More From a Lived Life

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.

My workshop brings me the greatest joy when I first open the doors and then again when I close them and the scene becomes a
double-take of a lived life for me.

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.

Texas will always be my home state and Texans my brothers and sisters. I arrived in the mid 80s and it was as if I was reborn to a new realm and a way of life that became a lifestyle honouring that which defied humanity.

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.

The tranquil start of my day passing a lake on my bike settles my soul for a new day dawning.

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.

Scenes like this are etched in my mind. Mesquites, live oaks and native pecan trees thrive on a land dried out by an unrelenting, searing summer sun.

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.

24 thoughts on “More From a Lived Life”

  1. Love it. All strength to U and thank you for writing.
    If only I could do this. Tho I know you say we can

  2. Unfortunately for me i am stuck in front of a computer all day, having online meetings. Woodwork is my escape – when i get chance, which isn’t much considering i have 3 young kids! its wonderful to read these pages, but it will remain highly unusual , and an immense privelage to have a job that you love.

    1. I agree it is highly unusual. If not a bit exaggerated. We all must work for our bread and will forever long for the facbookish lifestyle others promote. I for one am happy with my lot in life. Sure I get the grass is greener on the other side mindset, but soon remember it rarely is so. I came into this world with nothing and like everyone else will leave it with nothing. There are always worse things. Take Paul here. He immigrated multiple times; opened and closed several schools just to follow his lifestyle. I’m not willing to do that. I feel once you owe no man you have succeeded beyond any billionaire.

    2. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe

      Paul, I too walks in those shoes. Two small kids, full time jobs for me and my wife. Woodworking when ever I have the time without neglecting the family. It is way too little woodworking for me, but that is how things are for now.

      If I live to see retirement and keep a decent health, I’ll be able to do much more woodworking – but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy what shop time I get. I always have a few projects going so that I can get something done when I have an hour or two. A plane iron sits in the sharpening jig (need me practice wheels still). Some pieces of wood stacked beneath the bench, ready to become drawers for my support table / sharpening station. Some tidying left to do.
      Even just 10 minutes in the shop, and I get something done or prepared for the next time. I really enjoy that.

      Two decades ago (man, time flies!), I enrolled for a bachelor in computer science. I loved working with computers and wanted to make a career in the field. Databases were the big thing for me back then.
      At the same time, I accepted a position as managing director for a web site that reviewed computer parts. Similar to Tom’s Hardware. It was a hobby project, really, with a handful of enthusiasts having a lot of fun. Two years in, and I had developed the site into an internationally recognized website. It was hard work, and my bachelor degree suffered. But I carried on as best as I could. I got deals with Asus, Abit, Lian-Li and several other really big brands, and they sent us anything we wanted for free as long as we wrote reviews and articles. We were brutally honest and did not put makeup on any pigs, and I think that was the key to our success.
      But it did cost me in the end. I got burnt out. Trying to keep up with studying and running a successful enterprise at the same time got me in the end.

      The end result was that I had to drop out of the university. No degree. I passed on the job running the web site – I am grateful that I could end on a high note and proud of the fact that nobody ever managed to match my success. Sadly, the site tanked a few years later due to mismanagement.

      A side effect of the whole ordeal was that I started to hate computers. I went from loving to build my own computers and work on them, to barely wanting to use them. My passion for computers had vanished.

      Therefore I am content with what ever small amount of woodworking I get to do. I enjoy it tremendously! It is a hobby, and I really do not want to have it as a lifestyle. I am not that kind of person. I need diversity in my life, not being limited to one particular field (even though the field might be VERY broad). The falling out of the computer field taught me that. Having woodworking, computers, cars, steel forging or what ever else as a life style, might not be for everyone. I admire those who do it, but I do not want to trade places.

      Lucky are we who can sip from the fountains of wisdom these lifestyle persons so willingly offer! We’ll pick and choose, then leave for the next fountain when we want to.

      Just be aware of the risk of drowning lest you are able to swim in the fountain waters.

      Computers and I has come to terms. I accept them as my servants now. Thankfully, the days of Windows 2000 has gone and things seem to be pretty stable…

      1. Thanks Joe (and Paul) for these words of inspiration. They really helped me on my journey, as I turn 50 and start to grow weary of these computers. Wondering where I’m going and what’s in store next. I also value those precious few moments in my woodshop.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Paul. I empathize with that emotion for which there are no words. A combination of pride, nostalgia, love, and awe for the world around us. I hope to one day be able to make the transition to a career, possibly in woodworking, that gives me such a feeling.

  4. Herb Teske (in Chicago Heights, Illinois)

    Paul, why did you leave Texas and the USA? We want you back.

    1. Mostly it wasn’t so much planned as just happened but I have no regrets because I feel I have a sense of purpose wherever I go. Who knows too, I may find that little pocket of dreamland in the Texas Hill Country for me to dream of and dream in in my not-so-retired retirement years. I could go for five acres somewhere north of Uvalde or near to Kerrville. A little cabin there would be nice!

      1. I live in Spring- about 2 1/2 hrs from Kerville. I am looking to find land (around 5 acres) for a small house and a big barn to be my workshop and a place for my wife to do some carving and painting. I am fully retired and I am encouraging my wife to close her publishing business and join me in relaxing. Your blog is both inspiring and encouraging. Coincidentally, you posted on my 66th birthday. It most be a sign I need to move on my dreams too. Paul, of all the woodworkers I follow, you have inspired me the most. Many thanks!

  5. Yes, Thats where my late Uncle Carl lived between Kerrville and Ingrarm in a house and shop he built on about 10 acres, and it was always my dream. I used to go visit him from Illinois about every year and now I miss him but stil have those memories.
    I enjoy reading about your life and your love of woodworking with you hands. Thanks Paul.

  6. A very well told tale of a well lived life. Makes me remember a Willie Nelson songtitle: I live the life I love and I love the life I live. Texan too with quite a different lifestyle, though. But that doesn’t matter. Lucky is he and she who really find the good and deeply satisfying way of living. And of course it’s not pure luck – it takes a good deal of effort as well.

  7. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for that!

    I’m in my second year as a fledgling grower of vegetables. Started last year and learning from a chap called Charles Dowding. Something in his approach to his garden reminds me of yours to your workshop. And in your approach to life generally. 🙂

    Your comments about cycling put me in mind of a book by Grant Peterson called ‘Just Ride’

    Thanks again Paul,

    Best wishes.

  8. Thanks Paul for this wonderful post. It makes me happy to hear that you have a vibrant life that gives you joy. About 15 to 20 years ago, I was dating a woman who ran an assisted living home for the elderly. Many of them at the time were WW2 veterans. I loved talking to them and hearing about this lives. We didn’t talk about the war (most veterans don’t) but just their lives. It was very enjoyable.

    The thing that saddened me at the time was that most of them sat around and just watched tv all day long. The silent lesson I learned then was that I needed to have some sort of “plan” for retirement so that I don’t sit and watch tv all day. Somewhere in my mid-40s I formulated a plan of what I thought I would like to do more of when I retired and started then to confirm if I liked it or needed to find something else. Woodworking is high on that list of things. I think the physicality of it will also help me stay more mobile as I age as well.

  9. Michael Briggs

    Thanks Paul, I love hearing about life in Texas, a place most of us associate with celluloid fantasy. Privileged, yes I agree, every day I wake up and dawdle out to the shed to continue with my project or otherwise.

  10. Clive Buckingham

    I love opening my shed in the morning it gives me purpose to get out of bed and out of the house. A year older than young Paul I am a newish woodworker having taken it up as a hobby on retirement some four years ago. I left school at 15, tried an apprenticeship before joining the Australian Defence Force at 17. Spent 10 years. I’m also a Vietnam Veteran. Worked out bush on a natural gas pipeline and later in a capital city until my demons got the better of me. Hid out in an ex-hippie community, attended university and completed a Social Science degree. Bought a yacht and went sailing. Moved back ashore and went back to work in the area of child protection. Another ten years until the stress got the better of me. I now live in a farming community in Queensland, have a large shed where I spend much of my time woodworking. I am slowly improving and have recently decided to retire most of my machinery and concentrate on my hand school skills. Paul has been my inspiration and teacher. YouTube is my best friend. I find woodworking the best therapy and good for my soul. I have recently actually managed to sell some of my work.

  11. I saw the remains of a rattlesnake in the y-crotch of a tree beside a dry running track on a military base, brains picked clean by a raptor or an owl. Then not a moment later an hornery jackrabbit burst from the bushes and attacked my running shoe. That was Texas.

  12. Donald Robert Lewis

    My life was saved by Faith and my shop. My projects went slowly, providing not only physical rehabilitation, but mental and spiritual as well. My shop has been integral in bouncing back (clawing my way forward?) from a double lung transplantation followed three months later by Covid-19 pneumonia. Prayers by so many reminded my of Who was really in charge.
    My #4 and # 8 Baileys make beautiful shavings from cherry, as I now am building a hall table.
    The “magical” feeling and smell of my shop are not illusionary, but so very important in my long recovery.
    Thanks, Paul for your frequent insights.
    Don Lewis
    Ashevllle NC

  13. Hi Paul

    Brought your book by chance on how to become an artisan, and know I have been woodworking for about two years (thank you). And it’s such a nice contending feeling knowing you have a hobby for the rest of your life, looking and taking care of my hand tools and the why they cut, and in the evening going to my very small work shop with a cup of tea and getting time by myself and seeing my skill set improve and the things I’m starting to make and planning ahead, as you mentioned is a feeling words can’t explain. I wonder if it ever would of happened if I didn’t come across your book.
    Really Can’t wait for your book to come out about your life woodworking as you put down in words how it makes you me feel, I could never do that so Many Many thanks Paul

  14. Turning life into a work of art, what could be better. I am always inspired by your life philosophy and living ethics. I am slowly working my way through your book, and when I get a little frustrated by my inabilities to do what I see in my head but not quite able to do with my hands I think of you and it brings me back to the bench. Progress not perfection…..yet.

  15. Paul, you inspire me, my father was a man that spent his home time working on a house he and my mother built. For years they refined the house to fit their growing family of three. I was away interested it working with wood but it was my brother that took it to the next leave as he became a successful wood worker. I, on the other hand have only really started. At 67 I’ve purchased a bandsaw mill and going to learn timber framing. With 3 projects in mind my venture it wood working is really just starting. Watching your channel has inspired me to continue to get focused. So thank you.
    Your stories are amazing!

  16. I dread Mondays, because I have to work in the office; I am only able to work in my shop during the weekends. I do wish for long weekends.

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