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How To Make Change

These two men are in Russia, St Petersburg, training children to work with their hands. They came to see me to gain any insight they can to hands on methods. These guys deserve a medal!

In my early days of trying to correct what went wrong, I tried to engage with so-called professional woodworking entities like woodworking magazines, woodworking outlets like Woodcraft and Rockler in the USA and my own woodworking schools Stateside and here in the UK. I soon realised that such entities had their own agenda of making money, keeping up with their customers, selling and running businesses. I understand that. But all the time I saw also that there was really very little if any interest in woodworking for young people. Woodworking was indeed very much an adult and pretty much a male-only craft. No one was precluding girls and women, just doing nothing to make it more inclusive for all. That was because it became a machine-only environment in most places and that includes garage workshops. That is how it was/is for the most if not almost all. Schools too saw no future in it because it no longer led to employment in industry (as that is what most schools are for, preparing kids for factorial output). They were closing their wood shops to replace them with computer labs and certainly you could not blame the schools because schools had devolved to make them the worst place to learn woodworking anyway. Realising that professionals couldn’t and mostly wouldn’t help, and perhaps nor should they, I had to rethink the problem. Were the schools to take the blame? Well, that’s not really what academic schools are for and nor were they particularly good at it anyway. If a school did offer a good woodworking curriculum then it was because of an individual teacher and not a school’s curriculum. But we are not really talking about just the US are we. There is the other 95% of the rest of the world to consider in the equation and indeed we are reaching around the whole world with our living message. You see I see this as a global issue as well as a local one.

Izzy and I are writing new curriculum all the time to help adults, parents, grandparents, learn woodworking basics. Please tell your friends about commonwoodworking.com. It’s so important! We are aiming at family woodworking as an element of family life.

Young people are being less and less exposed to working with their hands through craft and the failure to see what’s happening is that with each generation people, parents especially, are becoming less and less skilled with their hands. How can they possibly help their children see the significance of craft and hand work when they haver mainly become isolated and detached from it? Very few people today know anyone that actually makes anything to sell. You might see the occasional clog maker at a craft fair, a pole lathe turner, some things like that, but most are not making a living so much as acting out a historic role. Even though I do like living history museums and such, they are not the best place to take children for craft education. It’s a history museum. Visiting such places confirms to them that craft and artisanry is just a thing of the past not the present and future. Parental lack of attention to the problem seems so pandemic I believe it may be impossible to make change. I discussed this with a friend of mine who at the time was head of design at Stanford University in the USA. He said, “You know what, Paul? The really scary thing is it is impossible to take back what we have lost. It’s irreversible.” But we should not give up. He was taking about the export of industry and skill to other continents while we cleaned up our own environments from the residual effects of the fog and smog left from our Industrial Revolutions.

Hannah made her own workbench within a few months of apprenticing with me.

Well, anyway. You know what, my friends? My craft is well worth fighting for and I have fought for its revival now for over three decades to try to reverse the trend of machine-only methods of woodworking, which so precludes children and teenagers from the workshop. Woodworking is not a male-only adult craft. This blog, my teaching and training others, the work we do on woodworkingmasterclasses and on YouTube is adding more and more to a retrieval system everyone and anyone can access daily. Every ounce of our income to date has gone back into the work we do. Your continued donations are funding the future and especially am I grateful to woodworkingmasterclasses for the members there who strive with us to keep turning the tide. I may be 69 but I am as committed as I ever was to make my craft work for as many people who want it round the world.

You know what my greatest reward has been? You!

41 Comments

  1. DayJ on 13 February 2019 at 9:25 pm

    Well done! You and your crew are performing a great service, much obliged!
    Have learned so much. Excellent videos, blog and writings



  2. Tom on 13 February 2019 at 9:51 pm

    I don’t care what the very smart man at Stanford U thinks, he is wrong, no disrespect for the genius that he probably is. You see we never really lost the skills, it resides in craftsmen / women and amateurs all over the world and you can see it everywhere if you look. Most people seem not to care about handcrafted items, even when the difference “hits them in the head” I have many friends like that. But 20% of the population cares and that’s enough to keep the crafts going, like it has for centuries.
    Often times under appreciated but quality lasts much much longer than cheaper …….stuff.
    I wouldn’t worry, look at your following, they are the top 20%.



    • Tom Angle on 14 February 2019 at 3:16 pm

      I think what they meant when they say the skill is lost is, that as a whole. I would have felt the same as you about the 20% until I move from where I grew up. I would say that it is under 10% and a whole.



    • Selva on 14 February 2019 at 8:17 pm

      Only problem with that quote is the underlying reference to “we” vs “them” — skills are not lost to other continents, humanity as whole is undervaluing skills and that is a sad reality.



  3. Allan on 13 February 2019 at 10:43 pm

    I took my two little girls to a museum a month ago, they were confused as to why those tools were there when that’s what we get to use at home. I was amused at the incorrectly labelled items!



  4. Scott on 14 February 2019 at 3:12 am

    I’m out there fighting with you Paul!

    You have been a great inspiration for me for the past few years. I have an outdoor school (kinderwoodatx) where I teach hand tool woodworking to kids 6 and up. The parents are consistently amazed by the work they are capable of.

    Maybe a parent and child workshop may motivate some families to continue the woodworking at home. I will also turn them on to your sites!



    • James Fidler on 15 February 2019 at 12:13 pm

      I just paid a quick visit to your website and it’s awesome! Glad to see someone sparking some kids interest in the craft. Keep it up.



  5. Geoff Black on 14 February 2019 at 3:48 am

    Thank you Paul. My wife 55 and a young woman of 25 spend one evening a week in my garage learning hand wood working and we still use electric drills for placing pegs. Our next project includes blind and through mortises. Most of my techniques have come from your videos!



  6. Dan on 14 February 2019 at 2:20 pm

    We’re enjoying too much our first-world problem of affluence. I’m not certain I’ll be around to see the coming of the next great age of making. Making not in our present day context of a novelty, but Making as a way provision for oneself and family producing goods for others when we tire of or can no longer afford to live with the “disposable goods” so dominating the marketplace today.
    The Service Economy in the U.S. Is clearly not working. Making and selling fast food does not provide for a family and now we are trying to fix this with forced increases to minimum wages. When will we learn that an economy works by increasing value, not trading like for like.?
    The question remains: Will the knowledge needed for true making still be in our collective consciousness, or will we need to learn again from scratch with images on a screen as our only mentors.



  7. Fred on 14 February 2019 at 2:44 pm

    Wonderful things you are doing Paul.

    Don’t forget the the child in all of us! At 65 I hand cut my first dovetails thanks to your gentle (and gentlemanly) teaching.

    I look forward to many years of exploring and enjoying my new found craft.

    Thank you!



  8. Tom Angle on 14 February 2019 at 3:23 pm

    If someone were to offer classes to children, at what age should they be looking at. Also what kind of projects would work best?



  9. Travis Horton on 14 February 2019 at 4:50 pm

    Supplmenting your income or pursuing a livelihood aside, woodworking in particular, has so many transferable skills with confidence chief among them.

    I am fortunate to have taken both wood and metal shop in middle school. It is sad that these things are not available today in my local public schools.

    Thanks for recognizing this and doing something about it.



  10. Richard Kornicki on 14 February 2019 at 5:41 pm

    The only thing my four older grandchildren (aged 4 – 7) wanted to do when they came in the summer, was go and find Grandpa in the work-shop. I had pre-planned a simple battleship that each of them could make (or help make) and the result was addictive. One four year old was just gurgling with delight at the sight of a spiral shaving coming off the spokeshave we were holding together. So keen was he, that we had special arrangements to help him get round the ‘no shoes, no entry’ rule for the work-shop: I just lifted him up and sat him on the bench in safety. On one occasion it wasn’t just no shoes – he had nothing else on either, but as we both understood, that wasn’t the point. I gave the eldest a set of carefully chosen real tools for his birthday and he could hardly express his joy – it knocked all his other presents thoroughly into the shade. And two four-year old twins were later found by their father using his steel ruler as an improvised scraper to take the corner off his kitchen table-leg, dismissing his questioning with a robust “We love carpentry!” You only have to let children loose with a little help and encouragement and they will be hooked and ignore any boring small screen …



    • ajens on 14 February 2019 at 9:36 pm

      I think, that’s the way forward. To start with we don’t necessarily have to strive for a world where everyone makes his og her living from selling their homemade products to others. But give them children the skills that one day in the future make them think: I can make that thing myself with a few peaces of wood and my limited set of hand tools instead of just buying it. Because then they might develop a lifestyle dominated by that natural joy and proudness that comes with every succesful selfmade product. And also dominated by the admiration of the creative works of others – the obvious result of knowing that nothing comes from nothing, and skills comes from invested time in practice, exercise and repetition. Perhaps I’m just dreaming, but that’s how I would like to see art and creative work develop among the many, many children whose minds just not fit into an academic perspective pointed out by a computer.



  11. Neil Horn on 15 February 2019 at 3:21 am

    Spot on, Paul. Beginning Woodworkers need Master woodworkers to teach them. My girlfriend in high school and her friend were the first girls to take a woodworking class in my school. Now that we have been married 45 years, she is still interested in converting boards into beauty.



  12. Sylvain on 15 February 2019 at 9:49 am

    I wander how many kids are able to lace their shoes with the advent of velcro?
    And now, PUMA will produce “self lacing sneakers” which can be controlled with an app.

    This is quite ridiculous (except for disabled people who can not bend or use their hands).
    I wander if one will pass the airport security checks with those shoes.
    Sylvain



  13. Tupper Wallace on 15 February 2019 at 9:56 am

    Regarding the teachers from St Petersburg — on the city’s river embankment there is a statue of Peter the Great depicted as he was learning about shipbuilding methods in his efforts to modernize Russia. He is shown shaping the stem of a boat with a hatchet. Are there other statues of monarchs doing woodwork anywhere? Maybe not!



    • Paul Sellers on 15 February 2019 at 12:26 pm

      It was not uncommon for Royals to entertain themselves with making. They saw the value in working with your hands and special tools of a smaller size were made for their more ‘refined’ frames, hence the term ‘gent’s’ saw–for gentlemen.



    • Stuart Vardy on 28 February 2019 at 9:10 pm

      And of course Peter the Great learnt his shipbuilding skills in Britain in the Deptford shipyards South London.



  14. Ken Dalgleish on 15 February 2019 at 10:37 am

    No-one has taught me more about woodwork than Paul. I often wish there was a metal work version of him. Building a curriculum from raw beginner through to making useful and beautiful things. Maybe leatherwork too, and masonry, pottery, tailoring, dressmaking, weaving and so forth. A network all operating to the standards set by Paul and covering all these old hand skills and more. How great would that be?



    • António Santos on 15 February 2019 at 1:32 pm

      That would be awsome. My grandfather was a blacksmith and sometimes I just regret not having learned more from him. Maybe Paul could teach us a trick or two 🙂



  15. Collin Gallagher on 15 February 2019 at 3:44 pm

    My most memorable classes from high school are polar opposites at first glance …. Physics and Shop class.

    I am so sad that they were also viewed as polar opposite from an academic point of view. Physics was commendable and shop was remedial.

    Paul you have opened my eyes to hand tools and how to “work wood” instead of machine wood and I am doing everything I can to tell & show everyone I know.



  16. Glenn Dube on 15 February 2019 at 3:54 pm

    I’ve been thinking about a variation on a shave horse. kind of a combination shave horse/Sawhorse/workbench. I’ve seen shave horses that have half wedge and pins for work holding along with the usual treadle and yolk. Also, I’ve seen them used with holdfasts. Something compact like a shave horse where the woodworker’s body lends stability to the work holding might be able to open up hand tool woodworking to apartment dwellers or others who cannot afford the space, weight or cost of a full-blown joiner’s bench. It’s a pretty quiet hobby without power tools and their neighbors might never discover what they are doing. A little thought and innovation and some adjustment of methods and this could work.



    • Paul Sellers on 15 February 2019 at 4:29 pm

      Why not just have the evolved workbench? Custom fit it to part of a room. Or adopt Japanese woodworking which is also evolved to certain cultures too? I cannot imagine any shave horse being anywhere near suitable or versatile for much more than it was developed for and that is chair bodging.; a very small percentage of woodworking and furniture making, cabinet making and such. It seems like we are forcing the issue somehow. If you are pursuing hand woodworking on the broad scale of furniture making it is an essential to just have a well made workbench with just a vise.



      • John2v on 18 February 2019 at 5:50 pm

        Paul I receive regular emails from a company you have said you dislike…….they have several big warehouses full of electrical tools ( I won’t say the name)
        Over the last year or so the “special offers” have tended to be hand tools…..the very tools seen on your bench……I would love to think this could be a move to hand tool working??
        Regards John2v



      • Terrence OBrien on 19 February 2019 at 1:21 am

        Initially, I laminated 2x4s into a 16in x 16in square, attached a small vise, screwed on 2 inch legs to allow clamps to get under it, and was able to do an amazing number of projects with hand tools. Anyone can lift it and put it in a closet when not used. I have a larger bench now, but like my small bench so much it leans against the leg of the big bench, and I bring it up for more detailed work. It’s indestructible.
        Woodcraft has something similar called a smart workstation for $245, but I used a $5 vise from a garage sale, three 2x4s, glue, and screws for the legs and vise. Hand saw, #4 plane, hand drill, screwdriver, and three clamps.



  17. Herbert “Matt” Mathews on 16 February 2019 at 2:21 pm

    Paul,

    An excellent read to go along with your vblog to Berlin. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    I am in the process of moving from power tools ( which I used to build my house) to hand tools and have enjoyed the new journey immensely. I especially enjoy the quiet and less dust produced by hand tools. The ability to repair my “new” secondhand tools, build new tools and put them to work has been very rewarding. I have considered starting my own simple blog if for anything to keep track of my work for future reference.



  18. Jim Thornton on 16 February 2019 at 3:41 pm

    Paul,

    I’ve been reading through your entire blog. I started on page 223 and am now up to page 102. I’ve really enjoyed it and have learned a lot.

    I got to thinking about this business of trying to undo the neglect of the last several decades of learning to work with one’s hands. What you do is helping immensely, but I can also see that it’s probably going to take several decades (or longer) to get back what we’ve lost. Unfortunately, it’s gone on long enough that the parents (and teachers) don’t have the knowledge and skills to pass on. Your classes and videos are providing a great pathway for learning lost skills. I think the big problem is going to be convincing folks that learning these skills is a good thing. So many things that we used to be able to do have been lost to technology (a good example is working on one’s own car) that I think most folks have just given up on the idea that they can do anything for themselves. I keep hoping for a “back to earth type movement” to start (much like the sixties) where the young folks start to question where we are headed. I’m not holding my breath though!



  19. Neil Christie on 17 February 2019 at 12:24 am

    A good deal of the time I work with hand tools in people’s homes . It is quicker, quieter, cleaner and safer. They are often stunned that doors can be fitted, shelves built and windows repaired with a small bag of tools.
    I try to explain that this is the future of woodworking. The only power consumed is my breakfast. When eventually wornout, the tool steel can be recycled and the wooden handles will decompose harmlessly.
    The car repair analogy is a good one. I live in the U K . Until about 20 years ago, many people did their own car repairs . This had a lot to do with the junk produced by car companies and wages being what they were. However, cars now are so complicated that a home mechanic can only do minor repairs. This has a lot to do with putting people off what for many was s route into home repairs and making things.
    I think there is also an unwillingness to tackle anything which isn’t fast and with a guaranteed outcome.



    • Jim Thornton on 18 February 2019 at 3:03 am

      Neil….I hear you about folks wanting a guaranteed outcome before they tackle anything. I’ve been spending the last couple of months reading through Paul’s blog. I’m surprised at the number of folks who ask for advice about things that, by a simple experiment, would provide them with the answer. There seems to be something about not wanting to risk failure. Paul stresses that it’s ok to fail, but that message doesn’t always seem to sink in.



  20. Reggie on 18 February 2019 at 11:22 am

    Paul, I recall when I was in public school in the 80’s I had to go to night school to learn automotive mechanics for two semesters and aviation maintenance for one semester. My high school I had one semester of woodshop which I wish that I could’ve learned more but only one semester was given. This was the only way I was able to learn the basic skills which even though it was small I cherish every day. I won’t debate on which skill is better but for me working with my hands gives me hope. I will pass the link to my sister and friends. Thank you always.



  21. Andrea on 18 February 2019 at 12:40 pm

    I think you are succeeding in your goal. I’m a computer engineer, I have my own company and spend most of the day surrounded by technology. Lately I started to feel crushed by my job, I no longer enjoy it.
    I was always interested in woodworking (as my great grandparent) and luthiery, so one day I ended up on your YouTube channel after Ben Crowe mentioned it in one of his luthier videos.
    That really changed my life, I started picking up the tools and the craft, built a workbench and started working on a bunch of new projects. It’s extremely satisfying, and I hope that in the future I’ll be able to make this my primary occupation.
    So thank you for sharing everything that you do, hope is not lost, this form of art will never die.



  22. ronald chong on 18 February 2019 at 12:44 pm

    ah! thanks for the image of the vice placement on the right hand side where my vice will be. i assume hannah is left-handed like myself. i’ve been cutting the mortises on my workbench legs. taking it slow and steady…



    • ronald chong on 18 February 2019 at 12:46 pm

      make that “vise”. lol



  23. John on 18 February 2019 at 3:53 pm

    Ajens,

    I do not recall ever hearing the term “natural joy” used before, for anything (maybe I have been living under a rock of sorts). But what a fitting way to describe the feeling of completing a project well done. It just says it all.



  24. Asha George on 18 February 2019 at 5:16 pm

    Thank you Paul for bringing attention to the fact of the dearth of women in woodworking. If an effort is not made to intentionally include them it will be difficult to keep women in the craft. In a recent class I was amazed to see that I was the only woman and that neither the hand tools nor bench were made for someone with a smaller stature. Made me wonder if there are anybody out there who could address this issue or are talking about this issue.



    • Paul Sellers on 18 February 2019 at 7:35 pm

      I am afraid it seems to be a non subject as far as skilled hand work goes. To take care of the shortfall for women who never touched hand tools and knew nothing about woodworking at all we offered some beginner classes that would level the playing field for those wanting our regular classes in classes that never were gender specific. The three or four women in 10 person course really enjoyed the course and did come back for more classes alongside men but the women’s classes were not viable.



      • Seth on 24 February 2019 at 4:43 pm

        If I was trying to encourage women and children I would consider using some in a new project series.

        Maybe it’s time for Hannah to step in front of the camera? Likewise, it might be helpful see see you working with a child through a small project.

        I suspect it couldn’t just be a one time thing either. If you really want to encourage women, in a long term meaningful way, I think they might need to see it in action in a way they can relate and envision themselves in such surroundings and multiple projects would broaden the reach. Just an idea. I’m sure you know what’s best for your shop and goals.

        Paul – I am so encouraged and impressed by what you have done. What you have accomplished is a testament to the internet and the future in some respects. I’ve been working through your projects for two years now. I still haven’t even made it through all the free projects (is there some significance there?). I’m hooked though. You are a real gentlemen and pied piper. Take care and I’ll see you soon (even though you won’t see me).



        • Paul Sellers on 24 February 2019 at 6:09 pm

          Hello Seth, Thank you for your suggestions but `i would like to offer the following:
          I think it is easy to underestimate the effort it takes to work with children, especially in video work and all of the safety issues surrounding hand tools. Also, I feel something of a struggle in myself about being advantaged by others because this really is my own personal burden and this alone enables and equips me to share all that I know with woodworkers. I feel an absolute confidence in standing in front of a camera not because I am so self confident but my 55 years experience with wood means I know what I am saying and doing and even if things go wrong i can explain what happened and even show how to correct it. I could never presume on others who may not have the desire, the confidence or the ability to share their very personal abilities. I could never assume to even ask any of my past or present apprentices to do such anything like that. They came as apprentices and never suggested they wanted to do any more than that. I think if others, male or female, want to do woodworking there is more than enough out there throughout my sites and platforms for them to get right on board.



    • nemo on 18 February 2019 at 10:35 pm

      I think the problem is much wider than woodworking, or welding.

      I’m not sure of your location, but if you’d take evening classes here in sewing or cooking, the majority of participants will also be men.



    • Bob Hutchins on 19 February 2019 at 6:19 pm

      Although at the time I didn’t realize what an honor it was, I had the great privilege and pleasure of meeting Paul in his workshop in Texas where he was teaching a class, a class that included several young women. I was not so much surprised about women being into craft work as I was about the youth and ardor for the learning of those I observed. It has been more than 20 years since that chance encounter.. My only regret is that I never made the time to take advantage of the instruction that was available.



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