I love my workshop in the morning, especially when the first light passes over my shoulder and my silhouette settles ahead of me for a moment as I recapture what I left behind last night. I’m stayed for a moment more and then the minute is gone. I see my tools there, there in the shadows of my last day’s working. I try to imagine working without atmosphere; the not living in a job of leaving tools to rest and the swept floor free of the shavings I’d been creating throughout the day. In making, the dimensions expand to embrace woodland and forests, the conversion of a tree and a kiln that dries down the wood in planks sawn true for me to make from. How do you convey the emotion of making and the capturing of moments like opening the workshop door to the stillness in the shaving-scented air? Such things once common are now only for the very few; in an unmaking world, true artisanry and all that surrounds it is now the work and reflections of only a dedicated few.
Monday mornings have and will always excite me. I am not like others where Friday closes a week and Monday starts it really. Work for me is to honour and to honour is a form of reverence. I have only rarely witnessed what people refer to as a Monday-morning feeling – that dread of starting a new week of predicted tedium has never been part of my life. Whether it is because my lifestyle is not weekends or time outside of the nine-to-five midweek section called ‘the work week‘ I don’t know. Lifestyle is not switched off and on by a change of clothes or a new hairstyle, a vacation to foreign climes or a pub night. The mundane things make life easy for me. I ride my bike for an hour in jeans and a denim shirt I then work in. I strap on a backpack for my cameras and stop when and where needed for that perfect picture within my zone. I rarely sweat no matter what I do, no underarm sweatiness ever, so I have no need for special riding gear, a shower when I arrive at work, no need for a change of clothing. Could this be because I spent half my life in an overheated Texas? I work in my riding clothes and ride in my working clothes, I have no need to change. Yesterday I dug my garden manure into the soil and loosened the top section for planting. I rode my bike past woodlands and through them, along the lake shore until I stopped to listen to a woodpecker drumming three meters above me on the opposite side of a chestnut tree. In the workshop, it was 6 am. I’d set my timer on my phone to record real-time as I chopped eight mortises 3 1/2″ by 1 1/4″ deep with a 3/8″ bevel-edged Aldi chisel. This took me just two seconds shy of 25 minutes for all eight haunched mortises including the haunches. I then fitted the tenons in two of them before I returned to writing a new book on working as an artisan earning his living from working with his hand tools. I got a thousand words down, reread what I wrote and liked it because it reflects a lifestyle woodworker.
To say that I am a privileged man is true. Not many people pick their lifestyle and follow it for what’s closing in on six decades. What would I change? Nothing! In 1995 I was driving a 1952 Dodge flatbed truck across 30,000 acres to harvest mesquite stems and branches. Mostly I was alone in a pre-cell phone era with no other means of communication. I owned two 16″ Echo chainsaws that ran for ten years each with never a time when they didn’t snap to life on the first or second yank on the string. I disturbed a wild boar that took off at an impossible speed for such a weighty adversary and saw a mountain lion watching me warily from a distance but disappear to where I did not know. Rattlesnakes seemed to like the warmth of a throbbing chainsaw but I needed it more than he did. I kept my shotgun by me all the time for things like this. This is privilege. I see it.
My life now is safer but not sought. I will always miss my Texas lifestyle, something I owned for a season as a maker but know now that it was a stepping stone. What I do now excites me daily as I make designs come to life at my workbench. I like the videoing days when we are all together creating new content. The new challenges are getting the shots, making sure that my knowledge is captured for a few hundred thousand woodworkers around the world, keeping life clean and simple and finding time to sit by a pond and watching life in its wildness.
I love closing my workshop after a good day and a bad day. Dimming the lights before the last light becomes dark, seeing my tools are safe on my bench and glimpsing my last minutes of work. I stand and wait a minute until I’ve absorbed everything that matters. I can usually feel something we often call success but is a misnomer for something so much deeper and inexplicable because the words don’t exist. At 14 I chose to become a maker and pursued it with my whole heart. Nothing swayed me to stray and I am glad for it because whereas the wild places of Texas will always beckon to me. Seeing the whole from a lived life seems seamless in the stages, steps, and phases. The simple acts of closing and opening the workshop doors is not an old man’s passive effort but the active participation in pursuit of something that drove him day in and day out. Would I still drive a 1952 Dodge truck through five gravel river bottoms into 30,000-acre ranches to harvest my wood? I would do it tomorrow and I may still yet. Nothing beats cooking your spuds and beans on a mesquite fire and smelling the sweet sere grassland savannahs of Texas wildness. Just make sure that you move and twitch now and then as you nap beneath the mesquites with the circling turkey buzzards overhead in the mid-day sun.