A Machine-free Hour

It was a special moment, an offcut of ash 6″ wide, 1/2″ thick and before I knew it I had the mirror recessed to perfect depth and the shape came so naturally from a flat-bottomed spokeshave, a little rasp work and then some scraping with a card scraper followed by light sanding. It’s another prototype. You should watch me make table tennis bats. We used to make and use them when I was an apprentice.

This was my preparation for a relaxed weekend, an unquantifiable therapy after a weeklong workout making. I closed the garage doors, turned out the lights and said goodnight to my friends. Who can know such a thing as this; the contentment I always feel week on week and day on day? It’s the sensed happiness closing of the door brings but not because it’s a Friday night and I am glad work is over for the five day week, more that my work gives me so much pleasure and I don’t deserve to feel such pleasure and enjoyment all the time. Anyway, the sweeping up, the tools sharpened and placed ready for more work in a day or two. These simple conclusions mean so much.

And then too, I don’t know anyone around me that knows the kind of total captivation my craft gave me and the effect that can have on a man and in my case after doing it daily, six days a week, for 55 years. I’d like to meet another man like myself who has done such a thing using hand tools to make a living and sit and share some time with him; just to hear his story, see his side of things. Now that would be interesting but highly unlikely.


  1. Mr. Sellers,

    Did you cut the glass for this yourself? If so, what did you use to do it? I, personally, would like to see more photos of the mirror. How did you cut the recess?

    Sorry for the extensive Q & A. I think many of us find great inspiration for the little pieces of wood that normally find their way into the fire kindled from all the shavings.

    1. I can but the mirrors only cost £1, hardly worth the cutting really. I will be doing a video on making one so you will need to wait like everyone else.

      1. Mr. Sellers,

        I wasn’t demanding personally delivered photos. I was simply stating that this little project is interesting to me to the point where more details would be welcomed. I feel like you interpreted me wrongly or I have interpreted your last sentence wrongly (inflection is absent in written text, usually). Why the seeming short-temperedness?

        1. As you said, inflection is often missing from quickly written answers. I can assure you it was nothing more than a jokey answer. Like, perhaps a parent might joke with a child who says, “What’s for dinner tonight, mum?” and the mum responds, playfully, of course, “Well you’ll just have to wait, like everyone else!”
          And I didn’t at all say that you were demanding personally delivered photographs or indeed demanding anything so I am not sure where that came from.

  2. Admittedly, if you can do in one, I’m likely to need a Saturday, but I’m looking forward to the video – this is one of those projects that don’t take a lot of material, and make perfect gifts.
    I like the “sound” of “a machine-free hour.” Perhaps you can take that further and start a machine-free hour challenge?

    1. We have a thousand videos out there where we do not use any machines. Not sure what more we can do than what we do. My days are often machine free days or even weeks too. It’s all a matter of choices.

      1. Paul,
        The title “A Machine Free hour” hit a resonance with me, so I thought it would be a good phase to promote hand tools among the those who thing woodworking is too noisy or requires great expense.

        I started thinking about woodworking believing I needed thousands of dollars in power tools to do anything, and would really need to do so in my garage to deal with the noise, which would require more money to run power for the machines. So I did nothing – for ten years, I did nothing, thinking woodworking was for those with more wealth than I.
        About four years ago, I heard about a local fellow who taught hand tool woodworking to veterans for nothing – so I signed up. At the end of the first class I was so excited I brought some of the shavings home to show my wife, all the time describing the swish of shavings coming off a Number 4 (She commented that it had been several years since I was that enthusiastic about anything).
        Around the same time I ran into your YouTube channel, and from that, Woodworking Masterclasses. I spent about $150 at what you call a boot sale, picking up a Number 4, Number 5, a couple of saws, and most everything I needed to maintain my own tools. I built my own bench (from 2×4, of course), and to start building my own furniture, or sometimes just a box. After all – its not what you make as much as how you make it. And I enjoy working in silence.

      2. Indeed, … why have machinery ? except for perhaps a Table saw, … when I started doing woodwork, I went out & purchased all manner of tools powered, … Then as I discovered “Hand-Tool working” to be more satisfying, I now find that I have a workshop full of Power-tools, to the value of about $5,000 or so, just sitting there , … Redundant.

  3. We all want to have the satisfaction that you have. And we all need mentors and role models.
    But first a person needs to try and also set up an environment for success.
    I’m yet to do much and stuffing up sharpening my specially bought tenon and sharpening being an enigma to me still.. have annoyed me.
    I just got a marking knife in the mail. So I’ll try again coming up, maybe

    1. Samuel, If this helps, there was a time well after my apprenticeship where so many things clicked and it seemed to me at least to happen all at once. I can best describe it as a progressive relaxing into my craft and by that I mean I felt so much less tense about everything. In our world, we are indeed living with a greater level of over-expecting, a way that somehow makes us feel that because we are super intelligent in one sphere automatically translates into greater ability elsewhere as in perhaps quite simple manual skills. I have met many an intellectual finding themselves utterly devastated because they just could not manage what seemed to them to be the simplest of manual tasks. Take saw sharpening, for instance. What can there be to it? You slot the file into the gullet and push forward as level as possible. Surely anyone can do that. Well, perhaps they should and perhaps not. Some people have an innate confidence that does not match ability and fail to see that skill, in 99% of cases, must be developed for it to become established. And that there is a mental acuity accompanying fine
      and gross motor movements that cannot nor have been quantified in a way that it can be measured. Take a woodworker that has mastered his or her skill in that craft and see how they adapt their ability to say sewing, blacksmithing, leatherwork and such. I also believe that schools have a much greater influence on the way people feel about manual skills. Teachers, for the main part, seem to think that someone with extra high grades, that could be say a scientist, a doctor or a lawyer, in other words, a ‘professional‘ should not become some kind of manual worker like myself, just a woodworker. They tick boxes when intelligence is applied to a degree course and this validates their work via the statistics that say the teacher is a high achiever because this percentage fo their students went on to university.
      The reality is this; you can set up a saw and repeatedly sharpen it a hundred times in quick succession and you may well be no further on than when you did the first one. The best way is to relax, set everything up carefully. Step back, look at everything to make sure the saw is at the correct height for you, the distance between the top of vise and the tips of the teeth, say no more than 10mm and focus on each saw stroke to make the pressure the same, the same length of stroke and then the direction square across for rip cuts or angled for crosscuts. Breathe…Breathe between strokes and tell your body to relax as you work. Do this in everything and soon you will hit that spot I spoke of at the beginning, where suddenly it becomes yours. You possess it.

      1. It’s this, these remarks, this ‘inside knowledge’, this insight, most teachers can’t tell you about, make you aware of. That’s so valuable to me and one of the main reasons I read and watch everything in this blog and on WWMC. And absorb. Thank you, Paul, thank you so much.

    2. Samuel, thinking about success can hold you back. Success is related to the end piece and to the others. Enjoy the process. Enjoy yourself in the process. Set up the environment for love. Doing what you love gives you satisfaction. Paul says “It’s not what you make, it’s how you make it”; Tim Winter at Cambridge says “The means is the end”; Richard Feynmann says “Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.” Different ways of saying that it is the process that counts.

      Put some music in the background and dance a bit between tasks while woodworking, with no sharp tools in your hands 😉

      1. Personally, useful anecdotes aside, woodworking alone gives enough momentum of its own to destress situations and also the way we take steps to establish higher levels of confidence, the important thing is to believe in yourself that you can indeed move forward, master tasks and enjoy learning, even from the mistakes we might make. I remember one student putting a beautiful bevel on his chisel: the problem was he put the bevel on the flat face so that he had a bevel on both sides of the chisel edge. He enjoyed the whole process and I doubt he ever did it again.

  4. Hi paul.

    The mirror is charming and will make a lovely present. Are you going for a shellac finish? Ash is one of my favourite hardwood and can be found still for reasonable price. Enjoy rest of your day Paul


  5. Hi Paul:
    A little philosophy, a little woodworking might be my favorite of your posts.

    I hope your video will include a little reminiscing about the table tennis too!


  6. If you ever met someone else like that and had that conversation. I would love to here it.

  7. Paul, I think you are getting your games all mixed up – perhaps the result of your two culture, two language life. Texas and the U.K. have you very confused. It is baseball bats and ping pong paddles. I look forward to your design and build of a Louisville Slugger in the near future. Do come back to our side of the pond and help us out.

  8. You are a man that has no equal. I’m so fortunate for having found you and your teachings. I get to teach carpentry during the day, mostly handtool work. We work on a bench of your design, while building another, bench or cheese board, or trestle. When I leave my teaching job and come home the same bench greets me when I turn on the lights in my subterranean home shop. Here I have learned to hone, my chisels and plane irons, as well as all my sensitivities to my world, my work, and my wood. When my school is not in session, I will go to my bench each morning, afternoon, and early evening with my time, content in creation.

    Boat building ( canoes) has begun again,

  9. That’s a very lovely mirror. Such simple elegance.

    I knew there was a reason I was saving the mirrors from the old plastic-handled ones I threw away. Seems like a nice afternoon-project. I think I could make such a thing with the (very limited) skills and knowledge I have gathered from your other videos, unless there are a few very specific techniques with this one. It will be nice to get rid of the nasty plastic-handled mirror in the bathroom. Why didn’t I think of making one myself already.

    I certainly like this mirror much better than the dozens of ‘magic mirror’-projects on the internet. Unless yours is a magical one too and you’ve cleverly hidden away the USB connector and battery….

  10. Nice mirror Paul. Making one for my wife out of scraps of cherry or walnut will delight her. Looking forward to the video.

    Two other thoughts based on your post. As you close up shop for the weekend to rest, thousands if not tens of thousands of us are eagerly going into ours because of what you have taught us.

    As for manual labor being looked down upon, in the USA this is certainly the case. At one point I worked for a huge global pharmaceutical company and went to their headquarters in Switzerland. There they had such a different outlook on manual labor. They knew they needed plant workers and had programs coordinated with local educational institutions to train individuals who wanted this path. No judgement. Just the realization it was a different path and was needed. These were well paying jobs and the workers were valued for their roles. Of working with their hands.

  11. Hi Paul, When I read your blog about meeting someone who thinks and works like your self I just had to reply to your comments. Look no further my friend because the exact same things have happened to me and sometimes after reading some of your articles I smile to my self plus say to myself, he knows what his talking about and thinks the same as me. Some people are very lucky to possess these skills and that’s where the good old saying comes from “ Bourne to be” in any trade. I to, like your good self was so fortunate to have learnt all I know from master craftsmen there knowledge and skills all of which had been handed down from many years ago and also like yourself I have enjoyed and looked forward to every working day of my life and at our age the magic is still there. It’s a shame that we live so far apart (me in Jersey, Channel Islands yourself in English) otherwise I would have loved to have had that chat with you. Take care. Best wishes Toni Carré 👍

  12. For me the joy of handwork comes from the interaction between tool and work and tool and hand, which when relaxation is present and stress gone it becomes a direct feel between work and hand. Never, of course, discount what your ears tell you. You can hear your plane needs to touch the stones. We are clearly told the saw plate is too far out of the vise, (screeching vibrations) vs. the sound of metal being finely cut. My humble opinion, worth exactly what you paid for it.

  13. Paul, any advice or demonstration you can provide about how to shape the back of the mirror would be appreciated.

Comments are closed.

Privacy Notice

You must enter certain information to submit the form on this page. We take the handling of personal information seriously and appreciate your trust in us. Our Privacy Policy sets out important information about us and how we use and protect your personal data and it also explains your legal rights in respect of it. Please click here to read it before you provide any information on this form.