New-Genre in Woodworking
An unfolding lifestyle
Soon to start yet another video training series so this week I’ve been looking into and prototyping to that end—one of my favourite things to do. I like what’s coming from the chisel edge and the saw teeth. It feels good. Angled hanging pegs, clean lines ti the shoulder lines and repeat sliding dovetails makes it great for practicing but even greater for discovering new options for a little used joint, So head down I buried myself in my work, made new drawings, cut and planed angles and pared down slopes to fit. It was a good week for me. Opposite, on the other side of the workshop I listen in to conversations going back and forth between someone writing text and another editing video. It’s a different world to the background I came from. Someone strikes up a conversation about VAT (value added tax) and someone else answers. I hear of technical glitch that has nothing to do with tools or wood and someone suggests this or that will answer the issue. They try it and a thumbs-up signals a successful move. Mostly I’m not really involved most of the time but then my name comes up, I twist my head to the caller and there’s a question I need to answer. I depart from my work to engage elsewhere. It’s a new day, a new dawn and a new and ever changing world. I’m getting used to it now, but it is still has a newness to it.
A clear vision
In many ways my role as what would at one time be described as a studio-designerr/maker of furniture has very much though quite gradually changed. My responsibilities have changed and the way I generate elements of my work have changed. People have adopted the term ‘reinventing myself’ but mostly they are not doing any such thing. I understand the term, and I know people who have indeed developed an alternative lifestyle, but I have yet to meet someone who has truly achieved a successful change to the level of reinventiveness. So, have I, Paul Sellers, reinvented myself? Nope! I’m just the same Paul I’ve always been, but my mission has been made ever clearer as I progressed the unfolding work I’ve been engaged in for three decades.
A generation that never saw such common things
When I’m working in my shop, picking up tools, flipping wood and twisting a plane to a more effective cut, the response to my working with my hands has been something I mostly took for granted. But I became gradually aware of others watching me. I mean sometimes you just catch someone innocently watching somewhere, perhaps in a cafe or something. You glance up and catch them and they, embarrassed, look away. I became ever more conscious that people watched me working with a sort of silent fascination you to me my work was just ordinary work that I did all the time. Suddenly I realised that, ah! they’ve never seen such as this before. I saw then that people in the past three decades would be most unlikely to see such things. Even carpenters may never see or have seem a man like me recess hinges or plane the edge of a door, let alone dovetail a box corner or shape a mould to the edge of a mantle shelf with a block of wood holding a blade. Whereas it is till hard for me to imagine such a thing, it’s become a reality that 99.9% of people living in the world have never in their life seen a man like me working with his hands and working with hand tools instead of machines. To them such a thing has become as if they were watching something, well, magic. A shaving rises from the throat of a plane as if from some secretive place and by some special device and it twists away as a ribbon might flutter in a gentle breeze. It’s a spell plucked from a sorcerer’s hand book causing ribbons of pine to rise skyward before their very eyes. I might take such things for granted because I do see hundreds if not thousands of these things happen in a given day or week. They on the other hand never saw such as this before. If you’ve watched an experienced chef dice up onions with a knife live you’ll know what I mean. So it is with a chisel cut and a smoothing plane, a plough plane and a router plane.
The birth of new-genre woodworkers
When I first began my work training others, my own apprentices, young students and such, children too, it wasn’t at all that I needed more staff but that I couldn’t help myself. It’s always been the same. I never taught to make income because I always earned my income and then taught from my abilities as a producing craftsman. That’s the truth. Because I responded to the yearning of others to become crafting artisans, the outcome led to a new life. Of course they were always adult men who approached me. They wanted me to help them become one kind of woodworker or another. They would stay working with or alongside me for a year or two until they gained a level of proficiency they needed to function well and then they’d move on. Mostly there was some reciprocal gain, mostly it was always tipped in their favour not mine. In fact I would always lose money on the deal because money and making personal gain was never the reason I did it. But it was when I began teaching smaller children through to teenagers that I began seeing the deeper issues. Remember, I wasn’t a teacher being paid for the many evenings I invested in holding classes year in year out. Hundreds of children came to my classes several nights a week for two decades. I never charged a penny and let them use my own tools and supplied the wood until they acquired their own. It was a lot of work but it was such fun too. Dads and lads stood at benches from 7 till 9.30 each night and it was here that I began to see more deeply into the future possibilities of the yet unborn woodworkers be that the kids or their parents. This was an unexpected trip up. A sort of punctuation mark in my history if you will.
Mostly it was dads who came with their boys and it was here that I began to see a latent penchant in dads as they helped their sons to sharpen up chisels or reset a bumped plane. Somehow it was the need of their sons that pulled something out of the dads. You know what it’s like: something goes wrong with your child and you just can’t help yourself but pull out all of the stops to make it right. I would see the dads struggle to find an answer knowing that they might not have the answer at all, but try they might! I had to find the solution and find it I did. I started holding classes for adults so that they could reach the children that I couldn’t. People came to classes from all over the US and then they started flying in from other countries too. On the one hand it was ideal to have face to face contact this way, but on the other I knew the audience was much wider but that I could never reach them without some exponential changes being made.
So anyway, in my own small way I became something of a solution. By the end of two decades I had personally trained 5,000 woodworkers from 5 year olds to ancients through hands-on classes in beginning woodworking. It was and always has been hand tool woodworking and no one else had done such a thing on so wide a scale at that time. I knew I could steer dads to guide their sons and be a bridge for them to continue growing closer through the work in hand. Something that in my view had become increasingly lacking and today is getting far worse. Ultimately, my teaching the children meant also that the dads were gaining the same insights the kids were. Their maturer years combined with experience and strength meant that they could stay ahead of their children to help them. The outcome is more evident today than ever.
New beginnings—A chosen future
Well it’s not so new any more, but choose it I do. Today I feel I’m much more than a studio maker, more than someone working alone in his own in his own small studio workshop and now that I am way past retirement years I choose to add something into my lifestyle that is indeed truly chosen. I’ve become a writer though I have never had training for it. I’ve written many articles for many magazines through the decades, written books, become a presenter and guest speaker, made hundreds of films, become a YouTuber, a blogger, a teacher, a trainer, an apprenticer and all this over and above my artisanry as a furniture designer and maker, which I still do every day. In the coming months we will be showing you new plans we have to progress this work.
A full day’s work
My day starts at 6.45 now that I am older. I make toast, drink fruit juice and leave the house by 7.15 six days a week. I’m diabetic and so I must have breakfast before I leave and I’m fastidious about keeping my blood sugars within the right regions as much as it depends on me. I’m always in a cafe at 7.30 every morning where I drink a single cup of black coffee and meet up with some friends. By 8am I have always begun working. Often before that. There is always something to write, load into my car, blanket wrap or prep for making. Even sitting with a blank look means I am working. My thoughts are distilled, written down in a stenographer’s note pad or my journal and soon a drawing drops from the sky to the tip of my pen or pencil. I can write an article for a magazine in an hour and do the photography soon after. I’m glad I no longer need to. Magazine articles were for the days before blogging. It supplemented my income but paid badly. Now I no longer have to sponsor the big machine companies with new wallpaper each month which has given me the freedom to pursue my dream of providing class work for the future generations be they old, young and every age in between. I felt writing articles was selling myself short but then blogging opened the door for something I love to do as much as woodworking and that is writing about it.
You see those dads were how it all began, but of course it has become all the less gender specific as times have changed and we have become more inclusive. Inside those dads was a penchant to learn to work with their hands because they mostly never had chance. Their parents believed the dream that with a good university degree you could become anything you wanted to be. I on the other hand was helping them to find that hidden dream inside that never met with parental approval. Even manual workers, that’s what we were called, often disparagingly, didn’t want their sone to “be like them.” They wanted better for them. They want that ‘better job’—for them to get that good degree that would pave the way to a guaranteed success. Something they could boast in. So I began to see people released from something that had blocked their way as they took a rasp to a spoon blank and shaped their futures as they shaped their sons. This to me was very magical but without wizardry. This to me would become more and mor common to my work. Hand tool woodworking would ope doors to hundreds of thousands of people no matter who they were or what they were. My common craft of woodworking and furniture making became the platform for me to reach out to hundreds of thousands of people
So, no, I didn’t reinvent myself in any way, but I did reshape my thinking and then, as a result of that, reshape others to rethink their lives and develop a new lifestyle. It was always my ambition to help other people achieve their goals. Today there’s a hundred thousand with their first foot on the first rung of the ladder. There’s another hundred thousand on the fourth rung. Some are near the top and a few have gone all the way.
What am I saying???
What I am saying in my own way is Thank You for supporting my work and all those who work with me. Thank you for supporting one another. Your subscriptions to woodworkingmasterclasses have led to us being able to create jobs.
First we took on Phil who became our first paid member of staff in the early days of woodworkingmasterclasses. Phil apprenticed with me for two years before that time and has always helped with the classes we held at Penrhyn Castle. When we moved here to Oxford he and his wife Hannah relocated with us too. I say ‘us’ because you may not know this but Joseph was part way through his history degree when he told me he wanted to help me achieve my dream.
On my own I knew it would take me another decade and then it felt like I might just run out of time, but with Joseph, the only man I know who knows exactly what goes on inside my brain, I knew I could achieve my ambitions in a fraction of the time. Soon we’d started making videos with two inexpensive cam corders in our back yard. We launched our YouTube channel and started woodworkingmasterclasses.com. It was Joseph that pulled together my most important written work to date, Essential Woodworking Hand Tools. It’s sold well and we will be getting ready for a reprint soon. Amazingly, there is no need for corrections so when we do it will be just the same as the first run.
Soon we needed another to join us because our admin needs tripled and quadrupled and that’s when we had Mark come in for an interview, Mark has been a close friend to Phil since their university days and quickly settled in as our business administrator. Thankfully he’s masterfully crafted many of our business systems with Joseph and created the spread sheets that keep so many things on track.
Eloise (Ellie) is our videographer alongside Phil and there were 70 applicants for her job that we had to filter through when we told the agency of our needs. We made the right choice. I’ve lost track of how many videos we’ve now made together but between her, Phil and Joseph, what you see is online is my dream coming to pass as we reach an ever widening audience.
Karla is help to all. She works with many areas and has been known to man video and still cameras alongside her taking care of social media with everyone. She is the one that keeps me on track with all the Q&As, emails and other important elements of what has evolved. Isabel (Izzy) joined us quite recently and her role is education and research, so she and I work quite closely with Joseph to develop long term curriculum for developing foundational woodworking. Her work is very expansive and supports all the key areas of craft training for woodworkers be that checking on my blog, writing how to’s, researching, finding resources and more.
Though we all have different roles we also have a common goal and that is to present the very best of the past with the present and the ever unfolding future for the future of woodworking be that whatever woodworking craft can benefit from our efforts. Boat builders, violin makers and chair bodgers all need sharp tools, knife walls and know how. That’s what we offer to all. I spoke of the days when dads and boys came to workshop with me. Today that’s thankfully changed. Hannah works with me as have boys, girls, men and women from every quarter. Behold the new genre of crafting artisan with true lifestyle for those yet to be born.
Anyway, truth is, we’re all on a journey! The young guy with Phil, Sebastian with Joseph. Hannah’s been with me for a year now and she has grown exponentially. Clocks and tables, tool totes a workbench and now a tool chest. It has been a most wonderful thing to see people grow as I sow, weed, water, replant and wait for the harvest. Together we can all make change.
The most interesting part of that video for me was seeing the other side of your bench in particular the drawers. I’d love to know how to build them. Anyone else wondering the same?
Yes! I just wanted to comment this! Finally we get a view from the cockpit! 🙂
Yes, I too was enthralled with the business side of the bench. I think a tour video is in order.
This really resonated with me. I picked up my first hand plane 6 months ago, and it has completely changed the way I work with wood. Instead of spending time away from my girls, I’m working on my workbench and other projects with them right beside me. They chatter away, search through my shavings for their favorites, and help out. My five year old daughter even requested a “desk” of her own for her upcoming birthday along with some tools of her own. I would love more information on teaching children to work with wood in the future.
In the digital world, they call it a “pivot” – changing direction from what you were doing, to do something sometimes completely different.
In this case, it’s still completely on-mission but with such a broader reach.
I was lucky enough to learn at your bench last year and I wish you the very best for the on-going mission.
Attending a one day class that you taught twenty years ago when you were in Texas forever changed my approach to working with wood. I also attended a three day foundational course, and have ever since focused my tool acquisitions on hand work. Now retired from my primary vocation, I now enjoy my time in the shop much more without screaming machines and a cloud of dust. Keep up the good work, Paul, and know that others beyond who visit my shop are exposed to the same vision that you bring to your online classes.
Mel – I’m betting you’re the tax guru from Unocal. I’m Bill Morris from Pure and I too caught the Paul Sellers bug – retired to Kerrville now making furniture mostly the Paul way for family. Paul totally re-focused my woodworking to mainly hand tools. Take care
As one who came from the “machine side” of woodworking, I am happy to say that thanks to Paul, I’ve discovered a whole new world! My 1 year old granddaughter lost a wooden hammer to her “kid’s work bench/xylophone” so I told my son not to worry. A few hours of forming, cutting, gluing and finishing with walnut oil and 2 new hammers left my work bench and into her little hands. Mind you, all done by had.
Paul, I was wondering if you have considered putting out a book of project plans compiled from your notebooks? I am learning and improving my hand tool skills, but I am not so good at design and even worse at imagination. Once we have most of the basic techniques down it would seem that many of us need the motivation that comes from seeing a project that we would like to build. I would think the basic drawings, material cut list, and a few notes would be sufficient for most projects.
Thanks for all that you do and I am grateful that I came across you and your methods. It has made a huge difference in my retirement.
I like the comment about a “Pivot”
It’s nice to hear of the pivotal changes others have undergone and shared here.
When I went to school you were supposed to be college bound, if not you were told you weren’t going to do well in life. The school system sold this idea to the parents who in turn taught it to their children at a very early age. We were even separated by college bound classes and general classes and the two didn’t mix.
That’s so backwards isn’t it. In my school they used the word dynamite to group classes. D class was reserved for the most academically bright and E class was the other end of the spectrum. I was put into T class and at that time I didn’t know there were different forms of intelligence and that the system at that time only focussed on one type. So I thought I wasn’t smart because they put me in a ‘dumb class’. It really affected my confidence. I decided to leave school a year early to try and study computer graphic design at the most highly regarded course in New Zealand. The day I was leaving my technical drawing teacher told me I’ll never get into the course that I wasn’t good enough. Well I was good enough and I had the good fortune of seeing him a few years later and rubbing it in his face ?
In my life, I’ve watched many television shows, videos and read many articles by men and women who are experts in what they do. They have personality, passion and skill, but I have never seen a single one whose personality, passion and skill elicit more regret. It’s the regret that I have never known in my life a man like I see in the words and deeds of Paul Sellers.
I share this exact same eye-tearing thought Michael, how did I make it to the final phase of my life without ever having had a mentor like Mr. Sellers. Through his writing and videos, even though I am slightly his senior, I consider him my mentor now. We both have a lot to catch up on.
I think you’ve tapped the Spirit of the Age. Many somehow sense that we went wrong somewhere along the path the last more than half-century.
I want to thank you, Paul Sellers and your team for what you do! Certainly in offering access to the field of the traditional woodworking is a real blessing for everyone involved. May you receive from the sky, apart from plenty of beautiful inspiration, good health and the energy and strength to continue your good work,
God bless you and reward you manyfold, here and Hereafter!
It’s very saddening to see today the ultimate effects of this twisting, by sort of collective suggestion, in the way of thinking of the modern man, so easy tricked with the illusions of technological progress, physical comfort and all other sorts of mind distractions, to leave the old, God given paths of the traditional arts and crafts, aimed essentially towards spiritual realization, in exchange for a one way, dead end “highway” of mass production and material gratifications, world wide but extremely short, that ends abruptly in a wasteland of physical and psychical desolation. And the irony is that the really magical forces are exactly those put to work whenever one uses power tools, machines and robots..
In mastering the skilled hand work there is touchstone for the soul and can be support and opening for higher spiritual meanings, that is “watter” and “bread” for the true life. In working with your hands you never stop to gain knowledge and this is the best outcome. So in revived traditional woodworking one can find a mean for one’s soul vivification, God willing. And, I think, this attracts people to crafts by nature because to the original souls has been said, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” and that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God”.
And God knows best.
And Peace be upon you all.
I too need to thank you, Paul.
I started years ago with hand tools knowing I didn’t have the money to purchase the tools you “need” to be a good woodworker. So I went off to college and got into my career and purchased some second-hand tools. Not very satisfying as I quickly learned I couldn’t work after 10:00 p.m. or early on a Saturday or Sunday morning! As with most things, I came full circle. The years passed and I found a local online group here in the southeast called http://www.ncwoodworker.net. While the camaraderie online was great, my travel allowed me to meet many of the people in the group. As usual, a small contingent was very skilled in handtool woodworking and led me to the Paul Sellers site. So now armed with my new “live” teachers and my blog and youtube teacher am 40 years later back where I started, learning more and more every day. So thank you, Paul!
I also have to say as I read this post, I thought about success and probably how some people viewed you through the years. It would be fun to go back in time and ask someone “Do you think Paul will teach thousands during his lifetime?” “Do you think he will have a staff (team is probably a better word) of five people that his “business” supports?” “Is Paul Sellers successful?” I think in your own way you always were. You didn’t jump on the treadmill as nearly everyone does and while that choice was significant, I think the difference is your “servant” mentality. I feel your drive comes from helping people. To quote a man I revere as much as you: “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar
Paul if this is true, you should ALREADY have everything you want!
HI Paul, after reading your blog, and all the comments above, I can only say thank you for all that you and your team do. While I am not a master class student. I have purchased your book and watched your video oh I would say 20 times now. While I have been working with wood for a number of years, I still would not class myself as a woodworker. My hope once we relocate to TX next week and get settled in, I will become one of your many students. Like so many other folks have said in many beautiful words, may the Higher Powers above smile on you and your team. Thank you..
I believe you are one of many pioneers in the return of what it means to be human. Somewhere along the path of progress we lost what that means. In my opinion, true craftsmanship is not perfect joints, perfect cuts, and perfect outcomes but the understanding of material you’re working with, manipulation of that material through utilizing all your senses, and finely the journey to get to the perfect outcome. Pride overwhelms your sole. That perfect outcome may not have perfect joints or cuts but it is unique, it has your mark, your pride in craftsmanship into your piece. Most Millennials, Gen-Xers, and even some Baby Boomers (at least here in the states) can’t comprehend it. They feel that something is missing in their life but they don’t know what it is.
I grew up in the cookie cutter environment. Everyone had the same mass-produced houses, mass produced furniture, mass produced vehicles, and mass-produced jobs. We were taught that what would make us happy is to go to school, go to college, get a degree, a job, join the workforce. What was missing was to teach us how to be human. That is what truly will make you happy and give you purpose in life. What also was missing where quality products. We became the throw away generation.
That tide is slowly beginning to turn. The rebirth of craftsmanship here in the states is growing. It can be seen through YouTube, it can be seen through ebay and the price spike in quality hand tools, through companies like Lie-Nielson and small startups around the nation. It is not just the woodworking community either but it is where I see it most because it has become my passion.
You, your staff, and the outlets you are using are spearheading this rebirth. You have the ability to utilize the tools from the path of progress and teach us what it means to be human. I wish you and your staff the best in 2018 and keep moving forward in your journey to get the perfect outcome.
Thank you so much for the view of those angled, sliding dovetailed hanging pegs. It has now influenced the design for an item I am building. It is a drying rack for winter hats and gloves that will hang over our radiators. Using a nice thick board of black walnut. I finally had decided on some sort of angled pegs to put the gloves on but was thinking about mortise and tenon joints into the back plate. Doable but awkward; I prefer simple and eloquent. I have been considering sliding DTs for the rack’s framework so doing the pegs the same way should had been intuitive, but it wasn’t. Looks as though I’m going that route now, again with my thanks. It should also simplify the design of the pegs proper as well, which works for me. Even though I am gauche.
This is why I subscribe yet have done very little in the way of projects. There is value in what you do and I am more than happy to facilitate it in a small way. It is not that I am an armchair woodworker, I work in wood all the time. The knowledge imparted through your blog, tutorials etc is worth paying for and fostering . All the best to the team.
Paul, I too would like to see more of your bench and how you use it. Having said that it is always a pleasure to see you in action. Being able to stop the video and look at your shop, work and ponder what I will do next. You are a true inspiration. Thank you
Paul, I’m 67 also and always wondered if the younger generation would pick up the skills you and I still saw some of as kids but soon it disappeared. Luckily some of us had and took the available shopclass in high school. Unfortunately those are all but gone. We learned to work with our hands there. Those skills are still somewhat used and necessary outside the city. However, hands on craftsmanship has fallen short and why I seriously enjoy watching your work! Hopefully you will continue to reach even more parents which may guide or support their children back into a hands in craft learning from you!
BTW, I don’t think you mentioned how many of the adults, kids or parents that took your classes or mentored with you have returned either for a visit or hopefully to tell you they are now doing craft work themselves?
At our age we begin to think of what will happen to our work when we have gone! Don’t worry, Paul. You are leaving a legacy for others to follow and learn from. A footprint in the cement.
Thank you for helping to bridge the gap Paul!
Paul, as All the others have said before me, I want to thank you. You have pulled unproductive machine woodworking into productive fun and challenge in my life. I am forever grateful for that. Gary
A musical friend, long ago, mentioned that some people are “gardeners” of skills — planting the seeds that make people willing to attempt something new, fertilizing with ideas and advice, watering with encouragement even when the early attempts need a lot more work (practice makes better, after all)… It’s a slightly different role from teacher, focusing more on how to enjoy the craft and learn to do your own best work rather than on achieving maximum possible efficiency.
Paul, I think, is a good example of this approach.
Thanks for sharing these thoughts Paul. The woodworking skills you are passing along are invaluable – there is no doubt that is what brings people in. What keeps them in is you as a person.
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