It’s All About Balance

It’s Saturday and my sixth day of work in my work week. For over 50 years I’ve worked a six day week making. By that I mean I’ve worked building everything from my homes and my furniture, chicken coops and splitting logs: mostly with my boys as they grew alongside me. I felt sad sitting in the cafe this morning thinking about how many people split off their workweeks from their weekends and try cramming family and fun into a two-day weekend rather than a whole life into a seven day week. Saturdays are always good days in that I am usually able to switch from project to project and by project I mean split off time to write, photograph, film, ride, sketch, think. What makes me so sad is the mass of people in Britain that I know don’t really even know what a real workshop is or worse still what making is. By that of course I mean that they have never experienced a workshop from the point of view of going into a workshop where proper tools and a workbench live and exist for their use. Watching the early morning couples prodding and tapping buttons and staring at ‘devices’, in abject detachment yet supposedly in charge of a toddler or two bouncing off the walls and tables around them in the immediacy of where they are. Not noticing Jane or Harry, made me conscious of the changed lives people live in today. I say this because despite the smallness of families these days it takes two full-sized adults to entertain one child and ferry them from one social group to another. There seems to be no real anchor and yet spending time together “as a family” means corresponding via text messages of one kind or another.

My work embraces many life things. When I say work I say the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!” is rubbish. It does not make him or Jill a dull person nor are they boring. If anything it might help them to understand that work can be, for want of a much better word, fun. My work is riding my my bike a few miles to clear out the cobwebs of a good night’s sleep before I arrive at my bench. With all of my children grown and having flown the coop, I find myself alone first thing in the early morning. Now that I am 69 I quite like the lack of planning for the first hour. I have no agenda for Saturdays usually. I find the day relaxing even if I do work at my workbench. In a sense it is a kind of free day in the same way my blog is a kind of free-writing where I thrash out my thoughts without concern for spelling or punctuation and at the end of it go back to make it more coherent for a reader. Work is in one sense play although I dislike the term as a reference for adults and adult work. I would rather make the connection through my own view of work which is that work, the very word itself, to me, is synonymous with interest and passion. It’s a space where I anticipate future for the day I am in. I am as excited about generating a new design as I am taking a holiday. In fact work is a holiday to me. I walk in the countryside, spend time with my family and friends and just about everything else including these things is the work I do. It’s not that I place any one thing over any other but that I bring them all up to a level of heightened anticipation through the various interactions playing in my life. All things are important to me and my work is to keep all things elevated so that crossing from a bike ride to a coffee conversation to working with a friend at the bench all have a smooth and seamless transition form one work area to another.

One of the saddest anomalies for me is a world where a week gets split between workdays and weekends and where adults and now children look forward mainly to the weekends. Mostly life today revolves around the economy of earning. In our economies today it’s amazing that what we once would have made we buy and what we buy is imported. Losing the ability to make has led to a reality that we no longer consider making many if any thing. Almost all of the things we use around the home and workplace we would never think about making. A pottery lamp and a lampshade comes in from Asia. Some bent steel rod table legs make coffee tables. I saw the  same  bent steel rod legs welded to steel plate in the USA two years ago and then in Israel almost a year later too. Here I am in the UK and I see the same ‘Did they all get made in China?’ I asked myself. Why did they not get made in the UK or Israel or the USA? The concept of course is for quick cheapness in rustic plank-top tables.  The DIY bolt-on concept was an anyone-can-do-this. 

I think it is time for us to rejig our thinking to come up with answers to family living and making and growing and cooking. These areas are the ones I have come up with based on my understanding that everyone can grow, bake, cook and make. That we should counter the depressed state of the ever depressing condition of the world and make making happen-even in the smallest way. I vlogged a little this morning to tell you what I was designing and what I was making and where I had been. I did turn my computer on but as a typewriter with keys that clicked a click sound like a typewriter. I placed my phone fifty yards away so that if it pinged I would really want to go get it if it meant a fifty yard walk.. My two bike rides were as they always are, liberating. When I ride my bike a can do nothing else but give myself to it. I think when I ride of my friends. Someone has a struggle and I dwell on it. I also planned on going over to see my granddaughter and giving her a hug and ti listen to her which I did. She lay sleeping in my arms for half an hour and my eyes traced the lovely lines where nose and cheek and chin form the same curve as a swans neck. A baby crying can seem like hard work in the zone but then when she lets her body relax to sleep we are arrested by loveliness.

So love your work and try your best not to let modern terms like weekends and teenager and facebook or WhatsApp split us up into ever greater fragmented zones. It’s all about finding balance.

25 Comments

  1. Ronald R Kowalewski on 12 January 2019 at 9:26 pm

    Thank you, once again for your words! You are my mentor and my role model..



  2. jay gill on 12 January 2019 at 10:09 pm

    Thanks for another personal reflection, as always they make me stop and think.

    Grow, Cook, Bake, Make – children shouldn’t be allowed out of basic school without some competence in these skills. If things continue they was they seem to be with Climate Change I suspect that we will need those skills simply to survive. Being an optimist I think we can get through our near term future.

    Imagine a world where folks made most of what was in their house, or at least knew the person that did make it.
    Imagine if it were a sin to put things in the trash, and a source of pride to upcycle them.
    Imagine if we gave up electricity/cars etc. maybe not completely but do we really have to have 7×24 power (one advantage of hand tools!)

    Your blog has reminded me that we don’t have to imagine these things, we need to choose them. The older I get the more it seems clear to me that our future is really up to us, we have to choose. We need to make our future 🙂

    Many thanks to all of your team for reminding us that it’s up to us.



    • Paul Sellers on 12 January 2019 at 10:58 pm

      Just as an add on. I don’t really believe teachers in schools are the ones to teach children these things because most of them have only ever known school, college and university. In some cases the teachers will just about stay ahead of the students by what they google up or read what’s written for the curriculum, testing and exams. I think parents should be able to do it just fine and at the very least as well as a teacher can. Just my thought. Parents are often the very best teachers for subjects like kitchen skills, gardening, crafts and such. My experience is the teachers are wonderful at academic subjects mainly, oh and maybe sports.



      • Philip Johnson on 14 January 2019 at 1:28 pm

        A friend I worked with used to say ” those that can do and those that can’t teach” all very well, Paul you can do and you teach very well, in my opinion you are an excellent teacher because you have done it all. I am 75 years old and like you I started work a week after my 15th birthday and never missed a day except for the occasional illness. I learned my skills from working with skilled workers in my trade that were willing to teach. Where are they now? now that stuff is being made in China and Vietnam by cheap labor.
        I watch you blogs, vlogs and U-tubes every morning and I am still learning from you, Teacher.
        Thank You



  3. Phill on 12 January 2019 at 10:21 pm

    we were born with the equipment we need to make the things we require to live. How have we strayed so far from our essential nature? Maybe they’ll come up with an app that gets young folks off the phone and into the workshop.



  4. Ray on 12 January 2019 at 10:43 pm

    Happy Birthday Paul
    Thanks for last year, looking forward now to all the new designs that you have in mind. Different days of the week are all the same to me in the last twelve years since I finished going to work. My work too is in my workshop and I enjoy it very much.
    Thank you all at WWMC.



  5. John2V on 12 January 2019 at 11:22 pm

    When working as a multi trade contractor amongst many things collected is a box of solvent weld pipe fittings for 112/” domestic waste water.

    I needed clips to hold the vacuum cleaner pipe in an orderly fashion against the side of my stopped housing book shelf…….so……using my band saw!!!
    I quickly cut C shaped clips from pipe fittings, drilled thru back and secured to shelf side….
    Bingo ……cost££ zero …..fun loads ….effect perfect.

    If I want it, I think of making it first.

    I GO AS “JOHN2V”. I bought two perfect 10″x10″ quick release vices on eBay for 0.99p….mind you I did have to drive 10 miles to collect!!!



  6. Jim Thornton on 12 January 2019 at 11:44 pm

    “I felt sad sitting in the cafe this morning thinking about how many people split off their workweeks from their weekends and try cramming family and fun into a two-day weekend rather than a whole life into a seven day week.”

    I can really identify with that statement. I worked for 6 years in the electronics industry after getting out of college. I remember going to work on Monday morning wishing it was Friday afternoon. That’s wishing away 5/7’s of your life……..sheesh! After that it was 10 years of commercial fishing and then 21 years working 10 twenty-four hour shifts a month for a fire department. Both the fishing and firefighting left plenty of time for projects.

    I’ve often thought that if folks went back to living the way most of us lived back in the 50’s and even the 60’s we’d have plenty of money live on.



  7. .david os on 13 January 2019 at 11:37 am

    “Mostly life today revolves around the economy of living ” that sentence hit a nerve .i barely have time to read blogs not mine sharpen up, as I am working 10 hour days to meet a contact deadline . I’ll get there but what’s the monetary reward worth really . I know have more money to treat my family or my workshop .but missed out on time spent with both . Balance is the key alright .but in today’s economy of living in today’s society its unattainable for most .



    • Paul Sellers on 13 January 2019 at 11:54 am

      We saw it coming after World War II. Both parts of the couples working out from the home to pursue their careers meant each got a wage but the wage had to be reduced to the one to make for the other in a new economy based on higher consumerism. In the 60s richer people, middle class families owned a car. On my street of a hundred houses there were maybe three or four eventually. Two cars were needed when both parties began working away from home, or three or four, ready meals, wine to still the nerves. Entertainment and instancy in everything. Higher debt than ever. I just this second, as I am typing, heard a young 24 year old (guessing) say she broke out a bottle of champagne in the jacuzzi. These things need paying for. Credit to be paid off with credit cards and bankers with no moral compass at all a perfect union for driving people insane when they don’t think there are ramifications to an I-deserve-culture. Its broke!



      • Steven on 13 January 2019 at 2:08 pm

        Amen!



    • Tom Angle on 16 January 2019 at 6:59 pm

      Is it unattainable or just that most do not want to give up what they have. I am not sure where you live, so I will talk about in the US. Everyone here has a cell phone, at least on vehicle, pay for cable/sat TV, multiple computers/tablets, eat out multiple times a week, purchase as much junk food as healthy food, have vices (alcohol, tobacco, drugs,…), attends events (sport, movies, shows, etc…) multiple times a month, purchases name brand clothes…..

      If a person was to look at their spending and eliminate a lot of the luxuries (for lack of a better term), they could live a lot cheaper. Just add up what you spend on the above items and ask yourself if I paid all that money existing bills. How long would it take me to be debt free. Once there you can see how much you really need to live on. You might see that is attainable for most.

      You need to get out of the mind set that you need all the things you think you need. I grew up around a very large community where 99.9% where single income families. They just did without what they thought was wasteful.

      You can do it, it might take some time and pain, but you can do it.



  8. Richard on 13 January 2019 at 9:00 pm

    Paul,

    If you were following an artisan career path now (in this world of texts, facebook and whatsapp .. and vlogging that you talk of) at the age of 30 with a growing family, would you have the luxury of your current viewpoint?

    Or would you be working as hard as you could to make ends meet, bearing in mind that you would be likely to sell your work over these social media portals, so the ever elusive next customer would be playing on your mind, luring you back to your ‘device’ when you did manage to emerge for a day out with the family.

    I like you and your website, mainly the outstanding joinery teaching, but I feel you are a bit hard on people making the best of the world they have inherited.

    Also, you wrote ‘Why did they not get made in the UK or Israel or the USA?’ – The logical conclusion is to keep the production as cheap as possible, so we can pay less for things, eg buying chisels from Aldi and not from an artisan maker. Where do you stand on this?

    Richard



    • Paul Sellers on 14 January 2019 at 10:13 am

      Thanks for this Richard.

      I would not say it is at all harder now than it was fifty years ago. We must guard against feeling sorry for ourselves because the mass media is telling us that’s the case. I raised a family of four children on one income provider which was me.

      Firstly, from day one with my mother and my father I was taught always to work diligently. Work was never something you didn’t want to do to them or me. I never heard either of them ever complain about going to or doing work. They never said, “Oh no. Monday!” Hence I still take about two weeks of a break a year and it’s enough for me; always has been and I am 69. I prefer to work a six day week and I always have. I have mostly worked a ten hour day too. This is not hard work and neither is it a long week. It’s perfectly normal for me. Beyond this I write my blog, my journal is still hand written and drawn, I of course write my books, teach and train others one to one in special classes and uniquely styled customised apprenticeships I have manuscripts for a few books too. I don’t watch TV though.

      Secondly, nothing has changed because of global economy or the internet as you might suggest or think. I doubt whether I would use the internet for sales but I probably would keep a very simple, simple website presence for people who want to know about me and my work. It’s replaced paper brochures and flyers that’s all. I would not rely on national or international sales but expect local customers looking for hand made quality and not competitive prices. There is no question that the “device” would figure into my workaday working were I working in the workshop making for a customer, I would simply be planing and sawing and chopping and not tapping nor sketchupping nor searching out customers. You might be surprised but after a while your customers start searching for you because they know you’re a worker not a shirker and that your work is top quality. They are not really looking for a tech savvy being but a craftsman. And your premise that customers are somehow elusive is perhaps distorted too. In any given area there are people looking for a what a good and creative worker produces, dare I suggest by the dozens and on a national scale by the hundreds. Reputation comes by diligence and hard work, consistency and never by feeling sorry for ones self that one worked more than 36 hours in a week.

      If you work for yourself forget the stupid saying “work smart not hard.” Working as a craftsman means you will work more than most employed people, perhaps even twice as long and more diligently. That is not always the case. Some self employed people do boring jobs and lose interest in what may be tedious or mundane work but earn good money so can work less. Longer hours will usually mean you love the work you do. It’s important to understand you cannot generally work a 40 hour week and especially is this so when you first begin self employment or, as it is now preferred, “freelancing.” Working hard is a work ethic I prescribe to. There is a current excess that has almost become a trend of self pity and poor me and sad to say it seems to be gaining greater momentum. Personally I think that this can be highly detrimental to pursuing a career as a self motivated worker working for customers as a self employed person. It takes guts and determination not self pity to be self employed and you better have plenty of it. I’m not saying everyone is that way, self pitying, but it does seem to be more a part of our western culture. I think that it is important to see that there is still a market for hand made because I have people ask me even now that I have technically retired from making pieces to sell as such if I am taking orders. It takes more than a device to ‘lure’ me away from the workbench and certainly the internet is NOT necessarily the best way to gain good customers. Good customers come best face to face when they see you, your work and your working. There are more imaginative websites that give the right even big time impression but are not all based on reality. It’s important not to create an image but to have an image that is real.

      Where is the artisan maker???
      Well, it’s a legit question. Here in the UK I doubt that there is a chisel maker that matches what was made by Ward, Marples and many more in the late 1800s early 1900s up until the 1950s. I have yet to see it. Not one of the two or three UK makers with all of the high tech equipment makes the quality of the old makers and neither do they finesse the quality of what they make either. The Aldi chisels, the ones I use daily, are at least what you see is what you get. They are strong chisels yet quite well defined. With an hour’s work to refine the unfinished aspects I have a set of chisels that I love. They take a good edge and have good edge retention. Ergonomically I think they are better than round handled versions and they are well balanced in my hand. I have not really found that with other models, even the highest premium ones at £60 each chisel.
      My last question was legit too. 60 years ago there were many saw makers still operating in Sheffield. They went out of business and gradually Thomas Flinn saws bought the names and began selling the same basic saws they make but with different names of the old saw makers on them. Garlick, Pax, William Greaves, Parkstone, Lynx and so on from the same stable on the same equipment all have the same steel, same handle shapes, so nothing new, but Flinn is the only saw maker in the whole of the UK aside from the odd boutique saw maker. And remember that the the tenon saw range of saws is the easiest of all saws to make and they take only minutes to manufacture with some quite basic equipment. If there was an artisan maker here in the UK or indeed even Europe as a whole that could match what Ward made or perhaps the older Spear and Jacksons I would support them by buying their product. But saws with the same post war clunky handles? Nuh-uh! That’s just lazy making, not at all innovative.



      • Tom Angle on 16 January 2019 at 6:45 pm

        A question about saw making. How you would you go about cutting the teeth if you were to make saws to sell?

        When I was younger my father had a small sharpening business. He has a machine from Foley Bellsaw that cut new teeth in hand saws. I have been looking around for a machine like that (in working order with the guilds) and cannot find one.



        • Paul Sellers on 16 January 2019 at 8:28 pm

          I have seen them for sale on ebay in the USA when I lived there. There are about three pieces to the full set up, tooth cutter, setter and filer. The original Independence saw company, now owned by Lie Nielsen, started out with the Foley Belsaw system.



          • Tom Angle on 17 January 2019 at 5:22 pm

            Thanks for the info.



  9. nemo on 13 January 2019 at 11:50 pm

    “Some bent steel rod table legs make coffee tables. I saw the same bent steel rod legs welded to steel plate in the USA two years ago and then in Israel almost a year later too. Here I am in the UK and I see the same ‘Did they all get made in China?’ ”

    Possibly, but the idea is certainly not new. I recall reading an article in an old issue of Popular Mechanics about it. Had a quick search, here’s the article in the April 1957 issue, “Coffee tables from sink cutouts”, by Tom Riley, pages 188 & 189: (link to archive.org)

    https://ia801409.us.archive.org/19/items/bub_gb_PeEDAAAAMBAJ/bub_gb_PeEDAAAAMBAJ.pdf

    The individual legs were often found for sale in ads in the same magazine (I can’t find one of the ads at the moment though). I guess the difference is that nowadays we don’t buy the individual wrought-iron legs at the local hardware store (who still has one of those anyway) to make our own table but we buy the complete finished table directly from China. Back then the wrought-iron legs were probably made in the US.

    I remember reading that particular Popular Mechanics article about a year ago and seeing the ads, and thinking at the time that it looked so cheap. Functional for a quick and dirty table for in the garden, perhaps, but certainly not something I’d want in the living room. Apparently that mid-50s design-feature of hairpin table legs is in fashion again. But I suppose it’s telling that back then the legs were sold so you could make your own table, whereas nowadays the complete table comes shipped and ready from the People’s Republic. No need to hunt around for sink-top cutouts anymore….



  10. Simon on 14 January 2019 at 11:46 am

    Love the coatrack in the second picture – very pleased to see it is on WM – looking forward to making it with my son instead of buying something mass produced.

    Learning, teaching and making.

    Sums up what you’re saying perfectly really.



  11. Joe Renta on 14 January 2019 at 12:07 pm

    Thank you Paul.
    I still smile as I enter my garage workshop and remember the absolute joy my 7 year old grandson had when he learned the purpose of a bit & brace. His younger brother still thinks the most amazing thing I have is a folding rule.

    You are correct about the joy of infants. At a Christmas Eve service our newest Grandaughter (15 months) was squirming like a worm. I found it interesting as to how as I stopped fighting & simply held her as to how she reached to feel my breath falling on her hair. Her sound sleep in Pops arms still warm my heart.

    A friend says “ Humility is placing all things in their proper perspective”
    I am finding it rewarding.



    • nemo on 14 January 2019 at 4:29 pm

      “the absolute joy my 7 year old grandson had when he learned the purpose of a bit & brace. His younger brother still thinks the most amazing thing I have is a folding rule.”

      If you have a Stanley Yankee pump-action screwdriver, perhaps put it in a conspicuous place in the garage and use it when you know your grandsons will see it. I have little doubt it will become their new favourite tool. I know I was fascinated by it and how it worked as a child (and to be honest, still am to this day). Then again, my mother speaks fondly of how she would give me a basket of clothespins to play with for hours on end…. it never got boring for me.



      • Paul Sellers on 14 January 2019 at 4:36 pm

        Red flag, red flag!!!
        Sorry Nemo, You’re such a valued contributor. Stanley yankees are really a no-no for children. They can go incredibly wrong. Two children together, one can put the eye out of the other, one can put their own eye out, and the user him or herself can indeed cause great damage to their furniture piece as any slippage always skates right across the surface.



  12. Shane Martin on 14 January 2019 at 2:06 pm

    I agree with you completely.

    Also, to add to your point. For those who want to recover some of the satisfaction of making and creating something on the evenings and weekends, I think what is really disturbing is the raw material costs. Even if I wanted to make the hairpin legs, I probably couldn’t buy the steel and make them myself cheaper than just buying.

    I’ve often found myself looking through scrap yards trying to figure out what I can cut apart and salvage for projects. I know people who sew and they’ve resorted to buying completed fabric items from Asia, cutting them apart and making them into something else since the fabric from the stores is so expensive.

    I sometimes fear that in a few more decades people will be completely dependent on companies and devoid of all creativity.



  13. John Waters on 15 January 2019 at 10:22 am

    Just to add in something else. Many people nowadays tell me the “don’t have enough time to do ……”. They have exactly the same amount of time as everyone throughout the centuries has had, it is just that they chose to use it to try and do many more things than we used to do. Of course there are many more things they can do. There seems to be little selection process – everything has to be sampled and very few become competent at any of the things they try. I never heard my parents or family or friends say this when I was young (I’m a couple of years younger than Paul). They did a few things very well and were content.



    • nemo on 17 January 2019 at 1:40 pm

      This is exactly what my father always says when someone says to him “I don’t have time”. His usual response: “you have just as much time as everyone else, 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week, it just doesn’t have your *priority*”. Often a look of shock develops on peoples’ faces when getting such a non-political-correct response. It’s blunt, it’s direct, but it’s the truth without beating around the bush and looking for excuses.

      (in my language, time (tijd) rhymes with priority (prioriteit), making his statement sound better).