Your Input Amazes Me

Ever since I started blogging I have never felt on my own and that’s because of how you’ve always responded through the years. No matter what methods you use to make wood work for you, it does not take long to find likeminded people to unite with. Green woodworking, wood turning, intarsia and instrument making and dozens of others have their unique group of followers. Whereas my work revolves around hand tools and hand tool woodworking, my reasoning might be a little different. I often hear people say what difference does it make which methods you use if the end result is the same? well, it makes a huge difference.

A dining table comes from rough sawn, hand planed planks and dovetails, hounds tooth, from a 100 year old dovetail saw. And I love the work out I get, along with the mental gymnastics.

Experience tells me that many hand tool operations are far more efficient by hand just as many machine operations are more efficient by machine. Machine woodworking and hand tool woodworking are technically unrelated but that’s my view. I think mostly that choice is more a matter of preference. The difference for me, beyond the fine finish on wood that the hand plane mostly gives me, is how I feel as I manipulate the tool in the wood. Split-cutting a tenon beats the screaming router hands down. On the one hand I must protect my ears, nose, mouth, eyes and face throughout the whole operation, on the other I leave my hearing totally exposed so I can indeed enjoy the sounds of splitting cutting my wood close to depth, paring is near silent, planing reaches deep in me and then sawing the cheeks of a dovetail and tenon, what can I say?

On the one hand I must wrestle the torque of the router and indeed sometimes muscle it ti task, on the other I am completely relaxed in the chopping, paring and finessing. Now that’s just me. I should say here that I am probably just as experienced with powered equipment of every kind from massive tenoners down to the ubiquitous router of modern times, so it’s not through inexperience that I choose one over the other. Most of my decision making comes from whether I choose protective ways of working wood or the freedom I get from wearing very little. Some have laughed at my head gear when I use the bandsaw. It does look like something out of science fiction, I admit, and I actually do not need it because my extraction leaves nothing to harm me in the atmosphere, but I feel an obligation to my audience. They may not have as good extraction or any at all. Better the precaution.

My old Startrite just keeps going

The bandsaw has been a sensible addition to my filming. We have never hidden the reality of sometimes using pre-dimensioned wood where I either buy in pre-milled stock that’s readily available or indeed have a friend mill it for me rather than occupy valuable workspace with several machines. My reasoning is truly sound. In actuality I have always relied on machines and especially when I worked as a full time producing craftsman. Today my audience are less likely to have machining as an option or desire. Many though expressed difficulty in cutting stock down to lesser proportions for a variety of reasons. In reality most machinists extol the virtue of the machines for dimensioning but then spend a great amount of time developing jigs to work in the machine rather than developing skill and muscle to create what wood actually give them great pleasure should they venture the steps.

It’s surprising how many woodworkers are fearful of messing up sharpening edge tools, scrapers, saws and so on. that’s why we have spent so much time and expense on educating a new generation of woodworkers. The bandsaw is really an ideal machine for resawing as it was intended. It’s truly versatile and takes the smallest footprint. Only recently did I reintroduce it to my workshop space because when I moved from my castle workshop in North Wales to Abingdon it meant storing it for a few years. I do like machines. It is unlikely that I would reintroduce them to my workspace again though. The peace I now enjoy, alongside the health and welfare, cleanness, quiet, versatility and so much more far exceeds the benefits of owning so-called power tools. It’s my belief that developing skill to use hand tools is where the true power tools are.

Living room or den?

The survey we recently put out was truly spectacularly inspiring. We found out what people in over 30 countries worldwide valued as furniture for their living rooms and this will so help me in my considerations for the series of pieces I will be making into the future. Keep an open mind for this. I think some things might surprise you. After the evaluation is all done I may need to put out some more questions to clarify what we have learned.

Thank you so much for taking this seriously. I cannot ignore over 900 people answering the questionnaire on living room furniture. You are truly amazing people!

22 Comments

  1. Bob Leistner on 19 April 2019 at 4:52 pm

    I think every room (sans kitchen and bath) should have a rocking chair to enjoy. Especially a beautiful one as the one you make.

  2. Tom Bittner on 19 April 2019 at 5:55 pm

    The more you share the more you learn, that’s been my experience.
    Everything I have learned over the years I have shared with my two sons.
    They both have houses that need updating from electrical and heating to roof repair and yes furniture. Right now I am in the middle of remolding the kids old bedroom. I have removed all the window molding and baseboards as they are banged up and worn. I just reinforced the miter joints around the windows with the dovetail shims Paul demonstrated on picture frames. I will do the same at my youngest sons house in a couple of weeks while using a HVLP sprayer recommend by Paul to spray coat several hundred board feet of baseboard and window molding.
    I have always done these things myself, often with no prior knowledge of how to do it. Woodworking master classes have been a great help as I muddle my way through home remodeling. It would be good to see how the home repairs are done to the house you just bought by people who do that kind of work every day.

  3. nemo on 19 April 2019 at 6:54 pm

    Watching your old, simple, tried and true tools, techniques and methods, I am reminded of the KISS-principle: ‘Keep it simple, stupid!’ (the motto of the Lockheed Skunkworks, builders of the U2 and SR-71… definitely not mediocre aircraft, just as your simple techniques result in far from mediocre furniture.)

    But to many people, ‘simple’ seems to be synonymous with backwards, underdeveloped or unfashionable.

    I just did the dishes. I boil a kettle with water on the gasstove. When it’s hot it gets poured in a dishwashing basin. It takes about 10 minutes to do the dishes excluding heating the water. I’ve heard people tell me I need a dishwasher, or ‘Ah, but you’re single! Not many dirty dishes!’ But it’s the same way my mother did the dishes her entire life for a family of four. When people comment I simply tell them I do the dishes the same way as one would do when out camping… and that I therefore have a permanent feeling of being out camping.

    Incidentally, a rocking chair will probably be the first ‘real’ furniture I’ll be making. Or converting an existing chair into a rocking chair.

    • ajens on 19 April 2019 at 8:11 pm

      I admit that I’m deeply impressed each time I’m told, read about or see any kind of new invention which I all my life has been told is the same as technical progress – isn’t it just fantastic that it’s possible? And even more fantastic that tomorrow we’ll see the next progress.

      But when i close my eyes at night all that progress really doesn’t mean that much to me. Why not? Because it’s just more than a humans mind can understand. I don’t know exactly when it got to far and it might not be the same to you as it is to me – but I’m sure all that progress does no good to the human brain. And don’t we alle feel more satisfied when we accomplish something that we understand and mentally are a part of than when we achieve something resulting from a proces we’re part of – but in fact don’t understand, only that our experience tells us is possible?

      Mr. Sellers mentions the mental gymnastics, personally I’m certain that it’s the mental gymnastics that give us the best way of life. And training our mentality is doable in many ways – as long as it comes from using our physical abilities too. Woodworking with hand tools is just on of them. But a way that connects us to our selves and to the nature that produces our material every day by growing new wood all over the world – just fantastic. Don’t let progress get us too far away from the understandable way of life that is more important to our minds than we thought it was…

      • Paul Sellers on 19 April 2019 at 9:18 pm

        Well put, Ajens. Sometimes we are losing the thread and can blame our age but mostly it id as you say impossible to comprehend the speed with we are bombarded with a knowledge we cannot process or know whether such information is actually true or even relevant by the time we receive it. In many ways it carries us along as though we are caught up in fast flowing swell of a river and there is no place to get off except by throwing ourselves at the mercy of the river by throwing ourselves into it.

        • Joe on 24 April 2019 at 4:46 pm

          Paul,
          I have an observation that backs this up. I have taken and taught martial arts classes since 1982 for fun/hobby. It’s the same system. I took a 12 year break while getting my career established. Then I was back with the same instructor and the same school.

          It was very noticeable at how much slower folks of comparable ages were learning material in the mid 2000s vs. the mid 80s. To the point, where my instructor/friend had a long conversation about it on several occasions over dinner. We reached the same conclusions you mentioned above. Folks are much more distracted by the flow of information from other things now. It impacts our ability to learn.

      • Steve on 19 April 2019 at 11:22 pm

        I know what you mean. I work in technology, keeping up with the latest technologies like AI, robotics and machine learning. At work we have a $6000 espresso maker that can make any kind of coffee you want. I do this 5 days a week full time.
        But when i go camping, i wake up, make a fire with some kindling and a match, heat some water And coffee in a percolator kettle over the fire, sit next to the fire. Thats the best tasting coffee in the world, and when i sit next to the fire with my whittling knife and a piece of wood, i finally feel human again, i feel “home”, and a sense of peace in my head I don’t normally feel.

        • nemo on 20 April 2019 at 12:34 am

          Steve, I’m sure that if right next to the fancy coffee machine at work you had a little campfire with a billy over it… nerds or not (no insult intended – I consider myself one), but I suspect everyone would choose the campfire, poke the fire a bit, add a few more sticks of wood and make billy coffee. (and the 6000$ coffee machine with WiFi and custom-programmed individual taste preference profiles would gather dust)

          • Steve on 20 April 2019 at 5:12 am

            Very true nemo, we work to make enough money to do the simple things. It reminds me of the story of the Mexican fisherman. If you don’t know it i suggest you google it, worth the read to put things into perspective



        • Joe on 22 April 2019 at 4:32 pm

          Similar for me except it is Biotechnology. I certainly love it as a career but I need to do something less high tech at home to feel grounded.

        • Alastair on 23 April 2019 at 9:32 am

          Steve,
          I also work in a high tech industry (chemistry in my case) and I find that making things by hand is the most rewarding thing I do. It is easy to buy things, but to make things with your own hands is the real reward. I wonder how many others that share a similar passion for woodworking also have high tech jobs? Do we all secretly wish we had had a similar career to Paul’s?

  4. Paul Oram on 22 April 2019 at 11:57 am

    I only work with hand tools. I have a vacuum cleaner and a light 😉

    I’m working through an older tutorial of yours where you deconstruct a small mahogany table from 100 years ago, analyse how it was made and reproduce it. I’m making a plant table with splayed legs using some old oak, so this series proved invaluable.

    These tutorials gave me goosebumps! That you could read, so intimately, from the piece how the carpenter had built it 100 years ago and learn from that – I found this truly uplifting and aspirational.

    Learning how to look is a true skill that takes patience and time.

    I’m learning.

    To feel the wood, to look for subtle marks in the wood that provide the clues to the processes that were employed in its making. To then connect with the initial maker, sympathetic to the circumstances that he was working under.

    I’ve been finding old damaged pieces of wooden furniture in junk shops that are past saving and have been doing the same thing. Mostly heavy oak from around 1900. I deconstruct them to gain a renewed appreciation for how they were made in the first place. I then use the wood and reintegrate it into something new. For one thing its a very cheap way to get hold of well-seasoned wood, but it also adds a certain patina and ‘history’ to the new piece – it gives it a story.

    In our age of wastefulness and throwaway culture, a slow approach along with a true appreciation for materials and their use is something we as woodworkers can encourage to affect a shift towards a more sustainable approach to living.

    For me, this is the difference.

  5. Robert Brunston on 22 April 2019 at 2:58 pm

    I use a table saw to ruff out my wood then finish it using my hand tools, I do very little sanding, most of my finish is done with the hand plane, that’s how I like it. Thank you Paul for every thing you have shared.

  6. William Allen on 22 April 2019 at 3:41 pm

    Thanks kindly for all the videos you have on youtube. It has made my reintroduction to woodworking a positive joy. Every time I watch one of your videos I learn something entirely new, even if it is on topic I thought I was pretty familiar with. It is clear that you are dedicated to not only wood working, but the kind of peace in the world I have worked for my whole life. Your work with the Sylva centre proves that, even one hadn’t watched you vlogs. So, hope to see you producing equally great content for years to come.

  7. Peter on 22 April 2019 at 5:53 pm

    Looking forward to your future postings.
    You do a great service to a great many people.
    Thanks!

  8. Mike on 22 April 2019 at 7:05 pm

    I find it interesting to see how creative people can be with wood, but whenever I see them machine something I think to myself they could have used this or that hand tool method and it would have been as fast, or faster, and as accurate. Then there are all the other benefits Paul lays out.

    I have several machines and use them still, but less and less as my hand tool skills have increased. I will never get rid of them, but they are being relegated to rough carpentry projects. I use hand tool methods on all carpentry finish work now, and very soon I hope, refined furniture. I’ve got plenty of room for improvement here especially squaring stock and accuracy of my hand cuts to eliminate gaps, but the journey is very enjoyable.

  9. Geoff on 22 April 2019 at 8:09 pm

    Hi Paul, I have been following your work for several years and lately as a paid subscriber. Having made several of your designs and pieces inspired by your work, during which time I have learnt a great deal. However it somewhat reassuring to hear that some materials had been milled in the background or elsewhere. I prefer to buy rough sawn boards and get them to size myself (it also leaves me offcuts for later projects). To this end my workshop (a converted garage) is a mixed space for some powered machines and a heavy bench to do the hand made joinery. Reading this blog allows me to feel less guilty about letting the alternating current do the grunting.
    I totally agree about the noise and dust, to overcome this efficient extraction is vital. My friends compare the workshop to the operating theatre of my former career.

    • Paul Sellers on 22 April 2019 at 8:37 pm

      Thanks Geoff, I know how it is with machines. I think I may have needed to be more aggressive in persuading people to rethink the reality of machining and it’s invading of my realm of woodworking as creative crafting because, especially in the USA, people were indeed so given over to machine-only methods and were introduced to this as woodworking when they were really missing out on the methods I knew to be so conducive to true efficiency and wellbeing along good physical and mental exercise etc. Turning the tide has pretty much taken me 25 years of investing to date but my success is measured by how much I am invited to contribute in other spheres of woodworking. The less I am invited the greater my success is.

  10. Conrad on 22 April 2019 at 9:41 pm

    I especially appreciate that what you bring to woodworkers is a realistic approach that most people can actually follow and perform, to complete the project. I pretty much gave up watching Woodworking “How To” shows on TV because almost to a fault, the person is using expensive (usually commercial grade) or specialized machinery in their elaborate shop that most woodworkers do not have. The plywood bench project is a great example of your thoughtfulness of that aspect by factoring into the project, that many may not have a table saw to make the cuts.

    Your observation about needed to make a jig to get a machine to do what you need it to do is spot on. In the short time that I’ve started following your approach, I’ve discovered that I can indeed accomplish some things with a Stanley #71 easier and faster than with a power router, by not needing to the set up work of fashioning a guide/jig/template. I also like the feeling of being in control that I get with a hand router plane, versus feeling like I’m just along for the ride with a power router.

  11. Wesley Wood on 23 April 2019 at 8:28 pm

    Paul, Im continually inspired by your videos and blog. I just started to minor in furniture design and your efforts have helped me immensely. Every night this semester I have watched and revisited your videos on youtube. I’m using hand tools in my classes instead of using power tools. I’m quickly realizing why you live the life you do. I wont ever forget what you said in one of your videos. “Instead of feeding the work into a tool you introduce the tool to the wood.” I love that and think about it often. I made my first dovetailed step stool thanks to your videos and teachings. I haven’t felt a deep satisfaction like this in a long time when it come to my art.
    These videos and blog have helped me appreciate working with my hands.
    I wanted to say thank you for all your efforts Paul. Keep up the great work

  12. Ed on 24 April 2019 at 1:05 pm

    Thank you for the opportunities you provide us to contribute to the effort.

  13. Woodwoman on 26 April 2019 at 6:27 pm

    Well, what a excellent read! Thanks for sharing!

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