Waste Wood Records
It was a sort of pocket
nothing more than a sort of sphere really
but he lived in it
lived for it
was made for it
and he loved the way he was surrounded by it
Embraced day in and day out
in the envelopment of his working
less by the shop in bricks and mortar
but by the atmosphere of mixed sights
the sounds and smells
and what of the tastes that came in silent waves
to his tongue and lips
with each different wood picked from the pile
the racks and stacks
beyond the tools with which he tackled all things
in the reshaping and fit
where the wonder of working wood with his own hands
seemed to him so never-ending
but he never waned except for an odd moment
to regain a lost strength in his legs or arms and sometimes both
in his wanting his working to ever stop
even when his body tired
wearied into the lateness of a day well worn
he’d somehow find the strength in mind and body to kindle contentment
by the working of his hands in an unceasing way
throughout the day
continue on into the late night when all was still and silent
and he joined another to its brother with a joint well fitted tight and trim
wood to wood
hard and firm
beneath the plane’s smoothing rush
resisting where it could the saw’s sharp tooth
severing away the waste wood by a kerf’s thinness
from the wanted
And in his darkened pocket where the thin
light spread from its long white strip
and the shavings gathered
from the strokes of planes and seemed to hurry and scurry
from his ever-moving feet
he stops to lift cold tea to his lips and dream of a day-long gone
when another sought help to lift a beam to the bandsaw’s table
and then two push by steadying hands and arms
its mass to the line of taut spiked-steel teeth
The sound whips up with the pushed button
shows gathering speed and in the fuller pitch of the motor’s willing
steady readiness declares its time to push more the beam into the teeth
where each man leans in
eye to the line
hands to the push
guiding the mass in its passing through the friction-warmed teeth
and at the pressing of the red button
the command comes to cease motion
and the blade slows for a minute then another
until it no longer moves along its fixed and rigid path
it rests now instead
its glistening teeth perfectly aligned
for more cuts on another day in another wood
and so it is for the man that lifts once more the cold tea to his lips
in the new silence of late evening
when the darkness falls
beyond the workshop door
and the shavings drift
with each kick of a man’s feet to nest beneath the bench
in the working of his day.
The stacked shorts of off-cut woods
tell different stories
where the man’s past workings come to life
in oak and sycamore, beech, cherry and walnut
and what of that deep red wood they call mesquite
so darkened now by the sun’s sincere brightness
reminding him of the days past in an early nineties spring
and an early morning start where the yuccas grew
with the prickly pears and flowers spread
in full bloom
when he drove, the man,
into ten thousand acres and a million
more beyond of wild Texas ranchland
to find a single tree in a forest of its kind
driving a forty-five-year-old flat-bed Dodge truck
carrying two brown Borden milk crates
loaded with a chainsaw
a gallon of gasoline, ropes, a come-along,
three spare chainsaw chains fresh sharpened the evening before
in readiness for the day’s cutting
along with his shotgun just in case
Five thousand miles separate the man maker
now from this distant source
his distant past
in realms unknown to most and the ones he knows
he’ll likely never cut a tree from again
It was the gentle flowing of a Dry Frio river
through a dead-end canyon
and the distant lowing of Texas longhorns
in a herd of fifty or so
he craved to be surrounded by once more
Until you’ve known it you’ll never understand the wildness of remote cutting
when the Javalena dart from the undergrowth of brush
in a squealing keening frenzy of mad rushing
then the evening creeps in and the coyotes start
in the bursts of unending shatter only they can do
as if they’re right there next to you
and you drop that last limb
load up before dark settles
and you can’t quite find your way back to the track
across the gravel river bottom of the Dry Frio.
It’s tamed now
the old man’s life in making
boards of oak from the USA that travel the seas to its UK supply
along paved roads and life’s
easier than the mesquite-covered lands of south Texas
in a 1951 Dodge flatbed truck.
Picking through the history of shorts
stacked ready to retrieve
for a new drawer and door framing a panel
raised to a lambs-tongue mould
will always continue to translate him to past ventures
in his locating of wood
whether it be to cut and harvest or buy from the hardwood supply place
it’s not like a leaflet of swimming in a swimming pool in Turkey
or sitting on a beach somewhere in Greece
sipping cocktails from pristine glasses
wearing flip-flops and bare-legged in Bermuda shorts
this man never knew such things
from a life spent raising the means
to clothe and feed a family
loved his piece of wood
that box made
the sold pieces
mark the pages of his memory
when the mesquite beans hung and swung from thorned branches
in a certain swaying
facing the glint of a Texas setting of a summer evening’s sun
and there he is sitting on the tailgate as the Whitetails gather in around him
dipping their heads to graze and raising them to check
he’s still there where they knew he’d sat leaning back on his mesquite log
and the branches that he took from the wild the Whitetails thrived in.
As an older man
an old man
saying of things seen
that younger ones can’t altogether say because they haven’t
yet arrived to see and understand of what’s said
speaks in rhythmic meter
Pulsing words that disturb
an atmosphere of silences
The pieces placed
line walls and lay out on shelves
enclosed under benches wait to be lifted
from layers of dust
that waft in clouds at the man’s speedy passing
The trace of its presence settles
unceremoniously as a fallen curtain
and the mouse leaves a trail from
its limp tail in the same dust with tiny
footprints that scurried in a hurrying away
from a workman’s boots
The wood placed
gets turned from face to face and the man
casts his eye along the length to look for twist
a bend and rough lines left by the sawyer
who in laziness failed to correct a recalcitrant tooth
with a lone twist from pliers held there in his right leg pocket
The wood stack settles the more
in the well there
at the end of the bench
as if waiting for a hand to lift it the more to the vise
and then the squeezing starts
in a single twist
and the threaded rod in its spiralled steel
passing through the jaws holds
firm the wood
levelled in place and steady
for the plane’s swiping
the shavings spill once more
in quick succession distanced
by the length of an arm
and soft settle to the workshop floor
by the outspread outstretched feet
of the man who offers the plane
more and more
until the wood now levelled and untwisted
takes its mark from the pencil point
gets placed apart from the rest
and the man snatches another
to work into true straightness
a squared edge alongside
and then the work settles the man
replacing the plane where the stacked
It was the pencil lifted between finger and thumb
A poised tool point made to mark first his wood with
before permanent cuts were made to sever
and the unwanted yet to fall to his feet
where the bench legs held steady the squat-square
long rectangular workbench
It was the readiness for new work
unfolding thus that took each move and linked
everything together in slow deliberate motion
by the smoothing
of his wood
which lay in sticks as stems each alongside the other
by its brother
in squared pieces now tried, trued and straightened
that took the marks well
on each smoothed surface and though thinly made
the fine graphite lines in silvered grey-black
gave all the man needed to guide him
in the cutting of his wood
and there the tenon lay alongside the uncut
Mortise lined out in the oak
both ready to be sawn and chopped and fitted
what is this shit
The pure joy of craft mastery and a lifetime of woodworking
Holly, That was so very graciously answered, I couldn’t have said it better. The man never sat on the tailgate of his truck in the middle of Texas with a truckload of mesquite watching the sun setting in a bright orange ball as the day closed and didn’t really want to leave because of the peace in his soul. Seeing the river flow through the truck’s floorboards, from in one door and out to the other and climbing the bank the other side is both worrying and magical. You’re on your own. When it’s dark it’s black, the weight is full-on but there is just something about being there, smelling the sweetness of the mesquite that makes life all the more worth living. Thank you.
For a guy starting out in woodworking , it was a read that I needed. the joy of wood forever as a craft. Great rea
Paul Thank you for that extended and heartfelt poem.
Poetry does go with woodworking, for what is a handmade piece constructed to the best of one’s abilities, other than lovely poetry in wood. For some that have replied in a negative way, they should go read another blog as this is beyond their scope.
This brings back memories from when I lived in Bexar County, Texas ( San Antonio ) from 1969-1973 while in the Air Force. I was familiar with the ubiquitous Mesquite growing in gnarly fashion all over the countryside, but I was not much of a woodworker then and had no clue as to the wonders of this unique tree that I now know of thanks to you.
. Thank you for bringing back those very old memories of the Hill Country in Texas.
After the read, I felt as though we had been in the shop together! My health is improving and my shop beckons. I have been organizing it this week. One more heart cath friday and then, Lord willing, by the following weekend, the shavings will be flying!
There is joy and satisfaction in creating something from what nature has provided. Most of us can feel it, but only some can paint a word picture to describe the feeling. Thank you, Paul, for sharing not only your knowledge but your joy! Well done!
Thank you, Paul.
Poor Harry. Sorry you feel that way today.
HT, an insult from you is you trying to elicit an emotional response and/or an escalation. You may be better off taking a deep breath, reminding yourself that your choice to be insulting reflects your issues. I for one started to learn woodworking and tool restoration as a hobby during Covid in the evenings from Paul Sellers and from Thomas Johnson’s you tube videos. Although I just do it as a hobby and have made only a few pieces of “useful” furniture, I have restored several tools and pieces of furniture. One of the greatest things about it is the smell/sight/feeling I get after work and stressful day and go down into my little basement shop. I get some of the same when I read this post. Maybe you should re-read it.
Alzheimer’s is a confusing disease.
I’m truly sorry that you feel this way. I’m personally glad that woodworking, to me, is a way of life and not merely a task to be accomplished.
It’s called free verse poetry.
Some people just have no music in their soul.
I thought it was a lovely way to tell of your life here in Texas.
Sir, you are no Poet.
It’s obvious now
And we all know it.
Written from joy.
You GO, BOY!
This, is the wisdom of years, from a lifetime of creating and birthing dreams, with nothing but one’s hands…
If you have to ask . . .
If you don’t understand, it can’t be explained.
That was a poem. I felf as if I was there, a long the way for a glimpse in time with you. the wood foraging, fishing, riding in the old truck with a load of wood……Makes me wish I lived in Texas to be able to get my hands on some of that Mesquite not to mention the BBQ….lol
The cabin you built is amazing just from what I see in picture. I can only imagine what it’s like in person. I am very fond of log cabins as we live in one. I was kind of surprised when I read saw you built and lived in one, only because I didn’t know……that about you. But it seems SO fitting that you did.
I always enjoy reading your writings.
All the best
That was quite the poem. I felt as if I was there, along the way for a glimpse in time with you…..
While reading this, I kept glancing at the scroll bar. I didn’t want it to end.
-Thanks from Oklahoma
Perfectly written piece! It reached me in a way that make me envious in a good way. Your columns have inspired my meager attempts at wood working and plane restoring. This just turned up the heat.
Thank you so much.
Great poem, but did you scribe your fascia board to the chimney?
You’ve left me with a strong desire to go down on the bank of The Mexia Creek where it cuts through my place here in Callahan County Texas , hew you out some Mesquite planks and ship them to you !!
You Sir have taught me much in a short time since I found you.
You’ve taught me how to begin working the wood, yes…
But you’ve taught me how to work on my Soul even more.
Hollar, I’ll brave the Feral Hogs to get some Mesquite your way Sir !
That poetry and woodworking go together is probably not obvious to most. But for those of us who are makers in the most expansive sense, getting the right words to fit perfectly is not so different than extracting beauty from a log. I imagine that makers of musical instruments enjoy yet another level of creative synergy from their art.
thank you Mr sellers. Your poetic verses are exactly what I needed today.
A greatly needed lifting of the spirit.
It’s difficult when you’re young to appreciate the beauty that is all around you. Too busy, practicality won’t allow it. As you age, or put another way, grow older you recognize the scenes of your life and how, if you let them, wonder filled life is. Thanks Paul.
Thank you Paul.
This verse came at exactly the right time, just as I was questioning everything I do in the workshop…
Your wisdom and peace grounded me and let me throw off the shackles of expectation and return to that place of just doing and being at peace with that freedom.
Thanks for sharing.
Thank you. It has always interested me that most art forms and craft are solitary endeavors. intimacy between the animate and inanimate. Your prose captures that quite well. I enjoy the tick of a clock as the music to accompany me while working in the shop.
As a poet for more than fifty years, and a woodworker of a mere five, this is pure bliss. Structured in this manner, with the B/W photos, it is called an ekphrasis, the combining of written and visual art, each supporting, contrasting, and driving the other. This specific example is worthy of far broader distribution, perhaps in a writing or other art journal. I was hooked by the third line and lost to its power by the tenth.
Paul, I only wish I was younger and just beginning an apprenticeship under your tutelage. Thank you for all of this.
Paul, beautifully put!
Reminds me of my years in Oz , cutting and working blue gum , turpentine and coachwood .
What a beautiful prose; thank you! It speaks to the soul of every woodworker.
Thank you, Paul. I felt it and was moved. Wow!
Dear Paul, you have always been a gift to those who understand. Your words and your works, unfolding one page and post at a time, are a sterling treasure.
From another old man, to a wise one…thank you. You lift us up!
Much thanks for sharing this with us (your students). Very powerful imagery, lovely.
While there I didn’t have the presence of mind to appreciate the mesquite – too busy working the day to day grind.
But I am blessed to know you now, and grateful for your generous teaching. Both in wood and otherwise.