My Two Extremes

by | Mar 28, 2014 | 10 comments

No…I don’t mean my two personalities.

When I out grew a small home workshop I had to take our business of workbench building to a new setting. I’d nearly always worked in small wooden buildings so moving everything in to a stark breeze block and corrugated metal unit felt alien. The space was cavernous and everything about it was cold and industrial, but this was a new opportunity to make the most of the extra space. I’ve always loved traditional hand tool woodworking but was well aware that the business required me to take advantage of machines. I envisaged that as the business grew the expectation would inevitability be for things to continue in that direction – bigger machines and expanding in to larger workshops.
Creating the new hand tool workshop at the barns recently has been much more of a home from home. The brick walls and oak trusses are inviting and warm through the signs of age. They are to a large extent falling to pieces but somehow that only adds to the attraction for me.
hand tool workshopMy ideas behind these two workshops have been very different, they are my two extremes. One is a space of power and production, the other a place to experience, take in and explore my craft. One workshop created as what I want and the other for what I need.
I noted recently though how despite the increase in production of our business over the past few years, it has not become the workshop that I once envisaged. The industrial setting has not moulded our business it to a manufacturing facility, I seem to have subconsciously done everything I can to prevent this. It seems instead that I have tried to mould the setting in to something more simple.
My small machines have not grown in size as planned but dwindled in numbers, and rather than jigging up and making templates for batch runs I have nothing more than a collection of story sticks jotted down on scraps.
Just like a workbench our workshops evolve over time and right now I feel that the two extremes I thought I had are in fact pulling closer together. Browsing a Felder brochure a few days ago I felt that I have stopped trying to move with the so called times. I am much more likely to dispose of the router next rather than invest in some fancy new kit. Perhaps it is stupidity to move against what I have always thought was right for my business but as things progress I’ve come to accept that I’m just not cut out to be anything more than a simple craftsman.
Given time to evolve I suppose a workshop is not so much what we feel that we need or want but like anything we create, it becomes an extension of who we are.

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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Tony Connolly

    Good man Richard, plough your own furrow.

  2. carter choate

    I enjoyed making the wall cupboard , hope to see another project soon.More workshop pictures please

  3. Micheal Kingsley

    You are what makes you happy. I ran my business with 8 employees at one time, did it for five years. At first it was exciting, could get everything done, ran my butt off trying to keep up. Found that was all I did. Didn’t enjoy it after a while. My people were making more per hour than I was and they got to go home at the end of the day and not worry about how they were going to keep it running. I laid everyone off, moved the business to my home and for the last ten years, I have been enjoying the work, and making enough to get by. Much better than chasing the bull. Keep up what you love, you will get to the end in a much better way. None of us get out alive, it is better to enjoy the journey, it’s really all you get when it’s all said and done!

  4. DonP

    Out times are what we make them. Hard work is not an evil it’s a tonic.

    “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
    ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,”

    Thanks Don

  5. Arthur van der Harg

    So instead of doing what you once thought was right you are now doing what feels right? Sounds to me like experience has replaced what “everyone” says a growing business would do with something that suits *your* idea of doing business. Seems like a change for the better.

  6. Strotis

    Self awareness is a great thing and now that you are realising that you don’t want to high speed high volume world of manufacturing – you may need to rethink your business plan. Videos and education may be your natural area. Good luck.

  7. Jay Brown

    I live in the same relative world. I bought a house a month ago that was built in the 50’s. I am a single man with two kids so i am the king of the castle. In the states some houses have rooms called sun rooms. My house has one but it was built on the side of the house that stays in the shade. This room is great to me as it has heat and AC(great as I am use to working in an open carport. It also has a brick floor and a cedar ceiling. It is my little paradise. I only use hand tools in that room and there is one thing plugged in and that is a radio. My other tool room is in the basement other wise know as the dungeon. That is where the power tools live that eat wood make noise and leave dust everywhere. They have their use but better to keep them out of sight. I think most would call us a hybrid woodworker I call us men with a of passion and a brain that helps with efficiency.

  8. fred

    Work is a drudgery for the vast majority and a means to an end. But if your hobby and job are one and the same you have cracked it with regards to your working life. Funny to mention how you feel in each workshop. I have done both and know what you mean. I am a great believer our architectural surrounding affect our mood and well-being. The more organic and natural the building the better you feel. e.g. a modern efficient house on a housing estate compared to an old cottage with ingle nook fire place, stone walls and exposed beams…. get my drift. Both good but not what makes you really happy. Sounds like your creative and enjoyable side of things is in your crumbling workshop. But both have a purpose yet one fills the soul with joy and the other just convenient. Keep up the good work.

  9. Mitchell

    I like where you are coming from in this post and having given Freud the day off, I will suggest to you that it is what we want to produce and how we want to produce them that are the true extensions of ourselves, with our workshops just being vehicles to help us meet those ends.

    Using your operation as an example; it would be much easier and possibly far more lucrative for you to invest in the machinery that would let you feed raw stock into one end and have cookie-cutter workbenches spit out at the other. Who you are, though, causes you to resist doing that because you want to be a part of each bench you produce, rather than being just another cog in the machinery that produces them. Your current environment of brick walls and oak trusses is conducive to who you are while your past environment of breeze block and corrugated metal is conducive to who you resist becoming.

    I would also like to mention that there is no such thing as a “simple craftsman”.

  10. Michael Forster

    Right with you on this, Richard. I’ve twice turned down what might have been lucrative commissions because they looked like getting me into a world of pressure and deadlines that I left behind when I retired and to which I have no desire to return. My machiine shop has the necessary kit for taking the back-ache out of the work and allowing me to enjoy my small-scale projects in the hand-tool shop. It’s different for me, rather obviously, because I don’t have to make it pay as a main source of income – but when my publisher who has also a church furnishings division asked me how many tabletop lecterns I could make in a year, I decided it was time to draw a line in the sand!
    The other aspect to this: I noticed a while ago that every box I’ve been commissioned to make has had some sort of personal story behind it – a gift for retirement or a new job; memorial box for ashes after a bereavement; a pair of memory boxes commissioned by proud grandparents to celebrate new births – and for me, the privilege of being in a small way part of those personal stories is as important as the craft itself.


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