The Certainty of Uncertainty

My first two books off our own presses.

Perseverance is everything, especially in the face of adversity. The book above is one of 34 we plan to print that I have written over the past twenty years. It’s taken me 20 years to get to this dream point but all the machines for printing and publishing are now in place.

I think the greatest hindrance to progress in our lives is the fear of uncertainty, the fear of failure, but the fear of being seen to fail is the greatest hindrance of all. People fall in public and look to see who’s laughing. They fall and laugh despite the pain and stand to show others around that they are resilient, tough and just fine when they are not. Such is the pressure to look good in the face of our peers. Worse than this is not looking good within our families. A man came to a class because he aspired to be a woodworker. He made things and took them home. His wife said, “You paid £300 for a week’s class and you only made a box, a wall shelf and a table?”

I’m not a carver, but I can carve!

“Well, no!” he said. I learned how to sharpen and use the tools, about layout and much more. I loved it!”

Two years later I met him again and he said his wife didn’t want hand made stuff in the house. He gave up woodworking and sold off his tools.

Another man from a class took home a spoon and a spatula. They were scarred and split. It was a one day class on shaping and he had more bandaids on his hands than skin. He wrote me how much his wife loved what he made for her and that she used them every day for cooking. He signed up for the next six day class and you know what? At the end of the class he had but one bandaid on and he took home the same three projects as gifts for his family. he has now made many other projects including my Craftsman-style rocking chair nd my Brazos Rocking Chair!

52 thoughts on “The Certainty of Uncertainty”

    1. I once lived on the Brazos River in Texas! As I did the Frio River, the Dry Frio River and the Guadalupe River.

      1. Stephen McGonigle

        Hmm, maybe I’ll do a Tame and a Goyt, and then a Mersey. Being a Stockport man you’ll get this. 😉

          1. That was the old joke. You couldn’t drown in the Irwell because you’d dissolve first.

  1. Arthur Schueler

    I remember once I was asked what advice to give young people just starting out that I wished I had had when I was younger. It was this, don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t be afraid to try and fail even if you do your best.

    People that would judge someone else for failing something tried are just too afraid themselves and use that as justification for their own shortcomings. When I was younger I worried over how I would look in front of those people, until I realized they’re watching from the shadows and accomplishing nothing but making people feel bad.

    1. Arthur is right. I work on the philosophy of :
      “The man that never made a mistake never made anything”.
      I’m constantly making mistakes , correcting them and learning from the experience.

    2. I agree with Arthur and Keith. The only real failure is not trying in the first place. And how do we learn if we don’t fail and try again until we do the best we can?

      1. Terrence OBrien

        I have a collection of dove tail boxes that probably don’t have the kind of joints that would pass muster in the living room. But they do a wonderful job holding tools, hardware, and supplies in the garage. I rate them as having a 100 year life. Stacked next to each other on the shelves, they actually look pretty good. And from those garage boxes some other boxes have sprouted with really good joints do sit in the living room.

        Failure? Gaps? No way. It’s a progression, and each step along the way has a place somewhere.

  2. Moral of the tale is if you don’t try you won’t fail. This seems to be the mantra for many young people today. I afraid that we are developing a generation who see failure as something to be avoided at any cost rather than the learning experience it really is.

    I have always been prepared to try and if the result is less than perfect that’s life. If I can live with the outcome good. If not do it again or look for an alternative.

  3. “[…]his wife didn’t want hand made stuff in the house.”

    Odd, that one. I’ve seen it before, where people look at homemade things with utter disdain, as if they’re somehow inferior to industrially produced goods. As if something you make yourself is a sign of poverty, as you can’t afford to buy the real, ‘proper’ thing. Have personally dealt with people with such a mindset. It continues to amaze me.

    Some people are so poor that all they have is money.

    Homemade things made by some people may have a certain ‘rustic’ aspect to it (which even may have its own charm), but that’s not necessarily the general reality. One needs only to take a look at some of the readers’ projects. Reality for me is that the things I make are definitely a few notches above what’s for sale generally (he said modestly… though it really says more about what’s for sale generally than my skills) and generally only available in the most expensive stores. Plus, what I make is *exactly* the way *I* want it, to my taste, not the designer’s, and made to fit *exactly* the space the item will be in, made from materials and finished in such a way that it looks tasteful in my surroundings. Flawless? Generally not. But neither are industrially made goods, if you look a bit closer.

    Perhaps, though, in the particular case you mention, it was more a general negative attitude of the wife to her husband and the activities he enjoys. As I was reading it I was thinking he should have kept the tools and traded in something else for a more supportive and appreciative version…

    “[…] he had but one bandaid on […]”

    I cherish such days too!

    1. Peter Littlejohn

      Love your quote “Some people are so poor that all they have is money.”

      I hope you don’t mind if I borrow that quote now and then. It sums up the attitude of many in todays world who miss the real value in the simple things around them, like a handmade box or table.

      I have a clock made by an old friend who passed away many years ago. The wooden rim has gaps and the numbers on the face are out of alinement, but is those “mistakes” that makes the clock so lovely. It was made with love, not perfection.

  4. Looking forward to the books Paul. Always thought that would be a very useful addition.
    It’s interesting how views vary on things being handmade. A few items that I’ve made, I’ve given away as presents to friends and family. I’ve always been nervous of doing so, as I know (in my view anyway) where any imperfections are. However, they’ve always been well received – either that or they’re just being kind!

  5. Christopher (Hap) Freeman

    My 73 years of life has taught “failure is our natural way of learning”. My kids taught me this & it is now reinforced by grandchildren & great grandchildren. When babies want to walk we pull ourselves up & try to take a step which invariably results in a thump as our tail gear lands on the floor. We failed but we try again and again until one day we thrill our selves with walking.
    It is only when we go to school that we get drummed into us that we are not allowed to fail, we must get it right & the working world enforces that training. My advice, try, & then celebrate each failure as one less step needed toward success. After all, isn’t that what scrap lumber & cheap instruments were invented for, to practice on?

    1. “Hap”,
      I partially agree with a point you made and disagree at the same time. You said, in part, ” … isn’t that what scrap lumber & cheap instruments were invented for, to practice on?”. Agree with the lumber half, but I would like to say as someone who both played and taught guitar professionally over the decades that there is a world of difference between “Cheap” and “Inexpensive” when it comes to instruments. There would be parents who would bring their 10 or 12 + year old kid into the store where I taught fully intending to get the cheapest thing with strings because they had no idea if their little darling would stick with it or turn to something else in a couple of weeks or so. I told them that if the instrument was so poorly designed and constructed, their child would give up as it was impossible for them to play [for reasons I shall not go into here]. I then told them a simple truth; you get out of an instrument what you put into it, but only if the instrument is responsive enough to reward your efforts. Then, further, I’d point out that a decently made “Inexpensive” instrument would not only reward their efforts both physically and tonally, but that if it either didn’t work out or they made good progress, the instrument would retain some value either as a trade in or to sell or gift to someone else. I had more success than failures with that honest approach. (And will always have fond memories of the moment a red-headed 10 year old girl with freckles made the connection between that speck of ink on the sheet music and the note she was playing. Some things just can’t be bought.)

  6. If I correctly understand, you want to print certain of your realisation ?
    My dream take form. I don’t leave with correct access to the Net. You are wonderful !

  7. A shared thought leads to many more. My thanks to everyone who shared. I love it. SmokinBobLenart

  8. You should have seen some of my early mortise/tenon joints! You could have driven a truck through the gaps. I can honestly say that I look forward to making a nice tight/flush connection. Mistakes help you learn! As far as band-aids are concerned, isn’t it funny how I have so fewer injuries since I’ve “learned” to keep my chisels sharp.

  9. Machines for printing! Where is the skill in that?

    The skill required to patiently create true manuscripts (literally by hand) is truly lost. There is no skill in producing a book with a machine, all you do is push paper into it!

    Just think of all the beauty that you can create with no noise and no electricity, just a quill and ink.

    p.s.; Please, please, I hope you got that this was all said “tongue in cheek” as a jest! 🙂

    1. Not until the last sentence, Al! Phew! But I naturally get the yearning for a time now gone.

      1. We all need a little levity right now, and I just found this too tempting to pass up! Glad you took it with the good humor it was indented to have!

  10. I live on 5 acres on the Brazos near Granbury, TX. We love the area. Will your book be available for sale in USA?

  11. Michael michalofsky

    Paul
    Have you considered adding a “LIKE” icon at the end of each comment and adding a commenter’s choice to reveal his email address?

    1. Spot on! It’s sometimes how friendships are forged between isolated craftsmen many miles apart.

  12. I herewith reserve all 34 books. I am looking forward to read each of them with great joy. It ill be a huge gift to us all. Thank you Paul

  13. I feel like commercialization pushes onto people the thought that the greatest joy is being able to purchase whatever the heart desires and having it available ASAP will meet all human needs. This can’t be further from the truth. The single most important truth is that a person needs to understand that what he/she can build is far greater than anything that can be purchased and no joy can be greater than what comes from within and no one can steal it from you.

  14. Thanks Paul.

    Looking forward to the Brazos rocking chair book. What wood is the one you have in the photo? It sure is pretty.

  15. Congratulations Paul & team for printing in house! That is an enormous accomplishment!

    34 books? We’ll need a special bookshelf for them! I think I’ll make your first project from 1963, the one with two shelves and curved sides.

    Congratulations again! I am happy for you!

  16. I was always mad at my father when he would hand me tools for a job without instructions. After making a mess of things then figuring it out I would ask him, why didn’t you tell me what I was doing wrong and his reply was, if I tell you you would forget but if you figured it out you’re self you will never forget.
    Thanks Dad.
    PS: Never give up

  17. Dr. Christian Rapp

    I remember you said in a comment (?) you plan a book on the three joints. I am eagerly waiting for it!

    Hope there is also info when to use which joint. That is what I am missing a little so far in your material: (1) Considerations RE mechanical strength (which forces are working where and therefore which joint should be used and which size) (2) proportions (which ratios so things look harmonic) and potential trade offs/ synergies between (1) and (2).

    A printing machine. Awesome. A friend used to life in a house were RAF terrorists used to live. They had a hand run printing press for propaganda flyers in the cellar…

    1. Yes, Christian, this is one of the books I have within my radar. I will keep everyone posted.

  18. The Brazos chair looks great. I’ll (try to) build one when the plans are available. Looking forward to it!

  19. When will the book for the Brazos rocker be available for us in the USA and will ever this be project you do on Masterclasses? It would make for a nice piece in the house your going to be building furniture for…..Hint Hint!

  20. Brent Ingvardsen

    I found my foundational class instructions from Texas last weekend. They brought back fond memories. I’m very excited to see the books you are about to publish !

  21. Hi folks, I may have missed the announcement but any idea of a launch date for the books and how we can get our grubby mitts on them?

  22. I do look forward to your upcoming books. Having my eye on the Brazos Rocker has me moving towards the garage to sharpen a plane iron.
    I find peace as I make shavings or hear the methodical singing of those times when I am using a hand saw properly.
    Thank you for the inspiration.

  23. tayler whitehead

    never let another judge you. for they judge you based on their own experiences and prejudices. so in reality they are not judging you at all, but themselves. what another thinks of you is of no concern, but see yourself clearly and love both the good and improve on the imperfect. that path leaves to contentment.

  24. Hi Paul
    Love the look of the Brazos Rocker. Will the plans be in metric for your Aussie followers? Love your work!
    Cheers
    Phil

  25. I suspect they’ll all be on Rokesmith.com.

    I’m impatiently waiting for my copy of “Essential Woodworking Hand Tools” to make it across the pond.

  26. mark leatherland

    Oooh, I’ll look forward to your new books.

    I feel for the guy with the unappreciative wife. To have taken home 3 things in a week is amazing, I know for the first 4 months of my ‘woodworking’ I made nothing except a sharpening plate holder and dovetail template, but I learned to sharpen irons and saws and initialised my ebay purchses and practiced using the tools and reorganised my junk storage into a workshop. My wife asked “when are you going to make something?” 😂

    I kind of like people who would feel embarrassed when they stumble or fall, and get up concealing the pain and hope that nobody saw it. (done it myself plenty of times) I think of it as a bit old school now compared to others who would use it as an excuse to try and get a personal injury claim out of their clumsiness or not looking where they were going!

  27. Can’t wait for the rocking chair publication to come out. I’ve wanted to build one of these since I first saw your videos several years ago.

  28. I recall a boss opening his wallet and taking out a piece of paper then telling me to read it; It had these words “Take a failure out to lunch” my first thought was he was going to take me out to lunch and then dismiss me for failing on a project I had been struggling with, He then said Rick do you know what this means – I replied I suppose it may mean that I’m done here and about to be gone! He replied no Rick – you have done more then many others in your job and so you have failed more but you also have had many successes and you need to be rewarded for trying.

  29. Richard Harnedy

    Dear Paul

    Could you publish a few more photos of some pages of the new book and what is the difference berween this rocking chair and the rocking chair on masterclass. Hope you are doing well.

  30. I love the way you celebrate the joy of handmade objects!

    Even though you’ve made some amazing furniture you still see the achievement of someone new making something simple and what it takes to get there.

    I’m at the beginning of this journey too and although I’m doing simple things at the moment I’m hoping in time these will become more significant.

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