Space I Make

My workbench has always anchored me. It’s the epicentre of my work, the hub from which all of the pieces I ever made came from. The designs for US senators and then too even a US President and the Permanent Collection of the Whitehouse pieces I designed came from no place fancy at all.

Mostly the vise corner of my workbench and then too the jaws of that same vise I have owned and worked from for almost five decades now, when my early works began, has been the core of fusion between my drawn images and the joinered work in the making of pieces. The tip of #2 Ticonderoga pencil, Walmart #2 12 pack sketched and drew 90% of what I envisaged in creating both my rough drafts and my perspective briefs, technical drawings and notes. Imagine that. Never a computer! Me just standing mostly by an old and secondhand rough vise!

From birdhouses to walking canes, sticks and staffs, fancy and unfancy, the workbench is my sanity; my safe haven is where I am held secure and safe. I don’t care if others think its sad, that I am maybe a little mad. I feel settled at the thought of my garage and would feel unsettled in anything much bigger. All I need is there to hand, within an arms reach or at least two strides. My past includes workshops like this, never much bigger and if they were bigger I sliced off a piece, a corner preferably, where I could unfurl myself into a sanctuary. I have shared 40 foot by 80 foot spaces with other men several times and we all did the same. I would never go back to a big shop nor shared space with so many. I like to share with three or four and no more. Otherwise things become invasive. The smell of paint, chemicals and burning things, clangs, dropped outcomes of carelessness. Hannah shares my workspace and then Izzy too. I have one other who comes in for help with his woodworking in the evening.

Most of my workshops have been little more than garage sized when I think about it. Unpretentious when I think about it more. I never had to create an image to promote myself with. You know, a background of premium planes and fancy saws that hang like kitchen utensils, knives, pots and pans and such. Neither do I use pegboard. Always hated the stuff. What you see or saw past, present and future is what you got and get. Nor do I have to deliver fast-paced razzmatazz, quick-speak, highs and lows to get people’s attention. I think it is a lived past that prepared me for this point in my life where teaching and training has become intrinsic to everything I do. Men, women and children are learning to work quietly in the peace of their home workshops in garages, basements and sheds. Imagine our quest to deliver the House Full of Furniture coming to life for so many quite soon–built on the solid foundation we’ve spent three decades establishing.

Now the benches are becoming a reality around the globe. People are getting their tools together too, gatherings from shopping eBay, flea markets and car boot sales for secondhand saws and planes, chisels, brace and bits, vintage screwdrivers with oval wooden handles. I love it!. They’re no longer intimidated but confident they can set and sharpen their tools, restore what they need. It’s a wonderful feeling to think that our work has reached a new level and we never pretend anything. I just planed every stick and stem for the oak garden bench. I’m 69 and it was a workout, but you know what? I loved it.

When I think of how I began passing on the skills I have to others through the decades I think back to my early days striding out in the USA. I had no silver spoon in my mouth and no money at all to speak of, but I had the courage of my conviction and that was that any and all could become skilled woodworkers if they had a made up mind. My early efforts remind me of the tiniest pebble dropped into the pond, the lake, the ocean and how the rings have a momentum of energy that reaches to the shores. That’s what my work is doing.

So as I walked into my workspace this morning, my brain tick, tick, ticking, and I felt enthralled. I realised the parts were all falling into place to start phasing in the pieces people need to grow their own furniture. The house full of furniture gets closer every day. I doubt anyone has ever taken the steps we are about to take. I look at furniture styles, some simple, some pretentiously complex–designs for the elite, the pompous and the pretentious. I look at past movements too. The people all gone. Men and women who stood making as crafting artisans. The Shakers and the Craftsman-style, Arts and Crafts movements along with the Roycrofter concept. Whereas these were mostly faith-based or then socialist movements, this is not what we do nor in any way is that what we intend by the work we do. We want the seeds to keep germinating in the lives of all generations yet to follow. What inspires me is the reality that families and individuals will indeed be the ones to keep true art and craft alive. Not the conservationists or the history societies and not the museums no matter the types. They have their place as resources, but it’s those crafting away to train their hands and minds to understand their craft from the inside out. Somehow they believe in themselves: that they really can both develop their skills and create their own heirlooms for family, friends and future generations.

I have always believed in amateurism; in the art of crafting people, even though no one calls it that nor did they ever as far as I know. Amateur usually links to sports or the inept. I could tell you that some of the most remarkable work has come from the needles, planes and fingers of the amateur.

I am putting the very best years of my life into those that follow the work I do. In many cases people often use professionals as holding a high standard of workmanship but I see less and less truly high standards as standard by professionals.

There’s a power that goes with being amateur that no one can buy or get from any other source. There is also a fulfilment you cannot get from any other source too. How do I know? Because I witnessed it so often in amateurs and less so in people referring to themselves as professionals. And I am not saying that professionals don’t get it at all. I am saying that I have yet to meet any amateur that didn’t have that defiant spark when challenged by the impossible and I have met a hundred thousand amateurs in woodworking alone.

So garage in place, benches built and the process of making filmed, tools bought, restored, sharpened, the next step and the biggest one is the house to design and build the pieces for. That’s what I’ve been looking for–a house to buy and build for. I think I have a good idea what I am looking for. It’s not fancy and nor is it big. I’m an ordinary working man with ideas and a creative streak that refuses to stop. Until now it’s been a bit like living as a traveler. A woodworker needs a permanent workshop for long-term growth and settledness. So here I am. YOU are on my Radar!

16 Comments

  1. Shaun on 11 March 2019 at 5:30 pm

    I worked on Saturday at my bench.

    I had just acquired an old Stanley 45.
    I sharpened the cutting irons effortlessly and after a bit of oil and tweaking, cut a perfect groove.
    Then from repetition, smoothly placed my wood in the clamp in the vice and cut a perfect rebate.

    I then made a small easel using recovered mahogany from an old door. it could hold an a5 piece of paper for my sisters wedding.
    I went from drawing to storyboard to thicknessing jig to poor mans mitre box.
    In under an hour I had built a prototype.

    On Saturday I realised something. I am a woodworker. And I havent felt a harmony like I did at my workbench which I built from your videos.

    Thank you for giving freely, what I feel was taken away from me.

  2. Stephen McGonigle on 11 March 2019 at 6:58 pm

    It’s your benchmark Paul 😉

  3. Jeremy on 11 March 2019 at 9:13 pm

    Outstanding. I’m ready.

  4. Scott on 11 March 2019 at 10:14 pm

    It’s interesting to consider the history of the word “amateur”. It is generally considered pejorative today, but 100 (perhaps a little more) years ago the opposite was true.

    Then, it primarily carried a connotation of doing something for the love of it. Amateurism was considered the mark of highest skill because it was generally considered that professionals were too concerned with money to take the time required to make things to that level.

    Maybe “amateur” can again come to hold that meaning. Looking around the web, you can find examples of people making beautiful furniture for money, but it seems for the most part the most skilled and beautiful workmanship I see always comes from someone doing it simply because they wanted to.

  5. Ted on 12 March 2019 at 1:04 am

    I can’t wait for the House Full of Furniture. The idea is pure genius.

  6. Gav on 12 March 2019 at 12:40 pm

    A friend of mine recently cleared the remainder of his cavernous industrial unit which has made him , as a working space, a reasonable living . I asked what he was going to do with it now and he responded with “..rent it , sell it , I really don’t care as I’ve spent enough time in this concrete dungeon. ” He worked with many variations of timber products, manufactured ,laminated bonded etc but a lot of it left him cold. He is still going to work timber , true timber, solid wood, in a small space like a garage or part of, using more hand tools like he started out. As he was speaking about this you could see a spark kindle. It was good to see.

  7. António Santos on 12 March 2019 at 1:13 pm

    YES! Let’s do it together! Amazing. Please don’t stop.

  8. Joe on 12 March 2019 at 4:52 pm

    Thanks Paul. In about 10 years I plan to leave my day job for semi retirement. Part of it will be teaching college chemistry (I started doing that about 6 years ago to do more in retirement). The other part is likely making some wood products to sell at craft fairs and at the few local co ops. As for a business card, if I get one, I will definitely use the word amateur in my title.

    Would it be possible to see photos of your old workshops? I’d love to see the garage workshop in Texas. Also, would love ve to see any photos you have of when you apprenticed.

  9. Jim on 12 March 2019 at 11:21 pm

    Hi Paul, I just wanted to say thank you for all you put out there. On a personal note you have gotten me back into woodworking. I spent many years in a commercial cabinet shop and as a contractor. I am out of that game now as I just rounded 60 years. I was all power tools and it got the job done, but I always had a romance with going with the hand tools, quietness, and much more in tune with what you are working on. It is a delight to watch you work and teach. Your blogs are great as not only do you talk wood, but about life in general with much in common with my way of thinking. Just setting up my unplugged shop, I still have a table saw, band saw but I find myself picking up a hand saw or plan most of the time these days. I just finished a nice ash counter top for our kitchen island all with hand tools . Any way , sorry for the rambling, but thank you sir for all you are doing for us and for those less fortunate.

  10. Ben Tyreman on 12 March 2019 at 11:57 pm

    A good example of a professional recently… I fixed a door for an old lady near where I live, the way the professional had hung the door was done to a very low standard and clearly a rushed job, the hinges didn’t fit nor were they flush, there was obviously no care taken on the job and I realised as an amateur that I have far higher standards and it was satisfying improving what he’d done badly and then the door worked without sticking and opened and closed easily.

  11. Adriano J. M. Rosa on 13 March 2019 at 12:55 am

    ‘m wondering if … a series of films, about 25 minutes each, representing what you learned during your youth when you worked with Master George?
    In this way we would learn not only how to make furniture, what kind of tools there were and how they were used, such as the clothing used at the time, the historical context of people’s lives, the economic level of the regions involved, what the relationship was of friendship among workers, etc., etc.
    Sorry for my daydream.
    Always following mr. Sellers and team with attention.

  12. Daniel on 13 March 2019 at 12:08 pm

    Interesting word Amateur…. In french, if one is “un amateur de vin” it means one is a wine aficionado. We seem to have changed the meaning to some sort of negative concept when in reality, it’s a positive thing. My siblings and I have always helped dad around the house. Colouring copper pipes, laying hardwood floor, drywalling, shingling a roof…. we help out with everything. I’ve always viewed my “amateur” work as better than “professional” work because the amateur can take the additional time to do the job as best they can while the professional has to get it done to get paid and move on to the next customer. The fact that I’m not paying a contractor to do a job means I can spend a little more money on the materials making my project that much better in the end.

  13. Phill on 14 March 2019 at 10:01 pm

    who writes this blog for you? (just kidding!) – as long as you stay grounded in reality, the rest of us can breathe a little easier.

  14. Joe on 18 March 2019 at 11:14 am

    Well done!
    I’ve learned I can design and make something without being critical of each perceived imperfection. I may enjoy the look of amazement from this receiving the gift.

    I’ve learned I can listen to music or a sermon while working and spiritually finish time making sawdust better than when I started.

    I’ve learned contentment is a precious thing.

    I’ve learned today is a new day to learned yet once again.

  15. Dennis Sheehan on 18 March 2019 at 3:53 pm

    Paul, I am 67 years old I spent a lifetime working installing pipes for plumbing,heating,process piping using materials from copper, cast iron, various plastics,glass pipe and fittings for laboratory work,sprinkler,gas and the last 25years as the General Foreman for the Mechanical Department at Logan Airport in Boston,Massachusetts USA.I have two hobbies now photography and woodworking.I started woodwork on a lathe and the first thing I learned was that I didn’t know anything about wood.I really enjoy your You Tube Videos I own a camp in Maine that I am building all the furniture for and I am going to build with hand tools to the best of my abilities.I really appreciate the videos on sharpening and tool repairs.I believe to be a true craftsman you must have a passion for what you do and it is quite obvious you are passionate about wood and all it’s abilities

  16. Charles Dolnik on 19 March 2019 at 1:44 am

    Paul thank you for all the great knowledge you have selflessly shared with all of us. As a big fan I would love to see pictures of all the great furniture you have designed and built, especially the Whitehouse stuff maybe a day of show and tell. Great show, Charles

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