Closing the Shop

Closing the garage workshop for a few days and a break for Christmas family time is always a point of reflection. I finished up a few things, tidied away, swept the floor and thought about many serious issues surrounding the past year. In a time of such unprecedented extremes, we must all keep hoping for changes that will bring us closer to one another so that we can serve and share in a life that is so much worth the effort. Our circumstances are all very different to one another, but the uniting factor here is that we work with wood and share the good and bad of it with one another in the hope that what we make and the skills we gain will always keep improving. So it is with life.

We made two identical pieces to sit each side of the Cabinet Room door leading to the Oval Office.

In 2008/9, December and January, I watched a new and unusual design come to life. I recall that first horizontal line traverse the page from left to right as a baseline from my pencil and from which to raise up the sides and front the columns and such. My first bald eagle sketch resembled more a seagull with an oversized beak until I went to my bird book to better understand the hooded eye and the angle and size the curved beak needed. I picked my woods as best I could and osage orange became the eye, heavily curled walnut the breast feathering and curly maple the neck cape and head. I cannot say this project did not invade my Christmas, it did. We had but two or almost three weeks left to conclude the work and deliver it on the eve of President Obama’s Inauguration. It’s funny that making something can take over your life, and take it over it did. This was to be my final work made in the USA, even though I didn’t at that minute know that it would be. After that, I took out four months to focus on finishing up 15 years of work in 36 manuscripts I hoped would become my foundational course for a new and emerging woodworker. I prefer to call those new to woodworking an amateur group defined by their newfound love of crafting by hand. Hobbyist, weekend warrior and pastime woodworker never did quite fit the criteria I saw coming to pass. I think it was the comparison to software engineering and the digital experience others were immersing themselves in that caused the unique difference I saw coming to pass. Hand tool woodworking contrasted markedly with the world they were used to. It was no less a passage of discovery for them as it was for me. As it is with all exacting designs, you walk into the unknown. In this case, I might add the term unwittingly into the unknown.

Life is mostly about textures and texturing, textures of colour, of sound, of touch and smells. These are all gifts to us as we grow our craft lives.

Reliably, I clung to the tradition of time-tested joinery of centuries past. Within the design lay well-hidden frameworks developing the carcass joinery beneath a facade of heavy veneer work of plains, fields, friezes and crossbanding. The pieces should have qualified me to so many inclusions but I measure my successes more by being acknowledged by none. As I understand it, I was the first designer in 70 years to design pieces for the White House Permanent Collection. In one sense, these would be my best Christmas present yet — a present to the people and Presidents of USA and a present to myself and those who worked alongside me. These would be my final pieces to be made there in the US. I never made another piece but my heart will ever be there in the US and Texas. Nothing could cap the gift given to me in being able to design what I did.

These panels are 1/8″ thick. Thicker than the usual used for veneering. Mesquite is probably one of the most stable woods in the world. It shrinks and expands so minimally you can do the impossible with it!

Last week, I completed a less demanding gift, a frame from spruce studs. These studs will create a simple framework to hold panels of plastic glazing within which to raise four tomato plants. You can start your tomatoes a few weeks earlier here in Britain inside such a structure. Add a light bulb and the warmth is enough to keep the plants warm enough to promote growth and stop a freeze. `as the plants grow and the heat builds in spring, you simply lift out the panels or lean them out on their chains. It will give you 20-30 cherry tomatoes a day at the peak period of May through July and then production gradually taper off — I wanted the gift that keeps on giving. I have used one like this for the past six years or so.

My tomato cage with lift out panels to retain heat in the early stages of growth.

Gifts to me have been my most recent apprentices. Those I have trained in the last 10 or 11 years. They each came without the sometimes more usual baggage because they so wanted to be here and to learn. What you see is what you get and the honesty is so refreshing as there is no pretense in any one of them. They come, they learn and they make alongside one another. Times can be deathly quiet then noisy, chatty and still. Nothing is hidden. This too is a gift of realness to me. I don’t need to pick through anything. It’s mostly the small things they do that are not really so small. Alongside these, behind a 15 meter long, soundproof wall of glass, is a different space and creative sphere so different from the other, a place where everyone is involved in filming, editing and the processing of day-to-day works. These people, both sides of the wall, have all been a true gift to me. Each is a self-contained package of carefulness, gift-wrapped in their own special identity and uniquely placed in my life.

Currently, I am halfway through a book of my life’s journey to date – well – more like a third of the way, I think. It has been interesting remembering all that I have done with my life and some formidable challenges. I would like to think I will finish it within the coming year. I will do as I have done thus far and give it an hour a day and two hours on other days.

I am thankful for all that this year gave to me. The ways people worked around and through and over the pandemic. Lessons learned reach and range far and wide in our individual worlds and some lost precious loved ones with a loss we might never have recovered from but for family and friends. As it was in many situations, what seemed impossible came to pass because we dared to hope


  1. Nice text, Paul.
    Despite the difficulties, we need to value what we have achieved and what we have.
    Thanks for the lessons, Paul!

  2. The turning of the year seems to lend itself to an extended moment of playing Janus, looking simultaneously behind oneself and to the future you sense may/could be–and for brainstorming how you may wish to nudge it towards something you truly hope for. I’m doing that, amidst the stuff of the holidays. Or, trying to! 🙂 Thank you for sharing your thoughts and talents with us, Mr. Sellers. May 2022 prove to be a very good year for you and yours, in all the ways that count!

  3. Hello Paul.
    Being a keen reader of you i see this post quite differently than most.
    You speak about the people working with you, thé parrallel with Georges is somewhat obvious to everybody, still i love the little circles life make us go through. Many circles is the craft you put forward so Well also.
    Glad to have discover you this year and hope to be around you and tour inspiring texts and videos for the years to come.
    Best regards.

  4. You certainly are dedicated and a worker and I don’t aspire to be exactly the same but your dedication is very admirable.
    To be able to review your life would be good to refocus what you want to do and think in the future, and some memories would be returning for the first time.
    To be an empathetic teacher must be pretty much the greatest joy there is

    You are a very special one of a kind person and teacher I have learned so much from you I cannot thank you enough!

  6. Dear Paul,

    I would like to return the sentiments of gratitude; you have had—and will continue to have—the most profound impact on my woodworking skills, and on my life in general. There is nobody out there who comes close to having your experience, skills and insights, and to generously handing these over to all who follow your days.

    Thank you, from my heart, for lifting us all up.

    All the very best for the New Year, to you, your team, and your loved ones.

  7. Yes — year’s end is a great time to reflect, and take a little break from removing splinters from my thumbs.
    It’s always a treat to read new posts from Mr Sellers!

  8. Paul I really enjoy your work and transmitting it in video training and written format as in your blogs. You and your staff produce excellent videos with clear detail that tell the viewer what is being seen as it is explained by you. The staff are unsung but deserve much credit for a very professional job well done. Much enjoyed your living room shots of furniture done to perfection. It is clear to anyone familiar with craftsmanship that a “Master lives here”. Your ability to manage your time is admirable. Writing a book would be well received my many but don’t know how you fit it in. Blessings for the new year…and your birthday coming up.

  9. Hello Paul, I keep seeing the presidential piece and wounded how many man hours it took to make? An amazing achievement and one you will always look back on with pride I’m sure. There isn’t many British men that can proudly say that they have an outstanding piece of traditionally made furniture stood in the White House, what an accolade.

  10. Hi Paul,
    Great thoughts. Thank you.

    May I suggest that you do a video blog/ series on an apprentice following their developement.
    I realize you are quite busy but I just thought to plant a seed.


  11. I don’t know you and certainly you don’t know me; however, we have spent the past two years together making projects and sharpening tools, etc. Thanks for your brilliant instruction and the willingness to share your skills with whomever will watch and listen.
    Well done, sir.

  12. A very nice pair of cabinets Paul. I guess that the FBI or CIA checked them (and you) out before they were installed in the White House. You may remember a previous incident when the Soviets presented an carving of an eagle (supposedly carved by Boy Scouts!) to a US president. Some time later they discovered that it contained a bug and was transmitting conversations.

  13. Paul,
    I hope you and your family have a very happy New Year. You continue to teach me many things. I did make a plane router from your plans. It works well.
    I live in Sun City, AZ, where I belong to a woodworking club. There are three such clubs in the suburb. I always tell my fellow club members that youtube should be the woodworkers #1 tool, at which point I mention your channel as one of the best.
    So, thank you Paul for being a great woodworking educator and sharing you skills and knowledge with me and the woodworkers all over the world.

  14. Interesting read,I have spent the last couple of days cleaning up my shop and putting things away, getting ready to head south to AZ for the first time in 2 years. I am sad to be leaving my little shop even for a short time as it has been my island of sanity all these months. But some time away in the warmer temps, riding my bike and doing some carving will likely be a tonic.

    I suppose if I had a shop down there I would just carry on, which wouldn’t be so bad, but a change in focus is probably good.

    I will however have Youtube and will carry on watching Mr. Sellers with my morning coffee (my wife wonders about me ….)

    Thanks Paul, Happy New Year to all.

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