It’s Big, This Making!

My hands strained into the night. Something stopped me from stopping. Had I stopped I would have lost something so precious that I knew I would never find later. That’s how creativity works in me. I don’t stop when I am tired, I stop when I feel I must. Creativity works inside me at all times and it is not and never has been a nine-to-five day, five-day week. No one will ever persuade me differently. Age will one day stop me. I am contented with that reality already.

Handwork is pleasure at the highest level of working. The day wakes you before the sun’s rise with a sense of anticipation, no, expectation, that something is going to come from your two hands holding and flexing to make whatever needs made. I look to my drawing once more. I missed something and I puzzle over a decision made and noted by me three months ago. Something, a reasoned through thought on paper, something considered deeply, escapes me now. Then, aha! ‘There it is!’ I say it out loud to my own ears. ‘That’s why I made that change!’ I understood the misunderstood and felt constrained by my decision made once more afresh inside.

I know I won’t want to stop as soon as I am alive so I make food for the morning meal, wash the utensils, put them to neatness and stir the shaving-scented air in the shop as I move quickly and deliberately to that place where I have stood and felt firmly anchored for fifty-five years every day. I oil the vise on the same day of the week at the same time of day every week. Like winding my wall clock Sunday mornings, the ritual continues; it never stops serving me, that vise made by Woden, a hundred years past. It holds my wood day on day, year on year. I feel gratitude that it never balks at the weight and force of work I put it to. I don’t need to worry about it. I just oil it each week and it will continue until I die. Such is my confidence, I praise it as I open its wide, cast steel jaw to take my wood for me to saw, plane and chop throughout yet another day.

At 2 am I decide the time is right for me to stop. Twenty, thirty nights in a row begins to take its toll. I don’t tire easily and even even now at 70 a 12-hour day is normal. I have delivery to bring to pass. I make and I have a deadline to make to. Without a goal you never achieve. There is but one day between completion and the delivery and the delivery is but one day before the new President takes His place in the White House. The voices kept saying it cannot be done. My journal date says I delivered Monday 19th January 2009. I remember flashing lights of blue on black suburbans coming and going to to the White House in DC , red break lights in brightly coloured flashes in the darkness outside as I walked through the West Wing with the First Lady’s PA. In minutes I was standing in the Cabinet Room. Security was maxed out. I was just a blimp as the lady tells me that this is where Presidents meet the press and in the morning it would be packed.

Gold coloured chairs, matching brocade drapes, carpets to tie things together gave me the sense that my designs were a big thing in the grand scheme of my life. Would they be dwarfed in their new home against curved walls and the doors leading into the Oval Office? Though I felt out of place and would be more at home by my well-oiled bench vise and workbench, my tools in their places, I somehow managed to stay the course and not run away. A woman told me I couldn’t take pictures inside the Cabinet Room as I was just about to click a record of my working. “Only the official White House photographer can do that!” she said. I felt disappointed but was OK with it too. A lady with a camera on the other side of the massive conference table walked over to me, took my camera from my neck, snapped the picture and handed the camera back to me. She was the official White House photographer. She moved creatively to give me the final picture I would ever own of the White House pieces I designed. Those two pieces were my final pieces to be made in the USA and marked the end of 25 years woodworking there.

Thank you USA! I love you!

This is my very personal message to you. I hope that you read it. I enjoy the challenge of delivering on time; actually pushing for a day ahead. These two pieces were a gift to me. I loved bringing the whole together — masterminding it, I mean. Working details in my head those long and lonely nights were indeed isolation itself. No matter what we go through, there is a reason for it. It’s not because we did something bad or something good. And we do not know what precious things await us when we simply persevere in the face of adversity. I have learned that it is not on the easy paths we choose where our character is formed but, more, it’s on the very anvil of adversity. We go through difficult times for a reason. In 1985 I was told that I had 18 months to live. I signed myself out of hospital and changed my whole lifestyle, migrated to the USA, and started over. The disease was incurable. That is half my current span of life ago. I don’t have any trace of that incurable disease in my body. I am content!

Because of these things, I recall a skinny English youth of 15 raised in social housing starting on a journey to become a crafting artisan who could scarcely read or write and who was told by the school’s head teacher that he could never be educated. He became a man and made mistakes, bought the wrong things, and lost some of his favourite tools. He picked a path less traveled and found himself in the wilderness to think beneath mesquites and amongst the prickly-pear cacti, watched lizards and scorpions scurry and scuttle off and faced up to wild boar with only a 410 shotgun and a throbbing chainsaw.

Go make! Carve your life. You only need a made-up mind!


  1. Wow paul! That’s some powerful medicine! Thank you for positively impacting my life.

  2. Inspiring words. They should have a statue of you in Mersey Square. Or Edgeley Park.

  3. Paul,

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

    You’re a true inspiration. You change my life with every blog post, every video and every project—in tiny increments and in big leaps that all add up and let me hone my skills, let me reflect on what really matters, and lead me to living a better, more conscious and meaningful life.

    Working with my hands is where I’m at peace and feel fully alive.

    You’re the best! Be safe, and much love and gratitude.

  4. I hope the boar had the sense to back off..

    Inspiring words indeed, I wish I could change my course. My fear and mortgage and responsibilities are currently bigger than the desire though, so I make do with my small worspace which is already helping!

  5. Don’t know who to attribute this to, or if it is worded correctly, but is one of my favorites and applies here: “The sword cannot be tempered until it goes through the fire.” Thank you, Paul, for reminding me. We in the US love you.

  6. I love your story telling Paul. Any chance we could see the photo from the White House? Take care

  7. Thank you Paul for saying the right things for the right time, and more importantly, showing and doing for those of us that learn in that fashion. You are appreciated.

  8. Wonderful Story Paul. Is this a new book finally coming out in print? How can I get a signed copy?

  9. Here for all to read is a testament to both craftsmanship and quality that in my 83d year I find truly inspiring. Too bad (for us) that you left; but happy that you’re back home.

  10. I’d be fascinated to hear how you came to be commissioned by the White House to make this piece. I hope it’s not rude to enquire but it would be terribly interesting to know. Thanks for all you do.

    1. It’s not that interesting. A phone call, a brief conversation, a quick and sketchy drawing sitting in my recliner and a very much too brief, brief giving me a very blank canvass which I preferred. Job done! Then the real work began.

  11. Thank you Paul. Im just getting into my second year of disability due to orthopedic issues and a bad reaction to anaesthesia during two major surgeries. I cant work for any length of time , but reading your blog helps to motivate me to work at my carvings and small boxes five or six days every week. thanks again for the inspiration and shared knowledge.

  12. Dear Paul,

    Now I am a “retired” electronics engineer. All my life I have being striving for accuracy in everything I do, from cleaning my workshop/laboratory to anything. I write retired between quote marks because now I feel less retired than ever with an enormous motivation for interesting projects. Amazingly a few weeks ago I knew about your existence and immediately I started absorbing the enormous body of knowledge that you, so generously, give to everyone. In the process I understood the enormous value, joy and psychological reward of doing woodwork with hand tools. Doing wood work with hand tools is analogous to do analytical calculations versus brute force numerical computations analogous to power tools. However I believe, anyway, we can not completely discard one or the other, it would be very interesting to know, in your opinion, which are the essential power tools to adequately complement the hand tool work.

    Thank You and Best Regards,
    Jaime Alonso

  13. I loved your remembrance, Paul. Just my style. Very glad you recovered from the “incurable” disease.
    I assume that you designed pieces and visited the Obama White House. So glad it wasn’t Trump’s.

    Take care

  14. Lovely story, school failure to the White House! I too left school at 15 with not a qualification but maybe some us are late developers. I will never have Paul’s level of skill as a woodworker and could never safely use a sharp tool if tired! But great skills give one spare capacity to look beyond the immediate job in hand. Like a learner driver who attention is on the controls and immediate surrounds, as skills improve then one looks further ahead and anticipates other’s actions. Well some of us do anyway!

  15. Paul, Thank you again and again. My Paths have changed countless times and I’m always looking forward. Your paths that have been commented are very assuring to me. There are times when I have thought that the paths I chose was wrong but then today I read your challenges and realized that we all have similar encounters and moving on to the next path is an accomplishment. P. S. You are the BEST.

  16. If you look up the phrase “a class act,” you’ll find Paul’s picture next to it. Generous, knowledgeable, and wise. I’ve just ordered the book/DVD set through Rokesmith as I couldn’t find it here in the US, and I couldn’t wait till we visit our daughter now living in London. I look forward to digging deeper as I gather tools, techniques and talent from your excellent example. Thank you, sir. I’m approaching 71, as you are (July) and am sincerely grateful for the gold mine of your golden mind.

  17. It’s true that I learn something new every day – Paul Sellers made cupboards for the President – well, I say that is just great…

    Your writing is reassuring and warm Paul – it makes my heart sing.

  18. Paul, I am ever thankful for having the opportunity to take your courses in Texas in the 1990s. What a joy it was to study under a true master. I have been using your teaching techniques for these past many years in the many furniture pieces I have built. At 77 I am slowing down some but have been able to introduce you to my son who will soon eclipse me in craftsmanship based on your teachings. The ability to pass this on to my son is a true legacy. Thank you very much.

  19. Thank you for sharing. What an interesting man you are! Thank god you got a second wind. I have wondered what your white house pieces are like. I knew that they had to be special of course. The glimpse on the photo looks stunning. Would love to see more.

  20. While I am duly impressed with the kindness shown of the White House photographer, three words struck me full “I am content”

    Even after a few days home trying to decide how to help my Mother as she loses daily in the battle associated with aging, I find myself while sad also strangely content.
    Thank you Paul.

    1. Caring for our elderly, the physically and mentally disabled, and the ill is a carefully crafted art form employing ever element of a human being administering love. When you see this take place with a skilled carer, you are humbled to tears.

  21. Thank you Paul. As ever I find your writing deeply moving and inspiring. Since discovering you, your work and your way of being on the internet one day I’ve learned so much. I told my wife you’re the dad I never had. Keep well.

  22. I am truly moved by your words Paul. Thank you for sharing your life with all of us who admire your work, teachings and sheer tenacity for never giving in to adversity. If you represent the ‘old school’ methods, I am proud to be a pupil in your class. With time we may all grow to become the new ‘old school’. What a legacy….

  23. Wow. Thank God for miracles. Thank you for this touching real life experience. It is an inspiration to all.

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