I see men and women from the Sophos cybersecurity entity next door every day. They escape in ones and twos from its high-rise glass edifice of corporate business to snatch a bit of exercise and sanity from nature at lunchtimes and it makes me wonder what it would do to some of them if they had a woodworking workshop there for staff to work in even for just a half hour or so during the workday, or even after work?

Facing the reality that so few people actually make something, anything with their own hands these days leaves me always concerned that our cultural shifts have left a huge hole of unresolved issues that seem to me almost insoluble. In my world of making f you are not making something with your hands, growing something you planted or cooking something from scratch it feels so, well, incomplete. These arts are so intrinsic to our humanity and when they are displaced in the way they are today the arts lie dormant. Mostly they just lay down and ultimately die from, well, a kind of systemic malnourishment. I hate to think such a famine is taking place. Imagine such a thing as craft malnutrition!

Because this increase reality seems to be the undoing of doing I think it has become ever-more important to at least consider a person’s future to include the spheres I speak of. For decades I grew food, lots of it. I raised chickens for eggs, incubated them, and then for meat too. I did that for quarter of a century where we ate home grown eggs, dunged our garden with the tilled in chicken manure and enjoyed an alternative sphere to my other sphere of making. In recent years I have scaled back, but mostly because my children have flown the coup, but I still grow six months worth of potatoes and onions, tomatoes and lettuce, courgettes, things like that.

It takes about an hour a week that’s all. I think it is important for us all to consider channeling some of your energies in the doing of these things regardless of what that is, and I am hoping all the more that my plans to build a whole house range of different furniture and woodworking projects will be an answer for many such people to scale up their making of things.

It’s really not that long ago since half the world was involved in the making, the cooking and the growing of things . Another percentage did the keeping the book keeping as accountancy, then others replenished the stocks and generally supported those in the making, growing and cooking and baking. That’s all changed over the past century or so because mechanisation replaced physical input through manpower by a massive degree. Now we’ve got cherry pickers with elevated platforms to work from, and then forklifts, backhoes, dump trucks and such and all of that is well on the way to becoming robotically manoeuvred. The follow up to that gave us computers and with AI well on the horizon half the world could well become even more redundant. That being so, the problems become exacerbated by these so-called newfound freedoms. Should we accept them or resist them or do we actually even have a choice?

The reality for me has been coming for a long time. In my youth, furniture makers relied on handwork for about 75% of the work. Today it is in the 95% region for so called studio makers and 100% in industry where assemblers merely jump in if something slips on or off the conveyor belt. Of course that was once limited to more isolated realms of commerce but the shift now affects those of us in the amateur realms too and this is what I have personally fought against for years because I knew that skill would diminish within my craft and I didn’t want to see that happen. Why did it matter? It mattered because a generation was being born that didn’t realise the actual journey of developing skill could be more rewarding and fascinating than the completion of something. It’s a generation that may actually never make something with their hands. At 13-15, I was making live mousetraps that meant soldering tin plate, threading rods and making nuts with taps and dies, folding metals to form boxes and even making springs for an auto-closing door once the mice entered.

In the beginning of my strategy to get people into making I never expected such vehement opposition. It was an opposition on every front and I was on my own out there in the great big world of woodworking. When I first began to teach woodworking I felt more pressure and intimidation but it was =n’t at all from the realms of the amateur but the so-called professionals. For some reason they got truly offended by my endeavour to realign people to the craft of hand work. It wasn’t at all what I said so much as what I did. At the shows where they were selling or advocating or using only machines, I cam along as a paid demonstrator to show the “old ways” but the reality became evident: The visitors wanted to see more of it. So much so that they sat down for an hour to watch and did not budge. I made a decent wage just showing off my skills. The real problem came in my showing how to cut twin dovetails in a two minute demo to a standard where they would hold water. The audiences grew as word got around that there was “this English guy demoing dovetails that was amazing!” Ultimately there’d be 200 men every hour that I demoed to. In a three day weekend that meant thousands and with a show every week for 12 weeks the numbers stacked up. Ultimately I became the uninvited guest. The way I gauged my success was by the diminishing return of invitations and guess what? Today I get no more invitations.

All of this still means the issues are not really being addressed. I had to take a break from teaching classes on a full time basis in both the UK and the USA because I was so time strapped. In the last two years of 2016/17 we opened the classes for registration and all the classes were filled and paid for the year within an hour. The demand is still there. It’s an unfortunate thing that here in the UK educationalists have gone unopposed to make shifts in schools that basically eliminate the art of craft working from the curriculum while CNC and technology steer them only toward industry and industrial type production. These so called educational leaders base everything on technology and have been well proven to be fully incompetent to make insightful decisions. They saw only ways to industrialise the course work of what was at one time headed craft. That would include woodworking, metalworking, sewing and many others. They reinvented this area of education and prescribed a different agenda for those who would teach in these spheres. Design and technology became the ultimate new enemy to developing any kind of craft and skill although I do see that technology is indeed crafting and skilful. It just has nothing to do with handwork per se and it is very evident that we now have vast percentages covering two generations that are unskilled in the manual arts over a diverse range of skilled areas. The children had everything dumbed down to using only computers as the mainstay of the new realms we call design and technology. They were being groomed for industry and promises were made that if they wanted a successful future they would always need a good degree and that success is always measured in how much you earn. It has become all the more difficult to counter this kind of cultural precedent because the young are so governed by existing paradigms and the subject is so impossible to broach because people like myself and many a hundred thousand others never have access to tell them something different.

Thankfully we are able to reach these missing generations via the work we do and their desire to develop some alternative recreational activity. 99% of achieving anything is a made up mind and many friends from the tech world are very much enjoying the making of things in whatever spare time they have.


  1. Steve D on 25 November 2019 at 8:59 pm

    I would expect them to escape in zeroes and ones.

    • Julia on 2 December 2019 at 2:32 pm

      But that would leave them no binary choice (boom boom).

  2. Robin Lewis on 25 November 2019 at 9:17 pm

    As a retired software engineer who was once turned down for a job by Sophos (definitely the right decision – it was the most bizarre interview I ever experienced and we definitely weren’t meant for each other!), your comments struck a real chord with me. During 40 years of writing software, working wood with hand tools always provided a perfect contrast to the somehow artificial world of software. Not that there aren’t similarities between the two – they are both creative activities, and they are both craft skills that repay careful planning and attention to detail. But you can’t touch, feel or smell a piece of software!

    In later years, I drifted away from woodwork, but last year I stumbled across your Youtube channel while I was recuperating from prostate surgery. I was at a pretty low ebb mentally, but watching your bench construction series rekindled the flame, so much so that last winter I completed my recovery by building myself a left-handed version of your bench to replace my 40-year-old Lervad.

    I owe you a debt of gratitude, so it’s nice to have an opportunity to personally say ‘Thank You’ for all the work you do. May you continue for many years to come!

    • Mic on 26 November 2019 at 8:07 am


      I’m in mostly the same situation except for the ‘retired’ part – I still have to show up at the office every day to make a living. I’ve been working for the same company now for nearly 20 years which is rare in software. Even rarer apparently is working in software and then spending some time behind the workbench in the evenings and weekends to build a simple box that I’m more proud of than the latest executable.

      I’m in the process of building an odd sized door for a small room in the attic. I never built one before but I have no reason to think I couldn’t do it so I’m toiling away with my chisels, saws and planes. It may not come out perfect first time but I don’t care – I can build doors! So Paul, I don’t know how to thank you for helping me getting into this zone, it’s really really empowering knowing you can build things!


  3. Andre van Westreenen on 25 November 2019 at 10:32 pm

    I sneak in 30 to 45 minutes of woodwork each day, my daily pressure valve.
    I have all but abandoned my ‘power’ tools, these days ‘if it ain’t hand cut, it ain’t real’.
    Seriously though, I recall my second attempt of making a dovetailed box (I screwed up the first), following Paul’s instructions, I was blown away! Did I make that, it was a real confidence booster, and i am now contemplating a dovetailed tool cabinet.
    I will never be bored again.

  4. Roger Phebey on 25 November 2019 at 11:02 pm

    Hi Paul
    I understand where you are coming from because 40 plus years ago I was in the micro-computer business, then about 23 years ago I went looking for a table saw and ended up changing my business, over time, from micro-computers to the higher-end US made tools from the likes of INCRA, Woodpecker, Microfence & Legacy Woodworking. I enjoyed the change and in retirement spend my spare time turning wood.
    But I have to ask the question because it applies to you as much as them would you not benefit from say some software or hardware exposure or even some other discipline?

  5. Alfred Wood on 25 November 2019 at 11:19 pm

    I recall the era of Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogue in the late 1960’s and how this got me to making my own bread and cheese, beer and wine, and working for a co-op. This continued and now I’m giving your woodworking method a whirl now in my seventies. Paul, you never know what will throw an entire generation off the ladder. But, it will happen given the human propensity for meaningful work and community.

  6. Joe on 25 November 2019 at 11:20 pm

    I teach college chemistry one night a week for fun (I like teaching). I do enjoy my day job now (went from a big company to a small company). At some point (likely 9 years out when I turn 60) I will stop the day job and teach a bit more.

    What I plan to do is pitch to the University I am at to offer a 1 unit semester class called Intro to Hand Tool woodworking. They offer quite a few 1 unit classes such as ball room dancing, rock climbing, etc. I don’t think it will be that much of a stretch, especially if the class fills up.

    Given how few of us now work with our hands, I think a class like this would be very popular.

  7. Paul Taylor on 26 November 2019 at 4:04 am

    I am one of those who came late to woodworking. Early in my adult life I took up carpentry by necessity, fixing things in houses I owned because I couldn’t afford to hire someone. It was through this work that I learned, mostly by doing things wrong then seeking and finding ways and tools to properly do things right. Also through this work I developed a deep respect for those with knowledge and talent in woodworking.

    I am an architect. As such I designed buildings that others actually put together. I grew up in my craft with paper and pencil. I never made the transition to computer aided design (CAD). However, I am finding that drafting skill is quite helpful in developing woodworking skill, paper to wood, pencil to saw and chisel. The design process is really very similar.

    I discovered your youtube videos and then your websites about 2 years ago. You are a true craftsman. Thank you for what you do. All of the machines I’ve collected are sold or being sold (except for my table saw). I stood at my drafting table. Now I stand at my bench.

  8. Samuel on 26 November 2019 at 4:25 am

    don’t remember much in actual skills tuition and it could be an intimidating environment, largely I think because it was a task to get your turn on a saw and I could get lost not knowing what to do. But really we were given a lot of respect and I felt like I at least had the chance to succeed. There really isn’t very much time to get your teeth into a job either.
    The way the world works and distributes wealth will continue to strip quality of life and energy away from people – so eat well, sleep. And try and learn what you can so you can be your own person.

    • Samuel on 27 November 2019 at 1:06 pm

      Phone clipped previous post.
      Comment that appeared was related to Australian high school woodwork classes, now long enough ago.

  9. C2 Design & Build on 26 November 2019 at 10:26 am

    Thanks for sharing.

  10. Rico on 26 November 2019 at 11:09 am

    It’s quite a tide your fighting against Paul! I was educated to a level beyond that of the tradesman. Or so I thought, and so I was told – clearly its nonsense. As such, I’m firmly careered in the office world of finance and IT. My family has experienced 20 years of me in that environment. Our house is built in the modern way, with the modern furnishings and the modern patch of grass that constitutes a garden and the modern debt to pay for it. If I now want to extricate from that, is it possible? Is it fair (on my family)? To expect them to feel the way I feel/want what I now want? The activities such as gardening and furniture making that you mention are just logical. We’ve been tricked into thinking that those are things that other people do (or do for us). Tricked into thinking that we should spend our lives in front of a screen so that we can pay for others to do things for us. Things that we don’t need to learn. But it’s a con. I’ve built a table and a chair, and I could easily build a bed and with a bit of instruction a sofa perhaps? I don’t because me and my family want to be sold to. We want to buy “the best”. Or at least I thought I did. It’s basic logic, really. I’m working in a meaningless job to make “X” amount of money that I then use to buy more and more expensive things. Just as I don’t need my power tools, I don’t need my Neptune dining table (it’s a nice dining table!) or my Ikea unit. Just as I don’t need to buy the food I could grow at home. It’s simple economics. Simple economics that were educated out of me (or not educated into me) at a young age. Learn the skills needed (to fulfill your human needs rather than desires) and do things for yourself or as a family and you spend less money (and – in theory – need to work less)! But why don’t my family see that? Why don’t most people see that? What happens if everyone sees it? Does our existing economy function if people aren’t bracketed as consumers? So many questions and thoughts!!! Thanks for your article.

  11. Rob Ling on 26 November 2019 at 11:17 am

    During my childhood I spent my summer holidays staying with grandparents. I was lucky enough to have a grandfather who showed me so many of the things you described including making live mouse traps, live rabbit traps etc and a plethora of all things wooden.

    We carved models, built aeroplanes, dog kennels, chicken houses and all manner of things in between. One of my favourite memories is him carving me a ‘Conker’ out of mahogany (horse chesnut seed for those not familiar with the english name). It was so realistic I never lost a game of conkers the following autumn and nobody had any idea it wasn’t real.

    Grandad has been dead now for 6 years and I miss the connection we had over woodwork.

    I too work in digital development and lead a web application development team. Its a stressful job, meaning I’ve battled with mental health over the years. I struggled to find a creative outlet in the ‘real’ world. I like my photography but that relies so much on computers these days the connection is not as tangible as making something real.

    It was only when a colleague asked me something about building a kennel that I mentioned I built several with Grandad and was so passionate about the memory of doing woodwork with him that they suggested that I should pick it up again.

    This is where I discovered Paul Sellers. I stumbled across the youtube channel when I was searching for how to sharpen Grandad’s chisels – Grandad preferred I didn’t touch these as a boy.

    I’ve since become absorbed, and I’m making again. Just an hour or so a week but I’m getting a massive sense of fulfillment from creating things I can hold with my hands and take in the house and show my wife and children.

    And guess what, no anxiety issues, i’m not so quick to temper as I was and generally been much more chilled.

    It also feels like Grandad is still with me while I’m using his tools. I can even hear his voice in my head, something I’d been struggling to remember.

    For all of the above Paul, I thank you so much.

  12. Alan on 26 November 2019 at 11:32 am

    It may seem a bit against the grain here but I too worked in IT but not for a mega corp. In earlier days we had to design and write our own software and it’s actually quite a creative task. There may not be anything physical to look at at the end of the day but it was rewarding.
    Mind you, in later years it became mostly support and looking after bought in , black-box packages and I was more than happy to retire and begin setting up the workshop I’d been dreaming about

  13. Ian on 26 November 2019 at 12:15 pm

    I work in the IT field and have been an enterprise customer of Sophos. I reckon there will be many people who would love to learn to work with wood as a release from their screens. That’s how I have got into woodworking. It’s a great distraction from the day job to work with wood, your hands, your imagination.
    Thanks again for your inspiration Paul

  14. Jim on 26 November 2019 at 12:34 pm

    The nature of our western world is the faster, brighter, shinier, newer something is the better it is for us. An expectation that we agree to the waste associated with our throw away society is wrong.
    Paul by showing old skills that enabled tradesmen to make a living with their toolkit that cost them dear and was for most of them for life, you are under mining the throw away expectations, and this hurts the bottom line of the tools providers who want us to want the latest greatest tool.

    You show that a tool that was made 100 years ago is still fit for purpose with a bit of TLC. I am re-sharpening all of my Dads old tools that he collected through his 90 years of being a builder. Many are not as sharp as they should be 10 minutes of TLC and they great, and hold an edge much better that the newer tools. Next step is to sharpen his old saws so that they live again. The last saw I bought 6 months ago is now blunt and only good for turning into some scrapers.

    I have realised that for me it is the joy of creating something through the limited skill in my hands, not the speed of completion but the process of the build, feeling the differences in the wood grain in a single piece of timber and creating something that makes me feel good.

    When I feel down (I suffer with depression) a couple of hours concentrating on some dovetail joints or finishing a box lifts my mood and increases my vitality. Forget about shrinks prescribe a no4 plane (blunt), some sharpening stones and the URL to your plane setting video!

    Paul thank you for all that you give to us.

  15. Chris on 26 November 2019 at 8:48 pm

    the use of clever but false arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.
    a fallacious argument.
    The same origin as sophisticated
    As ever you are dead right Paul, making something is the real thing!

  16. IBM Analyst Programmer on 27 November 2019 at 1:03 am

    Workshop in an office building? Fifty years ago, perhaps. Not today.
    You’re more likely to find a corporate gym, juice bar, and low-level-seating in the dayglo-coloured ‘Chill-out Zone’.

    It’s not about improvement. It’s about showing dedication to the corporate ethos. Surrendering your individuality. Being seen to comply. Showing you want to improve, and recognising your need for improvement. Arrive at 7am, then 6am, 5am… Be the last to leave. I’m surprised any of them are brave enough to take a lunch break. Let alone ‘outside’.
    Japanese car manufacturers tried this. If you weren’t in their exercise yard at dawn, with the others, in formation, you no longer had a job.
    Today’s companies consider ‘free parking’ a perk.
    if you did woodworking, they’d need to judge you based on your dovetails.

    How many people from these offices have joined your classes Paul?

  17. Gerald on 27 November 2019 at 11:38 am

    When I started learning woodworking, watching all the Youtube videos, I thought woodworking was too expensive for me. I bought a table saw, drill press, belt sander, random orbit sander etc but the list was longer than I could afford.

    After discovering your channel, I’ve come to appreciate hand tools much more and see them as essential for fine woodworking. I recently started working with rough sawn lumber, flattening them using Stanley planes and cutting mortises using my cheap chisel and Japanese saw.

    You’ve changed my journey. You’re right, it’s how we make it, and what learn, that counts.

    • Joe on 27 November 2019 at 3:33 pm

      I had spent my money remodeling the garage as I was planning to spend serious time in there woodworking. I didn’t need to do it but I wanted a nice place to work. As such, I needed to stop and save for the machine tools so I started research. I somehow stumbled onto the Anarchist Tool chest (thinking it would be about machine tools) and Paul Sellers YouTube videos. Seeing Paul cut those dovetails on the YouTube video immediately clicked and I made my decision right then and there it would be handtools. I was so excited I had to call my dad and tell him. He thought I had lost my mind. No machine tools. I should at least get an old ShopSmith he said. I was firmly conviced on my decision. 4 years on still happy to be using hand tools and haven’t bought any machine tools. I really dislike thicknessing so a bandsaw with good dust collection is likely in my future. I will never win any speed records doing the woodwork but I have a day job that demands I work quickly so I don’t need to be fast in my hobby. Just happy.

  18. Hank Edwards on 27 November 2019 at 7:15 pm

    “Sharpening my grandad’s chisels”. Almost as ubiquitous as broccoli . I’m not very fond of broccoli, but I certainly had a glorious time sharpening and cleaning up my father’s block plane.
    My mind, and I assume it is more or less typical, is not monolithic. The plane was in pretty bad shape–sixty years of neglect. In between and during the sharpening moves were all the questions I never asked my father and the answers that now seem so clear based on all the rest. Then there were all the mistakes I made, how I should have done things differently, and how some didn’t matter anyway–like cutting the roof off the Valiant before blocking up the underside when I was trying to turn it into a two seated roadster, kind of like those British ones. There were thoughts about butternut twisting when I planed it to the needed 1/8 ” thickness–Thanks Paul for the answer. I was able to figure out a tuning, based on an odd comment about Leadbelly that had been soaking for years, for the un-tunable guitar my dad and I bought with all the money I had when I was fifteen–$15–How I wish I could tell him now what will work! But I can only think it.
    Don’t try any of those on a radial arm saw, and yet, they don’t slow the hand work down one bit.
    Nor oddly enough do they slow down the spreadsheet work during other parts of the day. They compliment it. The two, three, perhaps more trains of thought run easily side by side. One comes to the fore and another back, just as the spreadsheet design runs in the background when I am sharpening.
    Now, if only I could ask my wife’s early 19th century ancestor about that bridal trunk he built for my wife’s namesake when I build replicas of it for the nieces who won’t be able to inherit it, there having been one born and given the same name without any knowledge of either my wife’s existence or of the bridal trunk. Building replicas is not something that can be done properly with machine tools. It just wouldn’t be right. I wonder if it was one of his grandsons who later in that century became the ship’s finish carpenter.

  19. Kenneth Rytter Jensen on 2 December 2019 at 11:33 am

    I’m an IT manger i a trading company, and have worked there for 25 years. I do not see any conflict at all between woodworking or other creative hobbies, and a job in IT. I can get the exact same joy out of programming a tool for the sales department as I can get from making an oak box for the knife I made as a gift for a dear friend. One thing I do appreciate more with the woodworking I do is the expected very long life of what I create. THAT I do not experience in the IT world.

    Another thing I have come to appreciate more than most are when I restore a tool. For example I bought 15 old chisels some time ago, and making them perform better than when they were new was a fantastic feeling 🙂

  20. Franck on 2 December 2019 at 11:56 am

    I grew among skilled craftmen, genuine and genius craftmen. My teachers were always saying that craftmanship was for bad students, good students were made for higher education. So I went to graduate school.
    I’m 45 years old now and for 2 years I’m rediscovering what means crafting, hand working and proudness. Every day I’m leaving work with a huge smile and I work on the restauration of our house. When I have the time, I make my own furniture. I could pay people to do all that for me but I wouldn’t, this is my pleasure.
    In spite of what teachers told me, of what people thinks, I enjoy every hours working in restauration of our house (masonry, roofing, etc), every hours gardening (flowers, fruits and vegetables).
    Hand working is not dead in spite of what is done to kill it: working with your hands is a way to take the power back on your life. It took me a long way to rediscover it and now I’m proud to say that I made what I own and use.
    Hand working is still teached here in France, check that link to the older “school” in France, the men who made the cathedrals and all our patrimony:
    Thank you for what you do for craftmanship Mr Sellers.

  21. Geoffrey Boyling on 2 December 2019 at 12:02 pm

    Paul – Why not approach the management of your Hi-tech neighbours, and arrange a day for them to pop into your workshop for an informal visit and a look around?

  22. Nuno Marques on 2 December 2019 at 12:44 pm

    “Its a tragedy of the first magnitude that millions of people have ceased to use their hands as hands. Nature has bestowed upon us this great gift which is our hands. If the craze for machinery methods continues, it is highly likely that a time will come when we shall be so incapacitated and weak that we shall begin to curse ourselves for having forgotten the use of the living machines given to us by God.”
    -Mahatma Ghandi

  23. Geoffrey Boyling on 2 December 2019 at 1:52 pm


    I see now that my comment was a bit ambiguous
    I meant arrange for all the staff to have a look round – like a sort of Open Day

  24. Carl Socolow on 2 December 2019 at 4:09 pm

    First, Paul, thank you for all that you do, your enthusiasm, sharing and awareness and concern for what it means to be human and striving towards fulfillment. I’ve become quite impassioned about working with wood. On days when I come home stressed from my career in higher education marketing I go right to my shop, choose a plane and pull out my “therapy” block. It’s a piece of wood on which I practice my hand skills and developing muscle memory for good planing technique. It also gives me practice in keeping my plane blades sharp. I love the susurrus of the plane sliding over the wood and removing thin, even shavings. And then laying my square up against the faces and seeing that I can now plane level and square. Enjoy your holidays.


  25. Roy Christensen on 5 December 2019 at 7:13 pm

    I would love to work in an environment like that, but if I signed up for that or something similar, I would not be able to purchase supplies. If I were to do both, I would be forced to sell my car and walk, or go hungry. I have two 100% disabled brothers so I will watch as things come together in your videos.
    I am not asking for a handout, or complaining. I am just saying. I got a couple of pallets a while back, and they became a bookcase for a neighbor.

    • Paul Sellers on 5 December 2019 at 9:24 pm

      Well done, my friend. Keep going. You never know what’s around the next corner.

  26. Sam on 6 December 2019 at 9:11 am

    I agree with many of these sentiments, and would say in my experience as a 43-year old, as the world becomes ever more digitised (mechanised etc), so is there a swing further back away from this – towards the manual and hand-made. We’ve seen this in the music industry, with MP3s and streaming being balanced by a resurgence in vinyl (and cassettes, god help us). I work as a graphic designer, mostly on the computer, but print is still very much part of my work. That said, what peace and satisfaction I find in hand-woodworking! I’m currently struggling with installing wainscot panelling in our front room, and though I’m knackered, it’s very satisfying.
    Thanks as ever Paul, keep on inspiring us and passing on your knowledge!

  27. Robert Brunston on 10 December 2019 at 3:15 pm

    Thank you Paul! I have learned a lot about wood working with hand tools over the years that has enriched my life and the lives of others. Thanks again Paul.

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