It Comes and Goes

Today I made again and yesterday the work took on yet another full, unfaltering day in an exchange of all the hand tools I use. Work parcels itself out into tasks with starts and stops to embrace each diverse function. The tasks are all distinct and though different, they each flow seamlessly into and out of each other as if one prefaces the other as a lead-in. These pockets prescribe both my ways in terms of direction and then the action and method I choose. The pockets I speak of are entry points of change throughout my day as the work unfolds. There are no fits and starts. Each task differs from the other and no two can be described as the same or even marginally different. `The tool picked up might be the same but the work tasks may not be. Chop one minute and pare-cut the next. Two completely different and unrelated tasks where in one task the hand applies even pressure from the upper body to the hands and handle, in the other the hand selects the mallet, strikes to drive and then parts off and levers to lift. My planes and saws use stroke-on-stroke to slice and cut by square-on pushing and then skews in quick repeat passes through and over and into the wood to take off the excess where waste falls to the floor. Rosie watches, ready for a quick snap and snatch at each fair-sized chunk as a substitute bone to chew on in a quiet corner for ten minutes. I listen for the split and splintering until she catches my eye, stops and stares until I start working once more.

The coming and going of handwork is the rhythmic pulse that comes no other way by any other method of working wood. In some ways, it’s an unintentional exclusivity we enjoy, an acceptance of organic noise types and the exclusion of mechanical others. The human engine has multidimensionality relying on great and minute manipulations and shifts in direction second by second––the complete opposite of machine-like, inline omnidirectionality with mere pushes along a straight corner where table meets fence. This rhythm, the pulse of all handwork, is the same with most if not all handcrafts. By repetition, the day comes and goes in unmeasured chunks of time as do the patterns by which we carry them out. It brings true order in the art of our working. We think ahead by tasks stacked in order by anticipating every effort ahead of the need. This prefacing is our making ready our sphere of forward planning but dimensionally there is no flat one dimension screen with the illusion of 3D, we’re working in 3D every minute. Things pile up in one part of the bench from piles elsewhere waiting for use. So too the tools. They accumulate and multiply until they are no longer needed. Each hour, as the space on my benchtop diminishes, I stop to pick up and put up the excesses, put things away or in a neat pile elsewhere until next needed. It’s structure and even when it doesn’t look like it, it is. My advice to others is not to put up too much too far away until your done with whatever you have out. Placing them this way is much-needed gain.

Economy of time becomes increasingly essential to the golden triangle of working. What’s the golden triangle? For me, it’s the workbench and vise, the tools and equipment we use and then the bandsaw. This compact threesome for me is economy of motion that’s not unlike the cooking area of a kitchen where the fridge, the sink with its prep area and the stove feature within a metre or so of one another. This adds speed to my working without compromising the freedom hand tools give me throughout my day. rarely do I move more than two feet in an hour and yet I get all of the exercise I need for eight hours when I work and never sit. There is no dumbing down of skill. No replacing the layout patterns, the tools I use are 98% hand-picked, hand guided and hand-powered. I love the symbiosis I have developed for my life and where I am today. In my present state of mind and physical ability, I hope nothing ever replaces it. My work keeps me for my family and friends.

My recent injuries showed up as weaknesses elsewhere beyond my broken ribs, after the fact. I say weaknesses but not in the sense we might know or normally associate weakness whether physical or mental. Mental is not separate to physical but very much the flip-side part with a couple of caveats. These two elements generally meld together in our physicality in that they are dynamically hinged one to the other. As a man living generally with no aches and pains in his body, I ended up after the infraction with a few. I can link every ache to the incident and the breaking of my ribs because I can see where one part of my body shielded another and in places took up the slack of a failing part. when any part of us fails to fully function, fails to effectively carry its weight in the whole, we end up compensating for a weakness by using muscle, sinew and tendon elsewhere. This then always costs us in that one part pays for another. But over the last few weeks, any discomfort in the ribs that has lessened has caused an increase resulting in some measure of pain or discomfort elsewhere: inevitably a stiff neck and shoulder is a result of trying to get an hour’s sleep every hour in a recliner because lying flat is impossible. Of course, it wasn’t only my ribs the man broke. And it wasn’t the fall that broke my ribs. No, not at all, it was the attacker who struck with double-handed force in the exact same area. My ribs never touched the bike and couldn’t have done. The mangled ankle, scraps and bruised areas of my lower calf, etc were from the bike fall. Though things have markedly improved, and some of the muscles have returned to normal, I can still feel myself trying to cushion those parts that still hurt. This week the physio will look at the musculoskeletal separation to try to help manipulate the muscle around my shoulder blade where some muscle parted from the scapula in the assault. Aside from being left with some minor stiffness, for different reasons, this week’s gentle and general return to a full week’s work has shown me that my previous ethic of self-control and healthy hand working has stood me in good stead for recovery. I can see how the developed muscle in my upper body has been exceptionally good for me in taking up the slack. Usually falling off a bike as we ride comes with some measure of prewarning. A wobble, a small obstacle in the path we are on makes us ready for the fall and even midfall we can do something, anything to redirect something to cushion our fall. Previous falls through the years also equip us, cause caution, make us aware, but being attacked from behind comes with no warning. The shock value is always unprecedented even if it is not the first time.

The attack on 21st March has caused me to rethink and identify the true value of my work, my working and my workshop. It’s all too easy to take the everyday things we do for granted. My aftercare self-care meant I must lift and manoeuvre my body using mostly my arms. Standing and lowering to sit, bend and so on relies on the leg muscle I built up through cycling and exercises like squats. I had started these exercises as a result of a physio saying my cartilage was worn very thin and I needed to build muscle to help. That really worked and because of this, I had already exercised sufficient for my current disability. Great!

Work for me has always been both a way out and a way through both physical and mental barriers. My kind of working removes many barriers but more than that it frees me up to engage with what might otherwise become an obstacle. Today I mowed the grass with a mower that has no self-propulsion. Six weeks ago I could barely muster enough breath to walk fifty feet. My right shoulder is causing me a serious enough issue to say take it easier with this part and measure out by feel what you do. By this, it’s improving and not by not using it or taking it too easy. Listening to your body is the critical ingredient in recovery and no one else can do this for you. At least now I can sleep lying down, on my back and on both sides without pain. It’s now the other compensating parts that I am now restoring one at a time. My benchwork is not the benchwork normally associated with muscle building but the precision work of muscular control at the workbench. This week has been the best week yet but it has not been by taking it easy but by measuring my exercise and matching it to the work in hand. It takes a good hour and a half to mow the grass in and around my house. Another three-quarters of an hour is a decent workout on hedge trimming. I did both without an issue and without a break. When I had done I felt great with many parts relaxed and recovered. Before the assault, I always said I had not felt different since I was 50 years old with regard to health, aches and pains. Today I feel that way again.

Why black and white? In an HD, multicoloured multidimensional world it just Pops!


  1. Nice to hear that there is no lasting physical damage, and good that you are getting physio, which seemed to be a very overlooked form of therapy when I got my first footballing injuries thirty years ago! Listening, or being tuned, to your body is something I used to write off as nonsense, but it is certainly something I find useful in my middle age. I still suffer from knee pain as a result of a – quite bad – footballing injury about 6-7 years ago, but over the last few years I took it more seriously and sought out those areas in which I was weak around the knee (mainly by comparing my two legs) and took steps to strengthen them, as well as developing my range of motion through stretching more. I can still play football today as a result (despite doctor’s orders!), and whilst I do get pain after, it doesn’t last long and it gets better as I continue to work on my strength. The alternative would have been further operation, which might have given temporary relief but would not have addressed the underlying problems. If I had listened to, or felt, my body sooner, I’d have been in an even better place. It’s a difficult concept to master (I found), but simple in process. There is something called the “Alexander technique” which seeks to formalise and develop this further, which I find quite interesting. Useful for those to whom it doesn’t come naturally (I just used the various free content on YouTube to get the idea rather than one of their practitioners!). Anyway, I’m rambling, thanks again Paul and best wishes in the final steps of your recovery!

  2. Good to see you are on the mend, Paul! I too have been hindered in my making over the last month, although not anywhere near as serious as your situation; I got a tenacious golf/tennis elbow.
    I have worked on a saw till – from the images, I see that I started working on it a couple of days before you was attacked. It is a simple enough project, but at times I could not do anything. But taking it easy and stopping when the elbow told me it was enough, has really helped. I still have some pain at times, but I am building up “stamina”. Hopefully, my saw till will be finished within a week or so.

    I find that working with hand tools makes it easy to adapt to my “handicap”, as I can change how I hold tools and how I approach the tasks. That is not the case with power tools, as they are made for a specific way of holding and gripping. For example, I had trouble holding the hammer when chiseling my half blind dovetails, but I could grab the head of the hammer in a way that did not strain the elbow too much.

    Idle hands make fretful minds, so it is good to be at it again – and very good to see you picking up speed again, Paul!

  3. I used the Alexander technique, in England, for several months several years ago, under a certified practitioner, because of chronic back and neck pain. It helped make much more aware of several bad habits and gave me some things to help (e.g. since then I usually sleep on my side with 3 pillows to fill the gap under my head as I have wide shoulders).

    But Ibuprofen or Naproxen Sodium (stronger) reduced one issue: acute inflammation in my trapezoid muscle more quickly though 😀 .

    But massage provided an even better, longer lasting, relief for back, neck and shoulder muscle pain, when time, availability and finances allowed ;).
    Recommended 🙂

    BTW Paul, former multi-time iron man Champion triathlete Mark Allen also advocates listening to your body. So you are in good company on that point 🙂

  4. I really hope they managed to catch the attacker, or at the very least that his conscience has made him a better person after seeing the impact he had on your life. As someone with a lot of self-inflicted injuries from an incautious younger self I get so mad with myself at times I can’t imagine having someone else be the cause for such pain and inconvenience out of nowhere. The way you’ve handled it publically has been a real showcase of tolerance and maturity while not hiding the effect it’s had on you. Wishing you all the best and a speedy full recovery

  5. Paul

    It’s so good to read of your recovery and your remarkable attitude. As a long time aspiring woodworker—aspiring because I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until I started watching YouTube and particularly your channel—I have now eased myself back into woodworking but this time using hand tools for most of my work. At 87 and needing assistance to walk it takes longer to finish projects but tnanks to you, my work is much better quality.

    My compliments on your skills with a pencil.. Extraordinary!


    1. @Mike Null – 87! Wow! So perhaps there is still hope for me and my humble attempts at woodworking! 🙂
      Best wishes and thanks Mike and Paul, for much needed inspiration! 😊

      BTW I did make 2 PS-style mallets (my pride and joy!), one deliberately over-large. As Paul suggested, his design is indeed already large enough! However I have used the over-large mallet a few times when gentle extra heft was required (e.g. refitting a long, very tight, footer board under the kitchen sink after a plumber had to remove it to fix a leak 🙁 ).

      BTW my earlier message was intended as a reply to @Rico who brought up Alexander Technique, which I believe was originally developed to help actors with their posture. 😉

  6. I once worked with a man who was a guard at a prison. He was beaten severely after exposing some drug transactions between the guards and inmates. He almost died from his injuries and had to retire from the correctional system. He became a scrapper, a process where you remove small bits of metal by hand for precision flatness for machinery and inspection equipment. The work he did was physically demanding, he was one of the few who did a full days work. The doctors were amazed by his full recovery, looking at him you would never know he was once disabled enough to retire and collect an early disability check. So I would say you’re on the right track! It’s been said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and your living proof of that process. May you have a speedy recovery.

  7. Paul,
    Due to work and travel I have only just learned about the despicable attack you suffered in March and of your present ongoing recovery. Best wishes for a speedy and positive result to whatever treatments you are undergoing. I do look forward to reading about the time you spent living and working in Texas in a future book and the challenges you endured. Our lives rhyme in many ways.
    From one septuagenarian to another, good health and best wishes,
    Joe Bouza Vermont USA

  8. Absolutely right Paul.
    No one knows our body like we do. No doctor or insurance adjuster can tell us when our body is healed completely.
    The average time for a rib to heal is about six weeks for a young person. However as we get older it sometimes takes longer depending on our diets.
    I’m glad you’re feeling much better. It’s better for you to forego the blogs and post and take care of yourself than to try and rush things. If the urge to post becomes overwhelming before you completely heal maybe you can assemble some more shorts from past post.
    I just recently completed my saw bench and was working on building a bench vise I could clamp to the bench. Then I suddenly came down with the worse cold I have ever had in my life. It felt like all the life in me had been sucked out. But, not enough to stop me from making my dovetail templates. I was so weak it took me three days to build but I finally got them built and look forward to using them. Boy do I have a lot of boxes to build to organize all the tools I collected over the past 50 years.

  9. New to your blog and videos. I was sad to hear of your troubles and am pleased that you are recovering. I appreciate your thoughts here. I am in my 70’s now and recently have taken up a new hobby in woodworking. Your videos are very helpful and inspiring. I have made a few things and learned a few things. Thank you for sharing with us.

  10. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the update here and the blog on YouTube.

    My karate instructor, same age as you, tore several tendons in his bicep, requiring the tendons to be reattached when he was in his early 60s. He is in good shape like you and did the physical therapy. He was consistent with the PT and he eventually regained 100% function. I pass this along as inspiration that you could regain 100% function. Like you, he also feels no different than he was much younger.

  11. Ever since I studied photography many long years ago I have loved black and white. It enhances form and structure where color distracts. I think it well suits the kind of work you do. Thanks and take care of yourself.

    1. I like black and white as well. Likely for the same reasons. There is a really good country song called “You Should Have Seen It In Color.” Worth a listen.

  12. Thank you, Paul, for sharing your pain, and your progress. This was one of the best posts of yours that I’ve read. At 80, with many of the frailties and infirmaties that implies, I appreciate your inspiring message of hope and healing through work and indomitable positive thinking.

    I completely agree with Mike Null’s comment on your pencil sketch – beautifully done, and moving!

    …And, of course, I am in love with Rosie. That’s a great portrait.

  13. Paul,

    You’ve taught me much over the years, much about life, and much about woodworking. I suffer from MSA-C, and have done much by hand, and while sitting. One specific thing I’ve learned from you is to listen to how the plane is cutting, or skipping. To do that requires much silence, only achieved aith hand tools. It is calming for my mind! When I’m in pain (due to what I have, there will always be some pain). I sometime listen to some music, very eclectic mix, but often Big Band seems to help my muscles move more smoothly. One trap many fall into is compensating for their weaknesses too much, and not renewing their techniques a bit later to be sure they haven’t gone over to the dark side.

    You’ve taught us efficiency, and we all need to review good technique occasionally. You’re outlook has been tremendous. I hope I can emulate it to pass it on to others. Thank you.

  14. Paul, Glad to hear your recovery is going well. Look forward to seeing you get back to work. Your video on making hand-cut dovetails helped me get started on those. Take care and keep those blog posts coming.

  15. Thanks Paul. That sounds about right. My wife’s ribs were certainly giving her less grief after a couple of months that she mostly didn’t have pain killers unless she overdid it, which she often did to her regret.

    You sound to be much your old self. You give a lot of people like me immense pleasure just in the inspiration. I know that I will never be the woodworker artisan that you are, o matter how long I live. But I do enjoy your philosophy. Continue to complete recovery mate.

  16. I love the way you are facing the challenges of the recovery process. I’m also very glad your health is incrementally improving, keep it up!! Thanks for sharing and take care!!

  17. Good to hear you are slowly but steadily recovering.
    Maybe this is not the place, but couldn’t find where to ask:
    I was planing some difficult wood and in my desperation I sprayed a light pass of water, and after a minute the planing got significantly easier.
    Is this a thing?

  18. Nice to hear that through your hard work you are recovering well and this proves that to get the most from our bodies we must work them even when we are injured. Please be extra careful when you’re on your bike. We live in a wicked world and we have to be extra cautious when we are interacting with people around us. Thank you for all your videos and advice. It’s wonderful to see that we can make beautiful things and your woodworking instructions inspire me to enjoy the work of my own hands. Thank you.

    1. Since my attack I have noticed more and more anger in all camps. Cyclists on high-powered big-tyred bikes drive on through no matter who is there alongside road bikes doing 25-30 MPH in town on narrow streets not thinking about how they are silentand where the slow-pokes like me have no place to go to get out of their way. Runners, just one in thirty, stick to their running path immoveably in their athletic pursuit as though life depends on it and we are all supposed to read the signs of a stubborn brow where give and take goes out the window. And then you get dog walkers with two dogs going in two different directions on extending leads stretched full out with uncontrolled dogs and you cannot blame the dogs! Pre-covid days were better but I am glad that people are getting more exercise now.

  19. Glad to hear of your progress. It seems to me that, following an assault, the psychological effects can be as hard or even harder to ameliorate than the physical. I wish you all the very best as you continue to recover, in every way. I also hope that the assailant will be brought to justice.

  20. I don’t know if your assailant will be or was apprehended but I hope will be soon. I imagine, difficult as it might be to meet him, but I think confronting him in a good way might set an example not only for him, but you and the many folks who follow your wisdom in philosophy and your skill and artistry in wood. This event should never have happened. My best wishes to you for a speedy recovery and full restoration of all your many abilities.

  21. This is a bit off-topic– thank you for all that you do. All the teaching, the philosophy, the bits of your life that you share, your generosity with free knowledge. I bought Essential Woodworking Hand Tools and Working Wood 1 & 2 a couple years ago. These are my go-to references for everything woodworking and making, and reading for fun because my gosh you do go on, and I am glad you do.

    Good howtos are rare, an author can be good at what they do but not so good at teaching it, or they’re supported by sponsors, or they’re not very knowledgeable. Sponsored material can be useful, but it is inevitably limited. I really really really appreciate your authentic independence, and knowledge built on a lifetime of broad and deep experience. I love the broad scope: metal working, drawing and sketching, and other making skills.

    Very happy to hear you are healing and feeling better.

  22. Good day to you Paul,
    I am happy to hear you are on the mend. I jest here but maybe a little ‘ titebond’ is in order.

    The world has changed and I believe it started changing for the worse long before covid. Even if one does not believe in God or morality or even plain civility, many just do what they want to do and care not for how that may affect others.

    So, on we go living our life as best we can and showing others that part of ourselves that just may inspire others to have a bit of concern and caring for the rest of us.

    Thanks for your inspiration.
    John G.

  23. To call what happened to you an outrage doesn’t quite do it justice. Deeply troubling on so many levels. Not your first setback, surely, but such a hurtful assault to body and mind. You’re owed better. Thanks for all you do.

  24. Hello Paul and thank you.
    Sharing your journey has shown how brave you are and exemplifies your focus on helping others.
    I now find myself out of action from my humble workshop for at least six weeks as I began my recovery from major shoulder surgery yesterday.
    Like you, I enjoy being fit, using words and creating. For the meantime, I’ll follow doctors orders to ensure I’m back doing what I love when the time is right.
    In the meantime, during my recovery, I can enjoy the treasure trove of wisdom, appreciation and zen that you have created in your writings, drawings and videos. The healing effect surpasses any modern streaming services or expensive movies about contemporary “super heroes”.
    It also occurred to me that because of your humility, you may not have been able to get the same enjoyment as we recipients get from your videos, dulcet tones and messages but be assured it has a very positive effect! Thank you.

    1. Well, I hope your recovery is as good as I anticipate and experience mine to be, if not better. There is still some residual recovery yet to come but even as I am I can work contentedly throughout the day. At my age, I do expect some perhaps long-term or even permanent issues my attacker has responsibility for but the courts can sort the justice side of it out.

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