Beyond the Workshop Door

You may recall that I was teaching my classes on a regular basis from 1995 through to two years ago. Throughout those years I was always a maker and a designer involved closely with my own work and the work of other craftsmen working alongside me. Often, I didn’t even make some of my designs beyond the first prototype. I can think of dining chairs and desks, tables and the like. My Brazos rocking chair design has been made for about 20 years to date and continues to be made and sold by those I trained as young boys in evening classes when they were but young children establishing their formative skills using hand tools.

My very first ever Brazos Rocking Chair design

Working back then was in some sense an incubation period when my life was in a period of flux, transitioning to a place where furniture making continued with staff but my interest in teaching ran parallel as I developed my as yet unwritten curriculum, wrote my own how-tos and followed my heart. Some weeks were roller-coaster weeks of intensity. I would be teaching at the bench and writing and sketching hands on saws on wood to capture the steps and pass them on in an hour’s time to the students working there at 20 workstations. This put me in a role I had never thought of before. How do I describe the knife cuts I made to establish dead squareness in two plains to joint-line shoulders? What could I do to get dead parallel surfaces to tenons and mortises to make them correspond when the person at the bench only picked up a saw two days before? I would still be working at 3 am when I had a class starting at eight and I had a new idea that needed me in the woodshop at six. Now that 300,000 words have been written, now that almost 3,000 blog posts are available for free here, and with two dozen manuscripts written and two wonderful books under my belt, now that I have personally taught and trained 6,500 woodworkers in classes, my task of knowing what to teach and how is no longer guesswork. Teaching and training is made all the easier for me. Now I can enjoy the reality that 32 million views of my blog have taken place since my first blog post ten years ago. I say all of this because it came at a price. Little of what I have ever written has made me much income. Had I done this for a living I would have died long ago. But what I have written, every single word of it, has been written because it was needed and because I wanted to write it. Even without pay, I would have written it because it was the only way I could reach millions of woodworkers worldwide with one simple message that I had. Life is simple, woodworking is simple and we can do both with just our hands. Yes, we use technology. Our forebears did too. Did you know that the Shakers had patents out on many machines that they designed, that they too had production methods in lines that were practical to maximise production?

Foot-pedaled and water-powered mechanisms came into play in the modernisation programs started by the Shaker makers in their workshops. Here’s an early mortise chopper that guaranteed paraplanar mortises. I think I would like one of these.

New technology has been emerging for millennia. We often build on the backs of our forebears. Some things can be seen as good at the time but later we end up fishing out plastic bags from the depths of the oceans because what we saw as simply convenient ways to carry our groceries home ended up strangling life at the sea bottom because, well, we couldn’t see the future of the outcomes of our technologies. With new technologies bringing in virtual anythings into our lives, are we indeed polluting the minds of our children, and do we have yet to plumb the depths of science to find cures to relieve them? Hmm!

The demand for my hands-on teaching continued to increase year on year with the result of full classes every month for two decades, but the more recent demands precipitated my decision to shut down my own school and teaching invitations elsewhere too. In other words, the work I was doing on a more individual basis would no longer meet the demand for craftsman-teaching. There can be no doubt that my background followed on the back of a long career as a maker. Even today, aged 71, I am still making my pieces every single day and I do so by hand using hand tools. The difference? I no longer make with a view to selling but with a view to teaching on the widest scale ever in my history as a maker teacher.

Paying the way forward

Fundamental to what I teach and do will always be the desire to perpetuate my craft in the lives of those who love the craft too. My first formal class began with an initial one-day class for the Texas Arts & Crafts Foundation in Kerrville, Texas back in the beginning of the 1990s. I didn’t realise then that I couldn’t teach, so I did. I’m glad! Opportunities like this can and do spring up for us without ever our realising that a single ‘lone-star’ spark could ignite a whole future for us.

Teaching, training, writing and researching craft became integral to my life. Back in 1994 I became lead coordinator of the Heritage Craft Centre in central Texas where I ran the first woodworking school I started. But teaching and training others began even before that. Every so often I would take on a new apprentice but I have never taken on an apprentice to better my own cause or gain from as in times past. My apprentices were there to learn so that they too could become craftsmen in their own right (no women ever asked). Some made it to become crafting artisans and some didn’t. Crafting in wood is not for the faint-hearted and neither is it for the undisciplined either. Lots of people want to get off the conveyor belt, wear braces and a bandana and work out of the back of a van in the woods somewhere. This is their choice for lifestyle and it’s not for everyone. The woods may have its own appeal but without a dry workshop, a workbench and a place to stow more than an ax, an adze and a froe and froe club, it would not suit a furniture maker. Of course, it’s more than mere belts, braces and beards and bandanas.

Sam apprenticed with me for a year five years ago and continues his woodworking today.

My continued development gave me deeper insights into what it takes to teach and train others about my craft, how to work and how to appreciate the value of work in our crafting. With the demise of true apprenticeships with individual artisans like myself and then too, especially, the slow and steady takeover by technical colleges and vocational training centres, I saw the trade-off where apprentices were forced to become ‘qualified‘ with paper certification rather than the collective assessment and even judgement of their peers as they grew alongside the tradesmen at their workbench. I would have my work cut out if my craft was to be preserved as a living and vibrant culture of individual learning one on one. Today, my work now reaches out from my workbench to a wide audience of those who would never find or be able to take up an apprenticeship.

I apprenticed my son Joseph alongside me from being just a few years old and we still work together every day but in different roles.

Being willing to change direction weaves its way throughout my life and my work; it’s the heartbeat of what I wake for and it has become this that undergirds all that I and we do here at ther workshop. Woodworking Masterclasses saw us through to a tremendously successful start for the most intent and intense of woodworkers wherever they are. In days past, my work was local to where I lived in the USA. Back then, people drove a hundred miles to a class. Within a year, the classes filled all the more and I recall the day in one class when all that changed and out of a class of 15 students half of them came from different states in North America and other countries around the world too; people from Germany, Ireland, Australia and England.

Today, due to our apprenticing online, we have taken 30 years of teaching and training, writing, and research to produce a strategic way for people to learn everything that I have learned throughout my 56 years as a producing craftsman – and it costs almost nothing too – probably this is the lowest cost anyone needs to pay for their training, ever. We currently teach what colleges, universities and many private schools can never ever teach in three-year training programs Many college teachers recommend our work to their students and indeed use our techniques and training for their students. You will learn more in a matter of weeks than any of these other courses offer that take many months and years. The greatest saving, of course, is in your time. Our basis for teaching is to watch and make. Week on week, you work alongside me with your device perched somewhere nearby. I love that thought that I am right there on the bench with you. Yes, it is different, but it is as practical a way of training as anything else I have ever done so far. But then too, you cannot discount the tens of thousands of pounds you save by not paying for and attending extended courses. In most cases, it is not just the course cost but multiple years of loss of earning capacity too. With an average college course here in the UK costing around £5,000 per year, a three-year course will run around £15,000 but can go up to £25,000 for a degree course. Factor in loss of earnings that can raise the bar by £75,000. The cost of a month’s viewing with us is around £15 and you can access hundreds of instructional videos for that. Not much in the grand scheme of things.

My last ten years brought everything to the table for others to learn from and at minimal cost. Even just working through the 3,000 blog posts, which are all free btw, or my YouTube videos will thoroughly equip you to become a competent maker. Why not join us there for starters.

21 thoughts on “Beyond the Workshop Door”

  1. Hi Paul, yes the work you now do is far reaching and of course accessible to a huge audience which includes myself. There are nuggets in every uploaded teaching vidio which are useful to every level of ability. However given the chance I would swap the lot for a month at the bench with you. As in all phisical endeavour what a person thinks they are doing and what they are actually doing can be quiet different and having you there to adjust an angle of presentation of a blade could be transformative in the outcome of the task and the learning. I’m sure you would not swap your time at the bench with George for anything, but thanks for giving us the next best thing.

  2. Thank you Paul. Your online classes have made a great impact on me for sure. When I “retire” from my professional career in less than a decade, I’m hoping to do a lot more woodworking. The College of the Redwoods is only a few hours drive from where I live. I might sign up for their program. I also currently teach one night a week (college chemistry) at my alma matter. I am hoping that I can give back myself and teach others some woodworking. They have a lot of elective evening classes for the students such as ballroom dancing, rock climbing, etc. Why not woodworking if they have someone who is willing and able to teach it. Plus, since I am already there, they know me so it’s low risk. Your teaching definitely makes ripples in the world in a good way.

  3. I your love for woodworking and gift for teaching has impacted me in the greatest way. After I left the military I searched for a purpose and a thing to do with my hands that did not include destruction and the possibility for violence that had ruled my world for 12 years. Woodworking and your teaching brought that to me. I thank God for you and your gifts and passion for that gift every day. Thank you sir.

  4. Peter Compton

    I have just started my 7th year as one of your on line apprentices. And still learning the intricacies of wood and techniques. My son in law is a City and Guilds carpenter/ joiner. I am surprised when he looks at some of the things I am doing or have made and he asks … “How do you do that”. It was all machine work for him.

    1. It is definitely a different skill set. I father in law thinks I’m crazy for wanting to do hand work. It does all his work with machines too.

  5. You know it seems that Paul Sellers has not become rich from his avocation, as he says. Most of us have not. Not to patronise Mr. Sellers, but indeed his life course has led to an unselfish view of sharing his knowledge and experiences. Huzzahs for such men and women!

  6. Thank you Paul for what you have, and are, doing. There was a, and is a great need for it.
    As a retired teacher, it became too obvious to me that schools are now so obsessed with measuring achievement, and having proof of it, that time to actually teach is much less, resulting in students learning less. Sad that no one is brave enough to do anything about it.
    I am about to make a new window frame for my workshop so I did a quick search on the WWW for any videos. All that I found involved using machinery, even in home workshops. I want to make it by hand, indeed I don’t have the machinery. There was one that was screwing the timber together at the corners and screwing on other pieces to form the window rebate, but I want to do better than that. So I will use my rebate plane for the rebates and bridle joints for the corners, possibly insert dowels through them.
    As I presently have little timber in stock I had to buy some, was surprised how much prices have risen recently. I am told it is due to covid resulting in more DIY / building work creating shortages.

  7. Great job again Mr Sellers. Your E mails are always every interesting, entertaining and very useful.
    Any idea where I could get one of those 10 1/2 oz werrington cross pien hammers. I do not care if it has a handle. I’ll make one of them.
    I always learn something new from your blog. KEEP US INFORMED IN THESE EVER CHANGING TIMES.

  8. Mr. Sellers, I cannot express what a positive and powerful impact you’ve had on my life. With retirement fast approaching, I was left wondering what I would do in my spare time? So I put it out into the universe and it brought me you via Youtube. I still remember stumbling onto your first workbench series where you built your bench out in your backyard. It was late at night, and I couldn’t stop watching the episodes. While now you may think it’s a primitive production, to this day, it’s still my favorite. It’s just you, and me, with your refreshing tips and recommendations. Since then, and always with your guidance, I’ve bought some basic tools, built a Paul Sellers style workbench, and a shaving horse. I even used some of your techniques to hang kitchen cabinets! I love reading your blog in the morning with my cup of coffee and watching your videos at night before I turn out the light. Thank you for all you do for us. You are truly appreciated.

  9. Of all the talented woodworkers that I can glean from and take to bench in practice with results, I always seem to come back to you. You are very much appreciated Paul! Especially in a world where most just focus on making a buck.

  10. David Oliver

    I appreciate your work and your vision. The best money I have ever spent on woodworking is my subscription to your Masterclasses. Thank you, sir!

  11. If you were within geographical accommodation I would be the first woman to ask then if i might be your apprentice. 🙂 Thank you so much for the insights and very valuable lessons you have given me over the years and now with your book I feel like you are with me in some way every time i need to reference how to do something – you always have a much better approach much more organized ways than certainly i could come up with-

  12. Keenan Reesor

    I love this post so much. I can attest to what you are saying from the other side of the table. With a family to feed and bills to pay, there is no way on earth I could take the time that I would need to develop the practical woodworking skills that you teach in such a comfortably paced and clear way online. And I love that you work with hand tools and teach and build the way that you do for precisely the same reasons that I want to learn: exercising stewardship over the earth, creating, and serving. Plus, I love the unpretentious aesthetic of your designs and look forward to many years of furnishing my family home with them. Thank you for doing this, Mr. Sellers.

  13. At the tender age of 56 I have found your on line content and been amazed at how your teaching techniques can find a spark in myself to want to pursue a new and very different line of work. When I first looked at your Common Woodworking site I thought the tutorials to be a little basic but quickly realised they were to teach techniques essential to more complex builds. Your YouTube series are excellent and once I feel I’m at a stage I will benefit I will be signing up for the more advanced online courses too. Thanks for reigniting my desire to learn to use my hands.

  14. There is nothing like teaching a practical subject to make one really come to grips with it. Paul has done that in every way possible. And I can sympathise with having to keep one step ahead of the students!

    1. Thankfully I no longer need to do that because of the work I established in my brain back in the 1990s in developing a curriculum for today’s woodworker. Once I realised that there were no new tools on the market that didn’t exist 300 years ago, and that no new joint exists that wasn’t used 300 years ago, and remember, a machine is a machine and not a tool, all became incredibly simple for me. I cannot rest just yet because I don’t believe enough people fully understand that lifestyle woodworking is possible for all so long as we can dismantle the conveyor belt mentality of mass-making using mass-making methods in our sheds and garages. For every one video or blog I put out, there are a thousand others hammering screws into wood with jig guides and another million dominoes, dowels and biscuits, all totally skilless methods, joining one piece of wood to another. I have my work cut out but slowly and surely one commenter after another through the last decade have discovered the art of real woodworking. I am satisfied for that, but have not yet arrived.

  15. rollo thompson

    Brilliant post , thank you for the videos which have become very addictive and moved on my limited ability 10 fold

  16. Martin Glassborow

    My workshop is full of old Stanley tools, 100 year hand saws, pungent wood shavings, and the radio in the background. And it’s all thanks to your teachings and philosophy. A big thank you to Paul. Martin, Victoria,Australia

Privacy Notice

You must enter certain information to submit the form on this page. We take the handling of personal information seriously and appreciate your trust in us. Our Privacy Policy sets out important information about us and how we use and protect your personal data and it also explains your legal rights in respect of it. Please click here to read it before you provide any information on this form.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *