It’s not too early to prepare for the coming of cold days and evenings of low light, low energy levels. The days are shortening now so prepare yourselves. In a few weeks our days will be around 8-9 hours long here and much of that daylight time for most will be spent indoors tapping keys on keyboards. If you are a woodworker, cold garages and sheds are not the most inviting places to spend an hour or two of recreation yet recreate we should and must do. Why do I say that? Well, I don’t really know about you, whether you are a glass half full or half empty, but think about the impact of low sunlight on your being. Your whole body gets covered up with long sleeves, hats, scarves and hoods. Some use brollies and some drive to work and schools in cars only. Areas that matter in my ultra limited view are the body’s dependency on sunlight, the air we breath, the food choices we make for our nutritional living all of which we can use supplements for at times like this, but then there’s one for which there are no supplements but that is in my view of very, very great importance, multidimensional creativity.
In the winter time people tend to walk, work and exercise less outdoors. I see the runners drop in numbers as the roads and pathways become wet and slick and often too their visits to the gym behind my garage workshop lessen too. This in turn can mean hyper under-activity and a reversal of hard work accomplished in spring and summertime activity yet exercise physiologists suggest that the greatest benefit we derive from exercising can come in the late autumn and winter. This alone made me think about our need too to be creative and physically active using methods of working that are indeed high demand energetically for mental and physical acuity.
Many of you have written in to tell me of your life-changing activity working in the garage or shed or basement since you began your woodworking journey with hand tools. I get it and perhaps always have without knowing it. Here’s an inspiring letter to me that I put out five years ago:
It is mid morning here in Wyoming and I just returned from the cardiologist.
In several of your videos you talk about getting exercise while working the wood or “real woodworking.” I wanted to share a brief real life story to give support to your exercise being part of working the wood. In November 2012 I had a major heart attack and again in October of 2013 I had a second major heart attack. The result of the two left me with only 65% heart function. I went through the regular heart attack recovery rehab both times, except after the second heart attack I returned to hand wood working. I went back to the doctor this morning for a full run of tests and the doctors were surprised that my heart function is now at 90% plus. They wanted to know what I had been doing to improve so drastically. I told them of the wood working, mainly using the plane (no 4 and 41/2). They asked me more details and I explained just what working the wood entailed. The three heart specialist from the University Of Utah Cardiology determined that it was the working of the wood that had increased my heart function to where it is today. I feel better and stronger now than I have in the last 40 years. So Paul, keep telling people about the exercise we get while working the wood. Now you have some medical evidence to support what you have been and are saying about the benefits of working the wood.
Whereas I do sweat and get out of breath using hand tools, I rarely if ever could or did using machines. Whereas machining has its place for speeding up and easing some tasks, it doesn’t offer much by way of exercise and yet exercise is accepted as a great way of feeling well. Mostly, for me at least, a vigorous workout sawing and planing by hand methods always leaves me even now after 50 years of it with a sense of the wellbeing we hear so much today. This too seems always to result in peace and quiet even though I can hear the surge of blood coursing through my brain and feel the heartbeat ramped up in my chest. With safety in mind I rely strongly on living and thriving in a much healthier and safer environment as I enjoy the quiet, the rhythm and the cohesion I get from working mainly with my hands.
From what I have gleaned over the past thirty years of feedback from students and enthusiasts either in classes or online in more recent years we’ve managed to reverse the point of view that hand tool craft work such as woodworking is, well, old fashioned, out dated and non progressive. I think that that alone still amazes me.
But in the world of woodworking it is not just that woodworking is good for us as a pastime so much as it has the most amazing health benefits when we work the wood with our hand tools. And even when we are or feel complete novices inept in our experiences, somehow we manage to be that glass half full. All we did was hone a chisel or two, refurbish an old #4, something like that, but we somehow feel so much better. As an example: I saw the two handles to my living room door waiting to be reinstalled on the door.
The door has been freshly painted and indeed the living room itself has several elements of restoration to make it the backdrop for making furniture for. To say that the handles lacked lustre is an understatement. I decided they needed either replacing or restoring so I took them to the garage and cut through the grunge to bare metal again. I polished them further with buffing compound and they seemed to me to be transformed. In the process I felt my spirits lift too – polished if you like.
Heart, mental wellbeing, physical exercise, the pulls and stretches of hand working in the shop, is to see the workbench and tools as your personal training space. So too the lifting and straining in the placement of wood in the vise, on the benchtop in clamps and then of sawing and planing it there in the shop. This then sets the chemistry in motion and that changes everything from the way we feel to the way we think. I am not altogether sure I know anything at all about neurotransmitters, dopamine, serotonin and such like, telling us how good we feel or depressed we might be, but I do know that when time allows space and I go to make whatever I make my outlook on life shifts for the better – everything seems brighter, our mental and physical wellbeing swells.
What do you think? Are you up for winterising the workshop rather than leaving it till we feel less likely to, getting some heat in, some extra lights, making the home shop more inviting, welcoming even?