Some things are worth considering more deeply simply because of the way we live and what we do in it In my day, nature seems always to blend seamlessly with my making. From making my breakfast, my more recent (since covid) dropping in to a cafe for a cafe coffee and on then to making at the workbench, I like cafe white-noise. It helps me think. In the cafe, I write, synchronise my thinking by arranging some of the first of my forethoughts in every way I care to imagine and otherwise answering life’s questions around woodworking and working wood. It’s how I best process things, I suppose. By nature, I’m something of a planner but always take care never to choke out life by strangulating with plans. Spontaneity is a big, big part of creativity for me. I can allow creativity a longer leash from time to time but only because I am so highly self-disciplined and always have been. If you are young and think you have some kind of license to be a more, well, free and deserving spirit, I doubt that you will ever produce too much of anything of real worth. Without a plan, you never do. Just an observation I make. Creativity does take structure whether we want to admit it or not. Think Da Vinci, Isambard Brunnel and then ~~Leonard Bailey and his Bailey-pattern planes, Charles Babbage and the computer you and I are working from, and then, of course, the worldwide web, the good and bad of it, came from the ingenious Tim Berners Lee. Imagine the developments from the early 1830s Charles Babbage came up with the first automatic digital computer and where we are today. Completely lost!. Funny thing about Leonard Bailey’s bench plane designs is that no one came up with anything as effective or efficient since. It is just about the most brilliant contribution to the woodworking world yet no one says it anywhere (except me, I think). Okay, enough! But here is a last thought to dwell on: as far as woodworking hand tools are concerned, there has been no new hand tool invention in 300 years. Yes, we have adaptations and some innovations to what existed but there is nothing particularly new under the sun and so little improvement. W`hy? Because they worked!
Taking into consideration that throughout my life self-discipline has always been essential, bosses and mentors expected that of me once I reached about fifteen years of age and so did my parents. I was trained to it and by it and I have more lately considered what I would want had I the freedom to choose. This is what it looks like to me. My ideal (substitute idyllic) world for me would still be a woodworking workshop, a second creative area for other crafts like metalwork, art, stitching crafts, leatherwork, etc with an openable, multifold end-wall no bigger than my garage workshop and overlooking a 10-acre pond with reeds, trees and woodlands behind and before me. I’d have enough land for a two-acre garden for my fresh vegetables and chickens for eggs. I’d like a couple more workbenches and spaces for my friends, children and grandchildren to join me if they wanted to. This is a dream. Not reality. Other dreams drift in and out too. In equal measure, I would be at home on a Greek island with its villages of narrow stone streets and archaic stone walls three feet thick. France once had an appeal but our tastes change don’t they? Texas still features high on my list of preferred places to live but that ship sailed and was a wonderful trip. Mostly life and lifestyle is about where you feel you want to invest the remainder of your life, somewhere where you feel welcomed and warmed by hospitality be that from nature, people, culture and whatever rings the right bells for you.
OK. I’ve painted a picture for you. Making is never so much the issue when you are a maker by nature and not everyone is. Fact is some people make only for money and some people make only because they have to but not only or should I say merely for money. The latter is me. I’d make if I got paid or not, nothing and no one would stop me, but, whereas selling is usually important, it need not be the be-all and end-all of why we do what we do. If you find yourself aching to make every minute of spare time you can give to it then it is likely you are inherently a maker needing to do other work to make your living. If the game was changed you would most likely be like me and enjoy making whether you got paid or not but would do what it takes to survive and provide for your family. Needing to sell is a force we makers rarely want to reckon with but reckon with we must. I have known good makers who actually hated making but made because in their minds they could make what they really liked making which was money. For us it is different; truth for us is making has become our passion, not selling! In my small sphere of nature and woodworking, cooking breakfast first thing to set my clock and feed the beast are integrally woven within. This is lifestyle! Lifestyle is generally an indivisible mix of important elements, unfractured, all-cohesive, and lived. For those of who made the decision, we must engineer a lifestyle we want by thinking through what we want to include in it. It can be anything and everything from family to hobbies to cafe cultures, spaces to grow in where we eat, think, drink, rest, exchange views, write and associate. There is too much in life to tug and pull you and life apart and the allocation of time can be highly demanding.
It’s important to consider all of the angles. If you are married, have children, then the priority will indeed be earning a living that provides for this. I managed life as a family man on a single-income wage which came as the shared effort of two adults in a woodworking business. I made everything from birdhouses and feeders to walking canes and staffs and the too pieces for the museum in the White House and the permanent Collection in the Cabinet Room. To see that my craft was passed on I apprenticed many apprentices too, some good experiences and some not so great. In other words, I did what it takes. When we decided to train woodworkers online we decided no sponsorships, non-machine woodworking using honest output, honest tools and honest wood. This was part of my quest to simply present honest and real woodworking. Looking back on the last 30 years of teaching and making side by side, yes I still made to sell and taught evenings and weekends for two decades too, I would do exactly the same again. The best teaching will always come from practiced artisans with a strong work ethic of making and selling. Was this easy? No! Shutting up shop at 6 pm, eating at 6.30 pm and getting back in the shop for a classful of 20 seven to ten-year-olds until 10 pm was hard work three nights a week but it was my choice and many of those kids went on to become full-time makers in their own right. Today we are currently training over 1.5 million woodworkers every month, probably many more. It has become the extension of my New Legacy School of Woodworking Joseph and I began back in 2010 when we taught hands-on classes here in the UK and in the USA. At that time, just after completing the White House pieces in time for President Obama’s Inauguration, I traveled between the US and the UK, traveling and teaching on two continents. At that time I was in my early sixties and I became ever conscious that what I had learned was mostly not as an apprentice but through my fifty years in the saddle. What I knew would be lost if I didn’t start writing it down and so I wrote for magazines. Then the internet gained ground via YouTube, and social media. I could now film my own work, have a website and such. Hence woodworkingmasterclasses.com. What about commonwoodworking.com for beginners using hand tools and wanting the basics? This all grew from intent. My lifestyle was indeed engineered, but it became more a self-building entity through the desire to pass it on and pay it forward. Wow!
My workshop is the simplest ever. A garage-sized workspace that I have grown all the more love very much. You’ve seen how much I make in a couple of square meters of space, everything from rocking chairs to dining tables and sets of six chairs too.