Occupation, Occupying, Occupy, Occupied

Taking a break from the workshop, the bench and tools, is always hard for me to do but absence supposedly makes the heart grow fonder and work is and always has been the anchor without which I find myself adrift. Of course, I am not the only one that feels this way. Many people are glad to get back to work, being with friends and colleagues. Today, we will film to close two more episodes of making a dining table. I have a few tricky bits to get through and having cameras trained on your working often intensifies the pressure quite a bit. For me, it’s not just about getting it right for others to see or to make me look good. If I just laminated a section, as for instance a rocker for a rocking chair, something like that, a remake can be several hours of work and even a missed day filming. At best it is frustrating and we just get over it and get on, but it can be draining if you let it get to you and your mood can affect the others around you. Time for a nice cuppa tea!

In joints like these, two mortise and tenon types, the tenons occupy the mortise fully

I’m glad for my work. Many here recently commented that work in the workshop had become their sanity in the face of a two-year pandemic. Unable to work away from home, see colleagues and friends, family even, shared space, had lessened and left some ill-equipped to cope so well with life in general as before. How often we think only of occupation in the negative sense of, well, the job we do. Perhaps the definition needs changing in our psyche or we need to revisit the word itself in the dictionary. We occupy space, we occupy time, we are occupied in something we do and our occupation is the thing we do in every realm of life including a hobby, our working, our socializing and our sports. When we speak our words occupy our minds and the minds of others. If we draw as a means of communication we do the same. Being occupied and occupying is a two-way street of intercommunication. This alone is why our working is so important to our well-being even when we do jobs we don’t like but have additional spheres of creativity that we do thoroughly enjoy. In my world, money is important because we actually have to ‘buy our way through life‘ minute by minute . . . bills must be paid and we must pay for almost everything we need, do and want even when it so often appears to be free.

When I make the mortise holes I am occupied in my work.

Throughout the pandemic, workspace with hand tools, no matter the craft, gave people a new perspective on the value of work and working. For most, making (almost anything) provided one of the strongest means of coping with their fears, their anxieties and their loss of connection with the greater world of people. It became a multidimensional occupation they never really saw the real value in. Making in their workshops resulted in seeing something form from using their hands. This occupying was an all-absorbing immersion in the world of creativity, of learning of self-assessing and self-development. It made me feel ever more grateful for the gift of choosing a vocational calling early on in life.

My work is as occupiable as the space I need to work and occupies all of my attention when complexities arise.

As a lifelong maker designing life and the things that fill it, I am likely one of the most fortunate workmen. These past two years redefined life as we know it. It made us think of the things that truly matter to us and high on the list is our association with others. This week alone, and living in a small town, I knew and met six people in four days who had been infected with COVID. Last year I heard of such a thing at a distance way off somewhere but knew not one. How life has changed for us all. One thing almost did not change a jot for me and that was my making. Making is as much a part of me as writing my name, breathing the air, eating my food and sleeping when I can once a day. My world of making includes the designing of everything I might consider and includes sketching, writing, drawing, photographing and more. In these spheres, I seem to find cohesive ways to not only survive but thrive. Possibly, probably, maybe in my spheres of creativity, little actually changed and yet major things did.

As a furniture maker, my occupation is the work I do.

My bench was tidied, made ready for this morning’s work after sharing my workspace with my daughter-in-law who came in to make a mesquite cutting board as a present for her dad. By this single action, she expressed love. It wasn’t within her comfort zone and she didn’t know that she could actually convert a blank of mesquite into a useable functioning item but she thought she could and she did. Today, the cameras rolled and I quickly became intensely focussed as I prepared to work on the final stages of the dining table for Sellers’ home. I needed about two hours more to finish up the joinery and thankfully I took care of clean-up and sanding of all the parts as I went along. Glue-up is near — and my favourite bit. After that, there is finishing and taking it into the dining area of the Sellers’ home kitchen. COVID did stop us filming this final section a day before our Christmas break, but we were so glad we did stop when we did because we all remained in good health and strength for the main part. Taking the much-needed break gave us a period of recovery and an ability to reset our coordinates.

With all of the pieces ready for assembly they are occupying the minimal space they can

At the house, we continued making good with an old G-plan collapsible dining table made of teak that almost drops the 18 square foot (1,67 sq metres) footprint to a mere three square feet (0.279 sq metres of floor space. The table is still amazingly sturdy, unwarped and very strong. For continued use, it needs only a little refinishing before I pass it along. Gateleg tables like the one I have are excellent value secondhand and might cost under £20 from a secondhand shop. I just looked on eBay and they go for up to around £150 but there are several under £50 and one at £20 if collected by the buyer. For small-space homes like the ones we have many of here in the UK, these foldaway pieces are amazing in spaces where they are necessary for occasional usage but occupy too much space for a permanent setup. In some homes, the living room/kitchen becomes the dining room for larger gatherings that come along a couple of times a year. Lift one flap and it’s good for three people and when fully opened it will take six to eight. What a truly credible but often overlooked element to furniture design. Good on the eye? Nope. And that is the secret to designing a piece that caters to every need. I did have an idea to remove one side of the flaps and anchor the midsection to a wall somewhere. That would work very well too.

9 thoughts on “Occupation, Occupying, Occupy, Occupied”

  1. As work needs to be redefined so does retirement. If you stop working for someone else and support yourself by your own labor and savings it shouldn’t be called retirement anymore.
    The pandemic seems to be worse here in the states this time around. I know more people in the hospital and young families that are now infected and very sick (but not hospitalized). They did not shutdown everything like the last wave, it’s very hard to tell if the vaccines are working as it’s reported that 1 million people got the virus anyway even with two shots and a booster.
    The pandemic has caused a societal change in how we interact with each other. People are not going back to their traditional jobs and have left the workforce. They are finding other ways to make a living and pay the bills. I hope it’s because they are finding more fulfilling occupations and realize that they don’t have to do a job they hate anymore.

  2. Andrew Churchley

    A belated Happy new year Paul! And I still love the old G-Plan furniture. Lasting style, well-made and finished.

  3. I continue to be amazed at the precision of your joinery and the fine finish on the wood surfaces as seen in these photos. These are a tribute to your many years of perfecting your skills and sharp tools. I continue to work on both. I too find my shop to be a place of comfort in these pandemic times. Thanks

  4. Hi Paul, at the beginning of a new year I always reflect (like your good self) what I achieved and what I didn’t in the previous year. One always looks to the future for inspiration and we all usually do find it. But to do this we need a mentor, and in woodworking that mentor is you. So keep giving your expert advice and encouraging advice to me and thousands of others.
    Many regards.
    Paul Walton

  5. Hi Paul,
    Yes the pandemic has caused some problems around the world but here in Western Australia we are lucky enough to have kept it at bay. I could be in my garage workshop making all the time but summer here is torture. 44 degrees is common here and that heat keeps me out of the garage as it is not insulated. I too miss the occupying of my space to do what I like to do.
    Winter can’t come fast enough. Happy New Year and birthday.
    Love your site

  6. Hi Paul,
    Yes the pandemic has caused a lot of issues in the world.
    Here in Western Australia we have managed to keep it at bay but my problem is not the covid virus it is the summer heat.
    I have a garage workshop that is not insulated and temperatures of 40 to 44 degrees keeps me out of my space. I too miss the occupying of my work shop immensely, every summer.
    I can’t wait for winter!!!
    Happy new year and birthday.
    Love your site

  7. Paul, Happy Birthday from across the pond (again).
    You’re a rock star and rock stars always have an extra gear.

  8. I have spent a lot of time in the shop the last couple of years, and a lot more time than ever before enjoying hand tools. But the worst part of COVID for me was not being able to go to the gym and my other love and weakness which is cooking and eating. Not good on the waistline. And then just yesterday I was invited to yet another whitewater trip of 235 miles rowing a raft down the Grand Canyon. I have 2 months to get into shape. Bam, here we go!!

  9. Paul, I very much enjoy and share your perspectives about work and social interactions. Happy birthday. One question, why put a notch at the top of your table leg mortise? Does it not create a weakness in the mortise that allows twisting of the rail to split the top of the leg?

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