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George Leaves…

…Me in Good Stead

It was a sad day for all

The day George left the workshop was filled with much well-wishing but it was a sad day and especially so for me. Until now we had both ridden our bikes out of the yard and on up the cobbled streets to see who gave up before we reached Hillgate at the top of the street. His vintage bike clattered along with the rod brakes loosely connected through a series of links. Mine were cable breaks with side callipers applying pressure to the sides of the rimes while his pulled up inside the wheel itself. Such was the time of transition in bikes. Today, tonight in fact, he would board a train with his suitcase and leave work at the bench with me behind and then town too to go and live in a town I knew nothing of called Leeds. There he would start his teacher training course to train as a teacher. I wasn’t altogether sure what I should be feeling, but whereas all of the men expressed interest in his future as a woodwork teacher, for me there would be a huge hole at the bench where he and I had worked opposite each for the past six years. Back then six years was a third of my life, but one thing that I remember most was how unable I was to really express the mixed feelings I felt about my not seeing him every day in future. Once more, as in so many times past, George took up the slack. “I’ll be back to see you, Paul. We can go for a pint. Don’t you fret none!” But though we spoke on the phone for a season, we never saw much of one another from there on. I valued his mentoring and the input he had on my life. I still remember his infectious grinning as my flawed work evidenced against his – along with the speed of my work (or lack of it)!

Mentorship apprenticing

When George was no longer there I felt much more vulnerable. He had always picked me up when I fell flat and encouraged me when the struggles came. He was also something of a protector when senior apprentices tried it on. This man had taught me most of what I knew in subjects ranging from physics and algebra to history, geography and then of course woodworking generally. He taught me how to survive in the workplace over my apprenticeship. Interactions with others were not always obvious to me and neither were the snide remarks around the workshop. He’d taught me to pick my battles more carefully, not to get to offended unless it was well worth it and then to deliver the goods as succinctly as possible without wasted words. and not to shy away when failures came but to persevere when things seemed to go wrong.

Time to stand on my own two feet

the day George left was the day I finished my joiner’s tool box. It was painted black according to tradition and another joiner who also earned extra as a sign painter wrote my name in white calligraphy in the top right hand corner on the front panel frame. I had been making it whenever I could in the back of the timber racks installed in a large shed where no one knew I was doing it. Proud as punch I wrestled it out of the stacks and racks and walked with it on my shoulders to George’s bench. His smile was so lovely and indeed loving. I placed it proudly in front of him knowing that without his reassurances through those past and recent years I might not have made it. I first glanced at it from a distance as if eying up a painting. His nod gave his approval though there wasn’t really much to see of what was beneath the paint. But I knew the dovetails would have passed muster as I had taken my time with them. Inside there were two tills that would hold the small and longer tools, chisels, gauges and such. These showed the dovetails and I was pretty proud when he said, “These are very nice Paul, well done!”

A lived life making expands

Looking back on my life as a tradesman I realise now the significance of not just apprenticing but too the willingness to actually undertake mentoring when that’s not so much what they are paid to do. But it’s been that way for centuries and of course mentoring can be both good and bad. Of course it was and is up to the individual craftsman and woman to undertake this aspect and up to them how much mentoring they want to do.

Hannah first came to me in November 2016 and she too has become highly skilled.

Thankfully, with George, it was all encompassing to the degree that he welcomed so much from me that went beyond mere woodworking and work at the bench. George was a moral man, dextrous with his hands and then too his mind and words. Mentoring and apprenticing are not always interlinked as I am suggesting it was for me here. Mentoring is something that grows according to need but also our interacting. These two terms, mentoring and apprenticing don’t always go hand in glove, working with a where caring mentor tar does not compromise the standards but maintains them no matter disallows them ever being dumbed down.

We adults, those of us accepting apprentices, must make a decision to take our apprentices through everything we went through and then add to that the decades of our own ever expanding experiences: the ones we’ve added to life as crafting artisans along the way. Having apprenticed a dozen or two through the years I have seen the standards I have expected then become expected by those I trained too. Currently, my two apprentices are moving rapidly along a steady and progressive path to become furniture making artisans and woodworkers in their own right. This is marvellous to me, marvellous.

A new future is always important

Hovering in my background I have the hope that I can continue my plans to take in other apprentices as autist woodworkers and furniture makers over the next year or two. I further hope that between them I can help steer an enterprise that forms them into a cooperative in establishing their own furniture making work designing and building according to their skills and abilities. By then I may be too old to do more, but it is an exciting prospect for me to think that they will own their future as designer makers. George prepared me for my own future through the things I am teaching you online and then too my apprentices now and in the future. My successes through the years hinge on his simple and pleasant input into me.

It may not be perfect but I believe it is the very, very best I can do. Some of you have and do send in pictures of your successes and it matters to me. And, just so you know, those of you who do indeed send in donations to help my work, I want to thank you here and now. Ultimately, I have now arrived at a point where I want to protect my future work working with autists and the work they do so I am wrestling through things to establish a long term plan for these young apprentices and journeymen. Protecting their future a little more will provide a permanent workplace that nurtures them in their efforts to be craftsmen and women. As the work will be for high functioning autists looking for a future in woodworking and furniture making, I must create a Trust to that end. Who would have thought that George’s influence and favour would pave the way for me to stand as a craftsman in my own right? Now it’s time for many more others.

38 Comments

  1. Frank Kras on 11 November 2019 at 12:30 pm

    “It may not be perfect but I believe it is the very, very best I can do. ”

    Upon self reflection, no finer words can be written.

    Cheers.

  2. Mario Fusaro on 11 November 2019 at 1:11 pm

    Saying goodbye to George was hard, I know because I had a “George” in my early life, also. But you made it through, Paul, to become the mentor of many more than George could ever imagine. You have sparked and nurtured the flame of many a craftsman out there and I know that George is still grinning at you.

    Goodbye George, and thank you for a contribution that is a direct reflection of you.

  3. Samuel on 11 November 2019 at 1:20 pm

    Don’t get too reflective…! We still need you!

  4. Ryan on 11 November 2019 at 2:26 pm

    You should post a picture of George in a future blog post.

    • Paul Sellers on 11 November 2019 at 3:06 pm

      None exist. It’s a phenomenon of the working classes in the 60s. An era when no one would ever have taken a selfie!

      • Ed Baedke on 11 November 2019 at 4:14 pm

        Perhaps you Paul could entertain the idea of using your sketching talents to create a image you have in your mind of your guiding mentor? It could give us all a touch more insight into the caring person he was.

  5. Charlie Hubbard on 11 November 2019 at 3:42 pm

    That rocking chair is spectacular! Please do a series showing us how something like that is made. Not a simplified version of that one, but that one. I would like to see how the curves are shaped, how the seat is shaped and how, in the face of those curves, the joints are laid out.

    • Michael Michalofsky on 13 November 2019 at 10:40 am

      Great idea!
      And a living tribute to George
      Michael

      • Dave Alvarez on 18 November 2019 at 12:22 pm

        Not to rain on your parade, Michael Michalofsky, but in my view Paul has already left a ‘living tribute’ to George and his work, in the person(s) of his apprentice(s), both first hand (his current hands-on crop) and second hand (in the persons of ourselves, who are ‘lurking’ on the internet). In my view, a ‘tribute’ to human beings will always be other human beings, not mere pieces of wood, which are after all, only temporary, no matter how long they last.

    • Ed on 15 November 2019 at 4:13 am

      Regarding being shown how to make this chair, 95% of it is identical to the existing rocking chair masterclass. I think the only difference is in carving a seat, integrating that seat with the rest of the chair, and then shaping the various components. I’ll bet you could just do the other chair with its square Craftsman style components, sketch the profiles on, and then have at it with your spokeshave with a careful eye towards not violating the joinery you just cut. It looks like maybe the rockers are rotated by 90 degrees compared to the other chair and I’m wondering if they are mortised rather than being scribed and screwed. Anyway, if you go through the rocking chair video, you’ll have almost everything.

  6. CRAIG MEDVECKY on 11 November 2019 at 4:39 pm

    Creating a trust and avenue for autist woodworkers is a fantastic idea.

    If there are no photos of George you should draw his portrait! We would love to see how you remember him at his bench. And it would make a nice cover for the book of these reflections.

    And I echo the person who said: “dont get too reflective; we still need you!”

    Thank you, Paul.

  7. Pete on 11 November 2019 at 5:59 pm

    Hello all, I agree with Ed, try and sketch from fond memory an image of George. He does sound a very sincere admirable person.

    As always, thank you Paul.

    • Paul Sellers on 11 November 2019 at 6:05 pm

      Sorry guys, I am content with the wonderful memories I have.

  8. nemo on 11 November 2019 at 7:23 pm

    I wonder if our mentors ever really fathom the deep impact they may have had on our lives. I can only speak for myself and a mentor I’ve had (far less encompassing than your experience), who had a profound impact on how I view and do things I make and the care I apply. I know he doesn’t have the beginning of an inkling of how deep the impact of his lessons on my work (and even, life) have been.

    As to photos or drawings of George, a quote from a book I once read comes to mind: “What is essential is invisible to the eye”

  9. Christopher Jackson on 11 November 2019 at 9:42 pm

    I am old. I did “woodwork” at school (1950s) and hated it, twas so so difficult. Over the years I dabbled and made, with far too much effort, a few only just about acceptable pieces. I never had a really sharp tool. All the sharpening methods I read seemed to require removing vast amounts of hard metal in the most inefficient way possible. Several months ago I returned to my home workshop determined to get a bit better. You taught me:-
    1. To sharpen my chisels and plane irons. In the past, very occasionally, I came a little close to this when I abandoned trying to create flat backs at an exact angle and micro bevels and I just tried to get an edge. But each time I then returned to doing it “properly” and then I gave up.
    2. To sharpen often. This was for me so very slow to register. And it is possibly the most important lesson from you to me so far.
    3. To sharpen saws. I now have some lovely old saws, cheap and now very sharp. I have long been able to saw to a line. But I had no idea how wobbly my line was on the ‘waste’ side, and how much wood I took out with my hard point “fat max”. Until I bought an old rip saw, sharpened it myself and cut some boards from 1 1/8″ to 1/2″. That, in turn, taught me that, whilst sizing and thicknessing a badly cut board was for me virtually impossible, thicknessing a well-cut plank is within my capabilities.

    I have recently produced some pieces that are really quite bad but, and it is a big but, that last is so much better than the first. I am slowly learning!

    I am very grateful for your clear lessons.

    • Tim on 18 November 2019 at 11:17 am

      My first woodwork teacher at age 12 was a Welshman. An absolute stickler and disciplinarian. Put a plane down flat on the bench without resting the toe to elevate it, or allow a chisel to roll off the bench because you hadn’t put it in the well and he would give you a slap to make your ears ring. There was HIS way of doing things or the WRONG way. I hated woodwork but was drawn to it.
      After leaving school and some 8 years later I attended a weekly evening class. It was run by a teacher who had served his apprenticeship and spent many years making wooden propellers for aircraft. He must have been close to 70 in the late 1960s/early 1970s. He was of the opinion that ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat’, and taught me much more than my first teacher.
      I’m 71 myself now and although I can always find some fault in my work, as far as I know nothing has fallen apart yet! I still get great satisfaction from working with wood but I wish I’d relied less on machinery.

      • Terrence OBrien on 19 November 2019 at 12:18 am

        Fallen apart? My wife warned me about leaning back on Paul’s bench stool, telling me I would break the legs.

        “Not this one,” I said. “Someone will be balancing in these two bench legs a hundred years from now.”

  10. Samuel on 12 November 2019 at 1:20 am

    I did a trade and was very conscious of the difference between a good teacher and not. A lot of the time you are just sidelined and there is no skill appropriate learning curve on the job, you are the dogsbody and whatever school you go to should teach you the actual skills: which is bogus.
    I learnt everything I learnt in the first year when I was more conscientiously mentored, and trade school didn’t prepare me for the current workplace at all. So it was very disheartening and when the company I worked for did a somersault and writhed for years, nearly giving me a breakdown, and then went bust: I never looked for work in that trade again. But I’m a slow learner…and as I know so well.
    It’s more than the physical skills. It being taught how to live

  11. Paul Reuvers on 12 November 2019 at 9:27 am

    Great story Paul. Always nice to read personal stories and experience a part of your past. I think you are a great mentor yourself. Thanks for being a mentor to us.

  12. Joshua Hohnerlein on 12 November 2019 at 3:26 pm

    There is nothing I love more than reading your blog. When I’ve had a rough day, I know that once I’m home and able to turn on your YouTube channel, listen to your words of wisdom and watch your way of working with the wood, it’ll instantly cheer me up. Thank you for sharing your knowledge! If I could, I would drop everything here to apprentice under you.

  13. Keith W on 12 November 2019 at 4:38 pm

    Paul
    Reading many of your blog posts has made me think back to my youth. The blacksmith in the village that I grew up in offered me an apprenticeship. I declined and followed an academic career. But now, I do wonder if I could have made it in what was then a dying career.

    He was an interesting character, partly because he managed to work despite using a shotgun to remove his fingers.

    Sometimes I do regret not giving it a go then.

  14. Glenn Philipson on 12 November 2019 at 7:24 pm

    Once again your words resonates greatly with me. I am almost ready to start your classes. I cannot deny it has taken me some serious time and money getting the place to call my workshop and acquire a plethora of tools,glues,measures etc my drive inside is so strong that I have not let anything get in my way. I look forward to years of learning and creating beautiful wood pieces and having you Paul mentoring my journey and being able enjoy your stories, your wisdom and your vast knowledge and skill. I hope you hold no retirement plans Paul as so many of us out here need you.

  15. Allan on 12 November 2019 at 10:41 pm

    It’s a bit sad for us now also, we now have to say goodbye to George as well.

  16. Christopher Johnston on 13 November 2019 at 12:18 am

    I apprenticed back in the mid sixties . I think almost every apprentice if they were lucky had a “George” in their life . in my case it was an “Ian” he sounds very similar to your mentor . After many years I actually surpassed him and became his boss . However I could never repay him for the kindness and patience he showed to a 16 year old boy. I had a poor 9 months at first though before I met him as a workmate where I was mistreated by several other journeymen.More like a packhorse really and learning not too much The first words I ever heard were “hey you pick up my effing toolbox and follow me” ha ha . Toughened me up though. Then it picked up and I rapidly learned. Great story Paul,

  17. Kathy S. on 13 November 2019 at 12:50 pm

    What a wonderful friend and probably the best mentor that anyone could ever have or ask for and his legacy shines through you Paul in every thing you do. Your classes and teachings speak volumes of knowledge, beauty and talent in their own right of course. I think I could state that you inspire us all.

  18. Jason on 13 November 2019 at 6:30 pm

    I always look forward to every new project you begin, and am excited by every new YouTube video and Instagram post you make. You bring out a great level of enthusiasm for woodworking.

  19. RODNEY MAGEE on 16 November 2019 at 12:30 pm

    Paul, George lives through you and and his teacher also. The mentoring is hundreds of years old and you are continuing that tradition into the future. Much has been lost in learning with automation, the human part gives way to noise, dust and a lack of personality. There is integrity in growing, learning and giving your best and you are teaching that. You are teaching people to not be afraid of failure but to take courage and step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Thank you!!!

  20. Joe on 18 November 2019 at 1:19 pm

    George would be proud as to how you’ve turned out.

    Thoughtful and well said comments.

    It is a bit strange the requests I receive from family are for rustic projects. While thankful I am squirrelling away a few nicer projects I hope they will appreciate. I do like a finished project when I can say, “It may not be perfect but it was the very very best I can do.”
    Thank you

    • Paul Sellers on 18 November 2019 at 2:29 pm

      I too worry about terms commonly accepted as rustic projects as though they are artfully made when in reality i see more cobbled together with sheetrock screws and then wrapped as though the wrapping holds them together in some mystical country way. I also dislike the term used more here in the UK that again seems to hide a certain reality, Character wood: or “character oak.” Wood full of the worst kind of defects, wet through and just waiting to split and crack all over the place when introduced to a centrally heated home of which generally no other kind of home exists here in the UK. In reality it was indeed unusable wood and built more not to last than last because of the lack of care and skill.

  21. Chad Magiera on 18 November 2019 at 6:59 pm

    You’re lucky to have known how great a mentor you had in George. Often, people only realize years or decades later how influential a person was in helping them learn to become the best they could be…

    And as always, Thanks for sharing feelings and personal history, and much more than woodworking. Stories like these help everyone deepen their own sense of empathy, caring, and community.

    Best Regards,
    Chad in California

  22. Jeff Wisoff on 18 November 2019 at 8:21 pm

    Paul

    I have never posted before and tend to shy away from social media in general however your descriptions of teaching, apprenticing, and mentoring have strong echoes in my own life over the past 4 decades. I am just a couple of years younger than you, an academic pediatric neurosurgeon in the States, a field that is as much craft and experience as it is didactic teaching and science Each year I have had the privilege of working with 2 or 3 young man or women in a one-on-one capacity, bringing them along as surgeons and humanistic physicians, reflecting on my experiences, hopefully teaching them not to replicate my mistakes, and being filled with pride as I see them achieve their successes and hopefully some day surpass me. I guess it is both the parent and teacher in me that hopes that my trainees, like my children, will push their field beyond where they found it .

    I have been following your writing and videos over the past 2 years as I have tried to relearn and expand on skills that I learned many years ago. You are a remarkable and gifted teacher, not just transmitting lessons on technique but imbuing all of your instruction with philosophy and humility. As I work on a daily basis with children with a multitude of neurologic disabilities, I am truly impressed with your dedication to teaching and training young adults with autistic spectrum disorder.

    As many others have commented, I look forward to many more years of learning from you

  23. Keith Brooks on 18 November 2019 at 11:23 pm

    It’s weird when I was in collage I had a lecturer who said I should train to become a lecturer god forbid I don’t know why because I have never felt I know enough to teach others even now I am approaching towards 60 and I was only young then just always thought others with more to teach than me

  24. Don Hummer on 19 November 2019 at 2:11 am

    “George was a moral man.” Can you really get any better than that?? When I am laid out in the funeral parlor may they say, ” He was a good and moral man, fair, honest, God fearing, and one hell of a carpenter!!!

  25. Leland Purvis on 19 November 2019 at 5:42 pm

    Did George go on to teach woodworking? Are there other students of George, still knocking about he UK?

  26. Hank Edwards on 19 November 2019 at 5:45 pm

    Well done.

  27. Robert Brunston on 25 November 2019 at 2:20 pm

    Very beautiful rocking chair and beautiful boxes! Thank you Paul.

  28. Joseph C Pottef on 25 November 2019 at 3:30 pm

    Thanks

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