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The Great Tree

Of all the things I have done in and with my life, I feel I am left with one thing I am certain of and it’s this, I know woodworking at confidence levels. I don’t know it through the reading about it, I know through the doing of it every single day in some measure or some way and mostly that’s full days of ten hours and more on the normal 6-day week I’ve worked since 1965. That’s roughly 160,000 hours I suppose.

If I look at myself I am far from being what some might call a confident man. I mean inside myself I am less certain than I might appear. In an airport or train station, underground tube stations and such, I stand and stare at schematics many times longer than most might. I liken my uncertainty in places elsewhere to using my cell phone or MacOS Mojave computer. What I do with these is the tip of the iceberg of possibilities. In London I am always uncomfortable and readily lost but not by the streets or buildings, more by the sense of not understanding the spaces and the faces and the promptings, the quickness of movements, things passing, dragging, pushing and then there those bright lights, the diverse sounds where my filters don’t work too well at all.

My confidence is being with wood and hand tools. I lift the saws, ping them with my finger and thumb until a ring passes from the bending and flexing arc to my ear. I feel relaxing. I feel relaxing come to me in spinning a plane end for end and upside down, around in my hands and feeling balance come to me in the doing of it.

When I look into the grain of my wood something happens to me that I cannot readily explain and I am again resting in the resolve of certainty. I engage with the wood, any wood, the plainest wood, the wood others reject as trash wood and I read the tree it came from: I read the the leaves in my mind’s eye and then the length of the grain and the growth rings or the configurations of grain I know by memory from looking and searching in the woods and woodlands, the parks and the gardens where I go every day. I imagine the leaves and the shape they have, the veins and the serrations, the number of them to a stem. Then there is the stance of it standing there in my mind. It’s rootedness and its expression, the bark that skins over its inmost parts. The flowers are in my head, recorded numbers of petals. The truth of it is that trees seem always to be marvellously reliable, solid things that make the days bright and clean.

Somehow they tie me to my craft more than anything else in the world because they are so well proven to be so irreplaceable in the same way bees and other pollinators are. The dirt under my feet in the woods. seems to be ever changing but the result for me is the reality of wood. Wood, my hand tools, my workbenches and the ability to make makes me sane in an otherwise insane world.

11 Comments

  1. Phill on 3 June 2019 at 12:06 am

    it’s because they are smarter than us (trees that is) — Someday we’ll get it.



  2. Brian Anders on 3 June 2019 at 4:49 am

    Native America calls them ” The Standing People” The other kingdom filled with wisdom, movement, companionship, aggression, as alive as we are alive. The American Bark Beetle attacks the weakened trees, recognized by the sounds they make. We think of the green world as just the backdrop we active creatures live our lives against. I think, Paul, your life honors the circle completed between the two worlds!



  3. Bob Mielke on 3 June 2019 at 1:55 pm

    Everything has changed throughout the years. I’m 70 now and still love my wood and tools. I’m limited in what I can do in a retirement community of seniors all around me. It’s now that my hand tool skills get the most practice as there’s no noise and little dust.

    If I feel a longing to start working I can always grab a chunk.of wood and peel off some thin shavings. Life is good!



    • Gierach James E. on 3 June 2019 at 4:25 pm

      “June (and woodworking) can be had by the poorest comer.” Largely, thanks to trees.



  4. Ed C White on 3 June 2019 at 10:01 pm

    At 80 I only recently (the past 10 years or so) became aware of wood working hand tools. What I mean is, the beauty, skill and thought that went into their design and use. I retired with over 40 years in industry so obviously I know hand tools and how to use them. In that world, power tools rule the manufacturing process. Thank you Paul for pointing out things I never would have considered otherwise.



  5. Tom Angle on 3 June 2019 at 10:51 pm

    I understand the confusion of the city and the peace of a woods.



  6. David Lindsay Stairbuilder Australia on 4 June 2019 at 6:22 am

    Trees, the great reality of life. Countries, Prime Ministers and Governments come and go, countries rise and fall, folk live and then die, but the trees live on, giving life to the planet and also to those of us who are privileged to use to them and their products. I do not have a clean workshop and cannot conceive the day when I will open the door and not inhale the fragrance of the shavings and the sawdust. Am about to make a table from a Tallowood Burl slab that is approximately 6 feet ( 1.8 metres) in diameter and realize that the tree that it came from would have had to have been a couple of hundred years old, and which was felled for farm land clearing.



  7. Don Hummer on 5 June 2019 at 3:43 am

    Truly a marvelous planet designed and created for us by a magnificent architect and builder. It was a tree in the garden that was forbidden, it was the tree that provided Noah with the resources to build and ark and preserve man and animals, and A tree was chosen as the backdrop for the death of a Savior!! when I pick up a piece of 150 year old reclaimed beech or white pine or white oak and it is of a virgin cut, tightly grained, stable, and the plane begins to cut beautiful long curly shavings, was this why Christ chose carpentry as his means of making a living? A tree runs through all of our lives in one way or another.



  8. Nathan on 5 June 2019 at 1:58 pm

    That was deep Paul. A lovely read.
    Trees are beautiful.



  9. Harold Blair on 5 June 2019 at 2:17 pm

    I’m 76 now and have been working with wood and building furniture with hand tools for more than 25 years (thanks to having studied with Paul) and I still love it. Just returned from the shop in order to go to an appointment…and I begrudge the appointment because I long to return to the shop. My only hope is to become 1/2 as proficient as Paul. Guess I need to live and work another 40 years :-).



  10. Michael w. O’Brien on 6 June 2019 at 2:11 pm

    Hi Paul,
    During the adult portion of my 76 years, I have been doing wood working in some form or fashion, and I acquired a workshop full of the, thought to be requisite, power tools and some hand tools. However, it has only been in the last decade or so that I began my wonderful and exciting transition to hand tool woodworking. This is in great part due to watching the Working Wood DVD series, and reading the complimentary books of the same series of Paul’s, that really changed my woodworking life. I thank you Paul for that.
    I have a great respect for trees, wood and Nature as a whole as you do.
    Thank you for your guidance, past and continued teaching, and always lucid thoughts on various topics.
    Cheers,
    Michael O’Brien
    Alabama, USA



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