I spent the day with two woodworking teachers from Russia today. They came to meet me and ask questions on issues they felt passionate about. They took many answers and left questions.

I saw the kind of penchant teachers often have that’s unique to teachers I think. They were passionate about woodworking and what they taught was the basics of woodworking to primary school boys and girls. They had made short videos of the children they work with using hand tools in classes that reminded me of what we are now losing in mass spheres of industrialised education. They reminded me of my own past as an early teenager spanning formative years in a system that misunderstood children’s needs to generate a one-size-fits-all system. AN apprenticeship changed that and allowed me to take charge of my education in positive ways. As a practicing craftsman and then as a teacher developing curriculum for beginner woodworkers including children and new adults regardless of age, I found myself growing in my love for both making and teaching. Here’s the thing. These children in Russia had this wonderful woodworking class. They were like coiled springs with energy levels perpetually charging as they discovered wood, the smells and textures of it, the nuances of it and the use and functionality of it. They were in a zone that only, ONLY, inspired children can have. You could not have stopped these children from doing what they were doing which was spokeshaving a plank held to the bench with clamps. Well, MY HEART LEAPT, SKIPPED, DANCED AND DID PIROUETTES. . . .

. . . and then, inside at least, I wept my brain-tears!

Still weeping this evening, I felt something inside me crumbling at the thought that these kids were given decently sharp spokeshaves to make with, handsaws to saw with and they were trusted. Trusted. They were trusted to be sensible, trusted to be respectful, trusted to take care not to hurt one another and trusted in the use of the sharp tools they were using. My visiting friends said they never injure themselves or one another. The weeping? How many hundreds of thousands of young people who could want what I had in deciding my future as a crafting artisan for a lifetime will never have their palates touched by a few hours a month in a woodworking workshop in a school anywhere. Imagine if it had been me!

You see that’s how it was for me when I was a boy. That’s how it was for me discovering a pathway to my future. That’s how it was for thousands upon thousands of boys in my day. Why then, if the schools have such responsibility, and I am talking about educationalists and politicians and not teachers, are children no longer exposed to working with their hands and yes, allowed to use such tools as I am talking about. Why are schools so not just risk averse, but totally opposed to woodworking, craft education as a whole and then worse still plain scared?!!!

Depriving children of the exposure I am talking about is narrow minded at best. All schools in Britain, privileged and not so privileged, had woodworking once a week. It was understood to be fundamentally valued in every child’s development. And by woodworking I mean with chisels, mallets, planes spokeshaves and saws. Not industrial machines per se. I was pouring molten metal into moulds, grinding off steel with grinders, and using lathes for both wood and metal. And yes we made knives from old files to carve with too.

I will treasure what my Russian visitors brought to me this past week. Their courage was emboldening. And they were inspired by me!!! How they inspired me! Whereas we cannot host visitors here any more, I was so glad this was booked in and that we did it. St Petersburg is enriched by men like these who carry the burden to invest in younger and smaller children, boys and girls of 7,8, 9, 10, 11 and up in so tangible a way. Can our countries reverse the trend to oust serious development for children in these realms. Can we see serious crafts like woodworking, metal working and many other crafts return to schools again here in the west? Craft work is not a nostalgic, preservation, conservation institution kept alive like a museum of skills. It’s vibrant, living sustainable culture; a real means of conservation by engaging in and with the essentials of life.

There are no pictures in this blog because it was a private event happening for the benefit of future children and a future generation. I know that this is not the only country in the world doing this work. others are too. Words alone must convey a heartfelt cry that we MUST look to our young to see our craft skills absorbed in lives that can carry belief in them into their future. We once had this and it quietly slipped through our fingers.

31 Comments

  1. Eddy flynn on 22 September 2018 at 6:44 pm

    I would welcome any group of youngsters to our community workshop,and I’m sure some of the other 400 UK mens sheds could do the same to pass on these skills



    • Paul Sellers on 22 September 2018 at 6:53 pm

      It’s not so simple these days, Eddie. That’s not going to happen.



      • bill morris on 22 September 2018 at 7:19 pm

        I’m guessing the injury risks/liability insurance issues make these thoughts non-starters, which as we might say here in the Texas Hill Country is a “low-down, dirty rotten shame” – but you can’t ignore the realities of whatever laws we have allowed to be put in place. So glad you are willing to spread your words with so many of us and with folks like your recent guests. Bill in Kerrville



      • Eddy flynn on 22 September 2018 at 8:00 pm

        We have an introduction to diy session in the planning for the new year with a local group of youngsters , we will see what comes of it.



      • Carlos Viloria on 23 September 2018 at 10:14 pm

        You are totally right there, Paul. But let me bring your attention and suggest to take a look at Alexandria Seaport Foundation (http://alexandriaseaport.org/). There you can read that ASF was “established in 1982 to honor the city’s maritime heritage and culture. In 1993, ASF shifted its focus to serving at-risk youth through adult mentoring, project based learning and the building of wooden boats.”

        They claim to accomplish their goals mainly through two programs: Boat Building Apprenticeship and Middle School Math Program.

        Regrettably, I haven’t had the chance to get involved (every one has their own problems and I am just another Venezuelan trying to rebuild a life in another country… blahblah). But I have visited their lovely floating workshop. It all seems very legit. Maybe some day…



  2. Tom Angle on 22 September 2018 at 7:03 pm

    Schools here in the US are not here to train children to succeed in the work for anymore. They are not indoctrination centers. They feel they need raise the child. Parents along time ago chose to allow the government to do this. They thought it easier to have someone else pay for and educate their children. So now we have institution bent on making children servants to the government.

    When you teach someone that they can do/build this all by themselves, they do not need the government to feed them, protect them, educate them, etc… This removes power from government. This is a threat to government since it is a monster that only purpose to grow in size and power. A free man/woman is a threat. So it make people need the government.

    That is why there is none of these classes anymore in schools.



  3. Diego on 22 September 2018 at 7:20 pm

    Having the (somewhat unexpected) pleasure of raising a little boy I’d at least have a chance to let him get acquainted with woodworking.

    I’d like to see what can be done at what age to keep him busy….
    I’d be delighted if he would have an interest in manual skills like woodworking. Yet I’m afraid if I push him too much he’ll not want it.

    I’d love to hear some points of view as to get and keep a small todler/child busy.



    • Tom Angle on 22 September 2018 at 7:31 pm

      From what I seen in life, if you show a passionate interest in something (as long as it is not neglectful to them), they will want to be like dad/mom. Children are clay and they love the attention of their parents. Show him that you love him and spent the time teaching (not lecturing) him and he will keep that skill for a life time. I seen it way too often, kids love what their parents love, either good or bad, they love it the same.

      I think the reason Paul is so successful is that people see that he loves what he does and it draws them to him. They want the same feeling he gets when they work wood. He is a kind man that wants people to succeed. Treat your kids the same way and they will more than likely carry on throughout their life.

      Once more thing. If you get frustrated doing something, show him the proper way to handle frustration (no anger, quitting and things like that). Kids are like programming a computer, you put garbage in, they will put garbage out.



      • Diego on 24 September 2018 at 5:02 am

        Thanks for your comment Tom.

        You actually have some valid points there, that I’ll be happy to take home.

        For now I’m left with some time on my own, as he’s just 16 months old now….

        Diego



    • Paul Sellers on 24 September 2018 at 7:18 am

      I taught my four boys woodworking from early on. They were in the workshop or hanging around it from around three years old. They were safe. No machines on ever when they were in there. And my hand tool workbench and tools were distinctly separate from the machine shop anyway. I gave them spokeshaves first and gave them a cut out blank to work on. Cutting boards and spatulas. They never tired. Children need pushing and by that I mean encouraging not bullying. Mamby pambyism is becoming more and more rife. Usually its the parents that do not like any kind authority or they look to the wrong sources for advice when the advisors did psychology at university somewhere and really know almost nothing about children and especially someone else’s child. You as a parent know your child better than anyone else and especially professionals as long as you are honest with yourself. I couldn’t keep my boys out of the shop so willingness was never an issue. Being a new dad is to enter the unknown where parenting is a relative unknown but it’s not complicated. All you need is love.



  4. Ronald Moravec on 22 September 2018 at 7:31 pm

    We have discontinued most if not all manual skill education in the US.I got some in grade school after moving to new area and got one shop wood class first year high school, may age 18 in 1955.
    No time in schedule for any more if you wanted to go to college.

    It has become one size fit all and the brightest are being dragged down and the slow have trouble keeping up. We wonder why USA is 32nd in testing world wide and we spend a fortune on education.

    Thank you for educational Utube channel and this vlog so I can catch up on what I missed 60 years ago. I am now retired 12 years and building my first serious shop. Tools are mostly purchased,, benches are started.



  5. Mario Fusaro on 22 September 2018 at 8:28 pm

    We had “wood shop” when I was in high school, almost 50 years ago. We learned some basics, built a bird house and a stool. Finger joints and lap joints done on the table saw were the joints of the day. My children also had “wood shop” between 2005 & 2012. Magazine floor racks were all that was made. The teacher did all the cutting as no students were allowed to use power tools. All hand tools work was layed out by the student and the hand sawing was preformed by the teacher assistant not by the student. Assembly was preformed by the students but no mallets or hammers were allowed. The magazine racks came out acceptable and I helped them smooth and finish each one.

    The reason for such safety concerns was due to a student loosing 3 fingers back in the 1990’s. The student went into the shop after hours and with no supervision, need I say more? The law suits went on and the city government decreed that all sharp instruments and power tools were off limits to students.

    Here at home, I was using power tools so I taught my children one rule about knives, saws and power tools. I said, “If the tool can cut, shape, shave or put a hold in wood, it will do the same to you!”. To this day, they never forgot that I taught respect and not fear of tools.



  6. Tom on 22 September 2018 at 9:13 pm

    In the schools around me, it’s not so much the liability, but the requirement to spend so many hours a day on “core” classes: science, math, and language. There’s so little time left for “creative arts”. It’s a shame, because for me it was a joy to make the connection between geometry in math class and woodworking in shop class. And I think it’s very valuable to expose kids to a broad range of creative arts to help make those connections.



  7. Ecky H. on 22 September 2018 at 9:52 pm

    That reminds me of a word the man at the “treebangham” youtube channel recently teached: Sloyd – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sloyd



  8. T on 22 September 2018 at 11:05 pm

    Unfortunately, it is not just woodworking. Almost all practical experimentation has been taken away from kids and thus is science education in particular ruined. Give a kid a bicycle wheel spinning on the end of a stick and sit him on a typist’s swivel chair and they will “feel” the forces and start to spin themselves. That’s learning. Or get ’em to stick a bit of copper tube in some acid and they’ll see the chemistry with their own eyes. All that is lost now.

    OTOH I still have a stool I made at grammar school way back when – terrible bloody thing that it is – and an aluminium handled screwdriver I turned and knurled – made from the raw bar stock. The G-clamp I cast, drilled and tapped is long last, alas. It was crap but it was mine.



  9. Neil Christie on 22 September 2018 at 11:58 pm

    When I tell young people that when I was in first year of secondary school, aged 11 , I worked lathes, milling machines and forged red hot metal. Used hand saws , chisels And mallets ; they can’t believe it.
    No one acted foolishly, no one got injured, nothing got broken. This was a comprehensive school with a lot of wild children but in the workshops everyone behaved like craftsmen. Sadly , it was boys only.

    I have a handyman business and I see a generation of young home owners who don’t own pliers or a screwdriver . Let alone know what to do with them. Good for business but what a future!
    I think many see manual work as beneath them. Others just regard it as something alien. Lots seem to give up on jobs at the first hurdle.
    The joy of putting tools to wood I am sure, could ease much of the anxiety and depression young people have. Even if they don’t make anything; just planing and spokeshaving scrap timber is so therapeutic it has value in its self. The problem is what can’t be measured has no value.
    Being able to do simple tasks: Trim a door, fit hinges, cut a shelf and hang it etc. Has such a liberating effect. Take away the feeling of helplessness and you take away the cause of much anxiety.
    I do hope this trend is reversed soon. Or I fear we are heading for a very unhappy future.



    • Paul Sellers on 23 September 2018 at 1:12 am

      Thanks for this Neil. Same for me. Formatively trained in a secondary school brazing and soldering, grinding, filing making live mouse traps and even knives for carving and then pouring molten alluminium to cast metal parts. I think I was around 13 for the more ambitious projects.



  10. Phill on 23 September 2018 at 1:12 am

    tradition is easy to overturn and impossible to revive.



    • MIchael Murphy on 23 September 2018 at 1:50 am

      It has been said that “Traditions are group efforts to keep the unexpected from happening” . This is remarkably accurate in the arenas of Politics and the Church where tradition governs. It is opposite in the craft skills where there is wood and steel. Those traditions teach, lay fundamental process, encourage creativity and bring a satisfying element of completeness of self. I applaud all those who pass on the skills and bits of life wisdom that comes from those traditions.



  11. MIchael Murphy on 23 September 2018 at 1:36 am

    Unfortunately Paul, the positive effect of young guys and gals learning to work with their hands and in that process, learn to think critically and make decisions is not the goal of the American education system today. Kids are taught that there is no excellence as that would mean someone is not as good at something, and therefore be forever damaged. It is concerned with ideologies of emotion, not learning, not striving for excellence by setting a bar high enough to be worthy of attaining. In this modern system one can not be exceptional and in being so, encourage others to strive for excellence. Someone, somewhere, somehow will “feel” diminished and that is an offense in this era. There are, or hopefully are, small pockets where teachers really teach, where the spark of learning is fanned to a lifelong flame, though I suspect it will not become commonplace in the American K-12 systems again any time soon. This is where you and men like you will lights on the hill.



  12. Jamie on 23 September 2018 at 2:29 am

    I’m from a bit later than Pauls generation by 8 yrs. In Australia we were still lucky enough to have a fully functioning Woodwork wing and I still have some functioning articles that were built there. I’ll always be greatful to four people, my generated had been a pattern maker, he could fix anything, his daughter as my mum could also tackle most things and was as now described “a maker”, of sewing items, to scratch cooking to restorations of furniture. My dad was born on the farm and handed down the attitude that if you never have a go you’ll never know if you can do it. He built all kinds of projects around the house. All hand tools.
    Then Woodwork teacher Mr Mulraney who seemed quite happy to host a few of the keen kids to work after school hours and show us a few more advanced tools and ways of doing things.
    That all led to an adult apprenticeship with Defence in avionics and Mechatronics, they were quite intense that we should learn to be capable to do everything without power, (no power points in trees ?) so lots of hand tool skills were taught and 40 yrs later much appreciated.
    Nowadays I help my two sons to renovate and build structures of various kinds around their houses, sometimes out of my comfort zone, but “have a go or never know “. I often get them “as apprentices” to watch and reproduce a task I can teach them, or we get onto YouTube to watch Paul do a task and then we’re off with new knowledge.
    Paul, as with my 4 inspirational mentors, you’re on an admirable mission to show and inspire people into the next several generations at least. Remembering that the content on the Internet will likely be around “forever” to inspire.



  13. Allen on 23 September 2018 at 4:48 am

    My thought is that there is a push from somewhere (perhaps unconscious) to achieve human uselessnes. I know that sounds grim and pessimistic, but I do believe that description is the closest thing to an end I can think of for unbridled progress. Luckily, I’m very hopeful that people will always recognize that the Hobbits’ way of life is far superior than that of the Orcs!

    Somewhat related, there is a transcript of a debate between G.K. Chesterton and Bertrand Russell that took place in 1935. The topic is about the bringing up of children. There are remarkable nuggets in there that we have the privilege to look back on nearly a century after it took place.

    https://thehuffexpress.blogspot.com/p/bertrand-russell-in-first-place-imust.html?m=1



  14. Gareth Sprack on 23 September 2018 at 8:44 am

    There was no need to train craftsmen any skill you needed could be bought in from the far flung corners of the EU, where hard working people were exceedingly grateful to offer their skills at any price above what they could get at home.

    When people started to notice and question why, the stock answer is “We can’t find the skills we need locally” the unspoken part being “because we cant be bothered to pay to train them”. At the same time parents rush to litigation the moment a child received a knock or a scratch. The clock can never go back, although pendulums do swing both ways, but as long as we maintain an education system where results can be fed into and assessed by a computer. There will be little chance for a child to hold his first set of wonky dovetails and have his efforts recognised (marked) for the triumph of achievement they actually represent.



  15. Sylvain on 23 September 2018 at 11:25 am

    You might be interested by the blog of Doug Stowe : “wisdom of the hands”.
    He is animating a wood-shop in a school (in Arkansas). The goal is not to learn woodworking as such but to be confronted to reality by using one’s hands.
    The philosophy is that hand work is useful (necessary?) for brain development.
    Small children do crude things but they do it by themselves and are proud of their results. Children do not need realistic toys. When they play they just think (say) let’s pretend this is a ….
    Much older children made a boat for instance. (and anything in between)
    Then there is a link between what is proposed in the wood-shop and what is done in math, sciences etc like making trays for geologic collections…
    There is also doing things useful for the local community like doing canes.
    I think Doug Stowe is preparing a book about woodworking for children.
    Sylvain



  16. Ko on 23 September 2018 at 8:47 pm

    I suddenly realised today that what you are showing people is what the soul of us all need and want. In your new vlog you show some of those things that you found missing in your woodworking video’s.

    I was telling my visiting mother about this and my internal struggles between mind and soul. There are so many people who see the world around them as objects with different qualities and quantities and it is so easy to fall into this and completely miss how our soul experiences the world around us. It sounds appealing to our minds and eyes that we can make things very well and quickly with powertools, but you sacrifice a lot of what our soul needs and experiences.

    I once went a long day fishing with my wife when we lived in Sweden, and she added a whole new dimension to fishing, it was amazing. I only saw where are the fish? which lure do I use? and how many can I catch? She shared how much she loved being in nature, seeing the fishes in the water and the lovely fishing villages, boats and harbours, the waves the wind the sun and..experiencing those things together.

    We need those soul experiences or we feel empty. I have been working hard in my workshop for the last few months since I decided that I would try and make a living in there. I feel stressed because I feel pressured to make it work and I realise I am losing sight of what my soul wants and needs. The most fun I have had was when a friend’s 2 children came over to do some woodworking in my utility room where I made workbenches that are wallmounted and can move up and down to come to their level. They are 5 and 7 and they love it! Saws, the 51 spokeshave, the number 3 plane, chisels and mallets, and big grins on their faces. It is fantastic, I was so happy.

    So many people have been caught up in a society where the soul is neglected, but many can be reminded because you can feel empty and miss something. I believe.

    I am reading a book about a lady who works with dogs and has found a way to understand dogs and their language. She writed that after 100.000 years of humans living and working together with dogs, the dogs still see the world around them as a wolfpack. She found a way to fit in that wolfpack by learning the language and that way she dropped the traditional obedience training that dogs are usually trained with. The dogs learn to obey the signs of obedience training but do not really understand the language and so are rather forced against their will to obey.

    Through right use of their language the dogs see her as the leader they work and live with her in peace and trust and without stress and anxiety. The stress comes when a dog has the idea he is the leader and thus responsible for the wellbeing and survival of its owner. This responsibilty sometimes is so much too big a dog can not handle it and can lose self control. Fascinating.

    This so reminds me of the language of our own souls and how may be trying to fit our soul into a society that does not recognise it.



  17. Neil Barnwell on 24 September 2018 at 1:30 pm

    Living in the UK, I have the same regrets, having felt it first-hand. In all my years at high school (11-18 years old including A-levels) I did a bit of woodworking (scraps from the bin or MDF) where we were allow to use hammers, glue, saws, and manual drills. Never touched a plane or chisel, and work had to be handed to the teacher or workshop assistant for any machine tool work. The fully-kitted-out industrial machine shop full of lathes and milling machines and shapers was locked for all but one 20-minute session over those 7 years, where we watched dully from the far end of the room as the teacher demonstrated cutting a wonky thread on a lathe.

    As such, I feel utterly cheated. Especially when I read stories like those on this page, which are similar to my dad’s experiences. I’m FASCINATED by making things (though I don’t really have the skills to achieve my own standards, yet). I love woodworking but also metal machining, despite still never touched a lathe or milling machine in my life, but I’ve learned a lot, and as my kids grow up and opportunities arise, I intend to take care of that deficiency. I guess I have people like Paul Sellers and “This Old Tony” to thank.

    So now, as a software developer in my mid-late 30’s, I’m furiously trying to make up for lost time, and YouTube is my teacher. I’ve got a kind of workshop coming together in the garage, but I’m on a self-appointed “apprenticeship” for now. I’m practising sharpening and restoring old planes and chisels I’ve bought, and while I don’t have a proper workbench and vice yet, I do have a work surface with a machinists vice that I’m making do with. I made a rag-in-a-can oiler a few weeks ago. I practice through-mortises and other joinery on scraps of wood, almost entirely by watching Paul’s channel. While I enjoy the relatively modest pace of handtool work, I like power tools too, and they have their place. Things like a bandsaw and table saw and things,. Partly because some of my work is plain old DIY rather than fine furniture, and finesse is not sometimes less of a requirement than speed. Horses for courses, as they say.

    I’m also trying to get my own three boys interested. Trying not to force them, lest I put them off, but to invite them out into the garage, away from electronics. I want to empower them, so they feel the freedom of being able to operate these things that to me were only for “grown-ups” – a feeling I’ve struggled to shake off. Hopefully as they grow up they’ll be more confident than I ever was, and more ready and willing to get stuck in.



  18. Jonna on 24 September 2018 at 2:26 pm

    According to a survey, many nutrition suggests the wine to remain healthy and fit. I am also a wine lover is best for my stomach. It is also best for the cancer diseases. I have not a huge collection of wine but i have some imported brand of red wine.



  19. Adriano J. M. Rosa on 24 September 2018 at 3:30 pm

    This is a very good place to be.
    It seems the old tertulias (i would say that don´t exist anymore). The interaction with so many people of different countries are superb. The ideas are marvellous.
    You are guilty of this, Master Paul!
    Thank you for this place.



  20. Terry Dixon on 24 September 2018 at 4:49 pm

    Hi Paul,

    As a retired D.T. teacher here in the UK it with a heavy heart that I now work as a supply teacher on a casual basis and see what passes for creative education in the workshop subjects. Large classes – up to 25 and even 30 in a workshop without a technician to support the teacher.

    Teachers are not capable of teaching skills as many, if not most have not developed these skills themselves. In one school I worked in a new female teacher came as a D.T. teacher. She had retrained from a career in business and done one years retraining. That really equated to two terms in college as the last term is devoted to examinations. Take out a large chunk for teaching practice and you can see that very little time was given to skills.

    Funds are also limited and there is not the luxury of using real timber very often, most pieces involve mdf or cheap plywood. Unless there is a keen technician tools don’t often get sharpened.

    Finally there are curriculum pressures, schools now are mostly not educating our young people, they are training them to pass exams – there are some very good examples of success but in my experience there are many which not so good. The curriculum is aimed at exam passing at any cost whether valuable or not as the school and hence the individual teacher is judged by those results in so called ‘league tables’. The demand for exam success often means removing the need for individual decision making and taking away the opportunities for young people to take responsibility thereby restricting their experiences.

    As I said I often leave schools at the end of the day with a heavy heart and a sadness at what these marvellous young people are missing – they deserve better.

    Sorry about the rant but it is a subject close to my heart.

    Terry D



  21. Bill on 24 September 2018 at 6:58 pm

    I failed my 11+ and went to a new Secondary Modern and was blessed with great teachers. I loved woodwork and metalwork and was an aircraft enthusiast. I got an RAF apprenticeship and did well. When I retired at 70 I laid a solid oak floor and stairs and it got me back into woodwork and am enjoying setting up a new workshop. I have been following Paul’s YouTube video. (I also got two degrees along the way, so it tells you about the accuracy of selecting children educationally at 11.)



  22. John Cadd on 24 September 2018 at 7:09 pm

    This reminds me of a holiday in Cornwall . On the beach , hundreds of planks from Russia had fallen off a ship and some enterprising hippies with six inch nails had improvised sheds and platforms along the coast . The wood was 8 inch x 2 inch pine . Huge long slabs just waiting to be sawn to size. The council were threatening to take action on H&S grounds , but it was a happy diversion for a few weeks .



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