Enter Title Here!

It’s often hard to describe the things I see in people when they have worked for a short while using their hands; perhaps it is even the first time they ever did that make the greater difference, makes  it more special. A man in his late thirties, not technical, not an engineer, more a barrister or an estate agent, someone who sells or buys, takes a saw and awkwardly stiffens his stance as if about to wrestle an unknown force of dark. He braces himself, locks his legs and his arms, sets his sights and positions himself ready for the unknown to advance on him. Perhaps on the other hand the hand is soft, mushy, limp like wet lettuce. The saw hangs  in a bent-back hand,  misaligned for any sort of work. Dispassion defies the dynamic of three-dimensional articulation that’s really needed and yet it seems they may feel that just holding the saw is somehow going to magic a hidden dynamism to drive it into and through the wood on target and on line. In many ways we do a disservice to our children when we deny them the opportunity to work with their hands and all the more is that the case today. By deny I mean no matter who, it is woven into our DNA to make. If we don’t have equipment and materials to make in our homes we  effectively cut off the supply at the source. In my case craft education for my children as they grew was equal to the three Rs of Reading, Riting and Rithmetic. What is it the proverb says?—‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick: but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life!’ So I decided my boys would all learn a range of crafts. None of it was wasted. What I was doing was making certain to equip them.

Over these past decades I have seen the most stoic stand  transfixed in isolated pockets enjoying an indescribable bliss at what they created with their hands. At first it was the shaving that seemed to captivate them so. It mesmerised them, but then they touch the surface of what they just planed and what they first saw in the shaving rising in the plane’s throat was magnified a hundredfold. Such people worked their jobs day in day out year on year. On work sites, at coal faces, in trucks behind the wheel and in offices where where doctors and draftsmen and women worked no such things existed for them but here, at a bench, with a handful of hand tools they were at that point where life was about to change. You see, for the first time, their senses were alerted by something, woken, shaken from slumber by something they’d never knew could possibly exist for them. Imagine, they didn’t even know such a thing existed and here they were shaving wood with a tool they had never really known before. Something stood out to them, a contrast to their normal world. The contrast where something ordinary stands out from the rest. It’s a texture, it’s a culture and it’s a counterculture all in one. You see such things are life changing and that is the power of culture itself. That is what makes ‘culture‘ so super-natural; it takes the the ordinary and makes it extra-ordinary—It is life changing. So much is this the case that the first time they experience this they make up their minds to absorb as much of this ordinary extraordinary thing as they possibly can into their lives. By this one seemingly insane decision they become more living than ever before. This is not ordinary even though the results of working a plane on a surface of texture is the most ordinary thing. You see, in my view as a mere carpenter, a rough joiner, you are supposed to feel such things as you work in the every day of life. I have felt them since I was a thirteen-year-old boy and that every single day of my life without a stop. Such textures of work culture still impact me with the power to impress me after 55 years at the bench, all the time. So powerful is this it has never become ordinary.

This week I took time out to consider how quick life’s become for everyone. It’s not that people work hard, particularly, just that they’ve lost the sensing of ordinary things such as how long things might take to do a task or sensing the surfaces of wood or the cutting edge of a plane that cuts off the unwanted. Practical things like making something. My one shaving along an edge leaves a pristine surface. A machine creates a thousand cuts over the same distance but leaves tiny undulations barely traceable but in need of abrading to remove such flaws. Including the abraded finish, the surface is still second rate. Men knew these things 150 years ago. They resisted it and they were called Luddites in much the same way the term is used derogatively to deride those who enjoy simpler ways today and especially when we become concerned over job losses because of artificial intelligence or robots replacing workers. But it’s not that people resist robots so much as knowing that it’s highly likely that they are in the process of being displaced. But it’s not just from work, its being displaced from that which gives them meaning. Being in work gives them meaning. This work thing cannot be replaced by leisure time, retirement or anything else in the same way factories could never replace the family businesses in the days when the Luddite resistance movement ended up with hacked looms and machinery. In the end, the Luddites were replaced by slaves and the work became guess what? “Soul destroying!”

Choose work to relax into. Wellbeing and mindfulness are terms that fall so very short. Actually, no term actually exists with the  potency I’m speaking of. That’s why even the taking of a shaving and the smoothness of the wood takes so many words to describe the outcome and then it falls so far short. These are all valid terms for recovering something lost or maybe we’re losing, but, the way I see it at least, just ‘manual working‘ conveys all the more. It’s enough for me. In itself manual working is a  very valid term for recovering wellbeing, mindfulness, satisfaction and ultimately dare I say it, sanctity. I love not just the terms manual labour, manual worker and such like that, but the reality of being and living as such. I’m not middle-class, working-class, upper-class or any such thing. Thank goodness I have never been ashamed of being  a man that works manually using his hands and his mind as a workman, despite attempts by teachers past in my formative years telling me to be successful, make something of yourself, your better than this. Do you want to be a manual worker for the rest of your life? Well, here I am at the rest of my life, happy, contented and at the contrary of where they would have led me. Go on, be a workman! ~You don’t need to stop what you’re doing, just add what you currently do to your first calling as your second job.  One hour in your workshop at your bench with your hand tools will counter eight hours of the other culture to revive you and fill you with hopefulness!

24 comments on “Enter Title Here!

  1. Paul
    Your latest post was brilliant and for all of us who still use hand tools in whatever trade or profession that would be classed as manual workers, is highlighted so well in your expression ” dynamic of the three-dimension articulation ” .
    This is when all our senses come alive at our joy and excitement of having completed the task , in modern day speak it is called feedback.
    If everyone could experience this joy the world be a better place.

    Keep up the good work Paul

    Regards Frank

  2. Apt I think
    “No gaslight ever lit his shop;
    He had no wheels to start and stop;
    No hot, metallic engines there Disturbed the shaving-scented air;
    His hands were engines, and his eye His gauge to measure beauty by
    … How gently time went by for him
    Up in that workshop! which grew dim at sunset time: and then he’d lay His chisels down, and sweep away the chips and shavings of the day
    But left upon the bench no less Than that day’s gain in comeliness;
    Then shut the door, and slowly went Under the rose to bed, content.”

    From the book The Village carpenter by Walter Rose

    • Yes a simply brilliant read Steve read it three times….also read his book “good neighbours”. Hard to find bought on Amazon ….it has a picture of Walter stuck in, as books used to be in 1943 two years before I was thought of.
      CHAPTER X11 talks of …..GEORGE…….with great affection, of “a father-instructor to me in my employ”……………Paul talks of his mentor George ……” George says ain’t no point to a blunt pencil boy”. Walter called him “George the faithful, one whose loveable disposition remains in fond rememberence , though his mound this long time has been green”…….lovely stuff

  3. Extraordinary well said. One would wonder if competence with the hands leads to competence with the mind.
    The last line landed perfectly. Just like a tenon seating home with that solid sound.
    Keep up the good work Mr. Sellers. You are quite inspiring.
    thank you, Ed

  4. At the start, we sell our time cheaply and burn up our supply of years. At the end, we pay dearly for as much time as we can buy. I had to retire from “work” before I learned to work.

    The Paul Sellers revolution is alive and well. But so is the machine. It’s up to the young to make their choices and choose their path.

    • Not as easy as that phill………I was outside my garage adding finishing touches to a shelving system for our grandson………lady walked past….”.that’s just what I need for my sons bedroom, you are so clever”, as I showed her the stopped housing joints ( taught by Paul) ” my husband can’t do that and the ones I’ve seen in ikea don’t fit the space!!!

    • It is alive, certainly for me in my mini revolution. I’ve finished building my workshop, I’ve managed to get a job that’s 4 days a week and only 5 minutes from my home. I can drop my son to school and be in the studio for 9am. Tuesdays are my new woodworking day. I am so close to home that I can spend more time with my kids. I was working with my son splitting out waste wood from sleepers with an axe and a mallet last night. He turned and asked me if he could have my axe when I die (he’s 5) I said he could but I’ll buy him his own when he’s old enough so he won’t have to wait till I’m gone!! I took a reduction in pay but gave gained beyond measure and my family have too. As I become proficient in building by hand I hope to transition to it full time. Life is good 🤗

  5. I love quotes, I copy and paste them into a special document I have or write them on sticky notes all around my cubical (yes I said it “cubical”). This one from Paul went to the top of my quotes page “One hour in your workshop at your bench with your hand tools will counter eight hours of the other culture to revive you and fill you with hopefulness!” After 25 years of marriage my wife still doesn’t understand that when I get home I have to go to my work space and do something with my hands. Usually it is a time when like last night I mess up three times making what should be a simple chisel handle for an old real tool steel chisel. But I learned what not to do, then ate dinner and slept happily.

    • Hi Mr Corbin……ref your chisel handle…. I sold on eBay a lovely set of carving chisels, then regretted it after. I’ve thought for some time I need to get a 1″ to make a spoon, much to my luck and almost to the day of thinking about it, an 88year old furniture maker gave me his LAST one ….it is a 1″ and came with a broken handle so made a beauty on my lathe…..polished it to a high shine, the very day that Paul gave us a re run of his gouge sharpening demonstration……how spooky is that??
      Showed it to the previous owner….it brought a tear to his eye

  6. Until recently I looked and making things out of wood, be that a storage shed or furniture, as just the utilitarian making of something useful but now I also look it as artistic expression. Artistic expression just like writing a poem or novel, the Mona Lisa, composing a music piece or playing a music instrument. Schools will teach how to draw or paint pictures, play an instrument or creative writing but they will not touch the crafts such as woodworking and how to use basic tools. Many, myself included, living in the country vice city apartment complex came by this naturally but the apartment kid may have never even held a hammer not alone used one. But they now have a college degree. Gee . . .
    I now look at the woodworking I do, the RC model planes in both balsa and Readi Board foam board from Dollar Tree as artistic expression just like the works of Michaelangelo or De Vinci.

  7. I am 67 years old. For 56 years I contentedly worked as a business administrator. The last 10 of those years, I directed my own company and enjoyed it, mostly. I was always behind a desk.

    After turning 66, I needed a change, so turned the reins of my company over to my offspring and walked away. I thought that gardening on my acre lot along with simple carpentry to accent the yard would be enough. My aged knees said NO! That life style resulted in total knee replacement.

    I have always been a maker of sorts and I love to be productive. About a year ago, as I was retiring, I decided to build some book shelves for our small room we call our library. I needed about 36 linear feet of shelves in order to accommodate our needs. When I encountered a couple of joinery issues, I decided to see if there was something on YouTube that could enlighten me.

    That is when I found you Paul. My life has never been the same since. I have fallen in love with wood working using mostly hand tools. ( I will occasionally use my contractor grade table saw to rip long pieces, but that is it)

    I have spent the last year collecting and restoring old hand planes, hand saws, chisels and such from garage sales, eBay and friends. I learned how to do that from you. That includes sharpening saws. I am building some of my own tools based on your videos. I have also joined your online Master Class training course.

    I recently made 9 art frames for my adult daughter who is a professional artist and has a gallery show this weekend. Thank goodness for your shooting board. Today I am making 10 birdhouse kits for our local cub-scout pack which my wife leads. Last week I made a simple small bedside table for one of my grandchildren while he helped me. I just purchased the lumber to make two of your bedside tables and I am using your lastest video for instructions. For their Christmas this year, I am making each of my 17 grandchildren a wooden keepsake box so they will have something to remember me by long after I am gone. I have requests for projects that will last for several years.

    I am busy, I am happy and your classes and philosophy are at the core of how I have fallen in love with woodcrafting. I don’t get paid for it because I don’t want too. I do it because I love it. Simple as that. I now absolutely love being retired.

    Thank you.

  8. Paul, very well stated. I’m one of those indivudials with multiple University degress sitting in an office, longing to be a manual laborer, and I’m slowly transitioning in this new direction because of your tutelage. Thank you.

  9. Wonderful exhibition, I fully share and I am learning every day of the carpentry and of your person, a hug from here far Argentina.

  10. Working with hands = bad. Working with head = good….

    As if there’s a simple dichotomy, and as if when working with one’s hands one has no need for a head…

    The societal disdain of handcraft goes back a long way, at least 2500 years, to the ancient Greeks:

    “It does not of necessity follow that, if the work delight you with its grace, the one who wrought it is worthy of esteem.” (Plutarch)

    “What are called the mechanical arts carry a social stigma and are rightly dishonoured in our cities.” (Xenophon)

    Not a word Spanish there….

    Your story reminds me of my first job and a pleasant experience for me: the chiefest-engineer in a company of 1200 people had actually two jobs: the one in the company where I worked, as chief-engineer, nearly at the top of the hierarchy. He would start very early every day, about 7:00, and leave early at about 15:30…. to go to his other ‘job’, working in his father’s commercial garage un-denting cars. It was what he really enjoyed doing, despite the engineering degree and top-level day-time career.

    Undenting cars might be called ‘manual labour’ by some, but it requires quite a lot of knowledge, skill, experience and intuition. Probably is at least as much art as it is science.

    But who else would consider it ‘art’? Art is only supposed to come out of a tube of paint, isn’t it? And be made by colourful, unwashed people with an axe to grind, or, to put it in their words, ‘to hold a mirror to society’. And on no account should real art be figurative/realistic, right? The abstracterer the betterer. And if it’s not understandable at all, it’s the best!

    The Mona Lisa is art. But the frame it’s hanging in? And the person who made that frame? Artist too? In my opinion, yes. I wonder how Leonardo would have looked at it…

  11. WOW!
    I’ll second every motion above, every story is of someone ‘breathing’ (or learning to, in some cases).

    But no one answered the initial question!
    I submit (very tongue in cheek – not tongue in groove) the following:
    1) My first reaction: “Aouch” … if this guy slips the least bit, he’s on the way to sutures.
    2) On the presumption this is a lawyer: “Good for him, he’s reading his blade’s information, maybe looking for a warranty statement?”

    As I said … tongue in cheek.

  12. Paul:
    You do great work and thanks for the inspiration you bring to my feeble efforts. There is a name for the special kind of people you inspire us to become: HOMO FABRICATUS. Many thanks again.

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