What’s a Struggle?

While I have been working on my shed I’ve had time to think and then too to read comments about what I’m doing via social media, the blog and so on. It made me realise that people often might not get DIY or at least get what it means to me and some of us. For me it has meant a decade of undoing the programming resulting from the Industrial Revolution which meant finding a balanced approach to my woodworking that would still leave me able to make a living and even a profit. Whereas my most profitable business products were indeed made using mass manufacturing systems with zero hand skills or indeed much skill at all, my body ultimately suffered in a variety of ways because of the high demand machines demand in the way you work. When I began to dismantle the industrial processes bit by bit and mountain by mountain my whole demeanour shifted. My personal restoration took time and now those who follow in my steps have it ready to roll with on my woodworkingmasterclasses.com site where everything I have learned over the past 55 years is ready for them to learn from. Building the shed means square ends sawn to length with a fifty year old saw and then nailed together with 4″ nails using an ordinary steel-headed claw hammer. To others though it seems to mean using a chopsaw and an air nailer using a compressor to drive nails loaded in the nail gun. I prefer my method because I like the workout deindustrialism has wrought in my worklife. I also like the hand tools I’ve sharpened and I like working at human pace. All in all, this is me, Paul Sellers the lifestyle woodworker.

Now some of you do feel sorry for me, and I get that and accept that is the reason for some of the comments. Some seem sorry that I have ‘yet to discover the chopsaw‘, sorry that I ‘don’t even own a nail gun and a compressor to drive it’, sorry that I ‘don’t own a pickup truck‘ and sorry that I ‘have such a small car and have to struggle with a trailer‘. So I thought it best to say something here in case someone feels sorry enough to go out and buy these things for me. You see I have conscientiously striven to engineer my current life. Were someone to offer me a brand new truck I personally would feel a complication of conflict coming into my life. Now that’s just me. I don’t need a Toyota truck nor any truck for that matter. All I need for now is the very car I have together with my 4 x 8 trailer. If it helps better for other to understand, I recently took my tablesaw to the scrap yard. I also took a second machine there too. Hannah helpedme to dump them and we cheered as we did. I could have sold them but I couldn’t live with myself if someone injured themselves on my cast off machines. I wanted to just not have those two machines. Now buried somewhere is a little-used Dewalt chopsaw I have not used in many years. I could haver grabbed it and chopped my studs but, you know what? I didn’t want to. I liked sawing them by hand. Enjoyed it. Enjoyed doing it at the end of the day after my usual furniture making. Enjoyed being tired and flopping into bed tired. There were only fifty to do. Not much at all by chopsaw, but the chopsaw is not good for my health and my muscle maintenance. Keeping in trim, keeping my eye in, keeping me in training is no different than a sportsman or a musician practicing every day and training themselves through self discipline. Imagine if the musician listening to music via Google told you that they were in training, or the football player (meaning what Americans call soccer) was watching replays to save her or himself the energy for the game they would be playing next week.

Someone was sorry I was “struggling with a small car and a trailer” you see. They thought I should own a truck. To me struggling is a man or a woman trying to raise two kids on minimum wage and paying out exorbitant rent or even fair rent. Struggling is trying to get the kids to school three different locations and then get to work on time. Struggling is the miscarriage someone had when they were alone, or the lack of support in any time of need. Me lifting the trailer with a single hand onto my tow hitch and plugging in the lights is luxury that steers me towards a lesser demand on the planet than say in previous years. I can handle my “struggles” fine. Let me help someone else with theirs.

34 Comments

  1. James Almasy on 8 August 2019 at 9:28 pm

    You are much more than a teacher of woodworking Paul. Many times I read your blog at just the right moment…….when I really need to refocus . I applaud you for sharing your wisdom. I recently did a small DIY project and did my sawing by hand. My wife was in a bit of shock that I choose to go with hand tools versus pulling out the power. I explained that it really wasn’t that much slower, much quieter and that I just enjoyed the process. This is mostly due to what you share with us. Thank you for what you share. It’s been a game changer in my life. Jim

  2. Paul on 8 August 2019 at 9:58 pm

    Well said. Just do what you do and never change. Your thoughts are much appreciated

  3. Eiffel on 8 August 2019 at 10:11 pm

    Many words of wisdom in this post! Thank you! It’s amazing what one can do with a few handtools and the pleasures they bring… They may not be as fast as power tools in industrial settings, but in an ‘amateur’ setting, they are often much more satisfying to use.

    While there is a place for powertools, they come too often with many constraints such as noise and safety concerns, bulk, purchase and running costs, quick obsolescence, and the need for fairly complex tune up to get the most of them.

    I think there is also a satisfaction from being able to do things using skills and simple tools, rather than specialised machinery… something wouldn’t have discovered as easily without your writings and videos!

  4. Mike on 8 August 2019 at 10:20 pm

    Bravo! Wondering why anyone could feel sorry for you when its obvious you love what you do.

  5. Richard L on 8 August 2019 at 10:34 pm

    Unfortunately, many people in everyday life will not and cannot understand the subtlety of the wisdom in this post. Big companies , politicians and “expert” economists want us to feed the commercial machine, Paul Sellers philosophy encourages us to see a real and truthful alternative. There really are gems in this post although I have to say someone out there could have responsibly got great use from the table saw. Nevertheless, thank you Paul for your courage in speaking about these issues and patterns that we all are susceptible to. I am sincerely grateful of the food for thought that it gives.

  6. Mario Fusaro on 8 August 2019 at 10:49 pm

    I made a planter out of pallets for my wife this past winter. It’s raised on 4 foot legs so the wife can work it easily. When I layed out all the pieces, I seriously thought of clearing off the old Craftsman radial arm saw to do all the cross cutting because I was feeling lazy. We’ll, I never cleaned off the saw, it still is a repository for all of my off cuts and I sawed all the pieces for the planter by hand and I enjoyed every minute of it.

  7. Phil on 8 August 2019 at 10:50 pm

    I had the machines for my work but hated the time it took to set them up you have also made up my mind to get rid of chopsaw not use for years hate the noise love the quiet you get with hand tools also no need to go to the gym.thanks.

  8. Paintrbill on 8 August 2019 at 11:49 pm

    You have a fantastic approach to woodworking and life, which is refreshing , as well as inspiring. I came across your YouTube channel in 2017, as well as other channels with all intensive purposes of becoming a hobbiest builder from viewing these. Time after time I was always drawn back the the hand tool information you supplied. Since I have only been studying building for 2 years now, I find working without power much more cerebral , and the difficulty of the work subsiding a little. With that said, I do use my table saw and router table often, but have switched to a miter box and back saw and numerous hand planes. . I have a vintage 1950’s lathe I am restoring simply because it needs to be kept on this planet. Thanks Paul , I’m enjoying your blogs and videos.

  9. Douglas Hathaway on 9 August 2019 at 12:10 am

    When I retired 2 1/2 years ago, it was my intent to spend my new found freedom working and improving my acre of land. Life did not let happen. A double knee replacement and severe chronic osteoarthritis made yard work at that level pretty much impossible.

    One day, while pondering what to do with my time, I decided to try my hand at building some much needed bookshelves. I had a few hand power tools and such with no real good ideas on how to create approximately 40 feet of bookshelves (seven 6′ shelves) that would look good.

    I spent several hours on YouTube and came up with a concept that I could build. They turned out well enough that my wife liked them at least.

    Anyway, as I was perusing YouTube, I came across some videos of you, Paul, as you teach the very basics of true wood working. The more I watched, the more I wanted. I have become obbsesed with making things with wood. Particularly with fine joinery.

    I have discovered myself through wood working. I am a faithful member of your Woodworking Masterclass and have completed several of your projects, plus many of my own. I started collecting the tools you recommended. I have now collected all the tools that I need to do every project you have taught. Many are restorations and some are new. All my acquisitions have been based on your recommendations. My very first project was a heavy duty 8′ workbench that is custom made for my needs. Unfortunately, I can only stand for short periods of time, so I have an elevated work stool that I can sit on when needed. It may slow me down a bit, but not much.

    All that being said, thanks in part to you I am a happy man. I will be doing Woodworking as long as these arthritic old bones will allow me to do so.

    Everyday is joyfully anticipated and wonderful as I sit in my garage workshop and make fine pieces of furniture for people I love.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Doug

  10. David Watson.(fellow Stockport lad) on 9 August 2019 at 12:15 am

    I Paul was a woodmachinest for fourteen years from leaving school at sixteen and in that time I taught myself-with the help of the cabinetmakers in the various firms I worked for- hand tool work preferring to take instruction from the old hands. When I was made redundant from my last job many moons back I took a temp job care taking at a school i was one of four, they found I was good with wood and put me on full-time maintenance. Was there ten years, had a breakdown due to depression lost 20 years of memory got 10 back and have not worked full-time since.
    My woodwork , my better half and brothers and sisters have stopped me from topping myself.
    You’ve touch on the issue of working with people with depression, teaching woodworking. Hand work more than anything is great for people like me, the silence of the plane the feel of the wood shavings and the wood, the swish of the hand saw, the knock knock of chisel and mallet working a mortice, the smell of the wood,the satisfaction of creating something in wood and all in relative silence.
    I think that what you have contributed to the world of hand woodworking is to your credit.
    I think if you can give some of your time to those with depression, like you’ve indicated you’re thinking about that would e to your credit.
    Creativity whether it be with an artist brush or a dovetail saw is the best therapy for anyone wanting to escape the humdrum of life or depression even if it’s just for a short time,

  11. Scott on 9 August 2019 at 12:33 am

    It’s funny, this was one of the biggest surprises for me when I started using hand tools:

    “Now buried somewhere is a little-used Dewalt chopsaw I have not used in many years. I could haver grabbed it and chopped my studs but, you know what? I didn’t want to. I liked sawing them by hand. Enjoyed it.”

    I didn’t expect that to happen, and I can’t really identify when it did, but one day I was looking at the circular saw that I’d normally use for a particular job, and thought I’d just rather not, and grabbed a hand saw instead. I’d never in a million years have thought I’d be that guy, but here I am.

    And yes, Paul, that’s your fault. 😉 I had the idea of trying the hand tool route before seeing any of your work, but it was your videos and first book that made me think I could do it. Thank you for that.

  12. Andrew Wilkerson on 9 August 2019 at 6:18 am

    Well said Paul, I get comments like that all the time, sometimes people just joke, sometimes it’s more serious like they think they are giving me advice, it can be annoying after a while but I’m learning to shrug it off now, especially with helpful posts and comments like this that remind me I’m not the only one ‘struggling’ along with hand tools and trailers.

    Check out my little trailer here on Instagram,
    https://www.instagram.com/p/BiGPCheg_B6/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

    it’s rusty, has an old canvas top that still works great but I love it and if it does the job who cares what people think.

    Thanks again for all that you do for woodworkers worldwide. You’ve changed so many lives for the better.

  13. Ed Baedke on 9 August 2019 at 8:07 am

    I once read ‘Any tool with a cord eventually ends up in the trash’. I’m certainly not opposed to power tools for the grunt work on large jobs but the joy that comes from using sharp hands tools doesn’t compare with the finished results of a power tool match, not to mention the dust and noise inherently associated with corded tools.

  14. Martha Downs on 9 August 2019 at 10:37 am

    Beautiful post Paul. Well done, add8ng context for what a struggle may be. I agree, wholeheartedly. Thanks again for the time

  15. Ken on 9 August 2019 at 10:54 am

    Hi Mr Sellers,
    I thought I’d let you know that I do not feel sorry for you at the moment. At some point in the future – when my woodwork skills are greater than your own and my communication skills also – then I may feel sorry for you. Lets not hold our breath on that! In the meantime I will admit to a little healthy envy!

    • ajens on 9 August 2019 at 10:21 pm

      I feel the same, Ken. And I think that working with our hands and hand tools is indeed a very healthy thing, because it makes us feel and know what we can and can’t – it’s so easy for our little heads to understand. When I read between the lines of Mr. Sellers’ blogs I read something philosophically about human life and living. Life’s not always easy – but the way most of us live nowadays certainly doesn’t make it easier. We’re measuring our succes in the percentage of economic growth that we’re capable of. Once we’ve achieved one goal we’re expected to raise the bar to an even higher level. Which is impossible without the very questionable help of all kinds of machinery that runs faster and faster and confuses us all too much. Hand tools are easier to understand and there’s a limit to their speed. Because the man or the woman working with them has a human limitation to their speed of movement. And thank you for that.

  16. Jon on 9 August 2019 at 12:09 pm

    Thirty five years ago, when I was 19 and my Mother was very ill with cancer, I made her a wheelchair ramp using hand tools and a 1/4” electric drill. I just drew a plan and got to work. I cut all the plywood and 2×4’s with an old handsaw my Dad had. It was a struggle but I kept at it; my Mother and her nurse were able to go out and about using it for the next couple of years, so it was time well-spent. I have every kind of tool now and considerably more skill, but that was about the best thing I ever made. I am glad I decided to struggle with those limited tools.

  17. Matthew Newman on 9 August 2019 at 12:53 pm

    I am in the same boat, didn’t expect to be that person either but aside from my bandsaw most of my power tools don’t really get used any more. I was even on a work trip helping a missionary earlier this summer building some things and even though they some pretty nice power tools I kept thinking “I wish I had a nice handsaw and a plane”

  18. Keith on 9 August 2019 at 2:38 pm

    Using ones of my planes recently i was surprised how natural it is to use it now. Thinking about it I put it down to all of the planing that I did making the MK1 work bench from Paul’s guidance. I don’t say plan, because I did make some modifications. The only power tools that I use regularly are battery and corded drills.

  19. Richard on 9 August 2019 at 3:23 pm

    I haven’t read any of the “sorry” comments, but I suppose some of them meant to say that you should have the right tools for the job. I own a nail gun and don’t use it in any of my furniture building, but it is an indispensable helper when I need to build jigs, or make some angled cauls on the fly. Yes, we can use a hammer and nails, but a nail gun handle small jobs better…and no risk of splitting (if you know how to orient the gun properly). It is no different from why bandsaw and handsaw could co-exist in a shop.

    Power tool users and hand tool users can learn and benefit from each other.

    • Paul Sellers on 9 August 2019 at 3:49 pm

      Ah, yes, but you must then have a compressor and a nail gun and buy in special nails and even different nail guns to suit. That’s over and above the mere hammer and nails everyone has and can afford. Do you realise that not everyone can do that? Just saying really because if/when you live in a culture where such things as power equipment can be bought just around the corner or down the road and indeed are commonplace at a price affordable there is a tendency to think that everyone anywhere in the world can have the same as you when often, maybe mostly, the rest of the world can’t.

  20. Joe on 9 August 2019 at 6:03 pm

    Thanks Paul. Where I live in the USA, there is a definite obsession by many with faster and more machine tools to accomplish anything. I don’t begrudge those who want to do it that. I don’t begrudge those that don’t want to do it that way. Personally, I’ve shied away from many of those things because they are expensive, take up room, are noisy/dusty, and it’s just not the kind of work I want to do in my leisure time (which is the biggest driver). Though there is a sub-culture developing who is trying to get by on less in the USA it isn’t mainstream.

    If I reach an age or physical state where I can’t do all things by hand then I will reconsider. For now, I don’t need to worry about that.

    I had a great uncle that was born in 1900ish. He did amazing woodworking around the home. My dad was quite close to him and helped on all kinds of projects when I was very little. My great uncle died in my early teens. It was amazing what he did with so few tools. He was frugal and the simple tools he had could do just about anything. It doesn’t take many inexpensive tools to get the job done. I want to be like my Uncle Nick.

  21. Anthony H on 10 August 2019 at 3:47 am

    I found Paul’s YouTube channel a little over a year ago and in that time, I’ve subscribed to the Masterclass, built a bench and several other projects, slowly buying good tools as I could afford them. Hand tool woodworking has filled a void that was missing in my life, and it’s more than building stuff with wood. Some of us pay attention to the deeper lessons Paul teaches, and it makes it all even more worthwhile.

    Many of us enjoy your vlog posts and life lessons, Mr. Sellers. Many of us out here “get it.” You’ve been an inspiration to us. Pay no heed to the trolls on social media.

  22. Joel on 10 August 2019 at 10:36 pm

    “I can handle my “struggles” fine. Let me help someone else with theirs.”
    Simply brilliant, Paul.

  23. Jamie McRill on 12 August 2019 at 12:09 pm

    paul sellers-woodworker, teacher, AND philosopher

  24. Joel on 12 August 2019 at 1:29 pm

    While I’m not by any stretch as experienced, I have a few thoughts on power tools. My wife (32) and myself (37) only use hand tools. I have used a cordless drill that I borrowed a handful of times for some DIY stuff at home (i.e. drilling masonry), used a pillar drill and power saw once at school when I was 12, and a heat gun once (it broke, and wasn’t mine!)
    I never had any “formal” training, per se, basically it was all done at school, in my dad’s and grandad’s workshops, and “learning by doing”.
    I’ve never felt the need for power tools for furniture and cabinetry, so never bought any. They seem far more expensive to run, higher consumable costs, and from what I can see any time saving (where there is one) isn’t worth the added costs, especially given the higher risk of injury, dust flying all over, etc. Plus having watched a few friends messing about setting things up, checking the right speed and angle and blade… I can use a rule, square and hand saw for most cutting in less time.
    There is one other thing: you just don’t feel as connected with the work when a machine does it for you, and it all feels a little artificial.

  25. Steve P on 12 August 2019 at 2:33 pm

    I remember seeing on a popular forum for woodworkers a new woodworker asked some questions, and one person responded “get a truck before you start doing any seripus woodworking!” I thought why? And why discourage a new woodworker if they don’t have a truck? I rarely build anything bigger than 8’ long and even then i can fold the seats down on my little honda and get thos pieces through, even if the trunk has to get tied down with string.

  26. Kent Hansen on 12 August 2019 at 2:53 pm

    Some time back, enjoying a shop full of machines that many might consider “a dream shop,” I found my living arrangements placing me in a recreational vehicle in a campground for several years (the reasons for which I won’t go into here). The point of my writing is that without access to my home on a regular basis, I found myself yearning to work wood nonetheless. I started working with a few handtools on small projects there in the campground and found my love for working wood only becoming more robust than ever. After a couple of years’ work collecting tools I needed, I sold all my machines finding them to be increasingly ignored. I now work exclusively by hand. People have actually asked me similar questions. “Why don’t you buy a table saw?” “Why would you get rid of all those beautiful machines?” They also made comments laden with disparaging innuendo. “You need to get a jointer if you’re going to do any serious woodworking.” “That sounds like a lot of work!”

    I’m with you, Paul…I do it because I enjoy it. I enjoy pushing that scrub plane against stubborn oak to make it just the right thickness. I relish straightening that crown with the jointer plane and bathe in satisfaction when it’s “perfect.” No sympathy required!

  27. William Allen on 12 August 2019 at 5:09 pm

    I owned a bunch of power tools, and I used them, to produce things that I needed, a shed, some fencing, gates and so on. But, these were not quality products, they were simple and did the job, but the only joy they gave me was in the task they fulfilled, not in the work that I put into them. Then I discovered hand tools.

    Last week I put aside my table saw forever. There is only one power tool left in my shop, a drill press, but I’ve finally found a hand powered one that is in working condition. As soon as it arrives, my shop will be unplugged.

    Now I build a gate and I’m really proud of it, it is no longer purely functional. The shed I built for my sister in-law stands as a marker of the deep satisfaction I feel from having built it by my own hand entire. And, all of things look different to the people who come to my farm: “That’s a really nice looking shed, where did you get it?”

    Working by hand makes me feel deep satisfaction. Figuring out how to do something using only hand tools creates that great satisfaction. Yesterday I knocked off 56 2×2 cuts by hand, all ends perfectly square and smoothed with a shooting board in just about 1.5 hrs. I then assembled a new entrance arbor for my patio by hand.

    Over the last year I have collected all the hand tools I need, a small tenon/dovetail saw from Veritas for $95, a Disston crosscut saw and a wooden jointer plane that were given to me, but needed a good deal of restoration, a frame saw that I built myself, a wooden smoothing plane that is 58mm wide for $45, a Stanley Bailey block/apron plane for $25 and so on. All the hand tools I have cost less than the table saw. And, now that I know what I’m doing, I can turn out things nearly as fast as with power tools. Yes, I LOVE hand tools and I feel great satisfaction in things I’ve made with them.

  28. Jason Crawford on 12 August 2019 at 8:49 pm

    Your perspective on life and this world around us are bang on Paul. This was a good reminder as I struggle working within a 10 x 8 shed (1/2 of which my wife lets me use as a “shop”), at least I have a shed. Thank you again Paul!

  29. Pete on 13 August 2019 at 3:24 am

    Paul, please don’t dump old machinery! There are people like me who love restoring old machinery to a working state. If the machine is too far gone (eg a warped table on a table saw) then at least send the metal to scrap so the steel can be reused.
    So far I have taken a junked tablesaw and joiner back to be useful, as well as a an old scroll saw that was in bits. I also ‘saved’ an old but still useful sliding mitre saw from being thrown out. I am a casual woodworker and I admire the skill and patience that you have to create wood works of art.

  30. Michael Kuhn on 13 August 2019 at 8:15 pm

    I have been associated with the woodworking industry for about 50 years. For the most part, i was always in sales, estimating, or administration (architectural and commercial millwork). In an effort to make a profit, we used the latest in machinery designs. Up until about 6 months ago, I would have stood a better chance of setting up and jointing a Weinig 22AL11 plus 1 to run resawn WM356 (15/32″ X 2 1/4″) at 200 feet per minute than trying to use a # 5 1/2 bench plane to reduce the thickness of a piece of Aspen to a uniform thickness with “flat” and parallel faces.

    Only by watching Paul have I learned what truly sharp is, and how to achieve it. Then with the sharp plane iron correctly seated and adjusted I can now get the surfaces almost coplanar and parallel each other.

    Still not very good, and not very fast, but improving every day.

    Thanks Paul for all the videos and this blog.

    • Paul Sellers on 13 August 2019 at 8:41 pm

      It’s good to know that you are taking some therapy. I too have used three different Weinig multi-cutterhead systems in my time.

  31. Mike on 15 August 2019 at 4:31 am

    I just looked up those things, and they look straight up terrifying.

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