Off My Rocker

My birthday week was wonderful and thank you everyone for the wonderful birthday greetings to warm the start to my seventy-second year of life. I never imagined I would live until this wonderful age and for one reason only: At 35 years of age I was told by a consultant that I had about 18 months to live. Offering no alternative but ultimately surgery I took charge of my life and made a simple change to my diet. Though that took a huge effort and much research but it changed my circumstances over a three year period. My health was totally restored and my second life really began with my migration to the USA.

My 23 years as an immigrant were very full years where survival required many shifts in my attitude. Throughout that period there I trained and apprenticed many people, taught thousands of would-be woodworkers and spread the good news that lifestyle woodworking could indeed be a real entity in anyone’s life whether you wanted to change jobs are or not, do it as a serious part of your life or simply add woodworking to compliment your life skills. Not many have to make life-changing decisions like the one I made in 1985 but even today I am still making large and tiny decisions in the day-to-day. As an instance, this week I bought a skipping rope to give me quick bursts of high-demand on-demand exercise to intersperse my day. I like my blood pressure to remain around 120/70 and my blood sugars at around 6. It works and it’s a small thing that makes a big difference. Another change for me happened when I made my first rocking chair back in the early 90s. People loved them and they became a very saleable part of my furniture portfolio. Indeed, President Bush has three of my Brazos Rocking chair designs and other famous people have my designs too.

I have been developing my ideas for a new rocking chair, but when you already have a really excellent design, it is kinda hard to adopt a new thought. I love my Brazos Rocking chair design and I don’t want a thing to change. I designed it for Texas home styles which do tend to be larger than most European homes. The new rocking chair needed to be lighter in weight and size so the challenge was to reduce bulk without losing comfort, quality and equally important its intrinsic strength. I think I got it!

Most design work for chairs starts out by holding sticks, battens rails in midair and pushing your arms out full length to try to get a perspective of how this or that angle might work. Your mind explores options only you can see and garners from antiquity concepts you saw in the dim distant past that you might have filed away in the labyrinth of your mind. Holding a back post twixt finger and floor doesn’t give you any angle at all but it does allow the creative juices to flow more freely to avoid the creator’s block. Within a few hours, I had an angle between the seat and the back that I thought would work for me. I didn’t want a sloucher’s chair but I did want a chair that would work for the many applications rocking chairs were in fact designed for and that could be a wide range of working tasks. Intrinsically, the rocking chair is an American concept for a working chair. Why do we have fond memories of a laid-back societal norm in the archives of our minds where we see a front porch in a countryside picture with pumpkins and a rocking chair or two? Well, it’s not quite what it might seem. In the pre-air conditioning days, most families lived on the front porches of their homes because indoors it could be almost too hot to survive. My life in Texas taught me many things about heat. I understand the continuing affection Americans and Texans, in particular, have for the wrap-around porches that shielded the walls from the ultra-hot sun throughout the day’s rotation of the earth.

In the developing years of the USA, families pursued domestic crafts that supported agrarian life. In the pre-plastic days baskets were the predominant vessels used for harvesting, transporting and storing of just about everything you can think of. A good and well-made white oak basket would last through many years of service and these baskets were hand-woven on the front porch, stoop or verandah. The rocking chair adapted perfectly to the working people’s need for mobility. From a rocker you could alter your body at whim to lean forward and pick up more weavers to thread through the splints of a basket in progress. We don’t see baskets in the same way today but try to think baskets in sizes ranging from a bushel on up to hampers size and then the more massive laundry transportation sizes of 2 feet by 3 feet 2 1/2 feet deep. Agrarian life demanded something strong enough to lift and carry field crops to market and so on, but then too perhaps animals ranging from chicks to pigs.

Nowadays, the history and development of the rocking chair might well be blurred by cultural changes but few chairs offer the comfort and action of a well-made and well-designed rocking chair. Rocking chairs launch you from seat to standing firmly on your feet with a simple tilt into a forward roll from the upper body. They can spin on a hard floor to any angle you want and you can even scoot them forwards and backwards too. Though it might now be seen more as a leisure piece, I have sat in a rocking chair for over two decades to spend many an hour year on year to do my desk and office work. I prefer it to the five-wheeled lazy office chairs and I have worked on it for a wider range of tasks including the use of my laptop, handwriting and drawing in my journals, minor handwork tasks like sewing fabrics and leather, and then too just the thought processes of being creative, planning and meeting others. Just eliminating a desk in front of me amply compensates me by not needing an actual desk all the time.

My new rocking chair will be such a working chair but with style, elegance and the great comfort any domestic or office piece must or should or can have. In essence, the fact that this rocking chair generally has no need of a workbench or an office desk makes it an interesting option for my house. Funny, though, it’s the laptop itself that might just help us to revive and reintroduce this fine furniture concept into our lives once more.

45 thoughts on “Off My Rocker”

  1. Dear Paul, I understand it was your 71th birthday on the 4’th of January (I have send my whishes in that post.)

    As you perfectly knows:
    – Your first year start at your birth and end at your 1st birthday.
    – The first inch on a rule goes from 0 to the graduation numbered 1.
    So, it not “the start to my seventy-first year of life” as you say but the start of the 72th year. I hope you don’t suddenly feel older.
    I wish you many more years.

    1. Ah, yes, I will make the change! Thank you and, no, I still feel the same as I did between 40 and 50 years!

    2. Michael O’Brien

      To comment by Sylvain,
      Paul said “start of his 72nd year” not 71st as you said, so Paul stated it correctly.
      Thanks.

  2. Paul you have changed the world with your inspiration and guidance to so many.
    I couldn’t help hoping that none of your furniture was used, to barricade the White House doors during the recent troubles.

    1. My thoughts went down that road too, especially this week because twelve years ago this week I was in the West Wing placing my cabinets in the Cabinet Room of the White House. Painful thoughts, painful!

      1. THOMAS M PASANSKI

        To Mic, I too had hi bp 142/90,stopped most all salt and check my food sodium, also started to eat for breakfast is 6 oz of yougort and cottage cheese and a good dinner ride a bike at least 4 times a week hope this helps with some guidance.

  3. Paul,

    I’ve been following your work for the last 5 years or so, here and on WWMC. It’s not just the teaching of the nitty gritty of cutting a mortice or sharpening a saw, but your whole attitude to life, universe and everything that resonates with me. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. One thing that clicked early on and is an awesome thing when you really feel it is that every step of building something is as important and rewarding as the finished product. So thanks for all of that, it’s very rewarding and gives me confidence I can build anything – up to a timber frame workshop if I wanted! I hope you’ll keep it up a good few years!

    Also, that’s an impressive feat, 120/70. I’m pushing 50 and just got handed the 2nd daily dose increase from my GP to keep it under 140/90.
    What’s your secret? Cutting meat/salt/sugar/alcohol isn’t doing it for me..

    Looking forward to the rocking chair on WWMC.

    Mic

    1. Hi Mic: I sympathize. I had a heart attack last March at age 55. Luckily, mostly a wake-up call. Plant-based diet and greatly reducing processed foods plus greatly increasing activity have helped. My current goal is to reduce the medications. We’ll see. On the activity front, re-sawing, planing, and rip cuts by hand definitely count! But I also run every day (slowly) and climb lots of stairs. I think about Paul’s commitment in the face of decades of hand tool naysayers when my friends make “jokes” about my vegan meals.

      It’s a long road. Keep at it; you’ve got 1/2 your life ahead of you!

    2. I cautiously enter the arena of advice on diet so I do not diet in the usual way. I don’t look for titles so to describe myself as a vegetarian goes against the grain for me. I do not eat meat and I do eat some fish as I might eat a piece of meat once or twice in a year or two if I want to. Forget being vegan or vegetarian, pescatarian or whatever, just choose food that fits you and your life. I never salt vegetables and neither do I eat meat as a rule. I may have eaten meat5 times in the last five years and that was either because it was awkward and ill-mannered or because I simply wanted to. I learned 30 years ago how bad pork was as a meat so I stopped eating it then and never ate it again. That’s a great meat to give up. I didn’t give up meat to save the planet but to save my life. It worked. For sure, cycling for an hour every morning is the best start to my day as is a good stout one hour walk before bed. Midday squats, 25-50 at a time is good and informal so when I go upstairs I face into the corner at the ninety-degree turn, put my hands on the handrail and up and down I go.
      I am careful not to just cut out foods but actively take in nutritious foods too. I do not generally buy ready meals but I might buy one every three months or so for convenience only and not for taste. I like to cook most of the time so I prepare meals carefully using organic where possible and whole foods too. I grow a garden and so using my home-grown potatoes and other veggies I make celery soup and such every two weeks. These I can use over three days or you can freeze them. Soups are not winter fodder but year-round foods of highly nutritional goodness. I like to know what I am eating. Instead of eating pasta I use mixed vegetables and add a few grams onky of actual pasta with the pasta sauce I make. Courgettes, mushrooms, and onions together with carrot and so on make for great content here.
      Why self-cooking? Cooking your own gives you total control and this is especially important to my diabetes. I can cook a dinner for four in under forty-five minutes or so. I am systematic because of my woodworking experience. This again means that I can have food ready for breakfast, lunch or dinner. By cooking up food for four I mean `I can cook four servings at one session. Does all of this lower my blood pressure. Well, not for me as `I don’t have high blood pressure to begin with. that’s not to say I can’t or won’t, just that it’s not an issue. My work to is high-demand exercise. I am on the go in the shop for 8am until 5-6 each day six days a week. I am not a passive machinist but an active hand toolist. I don’t use machines because they are easy but because they are dangerous and unskilled, noisy, dirty and unhealthy. Machines deny me from using, mastering and maintaining skill. Does that mean I never use them or don’t like them, or am antri machine? Absolutely not! An 8″ beam of oak is best sliced down to boards by bandsaw!

      1. Funny you should say that – just started building my timber frame workshop out of 8 x 8 Douglas fir. Just went through 24″ of sawing the first part of a scarf joint. Great exercise indeed!

        Thanks for sharing. I like cooking as well and indeed try to avoid processed foods, and am quitting other unhealthy habits. Time will tell, not to late to turn around some bad habits. @Jon I realise this as well, too many things I want to do and see still!

      2. Paul, I really appreciate when you include health tips. One of my biggest woodworking-related stumbling blocks is my health problems–multiple sclerosis and a bad right shoulder–so as much as I enjoy hand tools, I have to be very careful about strained muscles. When you demonstrate good working positions and the like, it helps me tons!

        1. Good to read what you do to correct your health Paul. If something goes into your own body-grain, you flip the wood and continue your life. 4 years ago I suffered from arthrosis in my fingers, hand, shoulders, hip and knies. Bye-bye woodworking I thought. 3 years ago I started skipping normal bread (glutten), the nightshade vetgetable family, no ‘bad’ meat and fish and some other small adjustments. After a few months I was again shopping away in my workshop. Plus, it feels good to be in control and not being lead by ‘what is commonly accepted’. Love your work, you really make a diffence Paul.

  4. Harold ‘Blake’ Hatch

    Hi Paul,
    A few years ago I recognized my half birthday, on January 4th, so again I say happy birthday to you. It was a co-workers birthday that brought it to mind. Yours is July 4th, for future reference.
    I love your work, and videos, thank you for sharing. I’m a forever apprentice.

  5. Stephen Farris

    Congratulations, Paul, and may this year be a productive, happy and healthy one for you.

  6. James Tregaskis

    Best wishes Paul! You have made me up my game; I’m 66 but I made my first carpentry project at 8 years old, followed by many more up until I was more interested in girls 🤣. I’m retired now and just finished my MFA at Goldsmiths Uni… Trawling eBay for brace bits and plugging plane blades! My wife bought me your DVDs and excellent book which is truly another university level mine of information. Stay safe and please keep up the fantastic work, best, James

  7. Thanks for the enlightening and interesting exposition on the history of the rocking chair as a “tool” used to facilitate comfort and efficiency when performing the daily chores of the less technological agrarian lifestyle of the recent past. I will see the rocking chair in a new light forever after and look forward with great anticipation to your interpretation of how to refine the design to do the same for the more modern “chores” of our current technological age.

  8. Congratulations, Paul, on entering your 72nd year with an enthusiastic outlook for a productive and impactful life! Later this year, I will celebrate my 71st birthday; a sense of a kindred spirit with you as we share the same given name, Paul.

    Your videos and blog have inspired me to spend hours of enjoyment crafting and learning the art and skill of hand tools. I must confess that I rely too much on power other than my own energy, though I desire to learn and depend on my own muscle, sinew, and synapse. A real joy is using restored tools including my great-uncle’s (born in 1883) D. R. Barton #8 draw knife, my grandfather’s (born in 1887) wood jack plane, and my father’s (born in 1909) #4 Sargent plane. What a joy to handle and use these treasures!

  9. I realise that most furniture serves a purpose but I like thinking how the rocking chair is sort of a tool for a specific use and that gets the creative juices going knowing more about it.

    1. If this isn’t a Brazos, maybe it’s a Thames Ruby, or an Abingdon Summers, or a Wungong Pinnacle.., dunno

  10. Hello Paul,
    I’m currently considering building my first rocking chair ( first chair in fact ) . Having just read your recent blog I was very taken with that new rocking chair design which leads me to ask if it’s possible to purchase plans.

    1. This rocker is in the prototyping development stage ready for the new series for sellershome.com so yes, it will be available soon.

  11. Happy Birthday, Sir. I’m 6 behind you. God willing and if I get caught up repairing bee equipment I am ready for your Rocker to go live.
    I do have to admit, the pictures are one heck of a tease!
    Ready when you are.

  12. I routinely watch your video postings and appreciate your thoughts on all woodworking tools and skill sets! I missed your birthday day celebration, so here’s a belated Happy Birthday my friend! Keep up the excellent work!

  13. The top chair is absolutely stunning Paul.
    Really looking forward to seeing the rocking chair being made.

  14. It would be great to have a series on how to make a rocking chair. My niece just had a baby, so I was wanting to make a child’s chair for him when he turns three or so.

    We’re just a few months apart on age, but you have me by 5 or 6 decades in experience. I’ve found woodworking to be a good pandemic activity.

    Cheers.

  15. Paul,
    ESSENTIAL WOODWORKING HAND TOOLS
    I know that what I am about to say is off subject in this blog but I want to say how surprising and helpful your fence advice is on page 249 in keeping the cutter working smoothly and on its intended path. For my old Stanley No.50 I was dubious about leaving the rear end of the fence loose to ‘float’, as you describe it. That was until yesterday when I had 24 sets of grooves to cut in a cabinet project. It went perfectly and didn’t go ‘off piste’ once so I am hoping that this sometimes pesky problem has now fled forever. Your book is invaluable for both new and old hands like mine.
    THANK YOU PAUL.

  16. Paul,
    I wish you a belated happy birthday.

    It is seldom that we find a true craftsman in every sense of the word. I try to emulate your work, but I cannot come close with either speed nor accuracy. I understand that I am comparing my work to a master and realize that your wonderful skill came from years of practice. It is something to admire and aspire to. Your ability to explain and show how your work is created is with as much patience as you give to the work itself. It is wonderful that the technology exists so that others can appreciate your talent. Thank you

  17. Happy belated birthday Phil and many more to come! I have 4 similar Hawaiian rocking chairs made of koa (acaia) wood from the 1930’s my grandparents bought that I inherited and need to refinish. What finish did you use on the Brazos? Thanks

  18. Happy belated birthday Mr. Sellers. Today, I say in honor of your birthday, After reading up to and including your chapter on handsaws, I graduated to two dovetails per joint over one. However , a miraculous thing occurred. Using an old dovetail saw made in Sheffield England a guy in Georgia ,USA, having sharpened the saw according to what you showed me and having blessed up close to the line stablished by the Stanley knife managed to find the sweet spot with the saw for the first time that allowed effortlessly strokes spot on so much so, that all 4 corner joints married up to form a one off masterpiece! Informed chisel work from selection to sharpening also played a part.All thanks to your guidance! Priceless. Thank you for being who you are to the rest of us.

  19. Paul, a belated Happy Birthday to you sir!! The rocking chair(s) look wonderful. Looking forward to the Masterclass with that. Paul, your videos have the effect of personalized instruction with me. It’s just you and I. I love that. I know or think there may be an audience during the taping but it comes to me as just you and I. And I can pause, go back or just let the video go on. It truly is a pleasure to be so intimately involved with you. I doubt I will ever actually meet you but you never know. This Oklahoma boy (also 72) may someday come knocking on your door. Hope your New Year goes well.

  20. Paul H Meredith

    Paul, I’m new to your blog and of necessity a hand tool person with some basic power tools as well. Your guidance is inspiring. I am having tuna tonight to make an oiled rag can, a simple but elegant idea. I am going to add a top to keep out the saw dust.
    Have you ever done the plans for your Brazos Rocker with the leather seat. I would purchase one if you have… the lines are exquisite. I would build it for my granddaughter as a legacy piece. She already has her mothers crib, black willow, dowel joined with rockers reinforced using inlaid ash inserts that I made for her mom’s birth in ’76. The rocker would be hers to pass on to a child some day
    I have a mess of very dry rough cut, nominal 1″, mesquite that I moved from TX that need a project. Currently I working on a 26x 60 outside table with a pair of joined book-matched 13 wide slabs as the top. Two matching benches, one for each side are being made as well. The bases for all three are welded decorative steel by a friend who sadly could not stay away from alcohol while on lithium for a bipolar condition. There will be no more.
    Currently I’m cleaning tools, sharpening planes and chisels dinged up in the move to CA. I’m trying a flat marble plate and fine grades of wet dry paper (glued on with artist spray adhesive) for sharpening and Windex as a lubricant. My two diamond stones, 3 joiner planes including a favorite router plane, and a couple of good hand saws disappeared during the move so I’m shopping for replacements as well.
    Any help, thanks.
    Regards, Paul,
    Marina CA

  21. Well into the second week 2022nd year of our calendar and of your 72nd year. I wish you the best for both. All has been said in the previous comments. Stay safe and healthy in the woodworking journey.

  22. Paul a Happy belated birthday to you. Your health issue story struck a chord with me. At 33 I was diagnosed with throat cancer by two ‘ experts’ and given a 20% chance of survival after surgery. As a solo dad of two young children I was very concerned about their future, so went home and took this to the Lord in deep prayer. I decided not to return to the hospital and the good news is I to will enter my seventies next year. I too love my woodworking and appreciate all the techniques and information you share with us. Thank you and God Bless you for many more years.

  23. Aloha Paul,
    That a very fine rocker. And I should know. I produced no less than 5 Koa wood rockers per week to support my young family and care for my sick father. There were other things I was doing too. Your use of woods to bring out your design is wonderful. 25 years ago, I ran into a ‘woodworker/ ripe-off artist’. He had a problem with truth and honesty and Drugs. He was able to get world class wood, Koa, of 5 wonderful grades, but fell on his face when doing simple woodworking tasks. He had no knowledge of how to dry the wood, no knowledge of what to turn it into, no skills of fine woodworking.
    Knowing of his Drug History, I gave his a out reached hand of support, but I held to my standards: no smoking , drugs , or drinking in the shop .
    Honesty was a different issue, any monkey business at all and I was done, tools plans, any thing owed me to be finished on that day.
    For about 4 years maybe 5, things ‘seemed’ fine. One of the men I had made my #2 had gotten sick and was rushed to another island for Emergency work to be done. Maybe this was a hidden blessing. While there in the hospital, all hell broke out. First, Medical Plans that all 9 workers were paying in on with each pay check, were not even real plans of Medical Providers !!! S.S. payments, TDI , Worker Comp payments all were at zero. This guy was using All of My Crews deductions to pay for his drug usage !
    When I found the truth of this guys dealings, that was it, done, finished .
    In my 4-5 years helping them, we had International customers, pieces in Universities, 6 shops had opened, A weekly sales of about $250,000, BOOM ! He throw it all away with his Drugs. I can work any where or for myself . He is today homeless.
    I really loved working with Koa and never had an issue or design problem. Hawaiian, Maloof, or other pieces but made to my standards, for our woods.
    But add in the ‘human failings of honesty and drugs’, and all the clouds of saw dust seem to fall flat and you are left with picking up the broken promises of these hidden reefs that call themselves members of the human race.

  24. Phillip Armstrong

    Paul, Not sure where I ought to have posted this question, I hope you don’t mind me asking it here. I have purchased a Stanley 71 Router plane and am getting to grips with its use. Blades are nicely sharpened (by me!) and they remove wood beautifully. I love using it. I notice however that the plane sole leaves black marks on the wood surfaces it rubs on during use. This will I’m sure be nickel removed from the sole by abrasion. The plane was in pretty much unused condition when I bought it. Will this reduce with time? OK the marks sand or plane off but I haven’t seen any discussion of this issue in any posts on the use of this tool.

  25. Although I’ve also been distracted by your discussion of health strategies, it was the lovely insight into the historical importance, and pragmatic uses, of the rocking chair that is most memorable. Thanks for that. The new design is beautiful.
    And happy belated birthday: I trust the remaining days of your 72nd year will be as enjoyable as the first.

    1. Little dig there! I don’t at all understand the first part of your first sentence (I mean why it was said here and the way to was), no matter though, I live in the freedom of speech so it’s fine. I haven’t met much resistance to my suggesting health strategies etc but it is of equal importance to the work people do and of course to everyone. Perhaps discussions about what I write goes on elsewhere but that’s of little consequence if my suggestions promote good health patterns as part of a woodworking lifestyle. I just want people to improve on all fronts.

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