The internet opened many doors for communication. It’s hard to believe that YouTube is only 13 years old! You can learn more about woodwork and its counterfeits than ever in the history of woodworking just on YouTube alone. The problem we small guys face is that, as the audience searches ever the widening net, we become all the more hidden. Actually, I might say buried. The time of my struggle researching finding information using snail mail and reading books seems ever distant. I have always said that in this age of mass information there is all the more misinformation. And self-policing really doesn’t work all that well The more YouTuber channels there are the more entertaining it becomes and so often I see the real stuff getting more and more buried beneath interesting-poor stuff.

A workbench is sometimes used in stores for displaying clothing.

Personally I have always faced opposition in my quest to encourage wood machinists to at least ]ook at hand tool methods. Not to say it’s a better way or to keep them shackled to primitive methods. More to say machines can be complementary to skilled work that’s all. I think that is because of false perceptions mostly that I somehow think people should be not think and work progressively. That is far from the case. I like driving a car but prefer riding a bike and walking wherever I can. I feel more in touch with life that way. It’s the same for me in woodworking. My senses and synapses are in tune with all things and `I like the workout I get that machines don’t give and then too the clean environment and the noise free way I live as much as possible. I have never wanted people to live in the past. Perhaps more to discover it and reap from a very rich inheritance. I’m not exclusive either, as some say I am. They just don’t know me. No one wants an isolated group of specialist woodworkers—except specialist groups that is. My craft is and always has been for anyone and everyone. I never really cared too much how people worked their wood. It was more that they might be missing the point of the needle in the haystack for little more than some hay and stubble. Hand tool woodworking is a cornucopia of exciting skills methods and techniques of working available to all to be developed and then enjoyed for a lifetime. For me it has been more one big festival of exceptional celebrations. That’s why my craft of true woodworking has always been so important to me that I have always wanted to protect it and been fearful that it might one day become extinct to the ensuing generations. This week I listened to the broadcaster David Attenborough’s cry about the possibility of human extinction when he told delegates at a UN climate summit: ‘If we don’t take action the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.’ The naturalist was chosen to represent the world’s people at the summit held recently in Poland. What’s true and not is for each individual to dwell on, contemplate and be responsible for. But the reason I mention it here is because that was how I felt about my craft when I began teaching and training and writing about my thoughts on woodworking and what it was/is 25 years ago. “If I don’t do my bit my craft could disappear.” I thought. So many crafts have already gone and it is unlikely that they will ever be revived. Now I’m  not so much impressed by historical craft associations per se, that they do much for the conservation of a way of life in keeping craft work alive. They are interesting on a limited basis, as a living history museum though  and I have enjoyed visiting them on occasion. It’s more that people might believe the professionals who say hand work is outmoded and out of reality are stating facts rather than mere opinion. I have even had college lecturers and teaching professionals say such things to their students—one time it was even said in my presence. That person said, “You cannot make your living as a furniture maker.” I stood at the lectern after and said, “Do not believe everyone who says you cannot make your living as a furniture maker because with the right attitude the chances are that you will!” What should have been said was that ‘they’ couldn’t, not us that did and could and can and do. Alright, in more recent years I retired from designing and making to sell. But that was not because I couldn’t make a good living from it at all. It was because I chose to be an advocate for my craft in my closing work years and in particular the hand tool’s element of woodworking. I wanted to retain the best of the past only because it so complemented mechanical methods. Had I not chosen this path, and in the face of abject rejection at that, I personally would have seen a great diminishment in the hand tool tradition of woodworking. I hesitate to even use the word tradition because it can be so sneered at, but tradition is really just proven technology and that is how it should be presented.

A workbench I saw this weekend is used as a shop counter. Just as well, it’s far too low.

Thankfully my work sees a steady increase in people developing skilled work. I don’t present many options as indeed I don’t present tails or pins and pins or tails arguments. It’s not more choices people need but some basic facts, basic teaching and training. A lot of my time is spent countering arguments that say you need ten planes or pull-stroke Japanese saws are better because western saws don’t cut well and are hard to start. Yes they do and no they’re not! Question the authority! Especially the online sales strategies. Two bench planes will get you  through  all you need for the rest of your life and you need nothing longer than a #5 or a 5 1/2.

I plan to spend the remainder of my working life enjoying being an ambassador for what I believe in. I have a cause and I see so many who love working with their hands. We have big plans for the next five years and we don’t take sponsorship sop we are free to say it as it is.

18 Comments

  1. nemo on 10 December 2018 at 2:45 pm

    “You cannot make your living as a furniture maker.”

    Or, as Pseudo-Confucius would say: ” People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”

    I’m less pessimistic than you about the disappearing of crafts. Sure, some become less relevant over time. There are far less hoofsmiths than there were in the past, but in my village there is one and he has plenty of work.

    Leather working has become much less relevant as well, but there are at least two leather bicycle saddle manufacturers (that I know of): Brooks in the UK and Lepper in the Netherlands. (Reason I mention this is that I’ve recently installed a leather bicycle saddle and am very, very pleased with it. So pleased, in fact, that I wonder why not everyone else is also using one. And amazed that they have gone out-of-fashion. Perhaps like woodworking handtools.)

    Same with woodworking – the days when everything for daily use was made of wood are past; plastics have taken over that role mostly. But there are still uses for wood, and people who want to pay the premium for durable goods made of wood.

    A third example: a few days ago I bought a Feuerhand 275 oil lamp in a thrift store, in very good condition, for a song. Did a little research and found the company has been in business for a very long time, making the same products. Today, in the age of (nuclear) electricity, oil and gas, there is sufficient demand for it, it appears. Sure, not as much as, say, 80 years ago, when no doubt there were many more manufacturers of such items. The most ironic thing though to me though was when I received the ubiquitous christmas advertising folders yesterday. In one of them was a cheap, nasty plastic fake stormlight with a christmas scene in it. Distasteful, cheap and, basically, disposable, for 4.99 euro. Or over three times as much as I paid for the hurricane lamp. I laughed when I saw that piece of plastic junk and compared it to the real thing, which cost less (second hand, so slightly unfair comparison), performs better and will last much longer, possibly longer than I, as long as I’m careful with it.

    I think that all good things of the past (leather saddles, hurricane oil lamps, wooden furniture, double-edge safety razors to name a few) will continue finding demand with people. Not with the majority of the public (at present, at least, but general sentiments can and do change over time – it’s dangerous to extrapolate from the present to the future), but with a significant minority that still values quality, durability, comfort. And I fully agree with you when you say it’s not a false sense of nostalgia – some things from the past are actually better (in my entirely unbiased personal view), as in, ‘fit for use’, than the modern equivalents.

    It goes without saying of course that not everything from the past was better. But cherrypicking the good things from the past and incorporating them in our present lives seems a good approach, at least for me. And that’s why I’m less pessimistic about the complete disappearance of some crafts. Less relevant? No doubt. Disappearing completely? I doubt it, as long as the craftsmen manage to make products that are relevant to present-day people.



    • Ty Walters on 10 December 2018 at 3:47 pm

      Well stated.



  2. Tom on 10 December 2018 at 3:48 pm

    A lot of people say things that they believe are true but It’s only true for them. After all if you believe it’s impossible it probably is,….. for you.
    When ever someone told me I couldn’t achieve a goal it spurred me on to make it happen and I see that these people have the same effect on you.
    Keep up the good work!



  3. Kelvin Foster on 10 December 2018 at 4:25 pm

    To Paul and his team, backroom team, and the membership who follow Paul’s words of wisdom and video’s
    I would like to Wish everyone a HAPPY CHRISTMAS and peaceful New Year and hoping that 2019 is just as successful as 2018.



  4. Bill Hall on 10 December 2018 at 4:48 pm

    Well I for one value and hope you continue with you teachings. I also am retired now and have accumulated a number of power tools over the years but can’t say I really got into real woodworking. Most were used for home renovation project, decks and a garage I built years ago. So in any event, I have a table saw, chop saw, band saw, portable planer, drills etc. Nothing for real joinery though. I just could never justify the expense.

    That all said, nothing has been more rewarding to me personally than to learn the joinery techniques from your teaching….. requiring more practice on my part I might add!

    I won’t say I won’t use the power tools I already have to prep the wood but thoughts of needing a jointer, dado stacks for the table saw, etc don’t even cross my mind anymore now that I know how to sharpen my chisels, #5 planes and the introduction to router / plough plane which I now have and your video’s to reference.

    Just want to emphasize that the knowledge and satisfaction obtained from exercising what you teach is very much appreciated!

    The one area I really wish you’d talk more about in your video’s is how long a project should take as well as some reference to its value if to be sold. Saying that, I realize there’s a lot of factors involved including who the builder was but I think it would still be helpful. It would be nice to hear your thought process on how you might arrive at a price point for the projects you share. For example, in the FAQ section you mention you could get $6500 for the rocking chair you show. What about the rocking chair you build as part of your teaching series?

    Even the workbench you mention your sons could get $1000 for the hardwood version…..what about the garden series bench or the most recent video series bench you have out.

    I know it’s tough but for me, it’s the one area I always feel is always missing in your paid video series and just wish there was more discussion on it….. time range the project should take, factors to consider when pricing and some sort of $ range you’d value a project. It would helpful to at least hear your thought process on the subject.



    • Steve on 10 December 2018 at 5:11 pm

      I’d also like to hear more about woodworking as a business. Things such as how to price your work, a general idea of what items a one-person hand tool shop would or wouldn’t be worth making etc…



    • Mike on 10 December 2018 at 7:50 pm

      Bill and Steve, I’ve never commissioned a woodworking project, but I have started some businesses over the past twenty years and have two advanced degrees in business. Pricing a product is based on a couple things; customer demographics(wealth), perceived value of the product, marketing message.

      Let’s say you build a small end table. That table could sell anywhere in the two (flea markets) to four (Beverly Hills furniture shop) digit price range. Once you know who you want to sell to, then you can research what they will pay.

      Too many people make the mistake of trying to sell at the lowest price possible thinking more people will buy their product. This can, and does, backfire because you usually can’t produce enough products to make enough money at the lower price, and those who would spend more typically perceive lower price with lower quality.

      can you sell to all groups, sure but you have to have a product for each. Lower priced products require high production (machines), which also reduces cost of raw goods because you order more. A single person shop has a real hard time of competing with this working by hand.

      Based on businesses I have started in the past; identify the minimum amount you need to live on (your wage), calculate what raw materials cost per item (include everything in this i.e. your electrical bill for the lights in your shop) then calculate how many items you have to produce at a given price point to just break even. Once you know your break even point, then you either have to increase your price (which comes back to customer demographics and their perceived value of your product) or reduce your costs/wages. Pricing an item really is this easy.

      Good luck and have confidence in you abilities.



      • Steve on 10 December 2018 at 10:22 pm

        Great info! Thank you Mike!



        • Mike on 11 December 2018 at 5:10 pm

          Glad I could help.

          I should make an amendment. When I say wealth I should really have referenced frame of mind of your customer.

          There are individuals who would typically not be considered wealthy, but they enjoy finer things and save their money so they can purchase them. Their mindset is similar to people that have money, it just take them longer to buy.

          How people place value is varied as well, even though they may have similar wealth. For instance, a cattle or oil barren in Texas may prefer well made rustic furniture, while someone from the upper echelons of society in New York City would likely look at rustic furniture as junk not matter how well made. Its pretty easy to research the tastes of your target customers simply by walking around where they shop and seeing what is being sold. You don’t have to sell in their neighborhood but you will have to figure out how to market to them to get them to come to where you sell from. There are people, I’ve met them, that may love your product but won’t buy it simply because of where its made or sold.



          • Scott on 12 December 2018 at 11:36 pm

            In my industry, pricing is a product of materials + overhead + profit margin. I am pretty sure that calculation works elsewhere.

            If I wanted to build a client base, I would be careful not to price gouge/hike based on zipcode or “ability to pay”. You are likely to turn first time customers into last time customers if they find out about your selective pricing. If you think you can generally make a higher profit (based on demand/reputation), then by all means charge what you can, but I recommend being ethical by charging that same price to everyone.

            If it is a custom piece for a particularly fussy client, then discuss expectations up front, keep track of overages and discuss overages with the client in a transparent manner.

            Likewise, if this is a repeat customer you want to reward, then perhaps you can figure out when to trim your profit (or excuse overages) as an investment for their continued business.

            Chris Becksvoort’s new book, “Shaker Inspiration: Five Decades of Fine Craftsmanship” goes over his method of fair pricing. May be worth a look. Excerpt can be found here:

            https://blog.lostartpress.com/2018/12/07/pricing-your-work/



  5. jay gill on 10 December 2018 at 5:40 pm

    I often ask “what can I do to reduce the impact of Climate Change?

    Paul, you’ve answered that question. Hand tools, natural materials, practical and limited use of more modern tools, self reliance and harmony are a few of the things all of us can use to lower our individual impact.

    And most of all, pay attention to building quality! No more disposable tools, furniture, buildings and the like. If something is needed, it’s worth slowing down and building something that will last instead of wasting resources on use once things.

    Besides if Climate Change is as bad as it might be we won’t think of hand work as crafts anymore, they’ll be the only way to get things!



  6. Phil on 17 December 2018 at 11:21 am

    Paul, your channel was solely responsible for my rekindled interest in woodworking and with hand tool woodworking especially. I have watched many of your videos multiple times to gain a better understanding of how things should be done. The content is extremely professional, well presented and articulated, with great detail.

    I noticed this comment within your article, “The problem we small guys face is that, as the audience searches ever the widening net, we become all the more hidden. Actually, I might say buried.” This struck me and I realised that I haven’t been back to your Channel for many many weeks. The reason? I have noticed that you aren’t making videos of woodworking projects as often anymore. The project series and individual build projects were interesting to me, much more so that the recently introduced Vlog series of videos.

    The last project build was 2 months ago. Vlog’s aren’t my thing so I haven’t watched beyond the first one. Other woodworking channels are producing regular content relating to woodworking and making things. That is what is interesting to me. My Youtube home screen is full of those channels and other related content. Whether I am unique in this I don’t know. Youtube is a big place but the channels that stand out to me, and that aren’t hidden, are those that are producing videos that show how to make something.

    The core element of your channel, that it is possible to produce fine woodworking projects with hand tools should remain the same in my opinion. That is a strong message that few other channels present. Where the masses show their incredible workshops full of industrial grade woodworking machinery, far beyond the grasp of most home woodworkers, the focus on hand tools elevates you above to a place where few exist. In that space you are not hidden but very visible.

    I look forward to your next project and would like to wish yourself and the entire Paul Sellars team a very happy christmas and my best wishes to you all for the new year.



  7. Joe Renta on 17 December 2018 at 1:16 pm

    Thank you Paul for your thoughts.
    While learning daily regarding my skills of woodworking I am also learning of the joys flowing from it. The look of amazement when my 7 year old Grandson makes his first attempt at using a Brace & Bit. The wide eyed look of his 3 year old brother (under my watchful eyes) as he unfolds my rule over and again.

    These reactions are similar as to when I pull my Fathers block plane from my apron and feel the connection with the past. It even hits me when I fire up my Grandfathers 1960’s tablesaw. I can still see his tall lanky self bent over it as now do my Grandkids. I’m a bit less lanky but no less thankful.
    Merry Christmas



  8. Kent Blair Lewis on 17 December 2018 at 2:14 pm

    Thanks for the post Paul, it helps keep the fire stoked. We are getting ready to build a 1950s 16 foot gaff rigged catboat, built by Pascagoula shipyard workers in their off hours for local kids to race. We will draw on as many of the materials and methods of the past as we can, keeping in mind that the original scope of the project did not include a plethora of power tools or specialty lumber. Along the way we will share known good resources and ideas with our group, and hope they do the same. We see ourselves as Librarians, helping people find accurate and relevant information, and we learn so much as a result. Cheers to you for sharing the knowledge and your great attitude!
    Kent and Skipper
    Small Boat Restoration



    • Paul Sellers on 17 December 2018 at 2:28 pm

      Would love to be there with you on it. Best wishes for the future build. It sounds great!



  9. Dave Alvarez on 17 December 2018 at 3:09 pm

    Paul,

    I’m no where near as eloquent as you, so I won’t even try here. But I did want to comment on your words, like ‘Phil’ did above, where you say “The problem we small guys face is that, as the audience searches ever the widening net, we become all the more hidden. Actually, I might say buried.” However, you, Paul Sellers, are very far from a ‘small guy,’ at least in the world of woodworking. In fact, you are downright famous. Here in Atlanta, at the Highland Woodworking Tool Store where I was speaking to the owner, Sydney, and asking if he had any knowledge of you and your work, and he told me that (to probably misquote the guy) “not only did he know of it, but he had your episodes running more or less constantly in the background” in the store. You are a big deal in the hand woodworking world, Paul Sellers, so big in fact that I can’t find any affordably router planes on my measly budget (therefore I will be spending the day at the maker space building your ‘poor man’s router’). On these ‘maker/hacker spaces’ popping up around, at least, this country (I don’t know if they’re as popular in the UK): This is a relatively new trend, but I have been lucky enough now to be part of two of the best of them. The one in Atlanta (called Freeside) and another in Detroit (called I3) in which I was able to build my own stuff (in Detroit) and now am teaching (as much as possible) the myriad of people who wander into the space, lusting to know, “how do I do that?” They seem to be completely divorced from the analogue world and only consider the digital world to be part of their reality. I tend to think in these ways, the world as being divided between digital vs. analogue, in part because of my involvement with maker spaces, funded and run by ‘digital’ people (by which I mean various sorts of computer programmers, engineers, assorted business type people, etc.) but catering (up to a point anyways) to people who crave the ‘old ways’ of the immense satisfaction of hand work, building ‘stuff,’ and working beside people who also think of themselves as ‘lifestyle ****workers’ (The stars to be replaced by whichever sort of analogue work is in question). This is a gigantic void missing in our day-to-day lives. A void which you, in your not-so-small way, are helping to fill. And which people (as evidenced by all the countless responses you receive to which ever posts you make) are responding to in a massive way. You and your work are simply another version of the maker space movement in the US, and are NOT going unnoticed, not by a LONG shot. No, you aren’t in any danger of being ‘hidden,’ much less buried, though I’m sure it must seem like that to you, buried under the mass of disinformation being spread far and wide by the internet. But we human beings are capable of discerning the truth when we hear it, and you speak the truth, even when it comes to such seemingly small things like how to cut a dove tail. They’re not so small when one isn’t capable of cutting a dove tail, but needs to.
    I will admit, one part of me hesitated to send these thoughts your way, worried that they might ‘go to your head’ and change the ways you are doing what you do, but I don’t really think I need worry, since you are old enough (as am I) to be pretty well set in your ways; your mind is made up on how you will need to live your life, and I am pretty sure that (beyond doing the other important and necessary things in your life that need doing, such as riding your bike and looking at and commenting on nature and playing with your new grand baby, all of which are also essential for a lifestyle woodworker) you will continue to do as you do as a woodworker, spreading your knowledge and thoughts to the wider world, and making it a better place to live in for ALL of us. Keep up the good work! Please, please, please…



  10. Mike Z. on 11 January 2019 at 10:17 am

    I am going to put myself out here by saying as an american of a certain age we have had it pounded into our heads that hand tools are nothing more than antiques really and power tools were always the way to work wood. There was always a larger part of me that longed to work wood with hand tools but I found very few who knew how they worked let alone what they could really do. Not until I stumbled on to Mr. Paul Sellers on Youtube doing a demo on how to sharpen a pair of scissors did I get that somebody out there knew hand tools and other “secrets” I had been looking for over decades did I finally discover what I was looking for. That being said a couple of months ago I gave my 25 year old neighbor a lesson with a hand saw as he was struggling to cut some lumber with a nasty, poorly setup power saw and we both carried on the traditions passed on here daily!! I will admit that 40 years ago I never imagined the internet or something as amazing as Youtube but they have indeed changed my life, and mostly for the better. Thanks to Mr. Sellers and his crew of workers for changing my life in such a positive way, I intend to share what I have learned as best I can when the opportunity pops up. I still freehand sharpen on a daily basis and rejoice in the fact I can do that now regularly – thank you and keep up the good work!



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