It’s dark when I arrive

Two owls call to one another as I unlock the door to the garage. The news powers up in homes around the country to tell of a drone attack that sadly and wrongly killed ten innocent people, including children, and we are all filled with a pang of sadness for the losses of life in ones so young. At the same time, the inexplicable things fade as I feel a gratitude that I can still find sanity in nature and my workshop. The devolved governments of the UK argue their different corners and France just lost billions by losing some trade deal they set up with Australia and became explosive about it. Self-pitying seems equal in size to the new pandemic when we should feel thankful that we might find we are not so great as we thought we were. Reality should be freeing. Two things make sense to me as the sports fanatics are bombarded with fast-talking sports commenters shouting out quite meaningless hype in just-released results and I see my tools on the workbench and ten items resulting from a new project as steps in the prototyping of something that will be meaningful for woodworkers around the world. If sports and news excite a global band of faithful BBC Radio four listeners, I’m much less impressed by its obvious biases. What really matters to me now is the realness of the work I do and now did throughout the pandemic where I never missed a single beat and increased my output two- or three-fold. What matters is what is now in my control area and what’s there on and around my bench. I cannot take control of the world’s problems nor can I even begin to process them. I stood and waited until the owls stopped as what they said made all the sense I needed in an increasingly senseless world. Having just made ten of one thing to take care of any variations, I ended up with ten working models no one out there has yet seen or knows about. The spalted beech I bought two years ago is stunning. The plywood has created something stunningly utilitarian too. I adopted and adapted these woods, along with other ‘things‘ to make, and make I did. This, my friends, is prototyping and it is prototypical of who I am and what I do and have done for decades. The owls outside and what’s on my workbench are the natural outcomes of my favourite real worlds; nature and making should never be ignored.

In many ways, my world of making is in contrast to the alternative world most people live and exist in. I take what’s natural and make it into an alternative to what it once was. That is what craft and the art of working wood is all about, contrast. A tree becomes a cabinet, a bed, a wall clock and a set of coasters. It no longer resembles anything of what it once was as a living organism. My eyes feast on the diverse grains of different woods and my hands lift the tools to the work in an interplay of tasks that give form and shape and smoothness of a level that contrasts markedly with what it once was. The roughness of bark and of saw kerfs gradually disappear stroke on stroke as my arms move swiftly like pistons to saw and plane smooth the coarseness of nature. Many will never know of the contrast of which I speak. I have taken down a hundred trees and more, severed them from their rootedness in the earth to convert their stems into boards and beams and other such things. I smell what was never smelt before this work’s done as friction from my plane’s sole disturbs the “shaving-scented air” and ignites my soul — more contrast. Who can know of what I speak in this day and age? Who can know of such things when they so detach themselves from nature and making and yet what I smell was once common to all men who worked as I do, for I smell the very essence of wood and not the dust-laden atmosphere caused by machines. My air is clean and crystal clear, my shavings inches and feet long, unchipped as they are from the machines I rarely if ever use. I am glad to work on Saturdays when many rejoice in the late Friday afternoon’s release where they cease from working for other to do their own thing. I lay awake and waiting for the day to come in an hour before it comes and feel excited at my plans to make in the day yet to unflold. I feel this way on Mondays and on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and Fridays as well. I always have. Oh, and my using the word ‘contrast‘? It comes to us from the Latin contra- ‘against’ + stare ‘stand’.It means to stand against. So my owl calls stood against the silence of the night as the first bird before the approaching day broke the silence around me. The darkness stood against the light yet to be within the minutes yet to come. The contrast of rough bark and rough-sawn planks made silky smooth by my planing. The smells of newly planed wood where the scents were sleeping inside. So many contrasts in a matter of minutes.

What is it or are they that stand waiting on my bench? I cannot tell you just yet, but it will most likely be the most exciting thing I have released in a long time.

25 thoughts on “It’s dark when I arrive”

  1. Paul,
    I to feel like you are speaking my heart, Wood, what a gift to mankind, what a refuge working, creating, in this troubled world.
    Thank you for your gentle words.
    Michael

  2. Thanks Paul, because of a posting you made six months ago, I stopped following the news as much. I still know what’s going on but I don’t obsess over it as I can’t control it. What’s on my bench is what I can control so I now focus on it. Mentally, I feel muc much better. Thank you.

  3. I started watching your YouTube channel for the hand woodworking lessons, which have reignited my love of working wood, and elevated my skill immeasurably. There are a lot of other hand woodworkers out there as well, equally passionate and eager to pass on their skills, but what I love about you is your willingness to share the spirit and joy of making and directly experiencing the sweat, smells, and “touch” of creating things. Always look forward to your posts, and I end up savoring them for days after. Thank you!

  4. Thanks, Paul. In a world that too often seems to be coming apart, it is nice to have one’s work as solace. I enjoy the simple work of my sawmill and the quiet of my shop. I am grateful for your thoughts and woodworking insights.

  5. ” What matters is what is now in my control area and what’s there on and around my bench. I cannot take control of the world’s problems nor can I even begin to process them. I stood and waited until the owls stopped as what they said made all the sense I needed in an increasingly senseless world. ”
    These three sentences are probably as beautiful as any of the pieces you have made.
    Too bad most people can’t ‘hear the owls’.
    Thank you for this post!
    Brett

    1. I heard them again this morning but much earlier. Geese, seagulls but then there it was, the silent wingbeats of a snowy white face flying towards me and eight feet above the ground — a barn owl between the buildings hunting.

  6. Yes! I live in a similar world. Things I can influence may gain my attention and even some action or support, but the rest steals no energy, apparently I am out of step with the rest of ‘the people’ who put those in power there and, bizarrely continue to support them as their greed and corruption becomes more and more apparent. Making things of beauty and/ or utility is both good for your own well being, but also for those who interact with you and your products and are subsequently prompted to consider that the instant consumer gratification lifestyle is not the only path open to them. Keep up the great work

  7. I also enjoy the sanity of the shop yet the realities around us will not go away all around us. They are actually a harbinger of a future without the terrible things all around us. Otherwise finding solace in our shops will not last

  8. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe

    Yesterday I cut into a piece of fir burl. The intense smell of fatwood gave me images of wooden boats, old log buildings built using lafting (what is the English name for that technique?) and stave church. I then cut a birch burl, and the distinct smell of heated birch filled my shop. The band saw blade gummed up from the fatwood, I guess.

    The vanilla-like smell from oak – I cannot get enough of that! The whiff of smoke I get while using the fire pan fuelled by oak offcuts and shavings.

    Woodworking engages all the senses. I love it! In an ever changing world, I find it comforting to experience that some things never changes. You may use the Domino, but it is still a floating tenon. Which I can do with my chisels; maybe not as fast, but I am in no rush.
    Picking potatoes, many more than I put into the ground. It is still the same as when I was a kid 35 years ago.

    The news brings us shock, horror and negativity. For some reason, clickbaiting works best with sad things. I turn my back to it more and more. I do follow the news to keep me updated, but no more than I have to. I have more important things to do, to follow, to engage me.

    Revealing the medullary rays in a piece of quartersawn white oak, while smelling vanilla, is one such thing. Seeing what has never been seen before, seeing beauty.

    I wish more people could experience that. That, and taking in and understand the significance of the image “a pale blue dot”.

  9. As you, most mornings I am up before dawn, thankful for the gift of one more sunrise. I spend time in prayer and meditation prior to breakfast but it does not end with the last bite. I may not be in my garage everyday but often enough to know I have the opportunity to leave it hours later in better spiritual and emotional health than when I arrived.
    The only tail I chase now in circles are the two cats that wander from the house that I play with some string. I need a good dog. 😁

  10. What poetry! What a statement about life and how one should live it.
    “I stood and waited until the owls stopped as what they said made all the sense I needed in an increasingly senseless world. ” A truly beautiful thought.

  11. Paul, I must admit that sometimes I don’t take the time to read your blog posts. I did read this one and I am glad I did. You put great thought in to what you want us to read. You let us into your world in such an intimate way. In this way I feel as though I have known you for a long time. As one comment stated, your words spark inspiration and intrigue. As I sit here, drinking a cup of coffee, after a long day at work, I find what you’ve said calming and thought provoking. Thank you.

  12. I love the contrasts between a mowed lawn and natural sprouting grasses or wild meandering bush an a well trodden path.
    I was thinking digging in clean unpolluted soil how joyful and useful it is, in contrast to soil full of plastic and rubble and worse landfill.
    My thoughts were that wood is like that. Clean and fresh and beautiful, protected as something good to be used with appreciation and wonder (if possible)

  13. This is the first time I have read one of your posts. Well said and I appreciate your thoughts. My time in my own shop is a respite from the world at large and healing. I’m looking forward to see what you create with the boards in your photo.

  14. Lawrence Underwood

    Paul, I have similar thoughts as I see so much madness in the world, I think about a quote from the Apostle Paul to the Galatians; “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for your selfish desires, but through love, serve one another.” So as I go about my wood working, I think about the people I am serving by making them something meaningful and useful. In the same way, you are serving so many of us by teaching and encouraging us online. My wife and I met you at a woodworking show In Indianapolis and we hope one day we will see you again in the US. The world is blessed by you Paul, Thank you for all that you are and all that you do! Larry

  15. Paul you are as eloquent a writer as you are a craftsman. your blog post actually made me sad. I ‘ve yearned for years to experience being totally immersed in this wonderful craft. My dedication to it has too often been limited to being a “weekend warrior” like many others. And like may others, I think about how close I am now to the retirement I’ve worked almost 40 years to enjoy and somehow that thought, that idea-that NOW I can move forward and spend my full days in the shop-leaves me hearing a voice in my head that says I’ve reached an age when I now regret more the things I did not do then the things I did. That regret lately focuses on the times I COULD have, SHOULD have gone to the bench and worked. I’m sad I made excuses that kept my hands and my mind idle too often, blaming the melancholy on fatigue from the office or illness or surgical recovery. Your words regarding contrast remind me of the minds eye view that was at the heart of George Nakashima’s work. Wood spoke to him. Told him what it wanted to be. I think you have that same sense. A gift. A oneness with the nature around you. Others in our craft have it. And they are noteworthy for the work they have produced. Toshio Odate. Wharton Esherick. The brothers Greene. Many others. You do what you do because quite simply, you love doing it. It isn’t what you DO but WHO YOU ARE. I very much enjoy your Woodworking Masterclasses. I have your instruction books. I have purchased Ray Iles mortising chisels on your recommendation. ( they are INCREDIBLE by the way) I’ve lately subscribed to the idea that if I can’t for whatever reason make my way to the bench, I can complement and grow my knowledge and appreciation of the craft through research and reading about period makers, the development of furniture styles in America through the brilliance of makers who emigrated here from Great Britain, and the history of these fantastic craftsmen and women. It keeps me engaged in the craft even if my hands are not creating sawdust. So. Thank you sir, for your inspiration and your work. I envy how you can and have for your lifetime been able to work there and here with equal success, every day of your life. I envy and appreciate that you show no signs of slowing down either!! God Bless. Drew Lastra Ohio USA

  16. Dear MR. Sellers,

    Two images are now indelibly imprinted on my mind, you, adding to the calm that surrounds you, making useful pieces that with care will last for two, maybe three hundred years if treated with the love that you gifted them, made from a tree that took maybe a hundred(or so) years to grow. The other image? four people who should have known better, blasting off into space on a four day jolly.

    We cannot turn our backs on what is wrong with the world otherwise that is all that we will have left, even if we only post our dissatisfaction with the way that the world is going on social media we are adding to the ground swell that will awaken us all to the realisation that we cannot go on plundering the earth forever and that we must live within our means. some day the mortgage is going to be called in.

    Keep pricking our conscience Paul, enlightenment is like the dawn, it too comes on slowly, but, like your master classes, it reveals much that is worth cherishing.

  17. Hello Paul,

    Thanks for this messag i kind of feel connected to despite being an inhabitant of the alternative world you describe. As i discovered hand tool wood working some month ago i gradually shifting in your world.

    I’ve also been interested in wood working but my career as an engineer and since then a manger left me no time i felt. I was somewhat crazy because time is something we take and not something we have… so the young father i am (and soon to be again) is making shaving in the garage and even as a video gamer since my early years i’ve never experienced something so calm and freeing from the constant rush of preasure around me.

    I’m quite disappointed with my progress as i struggle to square my stock, but time will get it, i watch your video and do my best to keep the most of it. ( i m also working on a very poorly made workbench for now ..)

    thanks for your precious though, i wish i could meet you, or someone as passionate as you.

    Best regards,

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