Reflections

When the world of making collides with pride it’s time to reflect. Taking pride in the work of another is an equal danger to pride in ourselves and what we achieve too. Should we be prideful in achieving a high standard of workmanship or is it simply that pride is the wrong word to use? These are things I reflect on in my days at the workbench. We talk now in terms of how we should exemplify being proud by expressions we gather by following the examples of more famous role models exemplifying pride in an almost body-locked bracing of a whole frame on bent knees and outstretched arms with a stretched taut face crying out in a mighty self-roar, “Look at me! Look at me!”

I wondered, to a point of stopping, if the goal is a perfected placement of a ball from a bat and a distance way off on the horizon, or a ball squarely placed over a line after a long and arduous run, is the perfect dovetail worthy of the same self-proclamation? After all, isn’t it the same alignment of every muscle and sinew, arm stroke and expressed self-control to effect that perfect cut stroke on stroke on stroke worthy of the same pride-filled expressing? Of course, these athletes have trained hard to win. In many cases, it costs them their bodies and even their minds too.

Well, of course, we don’t do the sports thing because we’re not marked out as Olympians. A dovetail locks two and then four pieces of wood together and we close out the light and walk home tired. A rocking chair nudged on the way to the door rocks gently back and forth at our departing. But then I did chuckle to myself as I imagined how it would be if people in general, equally skilled workers of every kind throughout the world, body-locked on bent and stiffened knees to roar every time they scored in an achievement. I watched the NASA scientists and engineers as they watched their landing of Perseverance on Mars a few days ago. There was something about the unique experience in a special kind of teamwork that created possibility. I have worked in teams where it took many more than just me to make something come together. But then too there is the quiet constraint in a shed at the end of someone’s garden where a man and a woman twixt 16 and 90 are silenced for just a few minutes by what they achieved on their own home turf using just a handful of tools and their own two hands. There was no passing of the ball from first one and then another, no crowd-cheering applause spurring them over the line, yet in the relative harmony of a shed at the bottom of the garden or the quiet corner of the garage something stirred inside a heart that might even make a maker allow a moment of emotion to take its rightful place.

We all express our emotions differently of course. Often, I think the word pride falls so far short of what it truly feels like to compose something of three-dimensional loveliness. The rewards of fulfillment a piece often gives somehow defies words. That well-placed plane stroke and the chisel’s sliced off edge becomes a tiny and lost part in the whole and then loses its individual identity as it gives way in humility to the greater good of that whole. Through this, I understand the collective efforts of the science world where a combined work spans generations and continents and national pride and arrogance seem lost to the greater good despite the politicians reiterating time and again how proud they are that this or that was made here and not there. Politicians and politics, some, not all, seem somehow incapable of the quiet gratitude of participating in something so much bigger than self. They might bully and boast, brag and browbeat. Ultimately their bruising and cuttings disappear on the outside surface, but inside there remains the deeper issue of reality because of course people have to live with the outcome of insensitivity at lofty heights. But down there, down the uneven path between shrubs and grass verges leading to a quiet corner stands a small and inconspicuous shed. Inside, whenever possible in a busy life, a man, a woman, a child makes. In relative isolation, they each join their wooden pieces and join others around the world to be creative. A single piece of wood gets reduced to fit inside another of the greater whole and peace manages to reign in the humility of making.

57 thoughts on “Reflections”

  1. The English language is strange at times. Nobody likes someone who is proud or prideful but we all admire someone who takes pride in their work. Another example is the word perfect, to strive for perfection is a good thing but to be disappointed that you don’t always achieve it can be demotivating. When I hear you say perfect, I understand that you are saying I’m happy with that, it’s a good feeling!

    PS Does anyone else see the picture of the rocking chair and immediately wonder what the white round object under the rocker is?

    1. The white object may be a surveillance device. It was placed there by IKEA. They wish to see what all Paul is up to.

      1. Do you realise that I could design this for a machine-made model and sell this design to them and they could easily set up to mass make it without human hands ever touching it until it gets in the store?

        1. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe

          Ohhh.. I just threw up in my mouth a bit. Gash! I would not be buying it. I’ve bought my share of IKEA furniture. Might still do it in a pinch or where their product actually are a good choice (we need to replace the kitchen at some point, and I hear good things about IKEA kitchens.). But for the most part, I’m done with plat-packed things. I cannot help it, but I do stroke a board in my rather large stack of oak boards cut a year ago. An I wonder “when can I take you to my bench?”. I want to make my own furniture over buying paper covered cardboard core furniture.
          Paul has to take a great deal of responsibility for that. I thank him! 🙂

        2. Yes, Mr. sellers, “Untouched by human hands … “. In the ’60’s, a woman from the bay area (San Francisco. where else?) wrote a song called , “Little Boxes”, about the homes on the slopes in Daly City, Ca. south of San Francisco, saying; “… and they’re all made out of Ticky-Tacky and they all look the same … “. That’s also a perfect description of Ikea’s wares. Yours are a far cut-above.

          1. Lol. I actually grew up in Daly City. The song is very familiar to me. And yes, the song is accurate. Even sadder, on the street I grew up on, there were some empty lots. About once a decade a home has been built (5 over 5 years) on that block. They all followed that same ticky tacky design. It made me quite sad.

            There are some nice homes in Daly City as well. Typically they are from the developer Doldger and located near Westlake outdoor mall in Daly City and are called “Doldger homes”

            Many soldiers departed for WW2 in the Pacific from San Francisco. After the war, many resettled in San Francisco so there was a huge housing boom.

    2. That’s the rocking chair de-rocker..
      Oh u knew that

      Maybe part of the great release in sport when things go right is because so many bystanders are happy if u stuff up..

    3. I think the white object is a tea light/votive. I noticed it too and assumed it had been used to hold the rocker in a specific position for the photo.

  2. Many years ago I took classes in sheet metal forming (with hand tools) and my teacher signed all his emails with “much joy”. This is what making gives me.
    Much joy.

  3. No room for everyday heroes in the TV news.

    We don’t need Stakhanovist propaganda either.
    Showing people working on reality TV show would turn workers into circus animals

    I always skip the so-called sport part which is in fact a commercial activity more than sport and which should be in the entertainment category.

    1. I was interviewed recently by a Times reporter who used me and my name to promote and give some kind of credit or approval to an upcoming show about woodworking. It was disingenuous of her to do this and she caught me unawares.

      1. I saw the small article you refer to in The Times Paul and was a little surprised. It does make it look as though you’ve endorsed the forthcoming programme, but I doubt that it will adhere to principles of hand tool wood working, or be anywhere near as good and informative as your own video productions!

        1. A long time ago, when I was still a teen, my family was engaged in a litigation-suit. I was present in the courtroom (my father thought it would be a good lesson in life – it was!), as was a writing journalist.

          Reading the report in the paper the next day, I wondered if the reporter and I had actually been present in the same courtroom at the same time. The reporting differed so much from what I had heard and seen that I seriously wondered about that. The only thing that I could agree upon with the writer was the name of the presiding judge. But his description of the events in the courtroom? Looked to me as if he had by mistake entered a different courtroom with entirely different case.

          That was quite an eye-opener to the young me as to the value of newspaper reports, and something that has always been in the back of my mind ever since. I doubt things have gotten much better now, 30 years later.

          As someone once retorted as a journalist accused him of doing something only to make it in the history books: “I may be doing it for the history books, but you’re doing it for tomorrow’s fish&chips”

  4. I see the seat of the rocking chair is in three parts. I guess this would avoid expansion/contraction problems.
    It is aesthetically nice. I like it.

    1. But it may well not be necessary. It’s a matter of choice. I have chairs wider than this that hold up fine full width of 24″.

      1. I assumed that you did this as it was easier/ cheaper to get narrow boards. But I do like this look rather than trying to hide the join. You should indeed be proud of it.

        1. Not at all. I glued the three boards up as per normal, left it all to acclimate for three weeks, carved the seat for perfect alignment and then cut the angled meeting edges.

          1. I guess it would be more difficult to carve the three pieces independently and have a continuous curve from one to the next. (Re)Sawing after makes perfect sense.

          2. Dear Paul, even though it’s not quite clear how were you gluing the 3 boards since they look separate on the picture, my question is a bit different:

            Your other rocking chair has one-piece seat and it’s joined to the back/frame with a tight (not a floating) joint. Also the grain of the seat was aligned ‘not in favor of the joint’. What about seasonal contractions? You’re saying it’s fine, isn’t it? But according to math, a 50-60cm seat could expand/contract for ~3mm, which (in my inexperienced opinion) could splinter something, couldn’t it?


            best regards,
            Vitalii

  5. Hi Paul,

    I just want to say thanks to you and your team for all the woodworking knowledge you share through WWMC and YouTube.

    When I finished making your walking cane I did get that quiet constraint in my garage once it was finished. I gave it as a present to my father. Last Monday he passed away due to cancer. I’m thankful I was able to give it to him.

    Paolo

  6. I never would have seen that little white object under the chair runner, maybe to keep the chair rocking on the house cats tail? Great powers of observation by the way! Making things make me happy, not so much pride but satisfaction that I made something useful. I take pride in my family but not so much in anything I’ve ever done, I’m just trying to be the best person I can be.

    1. Ah, the breeze from an open door at the top of the stairs was rocking the chair. Hmm! Well-balanced?

  7. The photo at the top displays something though. A sense of humour! There was a chuckle in the house tonight. Thanks Paul, never thought there would be a sickto themaxextreme moment in the workshop!

  8. According to one source of ancient wisdom, it may be right and proper to look at that which one has made and say “And behold, it was very good.” And then rest.

    1. LOL! Careful, Stephen, there’s a name for that manner of speaking. They call it a “God Complex” and some in today’s Cancel Culture” would be more then willing to append it to you. (Don’cha just love how “Open and Caring” some people are? They somehow never seem to have a sense of humor.)

  9. I’ve wondered before why, in English, the word ‘pride’ has such negative connotations. I don’t recognize it in my own language (‘trots’), or German (‘stolz’). In Belgian, they also have the word ‘fier’ that, to my knowledge, only carries positive connotations. But in English, ‘pride’ is seen as a negative thing.

    However, in Dutch, we have a proverb; perhaps you understand it, as I know you have some Belgian roots: ‘doe maar gewoon, da’s al gek genoeg’. Literally, ‘just act normal, that’s already crazy enough’.

    I think it’s what I’d say to myself if I ever get the urge to rip off my shirt and scream loudly after I’ve just made the perfect dovetail. Come to think of it, it’s also what I’d say to any sportsman engaging in the behaviour as shown in your first picture. I find such crude, animalistic behaviour rather inappropriate in private, let alone in public. I believe that in Australia, it’s called the ‘tall poppy syndrome’.

    Personally, I much prefer the understatement of ‘it’s only half bad’ to the overstatement ‘it’s FANTAAAASTIC’.

  10. That quiet joy of completion. It’s a personal, individual thing. Today, after four years work restoring and making by hand obsolete parts a small diesel boat engine in my shed fired and ran contentedly for an hour. For the first time since 1939 when it was sunk. I bless the long dead engineer and fisherman who had the foresight to drain it and fill it with oil. He was killed in action in 1941 but his engine lives on and tomorrow his great grandson will collect it.
    I was an engineer long before I started woodworking but many of the same principles apply, of which in my opinion the most important is patience.
    Thanks again Paul.

    1. Yours, as you describe it, Hughes, is an act of all too rare human compassion, caring and selflessness that goes far above and beyond today’s lowered norms. “Doing the Right thing” because you can afford to is good. Doing the right thing because, “It’s the Right thing to do”, is priceless.

  11. I suppose there is nothing wrong with pride, provided it isn’t counter-productive. I pride myself on my ability to learn and to be humble enough to know I can always learn something new.

  12. Perhaps rather than pride, just a feeling of satisfaction. If you know you have done your best, have produced something, and undoubtedly learned something which will help you on your next endeavour, maybe that is enough.
    Thanks Paul for your sharing and integrity.

  13. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe

    As with most things, pride needs to be accompanied. With achievement. The feeling I get when I manage to get a pristine finish using only hand tools, is joy filled pride. I am proud of myself; that I can achieve such results with my own hands and some old tools. The knowledge I have gathered to be able to do it! Knowing about how to negotiate and read wood grain. How to properly set up and sharpen a blade in a tool. The technique used to create a flat surface.

    And there I am, stroking the board over and over and over again, like a simpleton. I might think “God, I’m simple!” while smiling and feeling pretty good about myself. It is a good thing!

    I am unswerving in boosting my kids with positive feedback and to let them feel proud of what they accomplish. My daughter made me a drawing where she managed to draw two hearts. She’s worked on that for a while, and now she can do it. She is 4 1/2 years old now. She can draw a smiling face. Mine even has beard on it. She should be very proud of herself! But not for being 4 1/2, of course. Not even for drawing the heart. Most people can do that. But to achieve the skills, then putting them into practice. THAT is something to be proud of!

    It is strange to me that our society promotes the modality of being humble, whilst at the same time cheering for the pink blogger effect – be proud for who you ARE, not what you ACCOMPLISH.
    Sure, a beautiful face is nice to look at – but even the firmest of plums become prunes if given time. No matter how many likes they get.
    Add the cream of knowledge and accomplishment, and we get something truly remarkable.

    Y’all want prune stew with cream now, don’t ya? 🙂

    Paul, if you ever start doing the knee-skid after each successful dovetail, I’m leaving you behind! 😀

    1. Prune Stew with cream, eh? So many connotations, so little time. (Some of them could be quite tasty, too.) Somehow, I don’t believe Paul would do the knee skidding bit even if Carhartt made him their spokesmodel.

      1. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe

        Hmm.. maybe it is called prune porridge? I’m not sure. I think the dessert is of Norwegian origin, but I cannot find any references. We call it Sviskegrøt. It is my absolute favorite dessert!
        200g pitted prunes in 1 liter water, Simmer for an hour, then off the heat. Mix 3 tablespoons of potato starch with 4 tablespoons of water and mix into the prune porridge. Add sugar to taste, no more than 100g (or it will be too sweet, I think).
        Serve with cream and milk (I use cream and whole milk 50/50), and a dash of whipped cream on top if you are feeling fancy.

        Warning: if you eat too much, you’ll discover the effect of the sorbitol content in prunes. If you are feeling a bit constipated or bloated, you have now the most tasty weapon of choice. 🙂

        Some add vanilla sugar, but I much prefer to let the natural taste of the ingredients speak for them selves when I cook.
        Just as I do not usually stain my oak (might ebonize though).

        1. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe

          It should say “serve COLD”. The porridge continues to thicken while cooling. If you prefer it not as runny, add 1/2 tablespoon of potato starch.

          1. Thank you for both your informative reply and addendum. I just may give the recipe a try (consumed in limited, none too “Explosive” quantities, of course) to see what it tastes like. It is amazing the number of diverse, yet kindred souls Mr. Sellers draws together with his rumination’s on woodworking in particular and life in general. Either this saying is well known or I just made it up, but to me, “‘A life well spent’ is spent on yourself frugally and yet given of to others freely”.

  14. If I had managed that dovetail for the first time..
    Yes I would, brain chemistry permitting, slide across the concrete floor on my knees and do Masai bobbing through the house.

  15. We should all take pride in thought & action provided it is prefaced by honesty.

    We should strive for perfection & honestly realize it is elusive but attainable.

    Perseverance ,.. the next critical ingredient to the recipe of honest perfection.

    Last up and most importantly,……………..”hope”, as it keeps all in perspective.

    Pride, honesty, perfection and hope keeps us all content in life no matter the path we choose.

    1. I think I would put pride and perfection somewhere lower on a list. I would put enjoyment way higher and closer to just being honest with ourselves. Way above pride for sure and of course, most perfectionism people perceive doesn’t really altogether exist anyway. I simply enjoy and have always found working an enjoyable occupation and especially my woodworking and furniture making. Few people I ever met chose their occupation at 14 and stuck with it through 56 years, but some did, I am sure. Actually, while we are on it, just where did the kind of pride thrust out today come from anyway? Hmmm!

  16. Should I do one to many knees slides I believe knee replacements would soon be in my future! A misplaced fist pump hurts my shoulder. A nod will have to do for now.
    Admiration is a word I prefer to use. Sadly today’s “look at me” mentality has given pride a bad name.
    Admiration is appropriate when describing watching a sunset with my Bride of 40 years. I do admit to a bit of pride though as my grandson suits up in his bee suit to learn about bees with his Pop. Many be the two are a bit interchangeable after all.

  17. The rocker looks like a scaled down one from the full sized adult one you have designed and built. I’d love to make a small one like this for my nephew, so hopefully your class will allow scaling. Thanks for all your advice! Have learned a lot.

    1. No. It is different and with many different elements to it. It’s also full size in that it is made for me as a Mr average man at 180.34cm (5’11”) and 74kg (163lbs). Also, this one will be scaleable when done.

  18. Garrett Swalwell

    Paul,

    Sorry for posting this here, but I can’t find a way to message you otherwise.

    Do you notice that your square has a burr along the length after using the knife wall method? If not, I wonder if it is the type of steel rule in my square that is causing that.

    Regards,
    Garrett

    1. I have seen somebody doing it intentionally. When pushed against the piece, this prevent the square pivoting while one drag the marking knife along it.

    2. No! Not so far, but I have only owned my two for 50 years so far. maybe one day! Hope not. Mine are vintage Rabone Chesterman circa 1965/70 bought new by me!
      I”m resisting saying, “They don’t make them like they used to!” in case that makes me look old than I am.

      1. Garrett Swalwell

        I was expecting this reply, honestly. It appears that my Empire 12” combo square (sold in HD/Lowe’s, can’t remember which) isn’t of the best quality. Now if I use my grandmothers Wescott crafts rule to make cross grain knife cuts, there is no burr on that.

        I may break down and buy a Starrett. I’ve known for sometime that they are superb.

        On a side note, I bought two 5 inch X slip taper files from Lowe’s, Kobalt brand. I’ll be sharpening my dovetail saw today to see how they hold up. So far, my harbor freight and Walmart files have done me well.

      2. John Besharian

        Mr. Sellers,
        The way I put is: “They used to call me ‘Young and Foolish’. Now, they just don’t call me ‘Young’ anymore”. (I’m exactly the same age as Robert Zimmerman.)

  19. The two opposites of pride in what we do, or make.

    In the land of lockdown I recently hand made a small wall ash and zebrano wall cabinet to contain my ever growing variety of pills intended by my doctors to keep me going for a few more years. In it is a drawer with half blind dovetails that are as about as perfect as I could make and looking much like the machine made ones dotted around the house. For a few days I took ‘pride’ in perfecting these hand cut dovetails but started to wonder are they as enjoyable as those of the many irregularities in the (circa) 150 year old pine German Biedermeier that I recently restored? Each of the still reliably working dozen drawers were made with uneven shaped dovetails; in fact they are all over the place suggesting that it’s maker cut each one with little or no care for continuity. Now, if I could make this piece of ancient furniture today with its many imperfections but glorious visual appeal as this I wouldn’t know where to start, but I know that it would be something that I really could take pride in. Are we becoming obsessed with perfection?

    1. Not at all, Ray. I have heard this time and time again, mostly from those perhaps relatively new to woodworking, who have acquired a fairly good level of dovetailing early on because they had the right instruction to start with. They do take pride in their first achievements and often compare themselves to crafting artisans of old who left their work behind them by a hundred years. But the ones that made pieces in the days we speak of were not ability-strapped but time-strapped. Most woodworkers today can take their time to make that perfect dovetail. If it takes an hour or three to do a corner of drawer with three or four dovetails in it they feel pretty good about themselves. So what would you say if I told you that many makers in the Victorian era where all dovetails were cut by hand to create a chest of drawers were often expected to dovetail six drawers in their 10-hour workday? These drawers would range in size from 4″ to 8″ deep so 3 to 4 dovetails per corner front and back. Everything was gauged by eye including the spacing, the angles and the variables therein. Through dovetails to the rear and half-laps to the front. So, the lines were a rough guide and angle guides hampering the speed, were deemed unnecessary, and made no difference to the strength or outward appearance. I admire their superb efficiency and their ability to survive the demands of the rich. I like to think that we can cut them some slack knowing what we know.
      If you are interested, I made a box in hardwoods in 48 minutes and filmed it without a break to show what could be done. The dovetails were all eyeballed with no layout and they were all perfect. This includes roundovers to the lid and bottom, lid hinging with full recess hinges, and finishing, by the way. I’m pretty sure I could do the six-drawer thing in a 10-hour day with the incentive they had which was no completion, no pay, and no pay no food for the family.

      1. The piece I referred to serves to show what was achieved aesthetically without the internal precisions of what many of us – me included – seek to incorporate in our own work. I am fortunate to own a number of very old English and European pine examples made with great character, if not the exactitude of wood working today. It is interesting nevertheless to read your observation of the necessity to feed hungry mouths and the essential speed to provide it. Paul, it is clear that you have acquired a huge bank of experience and therefore knowledge throughout your life in all things wood and your tireless enthusiasm to pass this on to us hobbyists (of all ages) is much appreciated. Furthermore, when talking of pride, your excellent book on Essential Wood Working Hand Tool continues to be thumbed through most nights but I fear that I shall need another lifetime to digest it all.

  20. Pride is knowing it’s right. It does the job, resists the environment, has the desired appearance and fit.

    If it is right, the author may allow him- or herself a little satisfaction. Perhaps a half-smile to express the joy of success. But leaping about, excessive grinning and gymnastics like an international goal-scorer is not in the best of taste!

  21. “I was interviewed recently by a Times reporter who used me and my name to promote and give some kind of credit or approval to an upcoming show about woodworking. It was disingenuous of her to do this and she caught me unawares.”
    This is their modus operandi. Better be on guard if you submit to an interview. Probably better to not interview.

    Pride in the Bible seems to be often used with connotations of haughtiness, arrogance, boastfulness.
    Vance Randolph author of Down In The Holler (Ozarks), had this to say: ” “Proud often means no more than pleased. When a hillman says, “I’m mighty proud to meet you,” he doesn’t mean you are better than he is or that he considers it an honor to make you acquaintance. He uses the expression when he is introduced, just as a lowlander would say, “How do you do?” The word proud is frequently used where country folk from other parts of the United States would say glad, as “I’m sure proud it didn’t rain on us today.” I use the word in this sense myself sometimes, without thinking of it as dialectical. Glad seems rather feeble and childish, after you’ve heard proud for two or three decades.
    Rose O’Neill of Taney County, Missouri, tells me that some old-timers use proud to mean neatly or carefully dressed. The word proudful is sometimes used in this sense. “I seen them folks was a little more proudful than common” means only that they were wearing better clothes than usual.
    The adjective prideful means vain or conceited, and prides is used to designate the genitals, particularly in the male. I don’t think the average hillman ever connects the word proud with pride or prideful at all.” “

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