A Future Past

I decided not to use the name of the disease sweeping the world because of the negative connotations we conjure up in our minds thinking about it. I want to tell a story about the last six months that will ultimately span around 35 years from today. It’s too long for a single blog but I hope some of my history will interest everyone. Of course, it’s about the life of a man woodworking. I’m skipping the first two decades of my work-life as a woodworker and furniture maker for now. That’s a book yet to get beyond mere manuscript, but it’ll come in time.

All airports merge into one and you only think your traveling.

In 1983 I began an application to migrate to the USA. That’s a long story in and of itself. It came from a thought I had that a new life could be had from a decision to move across the globe and so I sold up lock, stock and barrel to cross the Atlantic ocean. It actually took 3 1/2 years to settle the matter as there was such a demand from around the world to migrate to the new world and in November 1986 I was welcomed by an immigration official in Dallas, Texas to the USA.

Laying out for a raised and faceted star.

My early days began with a choppy start. Picture a single seater plane with a novice beginner at the controls lifting and plummeting along a runway in a jagged line left to right and up and down. I’d sold everything to do this and having a family brought on the added responsibility of having no choice but to make everything work. My new career stateside began down near the Mexican border just north of Uvalde, Texas where I built my home and workshop in a remote, dead-end canyon in a hamlet called Reagan Wells. It was here that I learned of the unique combination love and hate, hospitality and bitter feuding can play in the lives of the few. It was here that I had to claw back the lost efforts in trial and error and rebuild a new future beneath many a day of hostile summer suns. I embraced each and every one of the challenges.

The passage was indeed a rocky road but then Texas is known as the rite of passage for rugged individualism and independence. This makes it the Lone Star State and the only US state than can fly its flag at the same height as the US flag. You might from time to time see the state flag flying higher than the US flag. There are still the odd rebelsn here and there that cherish the thoughts of being independence even though there is no such thing.

Mesquites like this got converted into a thousand dollars worth of boxes. Unbelievable!

Texas became my home for over two decades. Two of my boys were born there and another became a US citizen as soon as he could. I never did because of some complexities. I wish I had but then I most likely could not have taken the new and exciting journey that began back 2009 when I returned here to live.

Missing the Longhorns! Out in an 18,000 acre pasture. Just them and me most times. Oh, and an occasional rattler hanging out by my chainsaw for warmth when I put it down.

Starting over was not easy either. In the states I was well known and established. Here in the UK, I was a relative unknown although known. Writing for US magazines gave me some fame, but I so hated my hand tool writings being used as new wallpaper alongside advertisements for power equipment. It paid the bills for a while but as soon as I could I stopped writing for them and started my own writing on my blog and elsewhere. I will most likely never write for another magazine. They’re not my way anymore. By this I think we can be true to ourselves. We don’t need to compromise ourselves by selling to the highest bidder.

My inlaid mesquite chest of drawers took first prize.

My blog has become a lovely place for the kindnesses of woodworkers to be. Here, I can work my passion and pass on the important skills garnered and gathered from my five decades in the saddle without sullying the work I do with adverts, sponsorship and any of many other unequal yokes.

My Brazos rocking chair design. The was the very first one of this design.

Anyway, here I am looking back through my history here on earth and thinking I lived my life as a woodworker promoting real woodworking and a lived lifestyle of doing it. You don’t have to be a fulltime woodworker to be a woodworker. Part time is great fun and enjoyment comes in the punchiness of compactness. A good half day can be better than a full time week, in my view.

Only a quarter mile from home, my kids joined me every day after school for hours of woodworking. Such joyful memories.

In the USA I lived and worked locally to my home. The furthest workshop was quarter of a mile ( .402 kilometers) away. A five minute walk. In 1988 I taught my first hand tool workshop for the Texas State Arts and Crafts Foundation. I loved it and from this introduction to willing classful of participants I began writing curriculum for a foundational course. It was somewhat rough and ready to begin with but it worked so perfectly I continued writing and drawing every spare minute I could. Remember that I continued to work and sell my work for the next 20 years but that during that time I started a woodworking school to teach hand tool woodworking courses.

In my home workshop in Texas! I loved it!

I will fill in some of the blanks between then and now as this series goes but today and this past week I started to think about the path forward and the changes we made through the recent events of the past six months.

Faceted stars featured highly in my Texas designs and I know why. The woods? Texas ebony and Texas mesquite! What else?

Joseph and I were talking this last weekend about how in January we knew nothing of what would unfold two months later. How we planned one thing and ended up with many others. Soon I would be filming myself making and putting the results out on YouTube in a series of ten — not my comfort zone at all. We talked of how we had steelworkers in to create a stairway to a lesser-used area.

Utilitarian and functional.

After the steel workers came the electricians to install the extended electricity we needed and also the lights to light our way throughout the winter when the roof light lighting stops working so well.

Electricians lighting up the new world of publishing my work! We’re aiming for new heights!

I didn’t know back then that I would actually find the time to at last categorise many hundreds of my tools. . .

Every box labelled and each tool itemised and numbered so i can find a nut for a Record #4 if I need to.

. . . or how the large portion of our building might be dedicated to printing machines like these.

Joseph working on setting up the binder for when the printer is set up and working this week all being well.

This was very far from our minds in January, but we worked out a way to regenerate some of my earliest works that will be printed on our own presses as it were.

The binder reduces our workspace.

I will be telling this and other stories as I progress this series. My woodworking life is filled with many wonderful things. Rest assured, my life will always be about teaching others about my craft. Why? I feel the continued need to ameliorate what I began waking up to when I migrated. The work I began in the USA back in 1987 became a life ambition and that was when I saw the decimating onslaught of my craft by a machining world of so-called progress. Strong language? Well, back then I never in ten years there saw anyone who used hand tools except to clean out glue. I know they were there, but they had indeed all but gone. That is not the case today. Hence, I wrote over 24 how-to’s on hand tool woodworking along with projects like my rocking chair above that are now back in our hands. The story will unfold!

46 thoughts on “A Future Past”

  1. These ‘real life’ blog posts are some of the most helpful you write Paul. They enliven the mood, even on the darkest of days, and inspire me to enjoy each and every moment. Looking forward to the next installment.

  2. Really enjoy the stories as well. So I have been to Reagan Wells and you made me curious about why, in all of God’s green earth, you would settle in Reagan Wells. I love the Texas Hill Country but….

    Thanks Paul for your dedication to writing on the blog.

  3. Funny you didn’t want to mention the name of the disease and its connotations, because for the first few months I heard the name it puzzled me, thinking of Project-Corona every time. By now though, this has shifted so my first association these days is with the disease, not with the satellite project or the star constellation, or corona-discharge.

    “[…]to willing classful of participants […]”

    There’s a very big difference between education that is more or less forced upon someone (most primary and secondary schools) and real, voluntary education (or perhaps a better term, ‘learning’). When I started night-classes for mech. engineering it was a small group (we started out with 11 persons, 5 or 6 of whom eventually graduated). Highly motivated students who were eager to learn. Who spend their free evenings going to school and paid money for that. Teachers often told us how big the difference was between teaching day students (usually younger people) and night classes.In the event we found one teacher slacking a bit, dilly-dallying or whatever, we didn’t hesitate to spur him on to get back on topic and up to speed.

    You could have built the stairs yourself out of wood and turned it into a project. I know I would be very interested to see and learn how to properly build wooden stairs. The steel one in your picture I could build. But a proper wooden one… not so. Then again, I did build a wooden retractable ladder for the shop attic half a year ago, using reclaimed wood and only hand tools. It came out pretty nice. Very solid stairs, much better than anything that I could find for sale and exactly the dimensions I needed. Did take me 6 days to make though.

    Didn’t know you had your own printing press. In a distant past, around Gutenberg’s time, printing involved lots of woodworking. Cutting the wooding printing blocks (one page at a time) for the press. Guess you have gone full circle again, only this time the printing press supports your woodworking, not the other way around.

    1. Nemo, I would have liked to build wooden stairs, spiral ones even, but I sometimes wonder how many hours people think I have in a given day. This is not in any way a rebuke. More that when I sit at my computer writing a blog like this one for three hours, and then have two or three others on the go, and build a cabinet for three twelve-hour days being filmed, review the videos for the video editors, continue the make between filming sessions and such, I really get less than 12 hours a day in over a six-day week. And COVID just about doubled my workload. That was before COVID really. The only reason I can do what I do is because my family is all grown and flown and I love the idea that I am working on a legacy for woodworkers on a global scale.
      Oh, and I really liked the utilitarianism of the all-steel stairway by the way.

      1. Your point is very valid. Didn’t come across as a rebuke at all (and even if it were, nothing wrong with a gentle rebuke).

        As I was writing the stairs comment, I half figured it would take quite a bit of time to build something out of wood, considering how long it took me to build a simple ladder for the attic.

        I’m at the moment thinking up ideas to change the stairs in the house. Will try to retain the large, solid oak steps but build highly-polished stainless steel strings and balusters, while retaining the original oak handrail. So it’ll be mostly metalworking (at which I’m reasonably good) and only limited woodworking (at which I’m slowly beginning to get less incompetent). Am very fond of the combination of polished stainless steel and wood. Somehow they contrast strongly (natural vs. man-made, hard vs. soft) but also complement eachother beautifully. Mostly a matter of taste, I suppose. And thanks to the woodworking skills I’m slowly picking up here, I’m now able to translate my personal taste into tangible things for the house.

        1. We have a mezzanine floor more linked to this area than via others so only one stairway makes it direct and only one door to go through instead of four.

      2. Staircases? My initial interest in hand woodworking came from a staircase in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Google “Loretto Stairs.” It’s easier than trying to explain the stairs. They are a spiral staircases with no supports. Just the steps and stringers going up. No center pole, etc.

        In days long past, before everything became off limits, I could stand right under them and look up through them. The story was a wandering woodworker with a sack of tools came through town and built them by hand. There were no power tools in those days. No nails. Working alone. Just glue and wooden pegs. Many years later, I picked up the hand tools and then found Paul’s videos. But, I still visit the Loretto Stairs each time I get to Santa Fe.

  4. Not only do you teach us how to use the many hand tools in the world you also are teaching us ways to use this life we have been so freely given and that aging is not a reason to sit idly by.
    As always, thank you Paul.

  5. Thank you Paul. I like the reintroduction of the use of pinch dogs in your article for joining wood together. I intend to give them a try.
    You always have something new and interesting to offer in your articles! Best wishes.

  6. As usual Paul, you continue to inspire us, taking us through journeys of life through your perspective which enriches us with the lessons in them. Looking forward to your memoirs of your woodworking life!

  7. Antony E Brinlee

    I have truly enjoyed my journey with you. I have come to love George through your eyes and hope you continue giving us peeks into your past and what influenced you.

  8. Mr. Sellers, I don’t know if I’ve learned more from your videos or from your blog! The inner aspect of your craft, your work and your lifestyle is so present here.

  9. Paul,
    Thank you once again for a great narrative. I still remember a half-day course you presented at Elm Mott many years ago.

    I have tried to impart a little of what I learned in that too-short course, as my grandchildren grow into appreciation of hand tools. A week ago, my youngest grandson and I built a 5-board bench from A. J. Hamler’s book “Civil War Woodworking”. It was a joy working with an 8-year-old, with his boundless curiosity and eagerness to learn and build. I wish I had a photo or a video of his first encounter with a Stanley hand plane. He learned the basics in a minute and his excitement at making the curly shavings was a joy to behold. If I had left him to it he would have reduced the whole project to a pile of curly shavings. Thank you for the inspiration.

  10. If ever there is a time in the future when you can no longer work wood (I hope it never happens), I would encourage you to write books. Books about woodworking, your life or anything else you would like to write about.

    I would buy them.

    1. I should have said “write MORE books”, as there are already some quality woodworking books that have already written by
      Mr Sellers.

  11. Returning from Texas to Wales reminds me of a nice story about the singer Charlotte Church who is Welsh . She was invited to sing for George Bush and after the performance she had the chance to speak with the President . “Where do you come from ? ” said George. “Wales ” replied Charlotte .George being curious asked her “What State is that in ?”

  12. Thinking about America where power tools are so dominant with diy fans –Is there a market for specially shaped wooden boxes to contain those power tools ? The cardboard containers or even plastic cases with power tools crammed so deftly inside are almost useless for simply containing the tool and the pesky electric lead and the plug that always put up a fight . Some part of a designer`s brain will never accept the lead and plug as part of their problem .

    1. It irritates me too, I hate throwing those pesky boxes away, but they are otherwise useless. A triumph of form over function – like so much of today’s plastic products.

  13. I can’t wait for these books. Thank you for your honesty about the craft of woodworking. The lessons, often the simple ones of life are interwoven. Like the rings and grain of timber that reflects a year, a season encapsulated in later years and seasons. Altogether they are the tangible living wood that we get to use.
    When I touch the wood, whether it be a few years of plantation radiata pine or imported timbers and the stubborn strength and hard yielding Australian hardwood that was a hundred years when felled and spent another 100 in a house I feel so privileged and happy.

  14. I really enjoy your writing about woodworking as well as your life journey. Looking forward to reading any additional books (and blogs) you write!

    You are a great inspiration!

  15. Enjoyed reading of your life’s journey. Interesting.
    I have viewed all of your YouTube videos and have learned much. Thank you. I have one question for you. I think it was in one of your videos or maybe your blogs that you mentioned cleaning older furniture that was greasy/dirty over time. What is the cleaning agent you like to use? I think you said that it was of your own concoction. Thank you.
    Best regards,

  16. Carlos Atilio Cordova

    Interesting your story; in Latin America there is still a lot of work with hand tools; although their remuneration is ridiculous and sometimes discouraging. thanks for your knowledge. My best wishes.

  17. Dave Underwood CFA

    You are ever the inspiration and the vision on so much of life, as well as all things integral to hand-working wood. I’m at a such a loss to not have, at the least, met you during your Texas days, although I’d known well of you through reads of your published articles.

    The photos of the mesquite in the growing, but especially the hand-wrought finished forms are a joy. I’ll be at it on a huntboard project of mesquite now that the ambient temps here in my Scottsdale garage are moving more frequently to the South of 100F.

  18. I have enjoyed my time in my two classes with you in Texas and the stories you have shared. I’m looking forward to continuing to learn from you and excited to see the old lessons printed again.

  19. This is great Paul. Your story is quite fascinating and so I look forward to the future instalments with interest. Thanks for all of your hard work.

  20. I concur with everything said so far, but as a native small-town Arizonian, I also need to pass on a long standing tradition us westerners (yes, apparently all of us) have felt it necessary to uphold; upon meeting a Texan, we look down, shake our heads, and mumble to anyone listening, “AFT”, as in Another Freaking Texan. I’ll leave it to your imagination to what the ‘F’ really stood for. If I ever get a chance to meet you in person, Paul Sellers, you’ll know now what I’m mumbling as I inspect the floor.

  21. I hope your book will soon be reprinted. I’ve been unable to find it anywhere, which is proof that you’ve started a move back to woodworking for people all over the world! I always look forward to reading your blogs and seeing every new video you publish. I hope you never stop!

  22. Paul,
    I love reading your blogs! I usually just read and never respond or comment. But I thought you might get a kick out of the fact that I have dragged up your older you tube videos on building a first workbench. I have decided to build that work bench because you gave us so much information and instruction that it inspired me to say “I can do that !” I have also watched the videos on the add-ons and have decided that I will undertake to do them as well in time. My bench, instead of being 5 1/2 ft. in length will be 7 ft. and the thickness of my top will be 4 1/2 inches. I am also going to add something a bit different that I have not seen anyone else do. I am going to inlay a perfectly flat granite slab measuring 20″x 18″x 3/4 “inches at one end of the bench to use for flattening
    planes, sharpening and such. Just wanted to say Thank you for all you have done for me and for the hand tool wood workers everywhere.

  23. Paul thanks for who you are and what you do. Now for the Texans and that splinter that gets bigger from one side of Texas to the other. Everything is bigger in Texas. When my Texas friends I knew bragged too much I would have to remind them that their flag came from another state, Georgia. That’s where I’m from and we are always ready to help out and share. Ever since the Alamo. We just don’t forget. Again, thanks for helping me to make shavings and also to know when sharpen! You keep talking and I’ll keep on listening.

  24. It is nuts that some woods can last centuries in the open air without a synthetic preservative. I went to a state park the other day, maybe yesterday. I saw one of the oldest buildings in the area. It was from the 1700s, a hand-hewn square log cabin. You could see the broadaxe or hewing ax they chopped the round parts of the log and then cut notches on the ends of these timbers or beams. Then they stacked them and chinked the gaps with some kind of putty or cement or oakum or what they had back in the day. It had been refurbished with white sandy cement. Looked great and i would live in it in South Carolina…but only with central air conditioning. The wood was not degraded. Part of that was these huge long leaf pines shading the whole area, but still. The humidity in the US South is like 100% much of the time. Surely mold or termites would chew up wood exposed for so long, but no. Appears the old timers knew the right woods to use and how to stop that. Pretty cool!

  25. Mr. Joe Renta on 28 September 2020 at 7:01 pm got to it first. That is a damned fine rocking chair. Certainly a worthy project if it would be practical.

  26. An excellent blog Paul.
    1. It brings back memories of being Dallas and weekends flying up to a small town in the pan handle some years ago where woodwork, guns and longhorns sit happily side by side.
    2. It also brings back even longer memories of my time in Australia when unexpectedly helping out new friends with their home woodwork tasks.
    3. Now in rural France watching my daughter’s (French) partner doing all manner of amazing things with wood borne out of entirely self-taught practice without the aid of magazines or the internet in which he has not a scintilla of interest.
    4. It’s true the pages of woodwork magazines are filled with ads for machinery but without these I suspect the publishers could not survive on hand tool revenue alone and we might not enjoy the reading matter that you and other fellow contributors have given us.

    Thank you again for your unique blog effort and time. I enjoy all of the YouTube work that you (and others) give to us, and yours especially with it’s engaging down to earth atmosphere.

    P.S. The knife wall got me out of unexpected trouble yesterday!

  27. I heartily agree full-time working is not necessary, although even now, you seem to be driving yourself into it; I guess that’s OK, so long as you enjoy it.

    I find that intervals give time for consideration and thought. I’ve found myself thinking rather more deeply about a wooden support beam problem I’m working with. Numerous point loads will be adjusted by long screws. I’ve been imagining the necessary length of thread immersion, the required lifts, the joist deflection, the beam deflection itself and the interaction between adjustments. I imagine the forces and moments at the end supports of the beam. To my eye, it’s quite a complicated problem, which I will not attempt to quantify. But thought clarifies it and gives me confidence I’ll overcome all the difficulties. I think time to think is a valuable aspect of a break every so often. Besides, the stop go rhythm fits in well with all the other activities (like granddaughters!) which crowd into retirement.

  28. As always an interesting and insperational blog. I know you have a special place in your heart for America/Texas, after all, it had a massive affect on your life. But… without wishing to sound too nationalistic… I’m glad you came home. For one, I would never have got to meet you and chat to you in person as I did at the northern Woodwork show in Harrogate and down at your book signing in Oxford.

    Up to the age of 57 nobody else in my life had inspired me to take on something new, and then I discovered your YouTube videos. Now at 61 I have a hobby/pastime… passion for something I love doing, regardless how good or bad I am at it. Thank you.

  29. Great stories and pictures to boot! I think part of why your teaching methods work so well is the time you spent on both sides of the Atlantic ocean – not an easy chasm to straddle with the 2 different sides of culture and understanding. The fact we more or less abandoned our hand tools here in the states complicates matters, as we are very much a machine culture here these days. I am glad to have found such a fantastic resource that could help us all rediscover our hand tool roots, and learn so much more from your experiences and the life you have lived. Thanks so much for all you and your crew do, it is appreciated much more than you probably realize. Stay safe and take care of yourselves in these trying times.

  30. Paul,

    There are very few people like you who energetically share their love for a craft and effectively teach and encourage others to learn new woodworking skills. I for one am very grateful for your great teaching style and for all the effort you make to pass on woodworking skills and your healthy philosophy about woodworking. I am an amateur woodworker who started plinking around in the wood shop that was available in the college I attended. I needed a break from the stress of that time and turning candlestick holders was just the ticket. It is now 47 years later and that need has grown into a wonderful hobby. Youtube, wood magazines and an occasional book purchase are my teachers. I was thrilled to find you a few years ago (and I did purchase one of your books – it is so well done).

    Silent consumer:
    The other point is, that for every person who comments on your articles, there are a hundred like me who just drink it in and learn from you. You are truly a person of loving concern which shows up in each video or blog you do. Please keep it up (but don’t wear yourself out!).

  31. I always enjoy reading your postings, but this one suddenly transported me back to about 1991. I was a young engineer for Del Monte and spent time at their Crystal City plant. We had to stay in Uvalde as there wasn’t much in the way of hotels and restaurants in CC. I was lucky enough to be in Uvalde when the world glider championships were being held. About scared me out of my running shoes one evening when a glider coming in for a landing suddenly flew over me. I still make breakfast burritos that I first ate and learned to make during that assignment. Thanks for mixing up the topics of your blog posts. This one was fun. Kind regards, Joe

  32. Dear Paul,

    Since you published this article, I keep thinking about that picture of mesquite tree and what you wrote about it. I have realized that, probably due to lack of experience , I fail to appreciate the value and potential of small, thin logs. Could you please help me with that?

    1. The assumption is that all mesquites are small and spindly thin when I have cut some 30″ in diameter and harvest board footage from them 7-8 feet long. I have about ten boards here with me in the U some of which I harvested and some of which I bought from a friend who mills them from the trees he cuts. I always good piles of mesquite over two decades. Down on the Nueces river there always were very large mesquite and so too in Mexico also.

  33. Howdy Paul,
    I’ve been a blacksmith hobbyist for 20 years, but but found your videos a month ago and found them so instructional and delightful that I began collecting tools and building a bench. Thank you so much for the excellent instruction and blogs. In a crazy world you make a positive difference in people’s lives. I live in Huntsville Texas, so of to find a misquite and make some winding sticks! Cheers, Glen Walline

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.