For What It’s Worth.

by | Jul 16, 2013 | 12 comments

It was a beautiful day on Saturday (read as ” Richard and I were dripping with sweat”… typical Brits, never happy with the weather!) when we popped down to the open day at Peter Sefton’s Furniture School. As I mentioned on Friday there was a large chance that Richard would get on with too much talking and not enough building, and that was exactly the case. But that was no bad thing and we very much enjoyed talking to those who can along to discuss benches, woodwork and just general chatter!

Since Richard did very little by way of work I focused my camera over on the chap next to us. Paul Hodgson has devoted much of his life to making chairs, furniture and teaching others his craft. Paul is not the first person I ‘ve met who woke up one day and decided to pack in a perfectly sound professional career to get in to woodwork. And this really illustrates to me a great importance about crafts; that element which brings such fulfillment that you would struggle to find elsewhere.  Most of our life we are drilled to desire money; right through school we’re encouraged to get a great job and beyond that there’s an ever present pressure to keep up with the Jones’ (who ever they are!?). But it’s evident to me not only through my own experience but by talking with others that there’s something far more valuable than the money – why else would people change their steady career to a life of labour?  So there’s that element, that reason and driving force which many of us feel but sadly which doesn’t get celebrated enough.

There are a good number of people out there striving to keep alive a craft or tradition and it’s fantastic to think that they are making a real difference – creating beautiful works and sharing their knowledge and skill. I don’t wish to be negative but whilst the skills seem to be reviving the appreciation seems to be dwindling off.
A craftsman is faced with having his price tag compared to that of a table or chair that’s been mass produced, screwed together and flogged on the high street. On the other hand it is becoming increasingly easy to charge four times as much for everyday items of inferior quality simple because they’ve been stamped with the right logo.
I think it’s now the consumers time to step up and make a difference, but then this is no easy feat!

For details of Paul’s work and courses take a look at the Cotswold Woodland Crafts website.

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About Helen Fisher

About Helen Fisher

Helen seeks to explore ways to live with greater joy & sustainability for both ourselves & the planet. Concepts which have led to the launch of her second business We Are Carbon. As the producer of our videos, Helen brings a unique perspective & injects life to our education ensuring it is both a pleasure to watch & easy to follow & learn from. Learn More About Helen & The English Woodworker.


  1. Ken

    Well, said Helen, I agree. There is a hole generation of people, that have no Idea what hand crafted furniture is or what is involved in making it.

    Very Best

    Ken 😉

    • Helen

      Thanks Ken, I certainly think it’s worthwhile raising awareness of the quality difference of furniture which is built to last, especially when you consider the ‘green’ emphasis we find today.
      Regards, Helen

  2. David Cawthray

    Nice post Helen,
    We live in a disposable time unfortunately so modern cheep furniture only lasts a small time, compare this with solid wood crafted items which have lasted several lifetimes if everyone bought decent items that lasted big stores would go bust its in their best interest for kitchens and furniture to degrade fast so that can make more and earn more money.

    I want to replace most of my furniture with items that i have made in the hope that these will be passed down through the family.

    I say try and leave the big box crap and get into woodworking and make some items that will last a lifetime and have something to pass down when we go.


    • Helen

      Hi David, A very good point. Companies really don’t want products to last forever, they want to sell them cheap and sell them often!
      Of course it’s a much more satisfying balance for the small maker to supply something that will last since he only has a limited output, but we have to look well ahead to appreciate the long term benefit and justify the upfront cost.
      Making furniture for yourself and family has to be the ideal solution – enjoyable, rewarding and cost effective.
      Many thanks, Helen

  3. Simonm

    Two things, Helen:

    Firstly, it was a delight to meet both of you last Saturday, and secondly, you’re dead right, about both the value of handmade things, and the value to the soul of making them.

    I’m hoping you’re unduly pessimistic though. Tough times lie ahead for the country, and that means less money for our ‘disposable’ consumer lifestyle. People may go back to repairing things and valuing craftsmanship more, as cheap stuff comes to be seen for the soulless waste it really is.

    At least, I very much hope that’s what happens. If nothing else, it might slow the destruction of the rainforests a bit!

    Thanks both of you, and Paul, too, for helping to make Saturday such a splendid one!

    (the intrepid Asda adventurer)

    • Helen

      Hi Simon, it’s great to hear from you again!
      I like your thoughts on this. I think we’ve already seen ‘positive’ changes from having to tighten our belts and having to shed away a few excesses doesn’t need to be a bad thing. If more and more people move towards repairing and creating with their own hands then I’d say that’s better for the pocket and for the soul! (speaking of repairs, you should see the pile of cords Richard’s given me to patch up!)
      Regards, Helen

  4. Shannon

    I choose to be positive about this as I see very young kids to college age young adults very interested in woodworking and making things. There is an overall yearning for quality made things that have a unique story. Consider the reclaimed and restored market and the growth of the green movement. The sentiment is there to support well made and appropriately priced items. It will take time for the price tags to match but I do not think that appreciation is absent.

    • Helen

      Thanks Shannon, you’re right to be positive as it’s very encouraging to see younger people in particular enjoying woodwork. The interest is very much alive but I’d say there are two elements here with one being woodworking for enjoyment and the other woodworking for a living. The fact that woodworking as a hobby and for leisure seems as big as ever demonstrates that it’s importance is well accepted and appreciated but it’s difficult to see that working any traditional craft to earn your living offers the best prospects financially. It’s this latter area which I feel deserves to gain greater appreciation. There’s definitely a move in the right direction but we have to be careful that things the ‘green’ movement are used in the right context and don’t just aid marketing of products like Chris mentions which overall have a pretty huge environmental impact.
      It’s certainly great to see the hard work from people such as yourself who dedicate such a lot of time to teach and inspire others and that has to have a very positive effect overall.
      Regards, Helen

      • Shannon

        Very good point Helen, my exposure daily to fellow woodworkers does skew my perception a bit. But I’m referring mostly to the folks I see who visit me at the museum where I volunteer and the people I work with as an internet marketer. The kids at the museum are fascinated. The college age students remark at how crappy most stuff is today and how handmade is what they really yearn to have. In my day to day professional life I see a push towards distinctive, unique styles in design and a premium being placed on custom made and hand made. Yes there is a divide between the people that think this way who are broke frankly and the people who can actually afford custom made goods. The key is that most of the folks I know who do appreciate hand made are young and eventually that wheel will spin and they will be able to afford handmade goods and hopefully teach their children to appreciate it too. It will take a while but we are heading in the right direction. It is bound to happen as quality of the mass produced stuff can’t get much lower right? We have to swing the other way at some point.

  5. Chris Buckingham

    I think we are so “into” this throw away culture that the few of us that appreciate real craftmanship are just background noise,the big furniture sellers are selling to the non believers of this world,and when you see that the car manufacturers are selling cars,that have cost huge amounts in environmental damage,on the basis of being “eco friendly” the whole thing is based on jumping on the green/eco bandwagon,I have seen brand new ,unused kitchens,installed to sell a house,thrown out by the incoming buyer,that is the throw away world some people live in,the fact that most of our furniture is 200 years old,make us somehow strange in todays “modern” society!

    • Helen

      Hi Chris, I think your absolutely right. I feel there’s such a wide stretch between the throw away furniture and that of true solid construction, yet for so many people the only comparison is of the price tag. Perhaps another problem comes from being able to use ambiguous terms such as ‘hand made’ or ‘solid wood’ in product information when it isn’t entirely the case.
      As the minority you may be right in us being strange!
      Thanks, Helen

  6. David

    Helen, you’ve astutely highlighted it’s a two way street. Wonderful article and some of the comments have highlighted some of my views on craftsmanship and quality. Since I make cricket bats it’s very difficult to get away from the idea that they’re tools to expire and not something to be cherished but I won’t give up trying to persuade people otherwise.

    David Wall


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