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Confidence and Condition

I’ve watched the runners decline with the colder weather as I ride my bike first thing in the morning over this past two or three weeks. Dog walkers too have freed up my cycling space on the paths and cycling has become a treat as cyclists ride the bus and drive the car. It made me conscious that a fairly large percentage of people will put their outdoor workout on hold until the springtime comes and if I were to do the same with my ‘bench presses’ for upper body exercise at the workbench on hold I would indeed be in sorry shape.

So many of you have written in over the years to say how much your mental and physical health has improved by following the hand tool methods we teach. Who would have thought it. Not only is the whole workshop environment much healthier but you get to keep your fingers, hands, eyes and fresh air to breath to say nothing of listening to music or the radio.

I saw this article in the UK’s Daily Express yesterday and it made me conscious that I have indeed been saved from so much body deterioration despite being diabetic (third generation), elderly (who said that?), a manual worker (with 55 years on my feet at the workbench). What I once took for granted in my good health and wellbeing I now see totally as a real gift to me despite me. That said, I do attribute most if not all of this success to my simply working at the workbench and rarely sitting down for very long periods at all. That said, I am mindful of many people who have experienced poor health despite such exposure, men I worked with, but much of their ill health stemmed from the Second World War. But then too my building many other things I have worked on through the years has really helped, like many house restorations from ground to roof, building sheds and outdoor buildings, also building two of my homes and extending others. Of course there has been working for others in their homes, my moving houses ten times in as many years, things like that. I mustn’t forget the marathon workouts I used to get teaching back-to-back classes at the same workbenches I worked at making furniture during the in-between days, classes for dozens of kids in the evenings. I think what’s helped me the most has been not having any time to waste on peripheral things. I don’t do well with holidays where mostly I feel lost, as in like a fish out of water. I could never lay on a beach just to soak up the sun. I preferred to walk on them, build castles, play with kids and enjoy the waves crashing around. I am an action man! I workout by doing.

I’m grateful for your input. You’ve confirmed my gut-feeling intuition over and over and over. When I started out I didn’t really know about the good feeling side of things in particular or that working with your hands would mean as much to you as it dis to me. What I did and do know is woodworking with hand tools and machine work are not one and the same and that I get no particular muscle workout of any real value when just using machines alone and that means mental muscle (I know, there is no muscle in the brain per se.), emotional muscle, physical and so on. Let me tell you something: many woodworkers working at machines all day lose concentration and that’s when serious things go wrong. The machine is indeed mesmerising as are the repetitious actions. I know this because I have lived in that world. Cut 2,000 of anything and it gets old fast and that means you lose concentration when you may well need it the most. Thankfully we amateur woodworkers don’t have to do such things because we can live off of the conveyor belt whereas many professionals don’t have that choice because their job would be at stake. Think about it. If you spend four hours a week working at the bench using hand tools for a large percentage of what you make you get the equivalent of 12 twenty minute workouts that can often raise the heart rate to pump oxygen from the lungs to the muscles you are using. This muscle includes the cardiac muscle, skeletal muscle and smooth muscle. Think pulse, eyes, breathing, expansion and contraction and so on. This is all exercise we can take on and use for actually producing the things we need and that of course additionally includes wellness, contentment and such. I have heard from partners and spouses how markedly improved their spouses mental awareness, happiness and wellbeing as become. What we are doing goes way beyond just shoving wood around and making the things we make.

20 Comments

  1. Tracy Sanders on 20 November 2019 at 5:01 pm

    Being a type 2 diabetic myself and having recently suffered a major infection that nearly took me out, I appreciate once again and thank you for your oft-said comments on how hand tool woodworking has such a positive influence on your mind and body. It gives me a tool, if you will, to latch on to in whatever lies ahead. Looking forward.

    • Paul Sellers on 20 November 2019 at 8:20 pm

      Be encouraged, we are often strengthened by the things that seem so negative. In 1985 they gave me 18 months to live. I radically changed my diet to eliminate meat from my diet along with all other animal products, milk, cheese and such, and the surgeon who reexamined me internally with cameras said, “This is amazing! Impossible! There is no sign of the disease yet it’s incurable!” I had taken no medication that they prescribed and here I am having lived a highly fulfilled life 35 years later on.

      • Peter R Page on 20 November 2019 at 9:40 pm

        So are you vegan?

      • Tracy Sanders on 21 November 2019 at 1:57 am

        Congratulations on your success. Just shows what the power of positive thinking and taking positive steps can do.

        • Paul Sellers on 21 November 2019 at 9:23 am

          I never really agreed with positive thinking per se. I think it’s much deeper than that, otherwise all we would have to do is think positively and there would indeed be no illnesses, no old age, no poor and so on.

          • Tracy Sanders on 21 November 2019 at 12:39 pm

            Agreed. Thus the positive steps part as well – change in diet, physical exertion, and so on – although there may have been an inferred presumption on my part about positive attitude.

            For me, thinking positively and taking positive steps together is what I need. I find I cannot have one without the other.

            But, thinking a bit too much I suppose. Thanks for taking the time, and I look forward to you next article and project.



          • Paul Sellers on 21 November 2019 at 1:56 pm

            Actually, what I meant to say was just disallowing anything negative seems to automatically make things effective and progressive.



  2. Mark Stone on 20 November 2019 at 6:16 pm

    Paul, I want to thank you for your wonderful videos and Blogs about woodworking and about life in general. I have attained 76 years of age and for the last 45 years, I have been an antique dealer, woodworker/restorer as well as an avid tool collector. It has only been since I have been watching your instructive videos that I have been aroused and encouraged to use all these tools that surround my shop. It has been a joy to make my own mallets, chisel handles, planes, etc. I think my next project will be the shooting board. Again thank you for sharing with us. And remember, it is not only the young and inexperienced that you are influencing.

  3. Mark Burns on 20 November 2019 at 10:49 pm

    I say, what a lovely dynamic sketch capturing Hannah at the bench.

    • Dennis Steed on 21 November 2019 at 2:33 pm

      Is this a sketch of Hannah at the workbench? This is very nice and inspiring. thanks for the visual!

  4. Samuel on 21 November 2019 at 1:51 am

    When u receive instruction and make the decision to Hear it, then Do it.
    And then it works — It is a confidence builder and can get you motivated in a lot of ways. Some destructive elements of life are like addictions in that they’re repeated over and over so u can’t tell which way is up… and a practical and positive discipline is a bit of a pathway to make a success of something.
    I sort of stuffed sharpening my hand saw so the gullets have notches, I was trying to make more a rip angle. It was me resuming my gung ho, bulldogging, whatever – but on new prized only tenon that I forgot to respect. So now I have to get back in the path of thinking…see how to improve if I can’t fix without breasting to nothing.
    I love this blog and the program of free quality education.
    Note to self.
    Ah yes…Do it!

  5. Benoît on 21 November 2019 at 11:09 am

    To complement your post, Paul, I think that, for professional working full time, keeping good health implies also good body position during works (repetitive movement, lifting loads, bench height, etc), if not done properly, musculoskeletal disorders can appear quickly. So it seems you have good biomechanics Paul !

    • Paul Sellers on 21 November 2019 at 12:11 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment. I think we really need many more such comments to revolutionise people’s thoughts about our work and the way we work. So many people work in more sedentary occupations than every in the history of the world. Having a workout every day is of course essential for them because they need to get their hearts pumping and of course need to keep down body fat too.
      I feel that this is an invitation to say something further though. The only times I have faced adverse body results have been spending extended periods using machines for more mass production needs. There are often times during say eight hours day in day out at a single machine where you start to use other parts of your body to supplement for fatigue in other tired areas. For instance pushing with your arms and shoulders at a tablesaw or router throughout the first six hours starts to hurt somewhere so you use your hip for the final thrutch. Ultimately, over longer periods, your back or your knee starts to pain but you are not really sure why it’s happening and you carry on. `this damage can take many weeks, months and even years to thoroughly repair and only by making changes or even stopping such practices all together. In the amateur realms this is much less likely of course because you generally don’t stand there for weeks and months on end feeding the fury of machines with heavy and continuous pushes of wood, but I know that the vast majority of hand tool woodworkers do have another issue and that is working at workbenches that are way far to low. Our surveys and blogs have addressed the issue as best we can and have proved the efficacy of my advocacy for much higher bench heights than is commonly shared. In my view they have listened to the wrong people and plumbed for bench heights that are way too low, often six or more inches too low. It’s true too that some advocates gave a single bench height and never took into consideration that a single bench height for all was indeed to narrow minded; it just does not work at all. But the theories behind this seem to make great sense when you first hear them. The worst one is suggesting that you really need to ‘Bear down heavily on the plane from above to keep the plane to the surface and engage the blade for planing.’ or ‘Having the wood underneath your shoulders helps you to get the plane t cut’. This was never true at all. My experience has been very different and that’s been for 55 years to date. The plane only needs overhead pressure when the cutting iron has been dulled too much for it to cut. You then use brute force to engage the blade and you get a few more swipes from the plane. It’s a false economy. Much better to return to the stones, touch up the cutting iron and get back to task. Truth is most woodworkers avoid the task of sharpening way too long. It’s either laziness, lack of sensitivity, over expectation or or diffidence. These all result in our reluctance to do what we must do throughout our woodworking life. There, I am sure you didn’t expect that but to reach the age of 70 and have zero back pain, shoulder pane, neck pane and such is a sign that once we get of the treadmill mentality to our working we implement much safer ways to work. people should remember too that this work I am talking of is training first and then a regular fitness program working at the bench. You can’t expect to develop some exercise one afternoon and then take two months out expecting to have some muscle tone in the bank. It’s ongoing. Once a week seems to me to be the minimum. Oh, and because you run every day, workout in the gym and such, don’t expect that muscle to be of too much use either. You are carrying around a lot of unusable muscle and that is a lot of weight.

      • Rico on 25 November 2019 at 3:05 pm

        Paul. I must have missed the blogs/surverys on bench height. I wonder if you or one of my fellow commenters could point me in the right direction? I seem to remember a video from someone (perhaps you!) that said a bench should be about the height of the bottom of the hip, would that be correct? Being an office worker, the last thing I need is to make myself a bench that gives me a greater hunch-back!

  6. Robert Hobbs on 25 November 2019 at 11:14 am

    Your photo included here is inspiring, calming and exciting. It matches that which you provide with your woodworking tutorials.

    Thank you
    Robert

  7. Kerry Randall on 28 November 2019 at 12:59 am

    I started wood working about 10 years ago. I started with machine tools only and still use mostly machine, but I picked up a few hand planes, and had a trouble trying to use them. I started watching some you tube videos and came across your videos. I have learned a lot watching them, and now use them often to do a lot of my woodworking. Thank you Paul, I have learned a lot, from you. How to sharpen them to how to set them up and use them the right way. I look forward to each video you make. Just so you know I live in a small town in Michigan, in the United States.

  8. Troy on 1 December 2019 at 11:56 am

    Paul, I sometimes get the sense you have a back belt under your shirt. Do you wear one in order to guard against accidentally over extending? I ask because I enjoy hand tool word but I must be careful with a herniation on the L5. If you do wear one, what is your experience with it? thanks, Troy

    • Paul Sellers on 1 December 2019 at 12:39 pm

      Only me under my shirt and T. The only time `i needed to wear a back race was 30 years ago when I had a business using machines mist days for a couple if years.

  9. Mark on 5 December 2019 at 12:09 am

    Paul,

    As always, thank you, for providing both instruction and insight. Here’s wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season and a great 2020.

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