My Week’s Working

In fact every week works for me, mostly. When problems come, then i can learn from them. Turning negative into positive is more than positive thinking, it’s more embracing opposition and turning it to an advantage. Of course that doesn’t mean that there aren’t struggles, just that when you marry your craft you know it’s right, that it is in essence an irrevocable vow, even in or especially in the hard times.

I link this mostly to my early discovery that I really discovered it was important to find what you loved to do and then to trace your steps through the minefields of untruth to follow the truth of your feelings. All of my fellow woodworkers in my apprenticeship ultimately fell away to do something else because the apprenticeship to them was just a job or a step into professional spheres like management and such. I still love my work even after 55 years in the daily doing of it. Also, I enjoy being with the people I work with, I still love all of my hand tools and then too the wood I use has constant pulling power to anchor me no matter the species. I discovered wood and all that surrounds it as a young boy.

This all began with my love of wildlife, especially the British wildlife I would discover as I grew. My looking up into branches and just watching what was there expanded my horizons. The colours and shapes of leaves and tree stems, the birds, especially raptors, owls and such. Then there was the climbing into the branches in search of nests. I wanted to see how they were made and from what. The linings, the sizes, the intricacies of each nest and bird type.

Those blue eggs of the blackbird and the song thrush. The wren’s white egg had tight splashes of speckled brown. What amazed me too was the strength of wood in holding its own limbs. Even back then at age 10 I knew of no such strength occurring in anything human made; with similar proportions of bulk that is. A 1″ diameter branch tied in to the stem would take the whole weight of a big man. When I began to work with wood I saw the tangible root of this reality in the crotch grain configuration and there I understood my subject the more. I have never really enjoyed knots in large sizes but I have liked the swirls they cause in graining formation.

Jack, my newest apprentice, is working through his course with me. He is a man of few words because he is autist and he just finished his second project the joints of which were very well fitting and neat. He whipped it off home before I could take a decent picture for you so am sorry for that. He did the same with his first two dovetail joints, again the first he’d ever made, so once more no pics. For someone so new to woodworking he seems well able to tune into the working just with hand tools. Personally I think that he’s going to be a good hand toolist. I’m looking forward to seeing how this all unfolds for him.

11 Comments

  1. Craig Medvecky on 30 July 2019 at 6:26 pm

    For someone who works alone with no teacher and no other woodworkers to compare to I would like to know the sorts of problems other people encounter. You allude to difficulties in your workshop in the start of the blog but there are no specifics. I wonder: what kind of problem could challenge Paul at this point. I listen to the MasterClass videos and you seem to know all the mistakes that could happen and caution to avoid them. Is that because you made them at one time or another or because you see other people making them, I wonder? Sometimes I feel like I’m ‘in the zone’ but I’m really just rushing. Yesterday I countersunk the wrong side of a screw hole for the bottom of my drawer panel. Not a huge deal but there wasn’t really enough wood on the the other side to countersink there. Do I remake the drawer bottom and waste that square of plywood or do I live with three screws on the underside of my drawer that aren’t countersunk to match the others. Similarly read about your apprentices who seem to make perfect dovetails from day one, and I am still struggling after many efforts to get my first truly perfect fit. Is that normal? Am I missing something important? Lacking the aptitude of these others? Hard to say because so few people are willing to talk about mistakes.

  2. Tom Angle on 30 July 2019 at 7:27 pm

    “Similarly read about your apprentices who seem to make perfect dovetails from day one, and I am still struggling after many efforts to get my first truly perfect fit. Is that normal? Am I missing something important? Lacking the aptitude of these others?”

    I feel the same way a lot. There are times where I wish there was someone there to explain exactly what I done wrong. I also have a hard time getting what is in my head out on to a piece of wood or even words.

  3. Phill on 30 July 2019 at 8:36 pm

    The point (I think) is not what we learn, but how we learn. We look at a tree and see art and engineering. We look at an autistic man and see ability rather than disability. I worry that some people will choose your path as their destination rather than finding their own destination the way you have. My autistic son taught me how to communicate without ever saying a word.

  4. James on 30 July 2019 at 9:37 pm

    Paul,
    Off the subject, but thought this might be interesting. Ran across an L. S. Starrett catalog from 1938(left to me when my Dad died). The combination square similar to what you use and what I bought, i.e. C11H-12-4R, was $4.60 plus another $4+ for the center head. The square now lists for $107 or $99 on Amazon.

  5. Mike on 31 July 2019 at 1:00 am

    Oof, I have no dovetail game, even with practice. It always feels like it will be one of those skills that I will never master. And yet, I keep trying, hoping one day to get them to turn out right.

    In the meantime, I have come to an appreciation of doweled rabbets as an aesthetically pleasing, less taxing, but still strong joint.

  6. Jürgen on 31 July 2019 at 7:19 am

    Hi Craig Medvecky,
    perhaps it is not nessessary to talk about mistakes.
    I think, if I do the work in the same way as Mr. Sellers, I will get the same result as he got. If I didn’t got the same result, I didn’t do the same job. Something had been different. So I try to find out, what’s the difference. I watched his videos again and again and step by step get better results after trying a different strategy.
    All craftsmen are different. A hint, that helps me to do a better work, might be useless for you. So I try to find the difference and try to find a way to eleminate it in my own way.

    I’m working wood as often as possible in the evening and at weekends. It’s wonderful spending time in my little workshop.
    I’m working alone and I’m learning from some books and the internet.
    It works.

    greetings

  7. Tom on 31 July 2019 at 1:51 pm

    I’ve been following Paul’s videos for a few months and have been practicing my hand skills by making a variety of brackets and holders to store tools on the walls of my very small garage within reach of the bench.

    I have just started work on my first proper project, a dovetailed box which is going to be a birthday present for my wife to store sewing bits, needles thread and so on.

    Yesterday I came to cut the first dovetails. I’d carefully prepared the stock for the side and end panels of the box (it’s 20cm deep and I’d edge jointed some narrower stock to make the panels, so they are a fair size, with 5 dovetails on each corner) but just as I was about to lay out the dovetails I thought maybe I’d better practice a bit more by doing the parts for the lid first (they are only 3cm deep with a single dovetail, so an easier place to start and easier to replace if things went wrong).

    I watched and rewatched Paul’s videos and practiced cutting to the line on scrap stock first, before I cut the dovetails and pins for the lid. The first one was a little off but not bad for the first attempt, and by the time I’d cut the fourth I was really pleased at how neat they had become. I had labelled each joint as I went so I knew which went where (A, B, C and X in Paul’s honour) and tested each as I cut them. I went to assemble all four pieces together and then I realised my fatal mistake – in one end of one of the side pieces I’d managed to cut the pins in the opposite direction to the other end so rather than three sides of a rectangle I would be assembling them in an Z shape! Oops. I was so glad that I’d started with the single dovetails for the lid rather than the much bigger ones for the box itself! It didn’t take me long to cut and plane a replacement part and re-do the pins (which came out a bit better anyway). On the incorrect piece I wrote “don’t do this!” and have placed it on the wall above my bench as a reminder to double check things so I don’t make the same mistake again.

    Making a mistake once is OK, as long as you learn from it!

    Thank you Paul for all your videos and the passion you have for teaching. I love hearing about the mistakes you’ve made and how to avoid them so I don’t do the same thing myself.

    After I’ve finished this box (and no doubt a few other simpler projects) I’m looking forward to signing up to Masterclasses and learning to make some “proper” furniture! 🙂

  8. Steve P on 31 July 2019 at 3:30 pm

    Birds – the original green wood bushcrafters! Tell Jack I like his shirt, thats the best shirt I’ve seen on your blog yet. I used to belong to a club who built full scale R2D2 models from wood and aluminum, but I never got very far because all the parts were prohibitively expensive.

    • Paul Sellers on 31 July 2019 at 4:54 pm

      That doesn’t say much. It’s most likely the first one with an image on.

  9. Tom Kerns on 12 August 2019 at 2:08 am

    Your workshop is a safe place for Jack. He couldn’t ask for a better teacher. An autist is well suited to shine in such an environment. He can focus all his intellect into turning a piece of wood into a work of art–a table, a chair or a clock. Feeling safe in the workshop under your tutelage might even lead him to attempt the dreaded social encounters that plague most autists. I predict that Jack will become one of your best pupils. He is probably camera shy, so lend him your camera to take a photo of his project and ask him to give you a copy to put in his student records.
    In the photo Jack is totally immersed with his posture, the accuracy of of the saw kerf, the horizontal position of the rip saw and seems oblivious to whatever else is going on in the shop. That is why I said in an earlier post that autists are eminently trainable in the manual arts. God bless you!

    • Paul Sellers on 12 August 2019 at 9:27 am

      We are currently training support staff working on a daily basis with autists, teaching them the woodworking first and then supporting them as they transfer their knowledge of both woodworking and their autists. It’s working.

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