I try to imagine life without making, but something inside me tells me that that is perhaps as strange a thought to me as it is to those who might find it impossible to think of their making something to sell or use, whether to sell for self-support or not. I can’t even think what it is like not to work making for a living because life for me is and always has been about making to live by and then too, living to make. Some people describe their selling something as, well, making a sale. What a strange thing to say, ‘making a sale’. In my world of making to date I have spent over 16,500 ten-hour days, that’s minimum, making. I find it hard to imagine 165,000 hours standing within a few feet of a workbench, vise and wood, but it is true. It was my choice. No one and nothing forced me to do it. And I loved it.
Today I chose to work for 12 hours. My choice as always! I had something I wanted to achieve so I set myself a goal and I achieved it. Without goals, you rarely achieve much of anything. I enjoyed just about every one of those 720 minutes and it was hard to get me to stop for more than 15 minutes. The fascination of making has never diminished. Making means cutting and harvesting, upcycling and recycling, sharpening, restoring, repairing and maintaining. I take all things dull and sharpen them and in the sharpening add my own nuanced methods you have never seen or heard of and likely never will, unless I tell you. Such are the ways of the craftsman. Recycling takes the abandoned or the waste and changes the course of its destination. This too is what I do.
I don’t have any trade secrets because I have always told anyone and everyone who asked me how I do what I do and then those who don’t ask too. The reason you may never know something that I do is because I am more likely to forget to tell you. The things I pass on to you are the things I have done all of my life. I don’t do reenacted things or copy others because my life is lived in realness and comes from that backdrop. I am only happy when I am living real work. My videos capture parts of my real life as a man that works to make things and nowadays that includes my excursion into including the making of videos about how I make the things I do. I don’t role play or act out the role of someone who wants to be but one who is and one who does and has done all his life. My tools are not decorative backdrops emulating a previous century, or some kind of enhancing feature to make me look like a crafting artisan; my life is a lived reality of craftsmanship. Perhaps this life I have is one of a dying breed. I don;t see too many around like me any more but in my youth people of 70 working as craftsmen were plentiful. My tools are the ones I’ve depended on for 55 years. Were I to come out of retirement working full time to earn my wage I would still be able and apt to work around 60 hours in a six-day week. I could live well and comfortably working the same way I do as you see in my videos on that. More than comfortably. Were I to retire from making I would be a most uncomfortable and unsettled man and that is because making has been who I am for so very long. Retirement to me is the disease of the age but by that I mean I would be ill at ease — dis-eased if you see will. I think too that far more people feel like I do than you might think.
It takes me 8-10 hours to make a shoji panel like the top picture from scratch if I am not videoing and that would be in any wood type. It is exceptionally straightforward with uncomplicated cuts, mostly square but a few forty-fives. I introduced some of my methods that speed up processes and accuracy and then others that might slow things down a little, but they are mine and uncopied for the main part. None of this is the reason for me doing the things I do. I don’t care if it takes me four times as long because I quite enjoyed the making of these two panels but not because they were challenging in any way, more that the components and joints are so symmetrical and repetitive they require only a little forethought once the layout is begun. That said, it is the simplicity that is so appealing.
I have enjoyed using the tools I already own and not buying in any additional kit. These ones are the ones I have used throughout my worklife. That’s a set of basic chisels costing under £10 that gave me pristine cuts as they always do and have done for around ten years. A Stanley plane or two, a chisel hammer, combination gauge and a couple of basic back saws lining up to square lines and knifewalls concluded my making a combination of 30 mortise and tenon joints (including six double tenons) and then 27 halving joints. A Record plough plane gave me four channels in which I housed a panel with raised bevels. Hard to imagine, I likely didn’t pay more than £100 for all of those tools. Mmm, hmm! Don’t you just love that!
Imagine how dead and empty my day would have been today had I decided not make a simply shoji frame. My days are all about the reality of making. I don’t need or take much rest because the engagement of making is something to live wholeheartedly for. This is my lifestyle. I choose it. As long as I can start and stop when I choose, take bike rides and walks into nature, listen for the still, small voice to tell me what to do when and how, I am a contented being a workman, an artisan and a man that designs and makes things that enhance life. To lay on a beach without children might well be the most dull and boring thing I could ever do or imagine as would be being forced to watch some kind of ballgame or play golf. I am an activist, a writer, videographer and a newborn 20-month-old vlogger. I blog, and make and cook and grow and my life is still, still, evolving. Oh, I am also a YouTuber. At the end of the day, who knows what I will yet become. I am just grateful that I was given the opportunity to choose my future and constantly emerge into it. . . and then too that I was able to make it this far.