…or could it be?

Think composition and the one-line from a four-line poem that succinctly says a thousand things at once. It’s taken deepness in the processing where the image captured speaks from a handful of words. It’s not a common thing to find such treasure above jewels and precious metals; not one wasted word and nothing misplaced to sully the content. I make each piece to be just that. Not only the finished work is important to me but the whole process designing and making that expresses reflection, contemplation and the surrounding issues it takes to build the picture — more a statement of life simplified and well mapped. This process carries you along as something that conveys you from A to B; from raw wood, perhaps ill-formed, to refined. My design work embraces all such things including the unpleasant ones to get a result. You’ll know. Outcomes of thought, management, work. It’s the outcome of what I do. Has it created acceptable order and structure without stricture? It? What is ‘it’? Well, my life. My life’s work. The things I make. The grand design of not just what’s made but the making of it. The way its been made and the methodology behind it determines the outcome of plain thinking but then the willingness to shift and change if needed. Did I stop to think compositions into being? And then beyond that did I think about the tree severed from its rooted dependence, the earth? Did I cut judiciously and think about the severance such separation brings, the irreversible consequence. What were the ramifications in taking that tree and then too to bring my wood from source to benchtop and a piece so hopefully composed it would be acceptable for generations, decades and centuries?

I start with the tools on the bench before I begin a single cut. My drawing in my notepads set certain parameters but then the components must be detailed and outlined within fractions of a millimetre. But then it’s time for the tools. The tools must be totally in order before I begin. Otherwise I feel unsteady. I take the saws and clip through every gullet with a truly fine file stroke. Just one, a short 2″ long pass and no more, to refine the already sharp edges for the optimum sheer cut I must have. People, those who just copy and teach rather than learn and master and become, don’t think about the very tooth adjacent to each gullet as individuals and certainly don’t know what I speak of. The sheering of saw teeth determines the precision and look of the sides of the saw kerf. They determine the energy I use and need. With the teeth so filed they the plane the sides of the kerf, you see. I want everyone to see and know and understand things like this, my audience, I mean – those who want craftsmanship in their artisanry. The plane and chisel edges become restored to newness and so too the half a dozen pencils.

It’s more economical that way. No break in thought patterns and such. The bench is cleared now, clear of previous work, the prototype, tools and shavings. I’m ready to work on my composition. As a poem uses few excesses, so too my work at the bench. I want order for efficiency and also effectiveness. Two very different sides of the same coin but cohesive of course.

All the way through I clean as I go because otherwise the work becomes cluttered with too many extras and the meaning easily becomes lost. It’s not so much what I make that’s so important but how I spend my time making it. I emphasise ‘spend’ because its not just an investment like putting money into something. This is my personal investment of effort, energy, time, emotion. The things money never pays for in the same way a poet composing never gets paid for the outcome. Just receives a token payment. More a per diem.

People have in general lost something, direction maybe. The coordinates have shifted from a once constancy. From time to time I see young parents with their children, from infants to teens and then on up too, and in too many cases I encounter both halves in disconnectedness, perhaps even unliving together, but in the same sphere in a sort of isolation. That’s not at all all families, thankfully. Just a few. The reason I mention it though is because it can similarly happen to woodworkers focussing too much on finishing the project and missing the time spent with the wood listening for things, feeling, watching in an observational way and so on.

Those who condemn me for not using machines more don’t understand because in most cases they can’t. hand tools slow down the whole process of woodworking in the positive sense whereas many machinists think it’s the same just different. It’s not the speed with which you make something that matters but the amount you engage with all things surrounding the work, the working and so on. It’s as much emotional, spiritual and practical as just getting the work done and dusted and moving on to the next project.

Whereas I have been accused of ‘not living in the real world’, this again is always, always, from those who never took the time to know me and what I really believe. My world has always been so real in that I have indeed lived off my efforts working mostly with my hands. I don’t believe in making money, I believe in working for a living combined with living to work. very different than being ever driven by the almighty dollar. I think many, not all, are missing out on so much because the media always, ALWAYS, measures the success of people in the media by how much money they have, had or will have. You do not see many pages or paragraphs without the words millionaire or billionaire in them. Imagine if we all lived like that. I think I have spent more time redressing issues of speed with students who somehow want to get the job done and get it out of the way – done yesterday!

Stepping over the giant influencers and seeing them for what and who they really are is eye opening and I am not just talking about corporate giants but anyone who has become an influencer. Ultimately it is all too easy disconnect from living and loving the real people around us which depends on those who volunteer into it.

13 Comments

  1. Greg Werner (USA) on 12 December 2019 at 1:00 am

    Hi Paul,
    It’s my first visit to your website. I’ve been voraciously consuming your videos and they have inspired a renascence to wood working days of old – – word working too with your blog today.
    I deeply admire your work and your teaching. You have a great gift.
    Greg from Colorado in the USoA

  2. The Southpaw Woodshop on 12 December 2019 at 1:06 am

    Well said. Couldnt agree more with the time spent working the wood with handtools, listening and feeling the grains.

  3. David Wood on 12 December 2019 at 3:55 am

    Hi Paul and Gang,
    Merry Christmas to you all for 2019.
    I’m reading James Krenovs’ “cabinetmakers notebook” and he is saying exactly what you’r saying about the inclusiveness of all our feelings and thoughts and of thinking of the wood and where it came from whilst working our way through a project from woe to go. I enjoy my time”making” and the long time it takes, because it gives me time to think of the process I have to go through to accomplish my best work. I nearly gave up woodwork until I stumbled onto your web page looking for inspiration. I got sick and tired because of mistakes made by doing things too quickly. That’s when I used machines.
    So much different and enjoyable now That I know the truth.
    Thank you

  4. Glenn Philipson on 12 December 2019 at 12:15 pm

    Hi Paul and all the gang Merry Christmas to you all and all my fellow woodworker around the globe. Your words continue to be a massive inspiration to me. Your a truly special person mate. I cannot thank you enough.

  5. Richard on 12 December 2019 at 1:37 pm

    Well said Paul!

    A very peaceful and happy Christmas to you and your family.

    Richard

  6. Mark Bye on 12 December 2019 at 1:49 pm

    Hi Paul,
    Thank you for sharing your life and craft. I have been following you for about 6 months now, watching your several of your making video series. Your comment “I believe in working for a living combined with living to work.” is vary similar to what I believe, I say it as “I work to live, not live to work.” My “work to live” time is quickly coming to an end, retiring in 6 months. Then I plan to devote my time to further developing my woodworking craft. I look forward to spending more time with you.

  7. Paul Taylor on 13 December 2019 at 12:44 am

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. I am 76 and a beginning woodworker with hand tools. Paul, you and I and many others think alike. It’s not the product. It’s the process. Your videos and blogs are inspirational. By the way, I am not retired and don’t intend to be.

  8. David on 13 December 2019 at 3:35 am

    None of this post makes any sense whatsoever, but the fact that you’re a great woodworking teacher makes it easier to chuckle at these musings. In any case, Happy Christmas Paul.

    • Andrea on 18 December 2019 at 12:23 am

      Of course it wouldn’t to you. But I do get a chuckle when I read your pompous replies.

  9. Samuel on 13 December 2019 at 4:23 am

    I wouldn’t think anyone would be challenging you on your hand tools first/machining if necessary ideas anymore. If you wanted to get printed in a magazine in the USA maybe, but a lot has come full circle. Whether people buy into really attuning themselves, or trying to grow a deeper respect for resources and time.. well that’s a bigger thing. You always say you work 12 hours a day and don’t watch tv, a lot of people are wrecked and half sleep in front of a tv, to forget they have to sell themselves again the next day.
    I inadvertently watched a film on financial independence: people save 70% of their income and then retire earlier to pursue their passions…
    You could be dead and your children adults tho..and on the poverty line, there is no 70%!
    Anyway, my grandfather was a just so person. He was a school teacher, played violin, made all manner of leather work, furniture and house extensions without power, boats, suits of armour for school plays, jewellery. My grandmother and great aunt were artists. I have some hammers and a 4 1/2 plane that somehow he managed to keep for a while when he went into a nursing home .. His discipline and appreciation of nature was impressed on me by by mother’s stories and in a way it’s why I want to read this and tho I’ll prob be a labourer for life, I like the idea of the pursuit of loveliness and ideas flowing with skill and care.
    As always, enjoy reading.

  10. Jared March on 13 December 2019 at 11:49 am

    Paul Sellers, the anti-influencer! I love your interest and efforts to promote hand woodworking. Thank you!

  11. Kevin Fricault on 13 December 2019 at 5:15 pm

    About a year or two ago I had to tell myself that when I’m home working not to let myself or anyone else make me rush. It comes from having jobs where the bottom line how much you get done, how quickly you do it. One of my frustrations with woodworking at home was the set up time and jigs I would have make to cut one or two parts. Hand tools have taken away so much of that kind of time. Planing out cherry, first time using this wood, was very satisfying watching the grain pattern emerge and the smoothness of the planed wood. Kevin F

  12. Travis on 14 December 2019 at 2:33 pm

    I love the way Roy Underhill and Peter Follensbee can start with a log and end up with something of use. Lacking a ready supply of trees, it’s dimensoned lumber for me.

    When I saw Paul Sellers chopping mortices by hand, I thought, “well here’s something different!” The aforementioned makers always use a brace and bit to get beyond the boring part. I became another of Master Paul’s apprentices.

    Along the way, Paul put to use a battery powered drill driver! I never have seen Roy or Peter do that!

    Well what does this mean? I guess chopping a mortice by hand requires a developed skill and driving a screw is donkey work. I will note however that I realize Paul will use a screwdriver to set a hinge or when doing some other fine work.

    Along the way Paul introduced us to the lathe and then the bandsaw. I know, and I know why I think, that in the back are various power tools to prepare stock.

    All is what it is, and I’m glad woodworking is not an organized religion. I’ve settled into Paul’s camp but I will visit with Roy and Peter from time to time.

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