Mis-fit

I’m sitting in the cafe thinking about all of the people I have nudged along this road I call real woodworking. They have come and gone and I expected them to eventually leave to do their own thing. Men do that. Go their own way, strike out, set up as what is now a disguise called ‘freelancing’. Freelancing saves you admitting that you cannot find work despite your having gone into a £30,000 debt based on the advice of parents, relatives and college lecturers. Legitimised debt by government seems somehow more acceptable than all other forms of debt because you don’t have to pay it back until you earn over a certain amount. Disguising it is a sick economic because most graduates never actually use their degree for the work they ultimately end up doing. Freelancing is a more acceptable term than self-employed, even though there may be little or no difference. I think that this millennialist term staves off giving an account for being between jobs or indeed gives reason to a term between leaving university and the quest of finding any kind of job related to your degree. It’s surprising the jobs people take to earn a living once the lofty portals have been left behind. Self employment really means you have taken steps to set yourself up, you have work coming in and you are receiving payment for your skills and paying your taxes etc. Whether its easier to digest being a freelancer or not is immaterial. It’s still a hard struggle getting your foot on the first rung of the right ladder when you are so young and inexperienced. What worsens the reality is when advisors at college tell you not to say that you are unemployed but that you are a ‘freelancer‘. I see more freelancers leaving uni these days than ever. Parents like telling their friends that their child has become a freelance than anything else. It may sound good, legitimise something, but it’s not quite like being a freelance journalist or consultant.

I have seen my apprentices leave and move into other situations still based on their quest to become craftsmen. Hannah is my first woman apprentice and I hope not the last. But what I am realising more and more is that it is these individuals I have trained that have usually stayed the course to become artisans in their own right. They quietly go about their work making and gradually start to sell their work, take commissions and so on. So it has been for three decades now.

Mis fit is myself. I have in many ways felt like a misfit. The main reason is my perspective on wood and tools and the reasons I work and then the outcome. Behind my instruction lies the heart of my hope. My hope is that many will come and leave to become their own boss. Of course there is no such thing as being your own boss. I think you will understand that when someone pulls out the check book they are paying you to do work for them. But there is freedom for you to pick your work times, methods of working, things like that. But I am still struck by the amount of people I have trained who are indeed quite different. There is a sort of independence about them where they set themselves a part but seem gregarious and are not. They like talking about their work but often don’t like sharing it. They are possessive and even precious about it. In essence they are mainly controlling and rightly so. This is what sets them apart for the rest. Mostly these are the ‘not team players’ companies often avoid taking on because they can be so problematic and indeed argumentative. I understand this phenomenon. Armies wear uniforms for one reason alone. Hospital staff, supermarkets and so on, all in all many entities insist on uniform wearing so that they can in fact be uni, one, form. Without it there is too much individuality. It takes a certain type of person to be self employed and it takes a certain type of person to be employed. Mostly it’s to do with personality. Not everyone can be self employed. Especially is this so if you do not have self discipline, self motivation, drive, tenacity.

Misfits like myself can and do often work amiably with others. Fact is that I have often worked with others who are equally protective of their work, even working in the same piece. What I liked was when someone working on the same piece scrapped a whole door because they felt their work let down the other work. That they would work hours over to make the corrections and bring it up to standard. I suspect that there are many more individualistic people sharing workspace to work on the same project to project their abilities into something bigger than themselves than we might realise. The important thing in my view is to always be aware that you can indeed provide a workplace to help others into individualism rather than corporate even though there can be a corporate outcome in the end.

16 comments on “Mis-fit

    • Steve,

      I’ve been woodworking for only 4 yrs. or so. I went to 2 craft fairs and hated it. I sold 2 boxes for a total of $70. I made a bunch of other pieces and put them on a Facebook page without any orders. I’m currently making a toy chest for a co-worker that may or may not result in me getting paid for it. I don’t need the money from what I make but I absolutely understand how you feel. It would be nice to experience a little coin from what I make but what I try to always keep in mind is that a consumer will ultimately be the judge of what I sell and what I don’t no matter how I make something. Some people don’t mind pieces that are not perfect and believe me, my pieces are FAR from perfect. While others can be so picky that they expect the underside of a drawer to be as flawless as how easily it slides into its recess. My focus these days has shifted tremendously from making things with a buyer in mind to just trying to make things as accurate as possible that I need. I’m still making shop furniture because I’m still learning the best design and methods of craftsmanship that will result in something that I can feel is at a master type of level. In time, I truly believe that the pieces I make will eventually be modified to the point that someone, some where will want to put it in their living or dining room. When will that be? No idea. But what I do know is that the 2 shop dressers I’ve made has no inspired a new design that I plan to make soon. It’s a dining room table that will have storage areas for holiday or fine dining ware. Many changes have been compared to the shop dresser designs but without my experience of making the shop dressers, the designing if the fine dining storage table would never have been born.

  1. Oh Paul…I nearly stopped reading this as I came across the “men do that” remark. Then I took a breathe and kept reading, and am glad I did….as so often is the case, your point s resonate with me, and that youn. have a good platform to share from, I appreciate your thoughts.

    best
    Martha

    • Hello Martha. I am thankful for your input. I did do it on purpose but not to be inflammatory, more to try to tweak people’s perceptions of where we really are. We have a long way to go and it is not just the disparity between the sexes any more but the state of the nation’s educationalists and politicians, economists and so on pursuing less the creative spheres in pursuit of the things they feel they MUST control. Something needs to change but I refuse to lie and say things are really OK. I say this with my best intentions. The men come and work for training with me because they want the methods I use. They never pay me, not even with return in kind, because I don’t want that so they don’t do the usual as in clean the shop stuff and make my tea/coffee. It has always been a one-way give but there are rewards as I see them grow. I know that they will all leave. It is never my intention to keep them unless they want to stay. My goal has been to give what I was given. It costs me.Ultimately these men intend to leave to be their own person. I have not minded even though it is always high demand. Currently my thoughts are changing because I want to work more with a group needing more specialised training: those with autism.
      I have never been sexist as far as I, as a man, can tell. Yes, I did grow up in a sexist culture and a sexist workplace of elitist males. It was exclusive. I have trained a few dozen women through the years and held women’s workshops but not because they couldn’t work alongside men as equals but to even out the disparity usually caused by the culture raising boys to to do the ‘boy’ things and girls to the ‘girl’ things. Not my fault and not my doing. The classes were to bridge the gap for those who wanted to go on to do the more advanced courses I offered but just didn’t have the working knowledge of the tools and felt intimidated because they felt they were starting from behind everyone else. It did work.
      Hannah has been a tremendous boon to my work. She ranks amongst the top of those I have trained. Her work is exemplary. All she needs now is a couple of years developing her speed and her design abilities.
      That stats do tell a story. 5 years ago less than 1% of women were interested in what I offered via youtube and elsewhere. We had about a 2% uptake on classes. Now it looks to be hovering around 4%. Of the women I have taught through the years I have felt impressed by the different way that they work. I think I will not get into the differences I have seen in the way most women work but I believe it is this that sets them apart from their male counterparts-not all women and not all men. I think that the one missing ingredient I have found is in one simple fact-they have a made up mind that they really want to do it!
      Oh, and a friend of mine 3 years ago applied to a famed College in California for a woodworking course and was asked by the course tutor, “Why would a woman want to do this.”

      • Paul, I noticed in your reply your mention of working with autistic people. I am very much an amateur when it comes to woodworking, but I am also a parent to an autistic child. I would strongly encourage you to get involved with this if you could. From my experience wood working with hand tools would have much to offer many people on the autism spectrum, and they are very much underserved (at least in North America; I can’t speak to the UK).

        • In the UK a VERY high number of youngsters with Autism or Downs are unemployed around 90%
          Our Daughter works for a charity finding employment, then with guidance and support the charity employment rate is just one third of the uk level.
          She started working on a one 2 one basis and takes great pride seeing her “colleagues” grow in self confidence.

    • To Martha:
      When I read your comment, I groaned, inwardly, being tired of this ‘walking on eggshells’ around using words such as ‘men’ and ‘women’ and ‘people of colour’ and all the rest. In past years, no-one thought twice about such things. Now, we have it all the time, and I think it’s sad.
      No-one of any intelligence would think that you were excluded from being a woodworker (and, perhaps, a good woodworker, or, indeed, a bad one) because you were female. Let’s not go there.

      • I guess I’m unintelligent then Peter.
        Unless you’ve been black or a woman, or Chinese you probably don’t notice the casual exclusion white men use.
        But your ‘intelligence’ does you proud.

  2. Your right Paul. Some people like myself find it very difficult to develop or possess the personality to own, run, or start a woodworking business. I do not have good people skills. Actually, I prefer animals more than I do our species. I like do like different species of wood though.

    • Hi Anthony, I hear you….Yes my people skills have gotten worse over the past 15 years I’m afraid. Especially this time of year. Far too many expectations put on me for goods to arrive by Christmas. I have a hard enough time explaining this at the best time of year. THERE IS A WAITING LIST I can’t just click my fingers and get enough packed and posted out the door each week. I work alone and have to do it all. There is even less time for actual woodworking this time of year because of all the extra time wasted on quotes, sending examples of previous work, bending over backwards to meet unrealistic deadlines. Sending invoices, doing emails. Offering refunds for annoyed customers who get sick of waiting. The list goes on! Getting orders is not usually a problem. Dealing with people while still making enough physical product each week and getting actual money in your account for all the hours spent on ‘people skills’ has become a nightmare for me. Let alone making enough to keep up with rising costs of timber and just about everything else involved with running a business. Even worse now with so many people on their phones asking brief misspelled questions that are probably already answered on my website but people are too lazy to read. Then I have to ask all the questions and type all the replies to work out exactly what they want in the hope that I will maybe get a job out of it. Then they will tell me ‘sorry it’s too expensive’ and go elsewhere after wasting half my day on their silly ideas that can’t be made cheap enough or fast enough for them.

      Anyway that’s my rant, now I have to get back to about 50 endless emails with people all asking for their order to arrive before Christmas (after ignoring the note I put just above the form they filled out.)

      I guess the point I’m trying to make is if you are thinking about doing woodworking for a living then there is a lot more stress you will have to deal with than where to get orders from. If it fails you might have to go and do something else, if it succeeds then you might find yourself struggling to stay motivated enough to get through all the crap each day that takes up all your time with very little rewards and even less time to do actual woodworking at the pace you will need to to survive in this demanding world where everything is expected to be delivered instantly by drone to the highest handcrafted quality in the exact shade of timber colour chosen or your money refunded back..

  3. For anyone interested in an excellent and entertaining viewpoint on a lot of what has been discussed here I couldn’t recommend highly enough ‘Making Things Work: Tales from a Cabinetmakers Life by Nancy R. Hiller . Paul mentioned the basic requirements of self discipline, self motivation, drive and tenacity. An ability to take a step back and look at everything in context both from your own and others experiences certainly assists. If you do something long enough it is comforting in a way to compare your experiences with others in a similar field- even to realise you aren’t the only cantankerous self employed trades/crafts/artisan etc out there 😉 and that there is deep satisfaction with the outcome of your endeavours.

  4. I was born into woodworking as my father built homes for a living from the ground up. Every trade necessary to build a complete house was passed onto me. I never intended woodworking to provide me with a living. I used the skills I’d learned to provide my family with a comfortable home without spending money on things made of wood. I built bookcases, entertainment centers, rocking cradles and crib beds, all of which still exist as heirlooms.

    My profession, electronics, provided the cash to maintain my woodworking hobby. I’ve become a hybrid woodworker, versed in the use of power tools and hand tools to accomplish the same tasks. I enjoy both.

  5. Paul, I read your mis-fit article because I thought it was about such occasions as your fixing my problem when I put the mortises at the wrong place in making a rocking chair (with a lot of help from you and Stan). That chair is still in my living room. Thanks for your friendship and help.

    I never was a mis-fit in the sense you described in your article. I worked 39 years as a college professor and retired to a farm near McGregor, Texas. I’m 82 years old now and don’t have a shop, but I manage to keep busy. Thanks for everything.

  6. This one hit home. ’Not team players’ often do end up in corporate jobs, but it takes a huge amount of energy and compromise just to survive.

    The irony is that they often work great with people, just not in the robot, stamped out fashion a big organisation prefers.

    Luckily they can up woodworking as a hobby! The course in Wales and the online stuff have been really great in many ways

  7. Fixing public (shared) things, enhances my wood working skill development and satisfying. Paul S. please keep up your good info. I’ve bought your “Essential …woodworking…”book, only , so far. Paying bills – No, my hand work does not reward, but rewards of complements grow. I do enjoy friendly afternoon tea once a week with volunteer arboretum weed pullers. Like them, the visitors never see ones pains and skills. Word does get around who enables the of spreading joy. Transforming the outdoors you never win. Time-in lets you share one’s efforts before mother nature takes it’s wood back. Made a bench that students still haven’t destroyed (2yrs in the field, bench kicked more than a soccer ball). The top – glued herring bone design(scrap 2×4 ends), encased in a redwood frame(nearby good neighbor fence scraps), standing on a wood treated double X base saw on someone site named Amy? (70%off treated lumber scraps from nearby box store). The weather moves the top quite a bit, growing and shrinking with the seasons – treating it once a year with something I’ve been given. Now I have a great team; My used (thrift store found) hand planes are always sharp before projects; I am a warp engineer (straightening & squaring wood); I “successfully” sharpen rip and crosscut saws. Next, a few boards are up for taming, mortising and enjoying – curly maple. see you about.
    Jeff

  8. Paul,
    My dad was a misfit for most of his working life. He left school at age 16 to work the family farm. It’s interesting that his father was the school board president at the time. My grandfather was a businessman, not a farmer but the land came into the family by the inheritance of my grandmother, so in lean times when hired help was beyond means, my father simply put his hand to the plow, so to speak. After that crisis he simply engaged in self employment enterprises. Many enterprises. What ever it took to provide for his family that included his wife and four children as well as his own mother in later years. He was truly an artist with mechanical things and lived by the philosophy of never paying someone to do something you can do yourself and he passed that virtue on to me.
    As for “freelancing” today’s young people do soften their unemployment terminology considerably. Here in the states it has become epidemic as more and more colleges and universities have subscribed to endoctrination rather than education. There is very little call for a “social justice degree” in today’s work force.
    The positive thing about this is the trade schools are making a definite comeback so education is available for those who really want to work or even start their own business in an array of practical fields much needed in this country and I assume the UK.
    Sometimes it is prudent to return to the basics. That’s why instruction such as yours is so important. I know of nothing more satisfying than a simple board made dead square on all surfaces with nothing more that a hand plane in my wood shop or a piece of metal brought to precision in my metal shop.
    Dale

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