Saddle’s Still Warm

That’s to say I am doing well, great, better than I thought I would be by now, my hands have been fixed by the surgeon and staff at Pulvertaft Hand Centre and so I thank them and thank you for all of the support and well-wishing over the past few weeks. The Dupuytren’s contracture on both hands is no longer visible and I feel a happier man even though I did not think I could ever be happier than I did before the procedures. My work has led me to a lifestyle of fullness I might well never have had any other way and nothing beats that. The fingers align nicely now and I anticipate that this will be the long-term solution even though the Dupuytren’s never actually hampered or hindered my work in any serious way at all. Why then did I have the surgery? I had the procedure to halt its progress because it might well have done so in the coming years and my work in teaching and training is not yet finished.

I have full grip to what was the worst of my two hands now.

I’ve given it long enough now to allow myself a softer life and both hands and fingers are working amazingly again. Today, I return to a full week creating again with new content and videoing my work flitting in and out of my brain. I plan to ease into the workshop, combine art with photography and making; I have no hesitation and, as before, if I do feel any twinge telling me differently I will change my approach. Over the weekend, I enjoyed some softer work organising things and creating drawings along with some woodblock for printing at some future point. That went really well and was very easy on my hands. I also spent time in the wonderful Ashmolean Museum here in Oxford where I wanted to see the new colour exhibition along with the work of Flora Yukhnovich. She created six stunning and massive art pieces many feet long and wide and the colours from her pallet are just so stunningly bold and sympathetic in creating depth and dimension in each composition.

Getting perspective and scale of size, this piece is roughly 5 feet wide and 7 feet tall.

The museum is filled with the works of diverse cultures along with all of the elements creative museums should be known for and invested in. Spanning the centuries and millennia, it’s also important to live with new currency too, so that content includes art created in recent weeks and months. With the paint almost still wet with the slightest aroma of linseed oil lingering, the works were hung to view and I felt a gratitude to the Ashmolean creativity for commissioning the works. It made my half-day rewarding.

Some of my new working, and this is more for myself in the illustrating of a book on hand work in wood, involves different methods of individualised printing using wood. I suppose currently I have around three books in the offing as manuscripts that I plan to complete in the coming two or three years. The wood block will be for a unique book combining writing as in poetry with woodblock prints combined.

My unfinished wood block is a work in progress.

A more important one necessitates my return to the USA and spending time in my second homeland of Texas. Did you know that back in the 1980s, Texas had a Texas Embassy in London where they physically issued a Texas passport? There are some gaps in memory along with needed artwork and pictures I need to gather and dwell on between my arriving to live just north of Uvalde in the South and following the cattle trail on up via Fort Worth and Dallas in the North. Did you know that you can follow this cattle trail by following the existing remnant in mesquite forested areas on that route? Yes, cattle fed on the mesquite beans, plopped their dung with seeds embedded and created the ideal environment for the seeds to thrive. The cattle drives were to get the longhorn beef cattle across Texas to the railroad for distribution so I followed different parts of the famous Chisolm Trail in my moving across Texas over my 23-year period living there.

Young longhorns on drought-rideen land still graze when there is nothing there to graze on.

Chisolm was a trader of Scottish-Cherokee descent and owned the trading posts to where the cattle were driven in Oklahoma and Kansas where the cattle were sent East. I often thought about my harvesting 100-150-year-old mesquite trees that started their growth during that period of history. Indeed, I have some of that mesquite in boards right here in England with me and you have seen me use some of it in my projects of late. When I return to Texas I find time to accept a couple of speaking engagements as I travel, time permitting, as long as I am not too distracted from my main reason for taking the trip. I am planning this for some time around late April and hope to rent a small campervan for the tour. I have friends in the Hill Country I’d like to see and thank for the support they gave me but we will see how that fits nearer the time.

The wirst of my two hands can now embrace the hndle fully and with no awkwardness.

Making the new handle for the tenon saw was quite a surprise for me. perhaps it was because of the nature of the project, the fitting of something so rugged and angular to fit into my hand with the intention of enclosing it in a grip. It was in creating the comfort of shape where I found the work transporting me through a task I found increasingly more comfortable and that after just a week after the surgery. The rasp slipped over the angular corners and reduced the square awkwardness quickly and evenly, making me thankful for Auriou rasps from France. Yew is a dense-grained, hard wood (1520 lb on the Janka, so harder than white oak at 1350lb) with a fine and uniform texture that finishes beautifully. In appearance, Yes, at first glance, Yew might at first be mistaken for a soft softwood like Scotts pine when in reality, working its density is comparable to many of the mid-range temperate hardwoods. Yew is a toxic wood. In wood turning and using industrial equipment like belt sanders, random orbit sanders and such, make sure that you take all of the precautions. I have heard of serious consequences happening to those who thought they knew better or indeed did not take any of the usual precautions we woodworkers should take. Did you know that random orbit sanders are very, very bad for your hands long term? They are. Take lots of gaps between use. Like weeks! When your fingers start tingling even an hour after use you know something needs to change.

Another of my woodblock printo outcomes.

This is Monday. I feel the same enjoyable feelings about working this week as I always have on any Monday. Working physically and mentally is, of course, part of the healing process. My tools are still sharp and set aside from the work I left before hospital two weeks ago. Christmas is but two and a half weeks away and we will take our usual break between Christmas and New Year to say bye to 2023 and welcome in 2024. My plan today is to start a new piece and to prototype it first; whether corrugated cardboard or spruce pallet-wood (not a species really) I don’t yet know. But the gang will be together filming tomorrow and they are as excited as I am about the coming work and the coming week.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!


  1. So happy your surgery was successful. I love your optimism and joy. I think you need a few more lifetimes to do everything you want to do.

      1. Hello Paul.
        Like you I live near Oxford. Next time you are in the Ashmolean go to the top floor near the restaurant and have a look at Barbara Hepworth’s large carving. The description says American Walnut which, as you know, is Juglans Nigra. It looks like Juglans Regia to me have no purple colouring. Years ago I wrote expressing my opinion but got no reply. I have a great store of English walnut from Lord Needpath’s estate in Worcestershire after he had the tree removed to make a clearance for a shoot.

  2. Paul, you still manage to inspire me even after having followed you since the days of planing bench parts up against a tree, with seagulls and children in the background.
    The wood block carved to make a print is perfect for an idea I have for a set of two signs with writings (no, not the “HOME” style which in my opinion belongs in the lye-washed fir panel category). I made a prototype with sticker letters, and while it worked out okay it was a lot of work for something I plan to sell at fairs or markets. I also do not like the use of plastic..

    Which wood would you recommend for such a print / stamp?

    Also, I hope the recovery period continues to go well for you, my friend. 🙂

  3. :). I love my rare visits to the Ashmolean Museum too. The Alfred “jewel” “bookmarker” (I forget the proper name, possibly “Astra”-something?) is a real highlight for me. Also, perhaps for you and me both: their Stradivarius collection, including the famous unplayed(?) Messiah violin, and various other instruments including a guitar! The subtle (and sometimes conspicuous) quality is evident. And online, you can hear how perfect they sound compared to other violins (very even). Wonderful.

    BTW Love you woodblocks 🙂 I do like woodblock prints in general but your designs are particularly appropriate 🙂

    BTW I only used hand tools when making my yew bow and kitchen handles. Finished the handles with raw linseed oil. And then some homemade beeswax polish 🙂

    1. The Maestro violin is a beautiful piece of history, but, for me, the Stradivarius guitar was one of the finest exhibits I’ve seen in any museum.

      1. Isn’t that like comparing a bassoon to a trumpet or a Giraffe to a horse or something, Colin? The maestro violin is no more a piece of history than the guitar too. I wonder why you said this, really, but I am not asking a question.

        1. It was my first visit to the superb Ashmolean recently, primally to see an exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite drawings and paintings but with the ulterior motive of seeing the Maestro Stradivarius. The instruments on display are so well presented and I was taken aback by a Stradivarius guitar, both the standard of the workmanship and also that until then I was unaware that guitars had been in use for so long.
          That was it, really.

  4. Paul,
    I am so happy for you that your surgery is a great success and that you followed your post-op physical therapy exercises and your physician’s recommendations for rest to the letter. Thank you for sharing your personal journey with us.
    If Yew is so toxic as to require personal safety precautions when working with it, is there not a safer handle wood choice ?
    Michael O’Brien
    Alabama, USA

    1. Yew is a toxic material and that includes the root, the stem, especially the leaves, the bark and the seed fruit. Using hand tools means nothing in the atmosphere when you make if indeed you are careful, which I was. I think it is up to each individual whether they use yew or any other wood for that matter. Machining wood does create dust so good extraction is critical and then too you must be careful where the saw dust and planer chips go after that. I kept all of my had saw cuts and saw dust after seep up and put them in my general waste and not in firewood and shaving bags which I pass on to friends with wood burning stoves.

  5. Hi Paul,
    glad to hear you’re well and sending my best wishes from Pennyhooks Farm, we appreciate all your team time invested with us and look forward to seeing you again.

    Love Tania x

    1. Hello Tanya. Yes, I keep thinking it is time for a revisit and of course Hannah and I would love to come back and teach some more as needed. Hope everyone is well and happy there. Brief respite coming up over Christmas for everyone I hope. Love to all too.

  6. I wish that Saratoga was on the list for this visit, didn’t know you when you were there. I am a victim of orbital sander syndrome, to the point of not being able to use clamps with out severe pain. Glad you are doing well and getting back into your passion!

    1. Same here reference Orbital Sander far to many years using both Air and Electric powered use in Automotive body repairs has left its toll, particularly my left hand

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