A Thought About Christmas

I think it is often a difficult time of year for many, especially is this so at the close of long periods of uncertainty, isolation and diversely different pockets of unrest. Current unpredictabilities of unrest defies much of what we have known in our individual cultures. It seems we have all developed a more international recognition of words we never knew to include in our languages, words such as Pandemic, COVID, jab and many, many more. Of course, the pandemic has also exposed the deeper need in many of us for the cohesiveness of community, inclusivity, non-judgementalism and such. Keep well is now replaced by the word well-being, judgementalism by tolerance loneliness by neighborliness, and we do all of this by seriously thinking about other people we might not have thought so much about before this time and through the pandemic’s ability to touch anyone and everyone everywhere.

John made an exquisite version of my TV stand and as far as craftsmanship goes I doubt you would find a more exemplary version of better craftsmanship anywhere. Every surface is hand planed, of course. I cannot fault it! This is truth itself to me. An absolute!

With Christmas so near to those who acknowledge its sense of cultural significance in warmth and affection, even without its religious connotations, it often becomes reflective of a season or year’s past in which we lived. We consider those we know and don’t know at all, the circumstances of so many people, peoples and cultures alongside those now escaping oppression and those searching for a new future beyond the cultures they owned and lived in and now find themselves in search of new beginnings. This is where I found myself these past weeks as I searched to pick through news for a truthfulness I too could actually understand and believe to be a solid truth. As a crafting artisan, I have always found great meaning in and through the simplicity of making. I still do. When I cannot fathom the injustices of so many elements we call life, in the midst of bitter exchanges between elected leaders of the world, my hands begin to make and I make something that did not and could not exist without my handling the wood and the tools. Suddenly the world seems to make better sense of the senseless. I shape and carve the pieces until they interlock and wonder why the same reductive practice I use cannot work between cultures and societies as a mosaic composition that compliments all differences. Woodworking is indeed a total reductive process from beginning to end. A tree is felled and separated from its rootedness and the ever more reductions reduce the great mass of stem into the rails and stiles and tops and bottoms where panels bridge the great divides in between those parts span the great divides.

My final piece of 2021 has been a wonderful joy to design and make. There are a couple of secrets yet to the design that will be revealed in the next few weeks.

I am finishing up some gifts in my garage workshop. Many fewer this year than last. I have made so much this year that my creative juices feel just a tad depleted. One thing stands out to me though. I have a granddaughter who began coming into the workshop every other week or so. A year ago she could barely lift a spokeshave but now, with a little help, she can peel off shavings one after another. I cannot do my own work if she is in the workshop with me, but it is not an issue as I love seeing how her mind and hands and body works. As soon as she comes in she grabs her two-step platform to gain the height she needs to the benchtop and the vise area. Immediately her eyes search for her own red spokeshave and she lifts it to midair in anticipation that I might just ‘magic’ some wood into the vise for her to shape and shave. Her mind is a sponge and her concentration at the beginning of the year took all of my attention for direction.

But yesterday, in one continuous wave of concentration, she and I made a simple clock from a salvaged section of mesquite I had kept in my rack of offcuts. Together we drilled thirteen holes, made an ebony dowel of 6mm and made the punctuation dots of the dividing hours of a day. As she doggedly inserted the tiny-toothed Zona saw into the mitre box and started sawing, she reached for my hand to push too. It wasn’t because she needed my hand to guide and give power so much as to include me in the process. My granddaughter never wants anyone to be left out, you see. The dots fell and rolled onto the benchtop and the floor and this became a game of catch and retrieve. I was so surprised when she lifted the cross pein hammer to drive them into the 6mm holes we had previously drilled in regular succession. She just loved the huge brace and bit and again reached for my hand to hold to the pad and placed it exactly where it was needed. She lifted and turned the braces in regular and measured pace until she had counted to five–the set depth she now knew would set the final depth of the holes. We changed the bit and drilled out the centre hole all the way through and inserted the movement ready for the clock hands. The spokeshave and sandpaper rounded the edges and smoothed out the snags. She again took my hands to feel “how soft” it was and we were ready for the finish. A safe finish and a forgiving one is vegetable oil. You can apply a coat with a rag of soft cloth and the colour pops beautifully. It can be repeated every few months to restore the deep colour.

In an age where there seems to be an ‘ism’ for everything, inclusivity is key to a better future. The able should never disable the already disabled but look into what can be done to equip, accept and enhance the wonderful results of support. I am glad my granddaughter is able to accept my age as a positive in her life. We not only feed the wild birds of our natural world we share together, we also enjoy our working together at the workbench. I watched artists working around me in my workshop over the recent weeks completing their work and was amazed at what inclusivity can bring to us to enrich our world. Makers at the bench, yes, but then makers in a digital world creating the most beautiful videos and editing them. People who enhance the work in so many ways that seem ever to hover almost silently in the background that suddenly burst into laughter at something seen or said or considered really funny.

I hope we can all see the fun side of life to include those in their dark and often unsee moments. A workbench and a vise, some wood and some shavings. We all have something to give from when we are makers. Shavings might be messy, but they are wonderful packing for the delicate things called life. And yes, that is more than just a metaphor!

37 thoughts on “A Thought About Christmas”

    1. Thanks Paul,

      A nice article and nice of you to write about your granddaughter and her steps in your creative world.

      Best regards

  1. Paul, thank you for the post. It was thought provoking as well as inspirational. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your grand daughter.

  2. William Dickinson

    Thanks Paul. This woodworking thing, er, should I say, craftmanship of any sort, is joyful to me because it is a creative experience which builds and adds positive energy in a way that offers the illusion of control over chaos – if even for a bit. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  3. I find you thoughtful and caring as always. A sweet warm Christmas story.
    Happy Holidays to you and your family.

  4. A wonderful way to finish the year .Thanks Paul and a Very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and the whole team .

  5. Merry Christmas, Paul.

    Like many others I spent last Christmas alone, and while killing time online the YouTube algorithm brought me to your videos, which despite knowing nothing about woodworking I found completely absorbing, and I found myself thinking this might be something I can actually do.

    This Christmas, thanks to your videos and a couple of courses at the excellent Goodlife Centre in London, it’s wooden presents for the family!

    So, cheers, and many thanks for last year’s gift.
    Simon

    1. Paul C. Frederick

      I get the crazy notion that I can woodwork sometimes too. Then I actually start working some wood and reality intrudes which brings me to my senses. Not being a craftsman myself lately I’ve taken to blaming my tools.

      1. Me too. So I bought Paul’s books and started at the beginning, working out how to sharpen my chisels and planes. I’ve got the planes working (though I’m poor at squaring boards) and am now practising cutting dado joints. I also bought the little marking knife he uses. I appreciate that your comments are likely tongue in cheek, but there are many of we slow learners out there who get frustrated and give up. With age, I’m trying to give up on giving up as I realise I’ve got a limited number of summers left to improve in.

  6. Merry Christmas Paul & family,
    Whenever I think of Christmas in England the song “Good King Wenceslas” comes to mind. Also eating a Goose dinner.
    I loved the story of your gran daughter. It reminds me of the times my own daughter would come into my workshop where everything in there fascinated her. One such time she made the remark, “Daddy, you have such wonderful toys”.

  7. Best use for industrially produced vegetable oils. Far from the best products to actually consume.

    Young minds work so much better than adults, we should enjoy those years before they become corrupted by school and conformity.

  8. As always a thoughful discourse. I was about that age when my dad let me come into his shop and make things. That was 60yrs ago and I am sure he would be happy to play in my shop. I make simple toys out of my or others scraps and usually dump a box of them at the local Christmas Stocking Fund here in Vancouver and they are always well received. In the spirit of the season we open our house up for Christmas Dinner for those either less fortunate or have no access to family. In the new year I will begin making about a dozen different detailed toys that I will attempt to sell online. When was the last time you actually connected with someone that made something for you? To see the look on a kids face when dad hands him one of my toys is priceless. Yeah the connectivity is there if you follow it. Merry Christmas everyone. Hoping next year is a LOT better than the last 2.

  9. Merry Christmas to you Paul, your family and team. Look forward to the New Year for more pearls of wisdom and learning. All the best. Steve

  10. I look forward to all of your blogs as they are so insightful. This one even more so.I have a 25year old granddaughter means as much to me as your granddaughter does to you. The apple of our eye. A beloved and merry Christmas to you and your’s.

    1. I’m a beginner woodworker. Each winter I take on a big project to learn. Last winter I made a box from a Peter Follensbee article in Fine Woodworking. Learning the carving was hard for me. This winter dovetails. I will cut everyday and when winter is over I will have a new skill. I will say, I get in my shop and loose all track of time until my husband comes and says “what’s for dinner hon?” It’s wonderful to make things with your own hands. I enjoy your blogs and teaching. Thanks so much.

  11. Wonderful and selfless thoughts.
    Many thanks to you and the team for all the work which has enriched us throughout the year. I wish everyone a happy Christmas and new year.

  12. And a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year coming to you Mr Sellers! You have captured and well articulated the significance of the season in this post. It was beautiful and brought thoughts of my own children when they were young…thank you!

  13. Where is that box of tissues when you need it most? Very touching entry in your blog Paul. Thanks again for all the wonderful and insightful teaching. Thank you for inviting us to share in your life’s story.

  14. Paul:
    as a contemporary (age only) I continue to learn from your woodworking advice and calm demeanor. Thank you.

  15. A belated Happy Christmas to you and your family, Paul. Have a wonderful new year full of health, happiness, and of course woodworking!

  16. What a wonderful story-and an experience neither of you will ever forget. Blessings to you and yours!

  17. I love the words you write and the things you make but at the moment I can’t read very well after a Stroke on Christmas Eve.
    I will get there and will again be able to speak properly, read property and make things from wood property.
    Thank you Paul.

    1. So inspiring to read of your determination, Colin. We support one another with a few texted words and a belief in a future yet to unfurl as a map. I so hope the full return of all that the stroke took from you will be restored.

  18. Merry Christmas, Paul. You are an inspiration and an aspiration, though my addiction to power tools may take some time in rehab. My eldest granddaughter is just two, with her little sister just 20 months behind. My son-in-law does all kinds of home improvement with both of them, right from the time he’s had them in a front pack while rewiring electrical boxes or fixing the tractor. These girls will be awesome, just like your granddaughter. Twenty years from now, I hope they can find partners who are their match. In the meantime, they sleep in a bed and a cradle I made, and I can only imagine their dreams.

  19. Thank you, Paul. What a beautiful thing to share with your granddaughter and to put into words to share with us, and one day with her. That’s undoubtedly the best Christmas gift.

  20. Hi Paul and team, thanks for this post. My grandson and I spent a few hours in my workshop just before Xmas. He is always on at me to go up there so he can watch me “make stuff” as he puts it. I got him involved this time and he got to use a saw, spokehave, mallet and chisel (which I held), rasp, sandpaper and an oil finish and made his mum a spatula.
    He was so proud when he gave it to her on Xmas day.
    “I made that” he told her, adding “grandad helped a bit…”
    The best 2 hours I have ever spent in the workshop.

    Keep safe.

  21. Wonderful story to end the year. Best wishes to you and all involved in production of this great and informative site.
    Wally South Australia

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