Dismantling a man’s workshop

The long office window into the warehouse and additional teaching/training/workshop area.

I’m sure others would feel the same way. Unsettledness accompanies everyone’s equilibrium in many ways, moving house, moving workshop (or both on one month again for me), but the sense of purpose is what’s important and I feel that. Mostly my workshops have been fairly long-lived with perhaps a short one in between. Five to fifteen years is a good innings for most but what has been longterm, lived for beyond a workshop and most anything else has been my woodworking. I have never picked it up and put it down, never done it as a hobby to just pass time but always lived its reality.The past year has been good in many ways because, as I have said before, sometimes you must see what something is not to see what it is. Reality has a way of dispelling conjured up fantasies to peg things for what they really are and many people, myself included, are lost without work. With the walls in place and my boxes now under one roof I can feel myself kind of settling in. As it is with all periods of transition, it’s very unsettling settling in.

It’s a mixed bag of personal stuff and construction worker’s gear. Aaargh!

The  builders have burst through barriers alongside the electricians wiring in the needs of the office area and then my new workshop. With all the walls up and in the final stages I feel a bit in limbo once more. So I thought I’d write this blog to bring you up to speed. Just as the echo of the new building bounced of the walls, I felt a bit like that when we moved in. Can you ever have too much space? Yup! In the past I have talked about the main differences between hand tool woodworking as real woodworking and machine woodworking as machine woodworking. The two areas bear no resemblance to one another really because on the one hand the machine should get the glory not the button pusher.You know how I feel about the other way. When you read articles in magazines of course they cannot be altogether truthful about the footprint machines take. Often they show compact machines on wheels moved in and out of cubbies under countertops within low-ceilinged basements. The machine itself is only one half of the space hogger, the extraction of dust and shavings is the other. Periodically someone will dive in with a comment extolling the virtue of  this machine or that. Often it’s smart-allecky and of no real value—I take it as just that. Mostly there is an elitism that, well, just assumes that anyone and everyone can have what they have and that it’s just a matter of choices, that they have the money and space for them and so on. The vast majority of my audience doesn’t, has no inclination to, or simply never will and they want to develop and master skill for their own personal love of woodworking and the processes we find so fulfilling. In a few weeks you will see me using a machine for some of my work. I will be teaching all about this one machine, it’s workings, abilities, safe use of and so on. I recently bought a brand new one to run alongside one of my older models. You’ll like this I am sure.

The garage area waiting for the brickwork. This will be my final workshop. It also becomes a lecture area as well as the filming studio too.

The thing about all of this is that if someone prefers machines all through their work that’s fine. What’s wrong is that richer people often think that all people throughout the world can indeed afford what they buy as a drop in the bucket to their wealth. So here we are, my garage, walls in, ceiling up (kinda sorta) and I am feeling distinctly unsettled and settled all at the same time. The workbench I will be using is the one we made for the video series, the garage size was taken from my home garage. I have room for one machine but could probably make two others fit in if I wanted too. I don’t. Standing amongst the sheets of plasterboard and scaffolding reminds me that workshops are indeed often temporary, what’s permanent is my workbench, my hand tools and my skill. With these, when they are united together under one roof and within four walls, I am the happiest of all. Now the three areas leading to contentment are at least under one roof be that unusable for the minute. In about 10 days time all of that changes.

My old garage doors ready to go in place.

Above the studio workshop on the mezzanine is a large open area undesignated as yet. I have some archived pieces there temporarily. It would make a lovely workshop too.

Ellie has been running time lapses and taking video footage to bring you up to date. She’s in the edit phase now. There is something unique about our being able to video the steps and stages into our future. Each day a new trade arrives to plaster walls or pull wires. Each evening I go down into the new place and breath a sigh of relief that one days work done is another day nearer our goal. I so hope my permanence here will breath new life into all of you because for me it will bring sweet relief knowing I will not need to move again.


  1. Good grief, a house move as well as a workshop move. Respect!

    I bet the contracting carpenters are on tenterhooks every evening when Paul comes to inspect the days work. 🙂

  2. The mere realization that your “normal” has been unsettled is somehow reassuring. You’ve met the unsettled “beast” head on and have come to grips with the myriad of feelings it brings, all the while certain that your plan is sound, based on years of experience. Like a father reassuring his family in the midst of a frightening storm that all will be well in a little while, projecting a peace in the certain reality of the storm. Thanks for sharing these things as many of us experience similar unsettledness, for example, the change into retirement when our life’s vocation suddenly ceases to be our daily reality. I’m reassured by the knowledge that I’m not the only one experiencing the storms of unsettledness. Bill in Kerrville

  3. I commiserate, with you. Close to retirement we have bought a new house to downsize to. It is 9 hours driving south of us and we have been steadily packing and making moving trips even though I still work full time. Downsizing from an enormous 4200 square feet to a petite 1000 square feet.
    My wifes spinning wheels, looms and tons of wool, have been moved as well as 90% of the rest of the household. Now it’s time to move the wood shop. I cannot belive the numerous hand tools I have packed away. It is exhausting.
    Unfortunately I also began with some power tools, that I find I cannot give up. They now are used only for resawing and sizing up lumber. Move to be completed in May. I’ll run the electric and finish the walls in early June and hopefully be cutting dovetails by June’s end. I retire within two years to begin a new life mastering woodworking with hand tools. I look forward to joining in at least online with your classes.

  4. I completely understand you unsettled feelings Paul. I also just moved to a different home and am in process of moving my shop. No where to woodwork , can’t find a thing. Will be over soon , for both of us. Thanks for keeping us up to speed, and for all your excellent instruction and inspiration. Frank, Alabama, USA

  5. Hi Paul,

    I think moving ranks higher than fear of death to most people. Hang in there. Perhaps your crew and one of your sons can over watch this and you can take a vacation for a week or so and it will be done by the time you get back.

  6. Hi Paul,
    I to like some folks have the cash to buy what I want. I am changing that attitude because of you. I just relocated to TX from CT. I had two workshops in CT a two car garage and the basement. So moving out to TX as you know no basements. I did get the garage, but have way to many tools. My goal is to donate the extras to either someone or a woodworking group. Like other people who might have some extra money. I bought things I really never needed nor have I even used. So they are all going. My plan is to scale the entire operation down to one side of the garage. So my hope is that you will provide us with the dimension of your One Car Garage. I brought a 100 year old work bench top with me, but I am going to start to build your bench as I feel it will help me. I enjoy your blogs very much as you speak from the heart, I see different mistakes at times and think boy he is like the rest of us human. I know we all make them. I have said it before, but would like to say it again here Thank you for all you do. It gives us all a lot of hope that we to can learn and grow from your teachings.
    On my bucket list is this, as I did not get to see you while you were here in the USA, I will have to make a trip over to see you and take a class with you. Thank you and May your Higher Power Bless you and keep you always safe.

  7. Paul, I hope you make your new workshop look real and homey and a little cluttered.
    A sterile movie set is not befitting what you are trying to achieve. We the viewers enter the time warp and go back to the time when hand work was the only way.
    As viewers our minds look around your space and conjecture and dream and wonder about your various tools.

    1. I’m with you, Jim. I understand the team wanting to help newcomers feel ‘included’ but the stark contrast between old-workshop and new, made it appear a little sterile.

      1. It’s going to be fine, everyone. Let it unfold and see what the future holds. My mind is not sterile and that’s been proven by the quality of what we make, how we make it and so on. The worst things I have seen on YouTube and elsewhere is the ‘image‘ of a craftsman rather than than the ‘being‘ of a craftsman. I would hate to pretend to be what I am and leave others feeling left out. Plus, and here’s the rub, I actually rely on only a few handfuls of tools, I like a clean and orderly shop and I do sweep many times a day and never let muck gather in places hard to reach.

        1. Thinking of all those beautiful hand tools sitting in storage containers instead of displayed behind you during your videos is depressing. Even if you don’t use all of them they would elevate the spirit of your audience as you work away on the project we all love to see unfold.

          As I’ve written before, I think it is a great mistake to leave those tools hidden from public view. I doubt I am the only one who feels this way. I understand your reasoning for a minimalist approach, i.e., so as not to discourage the beginners among your audience, but I think the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

          I hope you find a way to change your mind.

          1. I feel much better not having so many tools displayed. In 1994 I sold a previously owned collection of a few hundred pieces because I realised that whereas I thought I possessed them, they really possessed me. It was very freeing to limit myself to the ones I relied on to earn my living with. In my new area I will have my personal study and research area lined with my additional tools as an area I have never really had before. I will be content with that. It’s always been important to me to be real and not counterfeit, inclusive and not exclusive in any way at all.

  8. I am nearing 60 and have had shoulder injuries in the past, so I find it difficult at times to use hand saws for extended periods, so, yes, I broke down and bought a used bandsaw, and am glad I did – it makes woodworking more pleasant and pain-free for me.

    Having said that, I cannot agree more with the realities of woodworking machines. I have a one-car garage that is also occupied by a 16′ wooden sailboat I am restoring, so there are times when I have to wait for better weather so I can work on items in the drive or pull the boat out to make room. Plus I don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on table saws and power jointers and planers and router tables and massive dust systems. I tend to pass over the videos that center on power tools ad watch the ones that don’t…like your’s 🙂

  9. It’s wonderful to think that with your modern new industrial space, and with your young people skilled in computer video production, you’re providing a world audience with instruction in a craft thousands of years old. Speaking of rich and poor: your patient, no-nonsense teaching appears equally on the wide screens of retired executives in the States and also on smartphones charged by generators in remote villages. We all can learn to create strong, useful, lasting objects with time-honored tools and methods.

  10. Hi Paul,
    I hope you don’t mind if I share a small writing I did as I was making “adjustments” for retiring back in 2005. It is rather long for the blog, but I thought it holds a lot of the same things you are writing about. Enjoy your new abode; shop and home.

    Amos Bullington

    “I Didn’t Know”

    I was just sitting here thumbing through my memories of traumatic events in my life. Aside from one or two really special ones, the most traumatic were moves. We did it all the time, but they took the longest to get over. Some were easier than others. One isn’t done yet, hence my trouble concentrating on finding a new place. When you add something else to the move it can get complicated.
    I didn’t know you were supposed to take time to grieve for that shady hollow under the trees out behind the house that you found so comforting, or the playmate you never got to see again, or the hot, quiet, slow days in the tall grass and briars that you loved so well and only had for one summer.
    I didn’t know why I only kept certain small things and not larger ones. They were easier to move, would get moved. They disappeared over the years as my mind slowly let them find a place to rest. Little things were easier, I thought.
    I didn’t know that the satisfaction of finding a new place you liked didn’t relieve you of the responsibility of grieving for the one left behind. I didn’t know that you shouldn’t expect the new place to paint over the memories acquired in the old place. I didn’t know that you shouldn’t expect to not miss the old places and friends; be they trees, wind, people, houses, a stairway special only to you, the floor where you broke your favorite dish, the old wooden floor where you dropped your knife through your toe, or just a comfortable feeling of being there.
    I didn’t know you could be so happy about making a move and still be sad about little pieces of the old place, or why you moved. I didn’t know that that was okay, that you need to do those things, to grieve for the old things/places so you may fully own the new places/experiences.
     I didn’t know the first Christmas in a new place has a good chance of not being just what you would have hoped; your interest is low, your mind is fretting over new routines not established and old ones broken. I didn’t know First Christmas’ always have a bit of a bleak feeling; new things are crowding your mind. Nothing is really comfortable. You haven’t found the right place to sit with your tea and allow yourself to dream a little, to let your mind drift off somewhere soft and loved and warm.
    I didn’t know First Christmas’ are a learning experience. Little things might upset you greatly. When they do there is usually an underlying cause, sometimes not directly related. I didn’t know First Christmas’ are a time to use old memories. They are comfortable, friendly. They are the little, warm golden aura around the candle of love.
    I didn’t know you always arrive at a new place with some things that don’t fit, that are uncomfortable in the new surroundings. Their rough edges are soon smoothed or, if they stay rough and uncomfortable, you slowly pack them away and take the next step on your journey through life.
    Good memories are easy to pack. They don’t take up much room. They are light and easy to carry. They are usually around when you want them. But first, before they can reach that place, you have to deal with each one or they will always be rubbing tiny sore places on your back. Don’t ignore the sore places. They are telling you a memory has an edge that needs tending.
    I didn’t know a lot of things

    Amos Bullington, 12/13/2005

  11. I’m sure when the moves are finished you’ll be able to look back and have a few “chuckles”. Hang in there!

    Joe/Hanford, Ca.

  12. Paul I feel your pain lol. I just moved 300 miles to my new home and also moved my workshop. I made three trips with a 8.5’x24’x6.5 high trailer and a lot of help from family. I have a lot of power machines and I don’t apologize for it and I don;t think you are asking for one. As a teenager watching Norm Abrahms on tv I dreamed of owning the “glorious” tools he used in every episode. I thought if I owned and used these power machines I could do high quality work. I also thought that the way to get precision was through these machines. When I was 32 I was finally able to build my own shop and buy these “wonderful” tools.

    As I progressed in skill as a woodworker I became dissatisfied with the lack of precision and quality I was seeking. I came across your blog several years ago and it opened my eyes to the way of increasing the quality of my work and a way to attain the level of precision and skill I was yearning for. I still use machines today, mostly for the bull work, as I do have some physical disability and chronic pain issues. The machines allow me to spend more time in the shop so I can do what I want to do and that is work wood by hand. Now instead of setting up a machine to do a task I reach for the hand tools that give me more of a sense of accomplishment and connection with the project. I am 50 now and I have much more to learn as well as skills to build. With your help the sky is the limit, thank you. John C

  13. Wealth cannot be measured in dollars or pounds. The economy created by sharing yourself with others is impossible to come by any other way. I hope this comes as relief from the unsettled feeling you are experiencing. God bless.

  14. We’ve been thinking of moving to a new house, but the idea of having to move the shop I waited so long to have just makes the idea too daunting. I think we’ll stay where we are and make some improvements to the house. Also, leaving our mature trees and landscaping for a new neighborhood with nothing mature is not appealing. Looking forward to seeing your new digs completed.

  15. Hi Paul will the new space have an open day/weekend so we can see where it all happens.

  16. Paul,
    I started out as a hand tool woodworker at the young age of nine in my father’s shop in an old barn. After military service and a decent job in servicing recreational vehicles I had the wherewithal to “graduate” to machine woodworking. For many years I made furniture and restored antiques without so much as even owning a hand plane and used always dull, cheap chisels for “rough work”. Now after several years hiatus from the wood shop I have taken to making stringed instruments. I tried to resurrect the machines for this work and found quite quickly the finess and perfection needed to make a truly fine acoustic archtop guitar simply wasn’t possible with my expensive machines, no matter how well designed. A visit to an antique shop netted me four old planes, one a Stanley # 5 which, after restoration turned out to be my favorite.
    Having moved several times in the last. Forty years I can relate to being unsettled during the process. Now I have a tiny shop with which to enjoy my remaining years, mostly dust and noise free save from that exquisite sound of a shaving flowing off the cap iron or the smooth slicing sound of a chisel paring end grain. Thank you for your greatest asset: The ability to inspire others to do real wood working.
    Dale Griggs
    Decatur, Illinois

  17. I fully sympathize with you, Paul. We are the same age and I find that the older I get, the more I resist change.
    I tell people these days that the next time I move, it will be in a box. Perhaps you have plans?

  18. Yeah, moving is a real hassle. Here’s hoping that the new place suits you well. Have a great day, Paul.

  19. I’m currently creating my own workspace in my single car garage. I do have some machines though, since I started as a machine wood worker. I haven’t used my table saw in six months though, but the other day I was building something, and the table saw seemed like the best option. I rolled it out to the driveway, cut a few boards, and had to take a shower because I was covered in saw dust. To use a shop vac along with the saw requires an additional electrical circuit, of course. I’m debating even keeping the saw at this point.

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