen or more mallet blows, “Can I get you around my bench for a minute?” and I never need to call twice. So it is in every class I ever had of the 6,000 students I have taught this far. 

It’s really all about hands and discovering how we work them skilfully and efficiently in realms where professional woodworkers mostly these days say you can’t.  Amateurs can, you see, because they believe in themselves and they will do it this way whether they get paid or not. They don’t care as long as they are developing skills and skilled workmanship. They just don’t care.  So I ask you. Look at these hands of these people in these photographs.See how poised they are. Look at how they hold their hand tools and compose their bodies after just three days for some of them. You see they are listening all the time. They want input into their lives. They want to try and they never get offended when I suggest things to them including when I  say, “Whoah! Not that way, try this” And they travelled too. They came from the USA and Switzerland, Denmark and Canada. All in all the represent many nations from western Asia to eastern Europe and across the Atlantic. So, here we are, two thirds through a six-day event and we are all still laughing our sides silly at our silly mistakes and sharing an immersive session in creative spheres we want everyone at some point in time to experience when we turn off, and I mean truly turn off the invasive realms of the Industrial Revolution to simply share our lives in a very wonderful way. Woodworking knows no bounds my friends, no bounds!

16 comments on “It’s Black and White Woodworking Reality

  1. I don’t think anyone else has offered a program of this duration with that kind of intensi

    It may sound too commercial — and there is only one Paul Sellers — but perhaps you should consider documenting and copyrighting (the right word?) your instructional system in the spirit of the “Train the Trainers” approach. With trainers properly trained and certified by you, they can then roll out and conduct the same program (doing the same projects) outside the UK. This will also ensure the Paul Sellers techniques will continue beyond just books and DVDs in the history of traditional woodworking.

    • Richard, I think that is already happening. Woodworkers, or those that wish to become so, tend to find, and hang on to with a ‘gator’s grip, people who have learned something they don’t have. I would suggest everyone who’s been privileged to spend some time with Paul becomes an apostle for the master in their own small sphere of woodworking. And more, the knowledge is freely given – a responsibility accepted because they were given the opportunity in the first place.

  2. You’re a natural teacher. I’ve been blessed enough to know a few in my life. There’s a number or woodworking ‘guru’ types I could have learned some woodworking techniques from, but I don’t know if my interest would ever have passed the point of idle curiosity of I hadn’t happened upon your videos. I’m grateful for that and I believe it makes the work you do absolutely invaluable.

    • Your comment has struck the head of the nail with perfect precision.
      There are highly skilled woodworking artisans out there, and there are inspirational, gifted teachers, but individuals who possess both attributes are extremely rare.
      I still have fond memories of a small number of brilliant teachers from my school days, over 45 years ago, and in other areas of my life.
      What these inspirational people have in common is passion. They radiate an enthusiasm for their subject that is so powerful that it permeates, and ultimately infects their audience.

  3. I walked into my basement the other day and saw my power router hanging on the peg board. It was covered in dust, undisturbed​ for almost 2 years. The spot where my table saw stood is empty aside for some boxes of family items. The scroll saw and radial arm saw are also dusty and hardly used but kept the times where the effects of congestive heart failure will not allow the physical exertion.
    For the last 2 years after discovering Mr. Sellers videos, my hand tools have grown and my sharpening skills have rendered my local saw shop just a memory when I drive past. I have never made tenon joints as tight and beautiful as when I am leaning over the work, watching every stroke of the chisel and router plane. At the age of 65, I spend more time working the wood than building jigs. It’s amazing how a tenon or dado can be made in a short, enjoyable time as opposed to spending time building a jig to do the same task.
    Thank you, Mr. Sellers and keep teaching others an almost forgotten craft.

    • As a “recovering jig-addict” myself, your comments really struck a chord. Whenever I made a piece, the only real contact with the wood was during the construction of the jig.

  4. Paul,
    Your skills are unquestionable. But a lot of veteran woodworkers have excellent skills.
    What separates you from the pack is your passion. Simply put, your heart is in it. It’s inspirational and infectious.

  5. Albert Einstein said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”
    I’m old. After a long life my values have changed dramatically. Every day I remember and give thanks for my teachers. Einstein has only scratched the surface of a good teacher’s value.

  6. You are a wonderful teacher, Paul Sellers. Is that B&W enough for you?

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    Rob in Acapulco

  7. This blog holds some special meaning for me. As someone who dables in photography on occasion I love the B & W analogy! When starting photography I had trouble understanding the power of B & W. Everything was in Color why shoot B&W? But as I grew I understood how B&W strip things bare and one can concentrate on the Subject. It is no different with wood working. One can create beautiful pieces with power tools, however they seem to have no heart. When one uses hand tools a little more thought and care goes in just as a photographer taking B&W needs to be conscious of light and shadow to bring out the power of of their photo. It is a shame we cannot save Film as we preserve antique hand tools. I hope we all can pass on our skills as you are Paul. Keep teaching and I’ll keep learning!

    • Interesting comment. I started out with black and white. I was obsessed with drawing in graphite and focussing on form, weight and space. Then I learnt to shoot and develop photos in a dark room again in black and white, now I work as a graphic designer and mostly in full colour. Most recently I’m playing with vibrant colour combinations that vibrate off each other. Who knows maybe it will go full circle and I will end up back in black and white considering contrast and gestural expressions. Thinking of music you have the basic set of chords and seemingly infinite combinations to produce new tracks all the time. It’s no different with graphic design or woodworking for that matter.

    • I started working life as an industrial radiographer, then progressed to photography and worked in the industry for about 20 years before moving into the IT sector. I witnessed the explosion of digital photography and the collapse of the film and this closely resembles what has happened in woodworking. Why would anyone use film when you can do so much more with digital and so much faster? Why use hand tools in woodworking when there are machines that will do the job so much more efficiently? Pretty much everyone here knows the answer or has their reasons; for me, it is the feel of doing it by hand, the satisfaction when something works – I don’t doubt it’s slower but it’s not the end product but the journey to that end product. In the same line I have built myself a darkroom and returned to black and white film using large format cameras and lenses that I have picked up cheap on Ebay and restored. There is still nothing that compares to a traditional black and white print, but it is not the end product but the journey to make it. So now my woodworking and photography are in sync and although I work in the technology sector my weekends are technology free 🙂

  8. Such passion, I love it. My Dad (we are from the UK) was a passionate hand-tool woodworking artist that tried to pass on to me some of the basics, but nothing as complete as I read you doing and loving all the time. I am now retired so perhaps it is time to reconsider a trip across the pond and get an experience with a true master.

  9. Always using a transition between woodworking joinery and mental joinery. Thank you Paul for so tightly relating.

    Your distant student
    Tim

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