Humility Makes a difference

I live and have lived in a different world than most for many decades. At what point things changed I am not altogether sure. I think, for the main part, that this is mostly because I didn’t continue along the same paths as those I worked alongside when I was a young emerging craftsman, and then most of the professional woodworkers shifting from handwork to machines during major shifts in industrialism back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. My arrival in the USA in the mid-1980s broke many biases, prejudices, and, especially, the cultural barriers that held me back. This new beginning enabled me to strike out on a hitherto unknown, unused path that unfolded rapidly. I had no other to copy or follow. It seemed a more narrow path if you like. One not too well traveled. The different path? I think mostly that I recognised for the first time that I as a woodworker skilled in hand work was somehow relieved from the pressures of competitiveness. That there was no competition between handwork and machine work because the work itself was so completely different. Then too, I was not controlled by peers, disabled through my own fears and self-doubts, trying always to be accepted, things like that. Sloughing off my past thus then empowered me to pursue my love of true handwork without being intimidated, humiliated or bullied by anything or anyone. I wondered this though, was I some kind of dinosaur destined for extinction and a denier refusing to move with the times and see the writing on the walls of ‘progress’. Not all progress is progressive.

My hands have provided for my own needs and the needs of my family and friends despite almost everyone telling me through the five, now nearing six decades that you cannot make a living using these “primitive methods” in today’s times.

I was surviving just fine in my newfound world making things predominantly through my handwork and skill. That I had gone on to study and train myself beyond my apprenticing would not at all be evident to all, but study and train I did. Through the years, these studies equipped me to further embrace my quest to research woodworking of every kind on a continuing basis. Skills and techniques were being lost one by one and this became evident to me as some were indeed lost altogether already. Through my research, many techniques became evident and could only have been rediscovered through the dismantling of furniture pieces to see which tool did what and which technique enabled this and stopped that. One of the most evidential realities was the almost abandonment of the hand router plane throughout even the world of hand tool woodworking. It seemed, at least to me, that no one anywhere was using a hand router plane anymore and no magazines nor books for decades even mentioned them as a viable tool let alone advocate their value to woodworkers. I took the router and showed what it was really capable of doing and introduced it as a refinement tool for several joints and other aspects of woodworking etc. At a low cost of £10 on eBay ten years ago, and being passed over at garage sales and car-boot sales, it now sells for £150 and up secondhand. That’s hard to believe or imagine. A technique I came up with and indeed invented is the foolproof mortising guide and the system that goes with it. The greatest struggle in my class, and any classes I taught anywhere on two continents, was not so much cutting the tenons paraplanar to the outside faces but chopping the mortise paraplanar to the outside face say of the stile or rail of a frame and such. The unique combination in my using the router plane to correct small surface discrepancies, thicknesses of tenons, such like that, and then developing the mortising guide created the perfect symbiosis in a system of M&T joinery. I knew of the various problems all woodworkers experienced regardless of experience levels as it came to light through the 6,500 students I had trained in the 1990s through 2010. This resulted in well-fitting mortise and tenons and no more twisted frames for panels and frames. It was that pre-internet and the pre-YouTube period before blogging, selfie-videoing, etc. This union between the old world and the new emerging one created the symbiosis I needed to reach the millions that soon followed. I now reach these woodworkers with an apprenticing strategy through the internet platforms I now teach on.

It’s the harder elements of traditional handwork that has kept me so very fit through the decades, as well as a good diet and plenty of additional physical exercise too.

It’s all too easy to say that my apprenticeship gave me all that I needed. It did not! Whereas it was a low springboard into deepening waters, most of my working knowledge came over the ensuing decades as I experimented to try different methods of working. By taking on the mantle of the researcher in the field, I found many hidden answers. That said, I did start to think to myself, ‘Am I a working man with a message that gets lost in the mass of information, with a message that is distinctly different than that of all his peers, if indeed he has any peers anywhere at all?’ For the longest period, I felt more alone in my thoughts that handwork was far more important than anyone anywhere gave credit to. I say this because there was a period there in the USA and Britain that I never met a man that worked with hand tools at all. And I say this now because from time to time and all the more I continue to feel incompatible with many things in the world as a whole and especially perhaps out of touch with what has become the world of woodworking.

My students have kept me young in my views and have given purpose to my doings.

To be frank, I feel that I have less, if anything, to connect me with today’s so-called woodworking professionals who claim the titles of woodworker and furniture maker when they seem to me to have much less knowledge of serious woodworking than their amateur counterparts that now outnumber them a hundred to one. I find my peers are now in the realms of the amateur rather than the professional and so much less now than I had in my youth as an apprentice. Why is that? I think mostly it’s the skillfulness that seems now to be missing in professional woodworking. I see clearly that something has stymied the growth of professionals and I think this ties in with actually becoming that professional by certification and qualification to work by the very machine methods that so limit them. Inevitably, the brain itself becomes programmed to work within the limitations of the rotary cut a machine can only produce. A brain that’s programmed to think machine procedure rarely steps out of its comfort zone even though that brain capably functions multidimensionally.

6,500 students have stood opposite me around my bench for three decades, from 7-year-olds on up to the eldest who was in his 90s.

Funny though, I am supposedly an influencer because I have over 500,000 subscribers on my YouTube channel, yet I don’t feel too much deserving of this newish title. In other words, I can find no others who are actually at all like me. By that, I mean that no one else specifically makes or has made furniture by which they made their living as such, and definitely few have actually earned from their craft to support family life by working with their hands as artisans, and nor likely have they for three decades now. Now I am not saying that there aren’t some out there in this great big world making by hand as such and as much as I am, just that they are not in the town where `I live and nor are they in the whole of my neighbouring city of Oxford, as far as I know. I ask again am I a man with a message distinctly different than that of his peers? I ask this because I can find no others who are anything like me. By this, I mean that my reason for doing what I do is to highlight the reality that being the kind of woodworker I am has greater validity than just making money or a living. I believe so much in what I am doing and have done that I would never change the course I have taken. So I have come to this simple reality. The preservation of hand tool woodworking will continue to grow through the efforts of the amateur woodworker who is indeed prepared to discomfort him and herself to pursue the art of woodworking through their developing skills. This is a remarkable turn of events.

The inlaid bald eagles decorate the front panels of the White House credenzas we made in 2008/9

Compatible or not, it makes little difference to me. Why? Because I feel successful. Am I successful in completing a commission for two pieces in the White House, for making high-end pieces for successful leaders and wealthy customers, things like that? Not really. My greater success is still living my craft and making, despite the many hardships I had to overcome. I am successful in the face of smart alecks who say things like, “Work smart, not hard!” It should be, “Work smart and work hard!” Working hard and being diligent is equally important. Cute sayings are often meaningless phrases made by those we recognise as being ‘successful‘ in dominating the business world. I’ve worked alongside people, poor people, people with no money, no status, and living in rented housing most of their lives who said, “Can I help you with that?” as I tried to lift a heavy item up to a higher point. These are the sayings that are quote-worthy: ‘Can I help you with that?‘, ‘I see you are struggling, what can `I do?‘ The reason I am here doing what I do is because different people along the way had that kind of true humility. They didn’t say to me, ‘Paul, work smarter, not harder.‘ And they didn’t say, ‘Find your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life again.‘ These men and women saw me working diligently as a father, a woodworking furniture maker, and as an honest man and they saw that they could help, whether I needed it or not. They chipped in if you will. In most such cases we became long-term friends or friends just for a season. What these people with humility did was put their shoulders under the load and lift with me. There were no lectures about overworking, there were shoulders side by side that pushed and pulled with me in the same direction. They said kind things and encouraged my efforts. I can cite many cases where all I needed was an encouraging word from people with humility. This is the real success of the world I live in.

Some of my favourite memories are when I close down my workshop at the end of the day and I see my tools at rest, awaiting the next day’s work. Imagine, I have known this now for five and a half decades.

I read every comment that comes in because if they are important enough for people to spend time writing them down and sending them to me, then they are important enough for me to read them. Working as I do with so remarkable a team is humbling too. I have been working on something for a few weeks, about three months since I made my first prototype in several iterations. I wanted this project to be as perfect as possible and everyone filming me in the making was with me, heart and soul. Patiently, the project went well. No retakes, the effort of my hands and my energies went forth like a volley of pistol shots in quick succession. The videographers were right there over my shoulders, underneath the bench looking up as the tools pierced the wood, and then right in my face. They gave their very best shot for every scene and technique to make sure that they captured exactly what I wanted and what they wanted too. The rough wood became planed parts and the planed parts became my intention and so a new project came to pass as possibly the most important piece I have ever made. They were with my every step. But then, yesterday and the day before, we had seven or eight retakes so that I could get it right. Patiently we did the retakes and patiently they strove with me until the words came in the right order and in the right way for what needed to be said. I should point out that this is highly unusual as the words just flow out of me because the work I do becomes words according to what I do best and these words are who I am. In this particular case, things were very different. This last session needing the retakes was my hope to make everyone know the importance of what it meant to me. Possibly the most significant piece of my career and yet it is also one of the very simplest pieces I have put together to date.

Legs to a dining table that is now in one of my children’s dining room.

Closing my week, sweeping the floor, tools going in their places, and things like that, gave me time to reflect on the meaning of work. I have read what many skilled writers have written about in their first encounter with working manually actually using their hands and their bodies. It was as if they discovered something meaningful as they expressed this so tangibly in their writing. The funny thing though is this. It seemed as though they had suddenly become the interpreters of working manually and even had the audacity to tell others, those who had worked in such a way for years, of the value of manual working. Though they seemed to really enjoy their discovery, they didn’t actually give up what they did to become manual workers but remained interpreters of the concept using clever phraseology to keep a distance from manual working and no different to what they were as reporters and journalists. I knew a speaker/leader like this personally once too. He spoke often of the things I speak of with regards to being manual workers yet in the three decades I knew him I never saw or heard of him working manually anywhere. In most of the cases cited, all of them, as far as I know, it seemed that these people, successful writers of books, orators with stories to tell, were merely anecdotal. It was little more than them taking an excursion somewhere, a vacation or holiday into the world of working with their bodies. Ultimately, it was typing they wanted and, of course, the careful crafting of words in sentences and paragraphs is a powerful tool, as we all know. But living the life is more powerful than anecdotal information and better than anything I have ever known. This, for me, is the true mark of humility.

45 thoughts on “Humility Makes a difference”

  1. Dear Paul,

    To be honest, i was wondering how you found the time to share your insigth so extensively and still be present on social media, youtube and produce high end quality content. I tend to forgive how much a dedicated person can deliver.

    I personnaly don’t think you are alone I went to professional woodworkers around my home to meet them in my quest of knowledge. The first type i’ve meet was the heavy machinist mostly working on cabinet/kitchen work, machine are perceive as a way to rentability. After few exchange it was apparent that my passion for woodworking was different from his, basically, it was his work, just throw some slab of wood through machine, almost as if he , himsel, was one machine repeating infinetly the processed/ordered operations to go from wood panel to cabinet …

    Pursuing my quest i finally went to a workshop i origanlly though to be closed, it was well away from the houses, it was dead silent except for birds singing, but while approching i finally heard the sound i was seeking for, the silk sound of a plane taking shaving out of hardwood, people having a talk about a work in progress, the laughter of sweaty woodworker echoing to the ending sunny afternoon. (I live in the french riveria, it s quite hot, but surely not as hot as texas).

    I often went to work with them, i m all but a simple amater who felt in love with manual woodworking 8 month ago, but they accept me in there workshop. I take as less place as i can, wait for adivce without asking for them, and most essential i m able to see their hands working their plane,their chisel. Learning to sharpen tools the way they do. As someone who grew up from the age of 7 with a computer keyboard in its hands i find it terribly meaningfull to build something in reality even if it full of mistake, i feel it is the mark of me learning something. each successive realisation tend to have fewer mistake.

    I hope melancholy is not getting you, we are here, and each day bring more of us. The world is shifting and my generation or the one to follow is strongly “progressing” toward more local action and more value and sense in what we do.

    Best regards Paul, Thanks you again so much for this writing

    1. Beautifully said! I’ve not had an opportunity to work with a fellow hand-toolist. I have experienced the feeling of a distant solitude in a place surrounded by machine hungry “professionals” that scoff and laugh and murmur when I start setting up my bench planes or sharpening my saws, though. By the end of our time together, the machine hoard has always split into the same three groups: those who marvel at the higher quality of my work over the results of their cold and rigid processes, those who end up requesting work from me, and those who bitterly mumble their own shortcomings directed at me as a form of projection to make themselves feel secure (which saddens me for them.)

      1. I’ve experienced similar reactions as an amateur interacting with other amateurs. Perfectionists like myself are easy to covert into hand tool workers. They simply seek truth in quality.

        “Why does my finish look blotchy”? “Because you sanded it so much”.

        “How do I get the saw marks out then?”
        You show them with a planer what smooth, flat, and precision really is. They’re delighted when they see the result and immediately see a power sander as some annoying devil that tricked them.

        The other group just wants a table and nothing more. “Who has time for that”?

        It’s all about commitment.

  2. I think you are one voice of many advocating hand tool woodworking.
    Maybe you have been too busy doing what you do to notice the others, although I noticed you had a woman come to visit you who is a well known wood carver in certain circles. She doesn’t use power tools in her carving.
    There are entire magazines dedicated just to hand tool woodworking. There are also hybrid wood workers who use power tools when it is most efficient to do so. I count myself in that category, for instance I don’t own a brace and use my battery powered drill because I can get the same results in less time. But I would never use an electric powered router ( anymore) and I have three of them.
    I have a surface planer and use it without hesitation when I have 100 board feet of oak to get to a certain thickness but I finish the final thickness by hand with hand planes and scrapers.
    Because of what you have taught me I go to hand tools when I deem it most efficient to do so or to achieve superior results.
    I have started repurposing old furniture, one reason is to see how it was put together the other is to reuse valuable wood. Even Ikea furniture has value, you can see what the structure failures are and learn from that. ( then you can warm the house with the scraps)
    I recently bought a couple of Akerblom chairs just to see how they were put together and to see if they are truly comfortable for people with bad backs like my wife and I. I plan to start building chairs to my own specific needs taking design ideas from these samples and hopefully come up with my own ideas.
    The direction I have taken was from your presentations and others. You have a huge impact on the woodworking community, keep it coming!

  3. Paul, you ask the question of if you are alone in making a living by making by hand (excuse the paraphrase). If you will allow me, I would propose that you are not alone as you have transcended from a skilled laborer to artist. Much more importantly, you have helped to transcend woodworking from a useful skill to a form of art. True woodworkers are now like blacksmiths, glass blowers, potters and other highly skilled individuals who are preserving what was once a commonplace skill and way of life as art. Such individuals may survive by selling the fruits of their labor as objects of art, but they are delivering to us all something so much more valuable than mere useful objects.

    Objects made by hand can and do have daily utility, but they also deliver value that can only be created by the touch of human hands and the investment of human spirit. At the risk of crossing into the realm of the metaphysical, I dare say that objects made by human hand are endowed with and preserve a piece of that human’s spirit, maybe even that individual’s soul. This is true of all art forms, and art is ultimately the true key to humanity.

    Progress is inevitable, if it were not, we would still be living in caves, hunting with sharpened sticks, and using a broken piece of flint as our most sophisticated tool. Every skill ever developed by humans has eventually evolved into something new. Every technique has eventually is supplanted by new technology, yielding new ways of working and new ways of living. That is part of what makes us human and we should embrace that too.

    But preserving the art and the essence of our human skills helps us all to collectively preserve and develop our spirit and our collective soul. If I may be so bold, I will say that is your true calling. It is the gift that you have given to all of us, and it will long outlast each of us as individuals. Thank you for elevating your craft and skill to art and for preserving that piece of the human spirit for all time.

  4. “Not all progress is progressive.”
    I think Paul may have summed up the problem of this world.

      1. I like the story Paul tells in another blog (or was it in the comment section) about somebody what he was using to write (a fountain pen) and Paul answering something like: “it is a digital pen controlled by an app which regulates the ink flow in function of distance travelled and speed.”
        Novelty is not always progress. In My wife’s weekly there is a rubric whose heading is “It is new, it is good”. I don’t think new automatically means better.
        I am regularly buying some French fresh cheese. Some time ago you could simultaneously see on the package “new formula” and “since 1872”.
        I have a “smartphone” which has a life of itself. Every morning I have to delete nearly 2 MB of junk file even if I didn’t use it.
        All those unwanted message, spams and advertising are using more energy than the whole aviation transport industry did before covid. What a waste. Thank you for the climate and the dramatic flooding we have had this summer.

        When I was younger I thought “progress can’t be stopped” was something positive (I got a civil engineer degree); now I don’t.

  5. Any mention of humility brings a smile from an old story about an appreciative congregation that presented their long-serving pastor with a HUMILITY lapel pin but then asked for its return when he started wearing it. 😉

  6. Dear Paul,
    Your humility is very understanding. I have watched many (but not all) your videos and an inspiration they have been. They display a patience I wish I had – it is coming all be it slowly. Thank you for not just the woodworking skill you impart but also a positive view on life.

    I meet others at the Shed Oxford, located in Sutton Courtney, just South of you where retired people belong to the Community Worksop. I am on my third project using plywood as I have found the cost of wood very high but is satisfying to see it come to fruition. My skill level is very average and ask you do you have exercises to improve my joint making skills? I have one in which I practice sawing a straight line in wood.

    Thank you for your inspiration.

    Kevin Harvey

  7. So true what you say Paul. And admire your bravery with starting a new life in the USA especially with a young family Was there ever a minute when you though what the hell have I done, “which clearly you did make the right decision “ and how long did it take you to establish your craft over there and settle into the American lifestyle .

    1. I think that the first five years were the most demanding. We built our home first, along with a workshop. One thing I loved about the USA was that customers did not rely on reputation but on what they saw and felt when they saw and visited with an artisan. We still have a class system here that never saw in my time on the USA. Building a business from scratch in the middle of nowhere placed meat the source of my wood without middlemen but away from potential customers. there in the US and especially Texas you could hang up your sign and open your doors and customers were happy to walk in and ‘discover’ you.

  8. Good morning Paul,

    I have been a follower/reader of yours for many years. Not only for wood working instruction/guidance but because of… you!
    I sincerely appreciate all that you have done and have so charitably offered.
    I have searched most of my life (I am your age) for someone who could give me woodworking guidance. With you, I got that but in addition, a whole lot more!
    Albeit we will probably never meet personally, I consider you a very good friend! God bless you.


    1. This is so very nice, Tim. I have always hoped to reach out without me thinking I am the only one reaching out but feeling helped by my friends reaching out as you just did. I make mental notes of ‘regulars’ and always look forward to hearing from them because that’s how I get feedback and much of my direction.

      Thanks so much.

  9. Thank you, Paul. I have benefitted from your posts and appreciate your perspectives. I have also purchased two of your books and gone through them multiple times. During the Winter season I use hand tools more often in woodworking projects on an increasing basis. It is good exercise and much quieter. Spring , Summer and early Fall I do quite a bit of repair and maintaince work for myself and family: electrical and woodworking. Where I live there are few to talk to or watch who use traditional woodworking tools , so what you do is important and keeps me learning .

  10. I used to have lots of power tools. A table saw, a planer, a router table and such. I sold all of it and now do everything I need to do with hand tools. When I tell people what I did I get looks, stares, and comments as if I’m crazy. But I like the methods. I like the quietness of my hands providing the power for my hand tools. And I love old tools. But what I love best is when I use my hand tools while others are watching. That’s when I get more stares, looks, and comments; these of wonder and amazement. Thanks Paul. All these things I learned from you.

  11. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe

    I am so thankful for you, Paul! I can still remember when I saw your videos where you made a work bench out in the garden, with the sound of children playing as ambient sound. Not noise, sound.

    Even you have lost that simplicity. I do understand why, but it is a bit sad, really. By showing how little one really need to make wonderful things lowers the bar for people. Another example would be a “one plank build” – one board of rough-sawn timber from which a nice piece of furniture emerges. It seems doable and affordable.

    Certainly, building the work bench out on the grass with minimal setup – that changed the world for me. Thank you for that, Paul. I’ve watched some of those videos over again, even though I have built my own work bench. It is just something about those videos… Maybe it’s just me and my nostalgia. 🙂 And that’s okay.

  12. Hi Paul,
    please keep doing what you do, it gives me encouragement! I have a full time job as an Electronics Design Engineer and make things from wood in my spare time. I have been working on a small step ladder made from rough sawn American Ash and it has been really hard work. My neighbours think I have gone mad always making sawing and planing and scraping noises and constantly walking up and down th egarden path with nothing to show for it. But I’m getting there with your help!

  13. Dear Paul,
    Thank you for being the person you are………we shouldn’t take it for granted when someone like you comes along and speaks/writes(though you write as if you were speaking to me directly and not a large audience, which I appreciate immensely.) Your frank yet caring discussion(and of course wonderfully produced WORKING videos) of what you have mastered over the last 6 decades truly shows you are the perfect example of a Life Learner…….and the fact that you take the time, and have the passion/mission to share your thoughts and experiences is a wonderful gift to all of us. Not all crafts people nor artists would want to take the time and effort to share what they have learned along the way.
    In all my schooling the great teachers always stood out because they had not only mastered the skills (which only comes with much practice and keen awareness of all their results) but had passion for what they did. This notion that one saves their ‘passion’ for hobbies, not their job is bull !
    “Can I help you’ words rung so true for my life experiences. There are those who leaned in to help with full commitment and there are those who only said those words because of a cultural obligation to do so and no effort/commitment whatsoever. I am endeared to those who truly helped throughout my life.
    Though I never got to sit in one of your classes/workshops in person, I get to experience that every time I watch one of your videos. They are sooo well made and executed and thus your giving a personal lesson in our very own homes!
    Hats of to your crew and the fine job you all do. best wishes for good health to all of you.

  14. As much as I detest cliches, your message, Paul, reminds me to seize each day, with profound humility, and a love for every second of every day we are
    blessed with. And when your arms are burning from sawing stop for a moment to take in the sweet fragrance of the wood, oak, cherry, pine….. Try not to let words and explanations get in the way of what your other senses are telling you. From the tiny red orbatid mite dashing around on my still progressing work bench to the largest southern live
    oak, its moss covered branches touching the ground, I stand in awe. Your thoughts, insights, teachings, and wisdom are an inspiration to all of us, Paul.

  15. Paul – You are a treasure, and your dedication to craft is wonderful, but the person you are is no less important to getting your message across to folks. Thank you!

  16. tayler whitehead

    i arrived in woodworking after a successful career in hotel management. when i was 40 i burnt out from the stress and long hours (80 to 100 per week average) and took some time for myself to recuperate. in that time i took a course in wood working. what a joy it was to make a tangible thing of beauty. instead of creating memories, i had a piece of furniture that would stand the test of time. i continued my training and made a comfortable living making one off commission pieces. i am now retired and only make pieces for my own enjoyment. i have always been what they call a hybrid wood worker, due mainly to the man who trained me, who pushed me to learn how to use hand tools. so yes i use machines to prepare stock, but then i only use hand tools. and yes there is a market out there that appreciates quality over price. there are many on youtube who profess to be furniture makers, yet apart from the pieces they make for their channel, have never sold a piece.

  17. Dear Paul,

    This afternoon, I completed a Shaker style bookshelf for my seven-week old daughter, Nell. My wife and I hung it in her nursery and organized her books of fairy tales and nursery rhymes.

    I made the shelf with hand tools, using techniques that I learned in your videos. The shelf wasn’t perfect, but it was infinitely more meaningful than anything I could have purchased.

    Thank you for teaching us, so that we may share with others.

      1. Paul…..I read all your posts and comments….and most of all I really enjoy your personal replies.

        Thank you john2v

  18. Thank you for all of your passion, mentoring, humility and humanity.
    This is a complex subject which is very close to my heart.
    Woodworking has been all I’ve wanted to do since I was 2 years old, carrying my uncles hammer and saw are my oldest memories.
    I did my apprenticeship back in the late ‘70’s; but through life events had to leave it and take on a second trade which I am still in all these years late.
    I still put 100% into this trade as with everything I do, I’m passionate about doing things right but this trade is not my passion.
    I’ve been teaching this trade now for over 20 years.
    I find it increasingly frustrating at the ambivalence of the vast number of tradesmen in regards to doing the job right, or doing the right thing by their client, or even doing a good job; it’s about get in and get out and let someone else fix it.
    The care factor is reaching zero.
    Even when I worked for myself if an extra 30 minutes over the quote was the difference between getting it done or my satisfaction as a craftsman, I’d always take the hit because job satisfaction is paramount.
    I find your instruction is taking me back to being a young woodworker which was taken from me. I’m in effect completing the practical component of my trade.

    I’m also fascinated by history.
    I see many trying to figure out how the old Craftsmen built the pyramids to micron perfect tolerances, lifted blocks that even our modern cranes can’t lift etc.
    Why don’t we know how?
    Because we’ve lost the answers and skills through time.
    Because we have not been good stewards with our knowledge and skills.
    This is the danger we are facing today, the lack of stewardship of the knowledge and skills we have.
    I often see comments from people slagging off at hand tool woodwork as an ancient technology.
    If only they had a crystal ball to see the legacy they are leaving their descendants by replacing knowledge and skills with ignorance and arrogance.

    I see no issues with being able to use power tools, I’ve made a living with them, but learn to master hand tools first and foremost. What happens in a blackout?

    We live in a world where the catchphrase “Climate Change” is constantly being rammed down out throats as the reason for anything that’s gone awry in the world and the world is going to Hell in a hand basket for using electricity.
    YET the first thing so many woodworkers do is buy a thicknesses, a jointer, a table saw, a router table table, a variety of electric sanders and a myriad of battery operated nail guns etc. creating a carbon footprint larger than big boot Italy in their own back yard.
    When all they really needed was a couple of handsaws, a hammer, a few chisels, a No.4 Stanley plane, perhaps a No.5, a brace and a few bits, a combination square a couple of screwdrivers, a router plane etc and a little bit of elbow grease.

    Is this really called progress, or is it really a coverup for laziness?

    Thank you for your stewardship Paul.

  19. Hugh C. Cunningham

    Thank you Paul. I am a 90 yr. old woodworker. There is nothing more satisfying than creating something useful with your hands. I watch you often. My hearing is awful but your americanized accent is easy for me to follow. Continue your path and I will try to adapt to it.
    Hugh Cunningham—

  20. Hello Paul,
    I always enjoy your musings. With 4 years of retirement coming soon o find myself more and more in my garage. The solitude is spiritual on many levels for me. I always come out better than when I started.
    Your shoe tidy is on my list as well as a rocker. It just feels good to complete a project, notice a few (hopefully very few) errors and them smile and say “pretty good job.” The skills and experience build for the next project.
    Life really is good. Thank you for the role you play in it being so.

  21. i’m a Hybrid woodworker/ blacksmith/leather worker. Mostly because of a severe spinal injury 15 yrs ago. Large cuts with a hand saw are a no go for me, they’ll knock me out of the shop for a week because of which nerves and muscles are affected. You’re videos, and even more so the philosophy of just doing it right did more than just show me how to do the processes, it gave me a chance to take my wood working where i really wanted it to go, Luthiery, most of my guitars both electric and acoustic are about 80% hand tool made. when i look at what other luthiers are doing i wonder how will i stand out. the reality is i won’t. i don’t build instruments like fender or gibson. I build my own instruments, with hand carved scrolls, and chopped mortices for the pickups, blackened steel pickguards. seeing your approach, and hearing your knowledge has taught me a lot , and in turn i use it to find a different way to do other things. thanks

  22. 50 years ago, I started a similar path. Due to my handicaps, mostly involving my feet and spine, I wanted to be an orthopedic shoemaker. I sought out the few remaining shoemakers I could find at the time, and got a similar response from them all – “you don’t want to be a shoemaker, you’ll never make a living.” “Better to let this profession die off.” “you are wasting your time, let the factories do all this work.”

    But somehow, I turned into a more stubborn cuss and kept trying. I finally got entry into shoe repair, and then five years later found my teacher. That led me down a path where I was working with people who’s feet and gait problems were leaving their lives in pain and the growing feeling of isolation and despair. To be able to make a difference in the lives of people who’d been written off, especially by the medical community, was the best reward I could have ever imagined for my cussedness.

    When I read your experience, it resonates with me a lot more than I’d expected. There were years of self-doubt – it was really difficult to make a living despite the prices we had to charge for custom work. And when friends would glow about their new car, new house, trip to Paris – well, I had my art and my motorcycle – and the satisfaction of making a difference in people who, like myself, had spent their lifetime trying to overcome the impact of a deformity or disease or unfixable injury.

    The difference between your situation and mine is, no one wants to learn what I have to teach. You have rescued your profession through your impressive number of students. I have watched my profession die out. I could make a better living making buggy whips. That is not an exaggeration. But getting to learn something new with you as a teacher keeps me active, and interested, and I cannot begin to thank you enough for your continuance and generosity. There are quite a lot of Channels out there teaching word work, but I don’t get more from those than about 1% of what I gain from you.

    So thank you. I will continue to respect your humility and your mastery, and work to gain some small percentage of knowledge from you while working at my bench.

    1. There is at least one 30 years old guy here in Belgium who has decided to make custom shoes (google; although his main job (until now) is shoe repair. Now doing orthopedic shoes is a step further.
      Of course it is not inexpensive.

  23. So very well put, sir. The beauty of your thoughts is rivaled only by that of your craftsmanship.

  24. Hello Paul I recently wrote to you asking how long after your apprenticeship was it before you reached the level of craftsmanship you have now reached and this answers my question. In these days of our mechanised, throw away society it is good see the work of someone like you. Someone who has the time and patience to try and impart their knowledge and experience so others can find the pleasure and satisfaction of creating something with their hands rather than using power tools to make as you put it ‘A do it yourself flat pack’ Thanks for all the work you do that helps improve the lives of others.


      I would think many blazed a trail to the land of the “free” as it is the biggest economy and will continue to do so. Granted you may be the only woodworker.

      Boiled frog syndrome is when the frog doesn’t know he’s in a saucepan and being warmed on the cooker. Perfectly describing whats happening to our planet. Your writing is interesting and provocative.

      Neill Ferguson and Justin Liu have placed a bet as to when China overtakes America, as world’s strongest economy. Ferguson arguing that free trade, intellectual property, owning land and other American values place it well ahead of China. How many will and have gone to the far east now, and I wonder how many woodworkers. See all the architecture there as a shining example of brain drain from the west, unable to use their talents, from Norman Foster to Zaha Hadid to name only 2 among many.

      Would like to see some references in your writing.
      Regards James

  25. I simply want to express my sincere gratitude and genuine thanks to you, Mr. Sellers. Your humility and kind, down-to-earth demeanor are inspiring. And of course, we LOVE your woodworking teaching and insight so remarkably captured and shared.
    I’ve bought all your books, subscribed to Masterclass, and and watch everything you post.
    Warmest regards! Please share more about your early mentor, the kind young man of your apprenticeship who looked out for you.
    Long may you live! God’s rich blessings upon you and your loved ones.
    John Ross – Homeworth, Ohio, USA

  26. I believe and nobody will ever convince me otherwise that the single most important aspect of working with wood or any other vocation is whether you feel happy in the work you produce be it with hand tools or power tools or a combination of the two or even sitting behind a desk all day. I’ve done hard, physical work most of my life and at 62 now my body knows it as I didn’t always look after my health the way I should have so hard work becomes harder every day, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I did plenty of jobs over the years I absolutely hated and I saw little benefit. Now, as most of my adult life I work for myself and enjoy it more than ever even when I underbid jobs or sell things for far too little money. I don’t do work anymore that I absolutely hate doing unless it absolutely has to be done. I by far prefer working with wood doing what makes me feel good and makes my customers happy.

  27. It’s has been already said, Paul, but I will say it too: you’re a continuous fountain of inspiration for us. There is something very special in the posts you write from several months ago. Always it’s interesting reading you, of course, but… I’m sure you know what I mean. In my particular case, you make me think about certain things, further than woodworking.
    I look for new posts in this blog everyday, and I always learn something from them.
    Thank you very much for all you do.

  28. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

  29. Hi Paul, I have been trying to watch your videos and you are great. Wood working is my hobby but I wish I could do this professionally. As back in my high school days I took 2 years of wood shop and loved every minute of it. However back in the early 80s there was no you tube to explore possible careers. I didn’t no any wood working pros to get any information on making a living. Fast forward at 58 years I started wood working useing hand tools. I love it. I watched a gentleman from Toronto named Tom Figion from the unplugged wood shop who was one of my inspiration. And you also are a inspiration. I do struggle with patience in trying to learn how to saw,plane chisel joinery. At my age sometimes I struggle with will there be enough time for me to master hand tools. This will be my retirement challenge. So in my little mind I try to imagine I’m heading in the right direction. Thanks to you and your work you inspire I’m sure a lot of us. Please keep up the good work.

  30. Paul:

    First, I want to thank you for sharing your knowledge. As long as you want to keep sharing (I look at it as more sharing than the more formal teaching), I, for one, will keep learning. You have learned so much to share, and thank you, once again for sharing.

    Second, just because we can doesn’t mean we should. This sentiment is echoed throughout the posts, whether they know it, or not. While you have had your thoughts over the years, I’m certain you were advised to keep them to yourself. I’m 62, as was another commenter. Isn’t age freeing? We can all say things we felt too restrained to say earlier in life. I have found myself more introspective over the past few years. The old saying to take the time to take the time fits.

    Finally, I am one who formerly used power tools almost exclusively. A health change caused me to switch to mostly all hand tools (I sold my power tools). I was concerned with my balance, and fatigue. Hand tools are so much more peaceful and, even though many people claim they’re much slower, they’re not much slower. The peacefulness helps quiet my mind, and gives me a brief respite from the pain. I wish I had made the change sooner! Everything we’re taught these days revolves around production-the end result is the only thing that matters. It’s really about the journey. I have learned so much from you, both philosophically and hand tool woodworking. I consider you a friend, even though we haven’t met. There seems to be a class system developing, albeit somewhat loosely. I plan to keep tuning-in, as I have done for the past several years.

  31. Hi Paul
    I just have to thank you for your work and teaching enthusiasm. You have made me engage in woodworking in a different way than I would ever imagined, and I have learned so much from your books and videos! I am now making wooden toys in my city apartments basement, where I have made a 4 m2 micro-workshop. My daughter (4 yrs) enjoys being there with me, and I just made her a fully functional workbench with vise in the appropriate size.

    Thank you so much, you have really made an impact and please keep going!

  32. Paul Seller’s
    03 October 2019
    Reply to 25 September 2021 Post – Humility!!!

    Paul I have to say that given we’re near the same age, I just turned 65 in June of this year, I’m blessed to have crossed paths with you many years ago!!! My onliest complaints often when replying to one of your posts I will pause for a moment, only to go back and find my reply reset and I have to start over. This not only occurs on your site, but many that I view/visit. While I used to reply about my issues, I’ve developed a workaround. I now write my reply in my iPhone “Notes” App. Then when I’m ready I paste it in as my reply. Moving on though I can’t say I’ve ever read an article or watched a video of yours where I didn’t have a Great takeaway. However due to my OCD, I digress. My purpose is, in finally realizing my 15+ year vision of building my bench, I’ve finally began and have had stunning progress. My bench is the culmination of years of reading and watching other builds. At on time I put pencil to paper and had an actual sketch of my perfect bench. Alas my sketches are long gone. The results are an on the fly fluid/living build that I’m very certain will satisfy my desire for my own personalized Moravian Bench. My biggest concern was in making it tall enough for a comfortable working experience as among all my maladies my back and knees are likely to be my worst xxx. While I’ve read of many ways to determine bench height, I’ve hit upon an idea I’ll share. With my top almost complete I’ve got it perched on the patio table I’ve been working on. I stood a folding wood rule along side it. Then I took my only new plane purchase a Stanley 62 and took my comfortable planing stance alongside the rule and measured to the bottom of the sole. For 6’3” me that came out at about 38”. So I’m planning on starting out at a height of 40”. Like many different ways to skin a cat, this has seemingly worked out for me. Time will tell. Again thanks for your fine articles, stories and awesome videos. May you continue on educating us for years to come!!!


    Jack Collins

  33. Nick Della Volpe

    Paul, I truly appreciate the work that you do…patient, careful hand work with modest tools. Peace and quiet and focused energy. Thank you for sharing that with us, and inspiring us to keep trying. There is a Windsor chairmaker here in rural Tennessee, Curtis Buchanan, who provides that kind of honed handcraft inspiration I think you would enjoy. Here is a link:
    Kindest regards
    Nick DellaVolpe, Knoxville Tn

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