It’s No Small Thing!

Many things strike me since two months past. As a man used to working alone much of the time and then too on his own in a crowd and with a crowd of men in communal workshops of shared space for long and short periods, I enjoy both with and without the crowd. Working alone for long periods on end I might see things differently to others, perhaps even with a somewhat skewed view of things. It has never really been singularly normal for me to go to an office or a factory setting Not normal for me to even wear a suit or formal dressing and then again dressing casually for indoor office work. I have always avoided such situations. Felt compromised. Taking an elevator to some high floor to join the type of team that sends texts and emails to communicate rather than passing a tool or holding some wood was as distant to me as the proverbial flying to the moon. I have never really ‘dressed up‘ or ‘dressed down‘; and I am thinking slash-cut, stonewashed clothing here, for work, nor have I showered in putting on the image I needed be in with any peers in order to go to work. My showers came mostly after work when I was, well, dirty or sweaty from the work I did–often both. I don’t say any of this to be discriminatory, just to point out the different worlds and that’s all. I know many would like what I have had but had little if any choice. My writing too never came from formal education but from an innate desire to communicate my feelings, thoughts and reasonings to others. So what I do isn’t based on any job I did or was trained for but from a desire to do my own expression of what life means to me. Why, I even coined the term ‘Lifestyle woodworker!’, if you will. That’s because I made the life I wanted to live as much as possible. You know, saw a path less traveled, if you like. One designed along a way that would make me fulfilled. It has. I think still that this is how those who went before me answered their vocational calling. Not something any job coach or teacher doing work advisory for pupils uses or thinks important anymore.

The knife and square, perfect partners!

And then too I joined up the two words ‘knife‘ and ‘wall‘ to create the very sp[ecific term ‘knifewall‘ because, well, I used to use it all the time in my classes and to communicate it to my co-worker juniors too. Before I said it for the first time, it hadn’t existed. I say this because, well, men are getting a taste of what I have always experienced throughout my work-life pretty much, which is working from my own sphere of creativity and also from or very near to my home.

In my carefully crafted world, I always found each and every one of my children hovering somewhere near to in the background of a workbench. They each grew up with a spokeshave in place of a rattle and wood shavings between their toes. In the epidemic we have been working through these past two months there are many who grieve the loss of going to work, I have identified that in a previous blog post because many such things have become a new reality for many, but then there are those who are just enjoying themselves and having a ball working in the garage workshop with their kids. The pandemic has not at all been all doom and gloom, you see. It has been a very sad period for many. I know we each of us feel the grief in loss when even someone we never knew passes away as a result of the coronavirus.

This week I was truly blessed to see dads at home, in the gardens, walking out with their kids and then too doing a wide range of things with their kids that I just NEVER saw so very much of before; they were finding new ways of just being dads! It has been the loveliest thing for me to see a young father outside in the carpark (parking lot USA) walking briskly behind a three-year-old scooting along on a two-wheeler bike learning how to ride it.

Two days ago a family in the garden around the corner from me was busy digging out the whole front garden out with spades, forks, picks and shovels to establish a brand new look — a father and son easing their way through the day in companionable spirit as it is supposed to be. This pandemic seems to have brought the fathers home like nothing else ever did. Relationships are deepening as peer ties seem to somehow evaporate and people across all ages are coming together as seldom seen in our personal histories.

There are remarkable things happening, but I do hope that Britain doesn’t get totally back on its former self-collision course to re-establish itself as seemingly thoughtlessly. Remember too that all of the forecasts about the disaster Brexit would have on Britain never came true. It didn’t happen! Something a million times bigger brought all countries to their knees and not one of these prophets of doom predicted it. The media, the politicians, the economists all have to pick themselves up off the floor because once more it’s the people on the streets that are doing the leg work to pull the world together as best they can. People matter and they vote with their feet!

So it has been nice seeing the dads at home with their children and in deepening relations as it should be. We have to work at making it happen a thousand times more, but, you know what? This just might happen!


  1. This is very true! I am blessed with the fact that my country has very good programs in place for parents in the first place. I got paid parental leave for over 15 weeks to be with my daughters when they where babies. This spring, I was laid off from work for 4 weeks with 100% pay from the government, and got to spend that time taking care of my daughters since the kindergarten was closed down. I got the privilege to be with my girls and connect with them on an even deeper level. In that regard, the pandemic has been a blessing for us. We are not unaffected economical or – for the most part – socially, but I know we’ve nothing to complain about compared to most.
    I have reflected on this situation a fair bit, and I hope that the outcome will be that we as parents – and maybe especially us fathers – can get another perspective on being a parent and spending time with our children. Our kids will benefit from it for sure!

    Another thing I’ve noticed, is that the “tone” in the comment sections has changed somewhat. The personal attacs, the namecalling, the gloating, the ranting, the use of foul language, being unpolite – all that has subsided. True, there’s a lot of it still – but it HAS subsided. Let us hope for the continued demise of that particular one!
    In the end, we are all the same even though we are vastly different in looks, background and cultures. But the virus is not racist; we are all equally good hosts for it (there are differences in age groups, underlying illnesses… I know – but from the virus’ perspective, all humans are generally equally good hosts).

    There is something to be learned from that.

    Today, after work I will continue chopping the reminder of a big oak I felled and cut to boards, to fire wood – with my oldest daughter, until the swing set calls her away. 🙂
    Relax, I’m chopping up the material left over from the milling: branches, the first cuts that are mainly sapwood and stuff too small to be of any use, considering the HUGE stack of boards I have on sticks. Once you start flipping and evalutaing the logs before you put them on the fire, you are in danger territory… 😀 (I did not say you have gone too far…)

  2. Didn’t you know that the sky will fall on our heads?! Start worrying already! You ought to be kept in a state of constant stress. When you don’t know what it’s all about, run in circles, scream and shout!

    Every time I hear or read economic predictions of growth (“1.7% growth for next year, adjusted up from the previous 1.6%”) I have to chuckle. I wonder what crystall ball they were using and if I could have a peek in it as well…. Having meddled a bit with economic modeling in school you get to know how uncertain any predictions are. So the certainty with which future growth is predicted and stated in the news as absolute facts is a bit odd and always caused a smile on my face. Extrapolation, that’s basically all it is. And as my statistics professor used to say, “extrapolation doesn’t give you a dog but a puppy the size of an elephant”). (his other quip was, “statistics are like a bikini. What gets shown is nice, what remains hidden is essential”). Last predictions I’ve heard were of a shrinkage by 10%. I’ll believe it when I see it.

    The real world isn’t linear, with clear-cut causes and effects. Nuclear physicists already knew this long ago, but the rest of the world still hasn’t come to terms with it. All sorts of feedback loops, both positive and negative feedback, that interact. For most people in 1914, the shooting of the archduke of Austria-Hungary was hardly newsworthy. We all know what it led to (and that the root-causes were much deeper than just an insignificant assassination far away). And until very recently, most people didn’t know what the Spanish Flue epidemic of 1918 was, and that it caused more deaths than WW-I. Wasn’t dramatic enough, I suppose. Drama makes for the best news and headlines, and the most content on social media.

    One of the most interesting courses in my economics study was officially called ‘costing-II’ but had nearly nothing to do with actual cost-calculating. The course was given by a psychologist/lawyer/economist who walked around on bare feet and otherwise also looked slightly out of place in the economics department. The topics went from analyzing Madonna songs (I kid you not) and what could be deduced from that, and, most interestingly for me, Chaos Theory. It was an odd course but one that in hindsight taught me a lot.

    It also explains why 1000 ‘powerful’ politicians wildy flaying their arms may achieve nothing, and how one seemingly insignificant woodworker (George) has indirectly impacted the lives of so many (and probably never even was aware of that as well). Odd, but that’s how the world works.

  3. It’s not totally true that it was not predicted – it has been in the government risk register for years and is very prominent in the top corner ( high probability – high consequence). I was involved in the pandemic flu preparations but for that at least we had some measure of an anti-viral drug.

    1. Hmm! Yes, I do know that governments were warned about the probabilities of a new strain of virus coming that would affect the world. I knew of this maybe even 20nyears ago, now. These were not the doomsayers I am speaking of. It should have been dealt with before it came. That would have been good governance.

  4. Paul, agree with your comments apart from Brexit which despite what the current Government will have you believe has not happened yet.
    We are, until the end of the year in the Transition Period.
    Very early next year we will all see the result of Brexit by the lack of food and medicines in the shops due to problems in the supply chain at our borders, which will be exacerbated by panic buying.

    1. Hmm! Codependency? Interdependency? Hmm, hmm! Hard to reason with and so lot’s to think about. People panicked over supposed food and med shortages reported by the mass media folks two and half months ago and then too all kinds of opposing parties but no one has gone hungry this side of our four seas. Remember he who has the most fear tactics lives in total fear himself, but it is not gender-specific. I have no preference to most of it either way. Politicians are rarely men and women of trustworthy character these days but some are honourable, I think, one or two, maybe two, but I have known and trusted used car salesmen over the years and never come short. Oh, and I did have a pastor once tell one of my customers that I used green plywood in cabinets I made because he wanted the work.

    2. Here in Australia the people, not the government are seeing the affects of China’s dominance in the economic world. As fear mungers go about their day, people panic buying toilet paper in gigantic quantities For no reason than to exploit others. I don’t want to be too negative but I feel we have lost most of our country to China.

      1. We are not guiltless in this. We exported our dirty factories to another continent and indeed other continents for decades so we didn’t have the pollution to clean up in our own backyards. The so-called Industrial Revolution keeps going round to come round. We didn’t like the massive chimneys belching out smoke day and night, seven days a week, and the smog associated with all that still dogs people’s impression of Britain a hundred years on when people in the US ask me how I “handle all that smog in little ol’ England!” Well, the last time I personally “handled” it was back 1964 with my last serious asthma attack. Mostly it’s the greed of consumerism insisting on globality, cheap goods to the point of almost free stuff that keeps feeding the insatiable appetite of something anonymous called ‘the economy’!

  5. States here. New Jersey. Heavy lockdown. It is great to see families spending more time together. My problem is that I can’t hold three grand babies or hug a pregnant daughter in law. Built a rocking horse for the 2 year old. Haven’t seen him use it yet or take a header off it! Oh well.
    If you listen to most of our press, their new spin is we can’t go out until we are completely sure that it is completely safe. Some politicians are enjoying their new found power. Heck they put a salon owner in jail for opening up! Meanwhile they are releasing real criminals into the streets. In California they are actually giving booze & drugs to homeless. Guess it’s their stimulus for drug dealers who can’t file unemployment.
    In New Jersey, you can walk on the beach but you can’t lay down. You can’t play sitting down sports (whatever that is). It goes on and on.

  6. “A George drops a shaving, and 70 years later a wood machinist picks up a handplane”… <3

    That is rather beautiful, come to think of it. Goes to show that you should SHARE your knowledge and TEACH. The ramifications might never be truly understood.

    The last result from George's teachings will come one day, but that day may very well be the last day a human draws breath…

  7. If not there already, “knifewall” is worthy of a place in the Oxford English Dictionary. A lot more useful than many another word.

  8. Interesting perspectives as ever. I like the way that you think out loud in your blog, rather as one might in a conversation between friends. There is no need to necessarily agree on everything, but you value your friends and give consideration to what they say. Your observations about politicians and other commentators resonates with my own. They are given far too much credence, when really they are no better or smarter than anyone else. We were all given the gift of discernment to sift the various opinions and ‘facts’ we hear.

    On Friday last, the VE celebrations resulted in the street I live on having the friendliest meeting of neighbours I’ve known in 20 years of living here, and it’s a friendly enough street anyway. Covid 19 related social distancing was observed and paradoxically this brought us all closer. It’s in Stockport so you’ll understand.

    When you …. ” saw the path less travelled…” which one did you use, the Groves?

  9. I’m a professional woodworker in Arizona USA, even though I’d be doing it even if I wasn’t making money from it but it’s given me a way to spend more time with my son. He’s four years old right now and he spends at least three days a week in my shop, watching and learning. I’ve gotten him started with a spokeshave, files, rasp, coping saw and a Japanese ryoba saw. He helps me to make toys for him when I have spare time between paid work (I usually make the time even while I’m working on something for a client because it’s important.) A couple weeks ago he wanted an airplane car and even though it was supposed to be a day off for me, we went into the shop and got to work with only hand tools (I’m a hybrid woodworker but do hand-tool only days as often as I’m able) and made him his airplane car. It looks like the Bat-Mobile with wings (not planned, just winged it) and he loves it. He tells people that he made it in my shop and he’s so proud.
    That kind of mentality and work ethic is what I have and the fact that he’s picking it up so early is amazing to me. Nothing has really changed for us due to Corona as I work in isolation and we already spend so much time together yet seeing so many people that are forced to slow down with life and actually connect with their families is beautiful. I honestly hope that the majority of people will learn from this experience and continue forward with forging the personal connections with their children and families to make society around the world a better place to be.

  10. My grandmother and grandfather got married and started a family during the Great Depression in the 1930s in the United States. Their salaries also supported six others within the family who were out of work. Life eventually got better. However, it left an impact on them tat never completely disappeared. This event will leave an impact. Things won’t completely be the same afterwards.

  11. I truly believe this world will be a better place after all this. For all of the dad reasons you have mentioned. WWG1WGA.

  12. Great post. I was blessed to have a job doing contract research. I contracted research projects from a company and did the work at my own time and speed. Consequently I was also able to take my children with me on one on one outings over the years. It was a great time together. The same was true with hobbies and activities together with my family over the years. Now that I am retired and beginning to pick up woodworking, some of my children are also taking an interest. I guess what I am saying is that I have been blessed to have what you are talking about all of my married life. I agree with what you are saying, it is great to be able to be together as a family. It is too bad it took a pandemic to make it happen in many cases.

  13. Thank you for your perspective. I’ve waited 30 years for a sabbatical. The pandemic is in a way a way to remind us to slow down and enjoy our time rather than racing here or there and being too busy all the time. I’ve been searching for time to build my Roubo bench by hand. My college sone who is home helped me with the heavy lift. Thanks for your videos and information

  14. Good evening Paul.
    I’m a landscaper and I came upon your site when I was trying to renovate some large oak beams by hand, chopping out rotten wood and hand carving new pieces to fit the spaces. I was using skills learnt at school and not much since, so a steep relearning curve, your videos gave me the confidence to continue, thank you for that.
    During this time my fifteen year old son has been working with me on some of our landscaping jobs, it’s been a joy to teach him some of what I know, but more importantly he can see how hard one has to work to gain a solid reputation and earn a living. It’s little wonder that currently he has no wish to join the family firm, however in a decade or so he may well change his mind.
    Very best wishes. Derek.

  15. I too am blessed to have a well equipped workshop and have been watching Pauls vids to learn more about the hand tools I have accumulated over the years. I currently share my shop with a young magician that lives in a small apartment. He helps out when I have to go and buy a load of lumber or cleans up the shop. In turn he has a full house of shop tools, hand and power to do pretty much whatever he chooses. Being isolated is not bothering me at all and if an opportunity presents itself I will share my shop with any youth that is interested. I think this is something us older folk should do for the young budding woodworkers. It is our responsibility to pass these techniques and tool knowledge along.

  16. For some, families spending more time together will have long term benefits.

    For others, the isolation from family and friends is tragic.

    Life is a gift. I will choose to keep living, loving and serving my family and friends. I will not waste life by simply passing time, avoiding death, waiting for some soulless bureaucrat to give me the permission to leave my home.

    “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” — God

  17. Here in Seattle, USA. So, I have been spending time in my shop reading Essential Woodworking Hand Tools and servicing my own tools using methods presented in that book. I think you might like my grandfather’s wooden jack plane he brought from Scotland around 1914. It has finally awakened from its long sleep and now easily flattens a timber’s edge. Grandpa was a carpenter, so the sole of his plane is a little worn from flattening edges. I think I’ll leave it that way, for now.

  18. Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten to a few things I’d put off for quite a while. One of those things was to retouch an antique 8″ English brass back dovetail saw. I tried using Paul’s technique with the wood spacing guide but found it impossible to use it with spacing of the teeth on a 17 ppi saw. The guide slots are so close together that they tend to just break off.
    The result of my efforts were less than I had hoped. Any suggestions?

  19. As a child I was gregarious. My life revolved around the on/off state of the streetlights and I ate wherever there was a jeely piece. But at times I needed alone time – shuffling from one end of a subbuteo mat to the other.
    I said it before and I’ll say it again, in these times ,as a carer, I’ve found a new calm. My workbench is my mat and I enjoy the fact I’m now doing the small things I want to do rather than always focussing on the need. I’ lucky – I do what a want, I do what I can – I didn’t need to save that last offcut of walnut for *something important* – I just used it, and part of an old broom handle, for s plane stop. It’s pretty and turns out I needed it. Plane it, inspect it flip it, rotate it plane it – my cheap, hastily installed vise gets a rest, clamping subsides and I have a new love for passive workholding. (I will now get around to putting pegs into my apron.)
    Just pottering around and daring to look into the second large ’empty’ tool box my dad made as an apprentice brought joy too – a large, neglect Robt. Sorby 5 tpi rip saw with a beautifully ornate, albeit hornless, handle; daring to split the logs under the garage window and thrashing away at them with wedges, saws and scrub revealed a grain pattern reminiscent of a cheetah without the dark – no idea what it is but if it dries ok I’ll find I need it.
    And when the dust settles I’ll just get out for a pint, go get that new dog, eat on the hoof (with my loved ones alongside doing the same), get around to helping my daughter do her garden (telling her to take 2 days off) and my mat will be waiting for me.
    Hopefully, this will continue. I’ll do what I want, what I can and find I’ve accidently fulfilled my needs – and meet my obligations in between.
    Bit of a ramble but I’ve rediscovered my love for ‘pointless’ rambling and seeing where it takes me. I need that.

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