It’s a Funny Thing Success

How can you measure it, bottle it, sell it?

Often, at different points in my life, I have found myself setting out in one direction only to find myself somehow going full circle and ending up at the very point where I successfully began. The first workshop I ever owned and set up properly, built a workbench in my yard and set out my hand tools in, was in the garage of my first home when I got married. Since then I just worked out that I have had exactly 20 workshops in a wide range of circumstances and at least two thirds of them have been in garages by my house and with workbenches being made outside somewhere near to.

These home workshops have been pivotal to my own growth and the growth of different business ventures. They’ve been pivotal to my being with my family as they were were born and growing and now with all of my children adults I look back and see that my hands and hand tools have always provided for my family needs and the needs of others.

When I held my first serious classes it was teaching children with their parents. The parents were there to help with supervising, to keep things safe. Only boys came to those classes but not because girls couldn’t. there was just no interest from that quarter and there is still only minimal interest with little change or shift. Back then, it was in the USA, I wanted to teach people to become woodworkers like myself so that they too could do what I did for a living. It didn’t take long for me to realise that attendees to my workshops mostly wanted to become skilled woodworkers but didn’t or couldn’t take the risk of not being able to earn and support. My teaching strategy changed and evolved because i put myself in their place. I developed my foundation courses and they took off. Before I knew it teaching was full time and year round. I liked teaching not because I liked being a teacher but because i loved that students wanted to be there, wanted to achieve, and wanted to become woodworkers with skill. Most of my American students had very comprehensive workshops but most of them knew that they were machinists of wood and did not have the kind of skill I had used throughout my life to make my living. These were amateur woodworkers. Their paradigm was radically different to professionals. They wanted the process as well as the end result. Their machine shops left them unfulfilled and indeed lacking. When they came into my creative workspace and saw that hand tools were really possible for them they were totally inspired. Thousands of them followed their dream and have become woodworkers in their own right.

This week I built the shelves for my garage and added my quirky details to make my life tick well. I put my bandsaw into action after a three year break, restored Joseph’s home workbench from 2007, a shortened version of the one we made for woodworkingmasterclasses.com and YouTube, and now I am planning the workbench additions I am still missing. In some ways I could say I am returning to my roots as an ‘amateur‘ woodworker, which means I am doing woodworking because of my love for it but I indeed never left it so that would not be true. Nope! What I have done though is this, I have returned to the simplicity of the real woodworking I began with and loved but now I am no longer on my own on the journey. I am now with hundreds of thousands of fellow woodworkers influenced mostly by me who are now committing to following the same or similar journey. They’ve bought their ten or twenty or thirty hand tools, learned a few joints that matter, and they’ve made dozens of projects they thought they never could or would or should or whatever. I cannot even begin to tell you all that I have done this week, but I would not change it for a retirement package of any kind.

8 comments on “It’s a Funny Thing Success

  1. Paul,

    Did any of your students ever go on to become a well known woodworker? A name we might know today? Just a curiousity question. Thanks

    BillS

    • No, but there are several who became full time woodworkers as furniture makers that I know stayed the course, graduated and such to a level of true mastery (nothing to do with college or university) so that, in my book, is total success.

  2. Your comments couldn’t be more spot on. I became interested in woodworking this past year and was disheartened to realize that in order to continue I’d have to build or have access to an elaborate and expensive and dangerous and large machinist shop.

    Stumbling on your videos was a welcomed breath of fresh air. So many other facets of our life are driven by the latest and greatest (and most expensive) technology, implication being that, the older more manual (i.e. simpler) ways are inferior or more difficult or longer or somehow less. You not only showed me that this couldn’t be further from the truth, you provided a way for me to understand and climb the learning curve of this craft in an accessible way, you showed that the peace and quiet and tranquil time spent doing it without machinery is a gift unto itself, and you allowed me to apprentice from afar.

    Still collecting my ten or twenty or thirty tools, still working on making my “garage” my own, but not too early to say thanks!

  3. Hello Paul so pleased to hear all is going well with your new venture, you have given so many of us so much with your patience and knowledge. I must confess i don,t always read all your blog, would rather be doing in the shed but todays with you in your garden making the first bench caught my eye and the memories lubricated the lids. Lost all my sheds in a fire 4 years ago and with the help of my son, a time served Pattern Maker we rebuilt, i followed your videos in your garden and i built that bench for my own workshop, 7 feet long with 2 second hand Record vices it is a ” Stonker ” and with that as my corner stone i have built many of your projects large and small, we call the shed the Phoenix and many happy hours in there in the last 4 years. Thanks again for all your efforts but i did’nt try to tune my No 4 i saw that out of left field, all the best Ted.

  4. Thank You!

    You have awakened my vocation and love. I’ve recently started teaching carpentry and building trades after a long time being self -employed in the plastering trade. I’ve been distance apprenticing for over a year now. In that time i’ve made my(your) bench, 25+ dovetail boxes, curved keepsake box, a nice bench, Shaker table, countless sandpaper caddies, sliding top -boxes, trimmed out most of my doors and windows in a craftsman style( hand work), carrom table(unfinished), and am currently working on frame and panel doors with a variety of panel treatments, as samples for a line of small cabinets. Oh and i did some picture frames to put my recently activated professional teaching certificate, and masters degree (5/17) in.

    My four high-school classes built 4, 16′ flat-bottomed canoes this term, as well as tool boxes, and pencil boxes of various styles. Here is a link to the regatta with my kids ( we built the 4 with the names on them and bright yellow interiors.!)
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/16CAI4eSrWXGOQaE7beDEjhfuiFyYefoo/view

    All of the above work was done with hand tools and newly acquired hand skills i have learned through you.

    The acquisition and strengthening of these skills has pushed me to be better, in other areas of life as well. I interviewed for the teaching job with a glossy, highly -figured dovetail shaker candle box in walnut that i set on the table along with my portfolio. We talked about educational technique, i confidently talked about the benefits of dovetailing the hand-skills into our curriculum and the positive emotions that come through handwork, these feelings(the affective domain) can give us the positive feedback loop that enriches our mind, body, and spirit!

    In closure, as i marvel at the beauty of a small raised panel in Purpleheart, near perfectly raised with a record 4- 1/2, and finished with a scraper, my love affair is again rekindled and i am in awe of what i have created by hand, with a sensitivity that grows stronger by the minute.

    your humble apprentice

    Ronald Kowalewski Jr.

      • Thanks again. I read your blog everyday and don’t often have time to deliver thoughtful responses, even when the words and themes often resonate as deeply with me as they must you.

        The kids love the handplanes! Big kids too.. We restore and sharpen planes and chisels, following your methods as well. Some students really enjoy the sharpening station! I plan on beginning next year with skills and projects from your book. Lesson plans will be made. i would love to share my work with you if ever wanted to do an different kind of textbook? This morning i tuned a No7 that i picked up on craigslist for $30, to a surgical level of precision, and restored, sharpened, and set a 100+ yr old disston( canadian) rip saw ($2) with fancy trigger finger hole, for the kids… And i found a workmate for free, in the trash! Time to glue that door up….

  5. I’m always interested to hear more about your work with children. I hand craft for children is vital to a balacanced and healthy development, now more than ever.

    I have been teaching basic hand tools to 5 yr olds and up, and have found them supremely capable. What ages have you started class at?

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