An Adequate Maker

Being an adequate maker is always enough. It’s a good place to be, I think. Most makers find solace in hard times by working their craft, you know, when they face a sad loss that’s hard to reconcile the sanity in. Crises come often enough for all of us — times when we must realise that whatever it is it will pass. In times of crisis, when I couldn’t make because other responsibilities took precedent and the crisis must be met face on, I need only think of something I made to find the solace I speak of. I would remember the way the cabinet door swung to on its newly set hinges or the drawer that seemed to glide with the grace of a swan.

There are times when I think of a loss that happened in years past when the grieving brought healing and my making resumed. A lost friend I treasured greatly seemed to come to life and smile as I dovetailed the casket from pine in the workshop a day or two after his passing. As I pressed the dovetails in place my heart wept with the mixture of joy and sadness at the family loss and so too my own. The complexity of our emotions is somehow redefined in the making of many things as if we build to enclose our feelings into the cradle of made things, an act of simple defiance to lift us above words that somehow don’t measure up. It’s in these things that making seems to me at least to bring the healing deeply into our very souls as they are surely meant to. If a picture paints a thousand words then making makes sense of them all.

A child, your son, your daughter, loses a much-loved dog after many years of faithfulness. How old was she? Ten, twelve no thirteen, and you weep for the sadness of the loss you cannot explain. You comfort your loved one but grieve alone and you make to see something made take your grief.

The very first walking can I made for a woman who’d been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and I had just that day met for the first time. She was young, mid-thirties. I poured myself into making the cane. Made a twisted stem and a handle I carved to fit her small and delicate hand. She was no longer steady on her legs and the sadness overwhelmed me as I thought of her in future days leaning wholely on the thinness of the cane and I wept to absorb something I knew so little of at the time.

So it is for the maker of many things wood. But joy seems always to come in the morning when you make for future life and then too for the end of life and all in between. I have lost track of the beautiful things I have made but I still feel a certain praise I cannot explain that I found the calling for my life at so young an age and I had parents that supported my early days to become, well, an adequate furniture maker. It’s all I have ever wanted to be!

20 thoughts on “An Adequate Maker”

  1. Joseph Guida

    I’m glad you addressed adequate making. I speak for myself and others who’s skill set does not rise to the heights you enjoy.
    I consider myself to be an adequate maker in that my quest for the perfect dovetail box has yet to be obtained, and might never be, and that’s alright. It’s the movement and concentrated effort that I enjoy. The flawed results are certainly serviceable and look good (if not inspected too closely).
    If I sought perfection easily I would use the dovetail jig and router that sit idle in my workshop ever since your enticing advocacy enticed me into the calm, relatively quiet world of hand tool woodworking. In this almost meditative effort of working it truly is not about the destination but the journey.
    Thank you Paul for taking me down this journey (or is it a rabbit hole). Well whichever it is, it has enhanced my enjoyment of life.

    1. Alan Baldwin

      Thank you Paul for this post and all that you do. I know when I make something I quickly want it to get out to the person so it connects and dare I say heals and adds life. Recently I made a keepsake box for my brother’s widow and with it is the hope and belief that my adequate making (with some gappy dovetails!) helps fill her heart and gives her some comfort.

        1. Paul, I value your insights and your videos simplify and cut to the heart of complex woodworking issues. Thank you.

  2. In my opinion you’re not only an adequate furniture maker, but also – and perhaps even more – a true artist. To me the definition of art is knowing how to express the content and meaning of life itself through your craft. It could be by painting or drawing a picture. Or equally well by making something that means something to others.
    I’ve learned a lot about wood and woodworking from you, Mister Sellers and I’m very grateful for that and that you’re so good at teaching. It’s very impressing. But I’m even more impressed by your ability to express your self and your thoughts in writing. It’s a huge inspiration for me. And I guess for many, many others. I won’t complain if you continue your art…

  3. Thank you for such inspiring words. You have been and are a wonderful mentor for me and I know so many other people like me. I have always wanted to learn to work with wood, and for it to all make sense. At 69 year’s old, l am learning by reading and watching your videos. I have been able to make your workbench by following your step by step instructions. It is by your showing me how to make these cuts and joints that I have been able to make boxes for my children and grandchildren. Thank you for the encouraging words, you can do this, I believe in you.
    Daniel

  4. Warren Clendenning

    Paul,
    You are more than an adequate furniture maker. Your words of wisdom and the succinct way of conveying your words and teaching will always be in my eyes a true gentleman and the ultimate woodworker.
    Best Regards
    Warren

  5. Yeah. I would say my upbringing gave me some desire to be a certain way, it let me read and speak and be above poverty. But to be able to make things never gets old and I didn’t get that. You need to be shown a model for a satisfied life. And then U need to be taught to build up to that. Teaching is super important

  6. You have turned for me my mourning into dancing: you have put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; to the end that glory sing praise to you, and not be silent.

  7. Hey Paul… I am a complete novice and I’d love to make a living from this, but it’s tough to even get going. I can barely afford the wood to practice on, let alone mess up during practice and have something completely useless. In the days of people putting older woodworks to the curb because they have no connection to them, to the $50 Ikea bookshelf, to pillaged forests, it feels like it isn’t a good time for us.

    I imagine the hand tool woodworking golden age, like the pipe tobacco age, was long ago. Regardless I will not give up my pursuit of excellence.

  8. Paul-thank you.
    I’m in America, both my parents in England passed recently. Been hard-very hard.
    Time does heal, but also I feel we somethings we never truly get over, we just learn to go on….

  9. I’m a crap maker. I am become breakage, destroyer of wood. I find Common Woodworking to be calculus…a mystery wrapped in an enigma…in Greek.

    I would like to blame this on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but its a toss up between laziness, overwhelmed anxiety, and impatient inability to follow instruction with a dash of i know better than you…these rules don’t apply to me arrogance.

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

    Confession: i made 360+ attempts to build wooden archery bows of wood over three years and only liked #22. The rest were shipwrecks on the beach of despair.

    I feel enormous joy at watching a modern Matisse or Picasso of real wood craft amd a fair bit of envy. What if i were good at something…but i am. I am really good at destruction!

  10. Thank you Paul. Your wisdom and sharing of woodworking and knowledge are greatly appreciated. I and others that frequent your videos have great respect of your teachings and methods. I can almost feel the tide turning me into a hand tool wood maker. Cheers

  11. You are a true artist. This post was inspirational..reminds me of the reason I started this journey in the first. Your wisdom is not lost on me. I pray that some day I will be worthy to pass it on…

  12. Conrad Aquino

    Paul… such a timely topic and your words are so meaningful. I recently lost my wife of 15 years to Parkinson’s disease after a 12 year battle with it.

    Before she passed, I told her that I would be making a wood urn (chest) for her ashes, that made her smile, not only because of the loving gesture, but it I would signal a return to my wood working, something that I haven’t been able to do the last 5 years as her full time 24×7 caregiver.

    She made me promise that after she was gone, that I would not fall into complete despair and “give up”. The husband of her knitting club friend did exactly that, after his wife passed, by committing suicide three weeks later. She made me promise to start living again and not feel guilty for doing so. I completed the urn… challenged myself by doing splined miter joints… my best woodworking effort to date and it turned out beautifully.

    As the healing continues, and I return to my shop to start on another project that had been out on hold, I’m left with a sense of fulfilling my promise to my dear wife… and I think that’s how I’ll always feel now, every time I put tool to wood.

  13. Trevor Hosken

    Thanks Paul. You’ve taught me so much. Struggling each day to become an adequate maker but at 74 I doubt if I’ll attain your level of adequacy.
    However a statement on the opening leaf of an old woodworking book is enough for me.”I too will something make and joy in the making.”

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