I have called myself a lifestyle woodworker for a decade on a public level but two when I include talking of it in more isolated pockets as in my woodworking classes and courses. In reality, though, I have practised it for much longer than that it’s just that the term lifestyle really didn’t exist before that on any appreciable level. I used the term first when I lived the different life I was better able to in Texas. I realised that my life choices were different to almost all others and that I was living a lifestyle different to most any person I ever knew or met or would ever be likely to meet and especially the UK. The Brits then and now have British idioms they live with or by. These are the non-negotiables for being British. I found it more challenging to live a lifestyle I might feel better attuned to in the UK for a few reasons not the least of which was the freeing culture of the US and Texas. The Texans I knew and met would defend the freedom to be yourself to the death whereas in Britain at least it seems better to defend your Britishness rather than your individuality. Before attaching the title lifestyle, I lived in a more relaxed culture but never a lazy one. Most people doing something like what I did worked a ten-hour day and a minimum of five days a week and more. That’s probably at least 15 hours a week more than the average Brit. There was no way I would have made it just working 35 hours in a work week. I was self-employed most of my life and most self-employed people involved in artisan woodworking forfeit the luxury of a 35-hour week. The difference for me was the integration of other work in the sphere in which I lived. I wanted my own ways of working to include times when and where I harvested my wood from the standing tree and followed on by swimming in the nearby river or lake to clean and cool off, experiment with materials, trial planes and saws, test new thoughts on new and as yet unseen joints for joinery. I no longer wanted moulding planes on shelves that weren’t set up and working and I did want to investigate the impact of the Industrial `Revolution on the lives of families now that the outcome could be seen more fully in amazing factory systems controlled by anonymous computer programs on one continent and implementing control on another. In my late teens a man called Harold Hope, a friend and mentor for a season, introduced me to the history of window taxes here in Britain. He took me under his wing and showed me buildings in different towns and villages where the windows had been bricked in or built up to avoid William IIIs window taxes, a tax on daylight going into the houses. This colourful part of Britain’s (also, France and Ireland, Scotland) past lasted for 55 years before it was repealed due to lack of light and fresh air causing ill health and death.
Lifestyle means settling the priorities important to you and the way you want to live. You must engineer your future by working on whatever parts of your life you can until you establish the better whole of it as much as possible. Key areas will be family, friend choices, food provision, work and the things that take energy and then being there for others. There are many more areas that can pull on that rarest of commodities, time, but this is good and enough for now.
As much as possible, making or deciding on life choices demands that you ultimately put many things pertaining to you and others close to you in order so that you don’t simply exist in your own bubble. Decisions you make will inevitably involve these others as mentioned and there are no assumptions. There are times when you must change the status quo of your simply existing in a default position to being proactive in some measure; to change the expectations you have and then the expectations of even those close to you inevitably means one or two hard conversations that are not always readily accepted. If you have children and are married or partnered, what you choose to do will automatically link attachedly to those that matter most. Some will be less connected to another adult and are thereby less impacted and then there are those some don’t expect to accommodate but inevitably may well do. A lifestyle engineered to include many important-to-you areas of life will inevitably result in a way or style of living that absorbs other influencing entities. Some things will be less comfortable to you than others but rarely can or should we do what is simply comfortable to us. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I cannot imagine anyone’s life being so isolated that nothing and no one else matters. This all then becomes part of your individual lifestyle or a shared lifestyle with significant others. In such cases, there will likely be shared energies going into some work and then some dedicated work as in my case where the main source of income-producing work and output direction is mine simply because woodworking comes from my brain and not a collective group. In my world of woodworking as a maker and designer and now writer and author artist and so on, I might consider the general work of making and teaching to be more unshared than collective but most of what io do relies still on the work being done to free me up to make life work for myself and the others too. The team I do work with is not the team of making the project with me but work on the opposite side of the camera and then the processing of all the videography.
I love growing but mainly growing for food. I have done this for a few decades now with some years being successful and others not. I will continue to do this even though I have had to make a cut there for the last two years simply because, as we have increased and my output takes much more time, the time has become a scarcer commodity but this is my choice and I refuse to let external circumstances govern my life. I have unfinished but very important business to complete as much as possible and that is in the provision of training for others yet to come. This will not be a forever thing. Currently, my life is about encouraging you toward changes and these changes involve the perceptions people have about craft being a mere hobby rather than a significant creativity that defies the word hobby to become as important as breathing, eating, family and whatever matters in life. Without a truly conscious decision, lifestyle intentions can quickly get crowded out. I liken this to those who retire thinking from here on they can decide what they want to do with this now mass of time they have to spend on what they want. Within a matter of months, they are saying things like, “I’m busier now than I was when I was working.” Well, being busy is rarely lifestyle of real value. Prioritising and planning are both essential life skills. Lifestyle cannot really be achieved by a casual approach unless the intention is to achieve nothing or very little.
Clearing the decks for a more productive and rewarding lifestyle might well mean tackling some of the more unpleasant tasks to dismantle opinions, concepts, established patterns of life and expectations you might not at first even be aware are there. These can be yours and they can be those of the dozen others in your life. People often use terms like, “You’ve got to be true to yourself.” Rarely do people qualify that beyond something not dissimilar to taking care of yourself which might also be reworded as ‘just take care of number one.‘ and so on. In the ever-increasing dominion of narcissism and to narcissists this will inevitably be the priority and this is not what I am encouraging at all. An ever-important part of lifestyling is communicating and don’t forget that procrastinating is more than often making a decision and saying or doing nothing which is more of a decision than not.
Clearing the decks can be something like the planned vegetable plot you want that almost always requires reclaiming the land. Here in the UK, I have seen almost an equal measure of unworked garden allotments as worked ones. These are often the hardest to renew because the abandoners would never face up to his or her giving up. Before it becomes available to you, the land may well have gone a good few years in wanton neglect though (of course, it is not always wanton). My uncle Ralph just became too old but he loved his allotment and went there just to see others growing too old and make himself a cuppa on his camp stove. His allotment went down and his children showed no interest to continue.
Anyway, starting out in a lifestyle might well mean your embracing nettles and brambles interlaced with a mass of every kind of weed you don’t really want. Pulling the deep roots of a former life allowing weeds to grow and remain situated for a decade is not always easy on the back, hands and other body parts. Only after this can you start actioning plans. No planting seeds for fruits you want to encourage in your life until the past is declared past. As it is with some would-be gardeners, the level of your determination and conviction will quickly evidence in the outcome of the work you do. I did indeed future-proof my work by investing my skills in my children and then too the children of at least a hundred or thousand more of others. More than a handful of woodworkers I trained became furniture makers developing their own lifestyles as woodworking people.
My garage workshop needed to be an important part of my life but the place was noticeably far too wet for serious making along with a level of comfort that is important in work. It was time for some deep digging to weed out faulty perspectives on damp proofing and insulation caused. If you want to feel a healthy regard for the tools and the wood to be kept permanently there and then use them there too, some remedial action was inevitable. The garage was gutted, old concrete and ground base lifted out, ground dug down a foot or so to install waterproof membrane, underfloor insulation and new concrete. I dry-lined the walls and insulated the whole to make the most remarkable difference because brick is not waterproof. Because this was an existing building, I wanted to keep what I had rather than demolish it. Today it’s completely dry and even heatable for winterised working. Yes, it was radical. perhaps I should have left it as it was and built a shed for half the cost but I didn’t want something there that could not be real, secure, fireproof and fully. functional long term
I have written of others in my life of woodworking. After five decades of working with people, I have come to realise that my dreams, hopes and ambitions might be theirs only for a short season if at all. What they expect might be different in the reality of its doing. It’s nice to include others in your day-to-day but you must be aware that how things start out is not necessarily going to reach into the long term. but I have fond memories of people’s past. perhaps more the handful rather than the whole. There can be no doubt that lives changed by being in my workshop for a year or two and longer. It can be sad and disappointing when you invest in the lives of others only to see them leave for reasons beyond themselves or yours. Some will be let downs in your expectations that you thought were theirs too but then there are the successes where others developed a new way of living a lifestyle according to their wishes. Some even left for the wrong reasons but found new life with the added element of woodworking to own for themselves.
Remember though to keep what had real value and try to restore sanity through your lifestyle. People are not stepping stones but it can sometimes feel that way as indeed you might sometimes feel that you were little more than a stepping stone. Hey! Even that works too. sometimes we are the scaffolding removed but another lives on when the scaffolding is removed.
Life for me is still about building and making. It’s about equipping others to make and hopefully finding their lifestyle.
America, the land of opportunity. You have no restrictions on what you want to do with your life, there are boundless opportunities for those that want to put in the effort.
Yet people complain because no one will give it to you, you have to work for it.
Tom, who makes this complaint?
Wait a minute! That’s a cello case in the corner! Are you a master musician on top of everything else? (Asking as one who has spent 50 years leading choral music.)
My son Joseph and I made his cello. He’s now a violin maker and makes the bowed instruments on his own. The case is his Bam case and, of course, he plays both cello and violin..
Does Joseph document, in any way, his making instruments? Does he write about it? Have a video output, etc?
I have long wanted to make a stringed instrument for youngest little Prodigal daughter and would love to see some of the process.
No. That’s not his direction or interest. It really detracts from the joys of making to keep being distracted and for no good reason. It’s different for me. I have had my life as a maker and now, for a season, I have wanted to ensure my skills and knowledge are pssed along to the coming generation and then those adopting hand tools as a preferred way to work.
Check out Edgar Russ, and Stefano Trabucchi on You Tube to see some informative video on making bowed instruments.
I always love the pictures in the blogs. Currently working on the craftsman style tool carrier. One question, would it be possible for you to do video on how you make the cock bead and install it? I see this bead detail in lots of your pictures but am not sure if there is a video covering how it’s done. Thanks for all you do Paul!
I respect you greatly Paul. You have taught me immensely and I admire your integrity. However, if I may offer you some constructive criticism, please do not take offence – but this blog posts rambles on incoherently. What exactly do you hope to achieve by writing and publishing this random series of sentences strung together, in my view, altogether a waste of time and effort. What point you are you trying to make?
No point in particular really, just a part of my lifestyle that I enjoy and I enjoyed writing this one in my favourite cafe using my favourite fountain pen in my favourite sketchbook which is all that really matters. I just relaxed and enjoyed writing it, considering it and sharing it. I suspected with your opening four words, “I respect you, Paul…” that this would most likely take a downward spiral and I was not disappointed.
I respect you Paul. I enjoy the fact that you start in one place and finish in another. I’m possibly projecting here, but I feel the posts mirror your life in that regard. What some see as rambling, others (me!) see as someone writing their thoughts as they appear, giving a lovely, diarised quality. You write as I think, constantly questioning and disregarding one’s own thoughts without need for answer or conclusion. I think that’s the best way to blog, and you do it to perfection. I don’t get something from every post, nor do I need to. The number of times I stumble upon something very insightful that you nail down perfectly in writing often leaves me wondering if you too discover that meaning as you write (rather than perfecting the thought in your head before writing it down). There’s no “but” coming in this post either! Thanks again, Paul.
These “rambling” posts of yours are lovely to read. I often do the same thing – ramble on about something, going in all kinds of directions. It’s just how I am. You get a glimpse into my mind that way, and I get to share some thoughts.
Everything does not need to be a well formulated, well constructed and well written piece of fine litterature. Sometimes sharing one’s thoughts is just a nice thing to do – I think it is part of human nature. And I also think it is vital for new ideas to form.
Making a blunt pencil every now and then is not only allowable – it is desirable!
I get so much from posts like this Mr Sellers. Our lives are so different and yet I always feel as though you are speaking to me directly. I won’t bore everyone with all of the details, but the combination of meeting you, watching your videos and reading your posts directly contributed to me becoming a more wholesome individual and for that, I thank you.
Thanks for this writing. I agree on more levels then one may think. Having spent more years advocating for a age-in-place life stile for our community I have more then once proved that can and dose work.
I just do not have a garage workshop to work in, but I have small shed to keep things to do some hand work. I too am thankful for friends and family. Bob
Thank you coach! Just so saddened to find you after you left Texas and your classes there.
Many years ago I learned that most people/opportunities in our lives are teachers for us, some with good, and some with not-so-good lessons to share. In my relative youth I heard good teachers described as being of two types – ‘doors’ and ‘stairways’. When ‘doors’ teach, they open up new areas, expanses and vistas, making us aware that there is much more to be learned about the things we pursue. ‘Stairways’ elevate us to whole new levels of information, concepts, knowledge and opportunity, exposing us to even greater numbers of doors and stairways. You, Sir, are both.
while using machines in woodworking you admire the machine maker and while using hand tools you admire your hands.Dear Paul Sir,I would like to admire my hands more!
I personally like the first definition in the Oxford dictionary for ramble “walk for pleasure”. Your blogs are definitely a walk for pleasure , sometimes going down one pathway and other times another, but almost always an expression of the rewards and pleasures that you have experienced in your life choices . You call to all of us to take the opportunity to consciously make choices that we will similarly bring us pleasure and reward. Each of us may choose to “ramble” in a different direction; in the end it is the journey as much as the destination that becomes the reward.
I too retired without really any plans other than escaping corporate America. After 30+ years of doing whatever needed to be successful in the ranks of a large corporation, I finally realized that I was nothing more than a corporate whore chasing success through the eyes of a monetary reward. Now after being retired for almost 7 years, I think I finally found my passion in life with hand wood working. I’ve always enjoyed wood working and I like a lot of others, migrated in the direction of power tools. This all changed this year, I have been slowing selling off the power tools and replacing them with traditional hand tools, and to be honest letting go of my table saw hasn’t been painful at all. Thanks Paul for the inspiration and sharing your knowledge.
What an excellent article Paul!
As usual full of common sense but enlightening stuff. The shot of the castle brought back fond memories of the course I did with you there in 2010. You are ‘an educator and influencer’ in the best of ways….