Wood has always been in my life. My old man did it for a living.
I always remember the sawdust in his pockets, and even when he got home, the forgotten pencil lodged behind his ear.
He also had a massive moustache.
It feels very strange when I stop to think. Apart from the tash, my pockets are now full of dust and I’m always finding pencils stashed in my hair.
Woodwork was not a choice for me, more like the only option. On the run up from leaving school I dreaded the day I’d have to start working with my old man.
I’d spent my life watching the struggles of a woodworker. But that’s what you do when you’re not an academic, you follow your old man.
I’ll share those tales one day, those days working with old man John. I could write a book on it.
Everything was memorable, not always in a good way…
The truth is I hated it.
I thought he was old fashioned. I thought I could do it better and faster with modern methods.
But as soon as I went on my own (a tad earlier than I should have I might add), I realised he had it right the whole time.
Since I’m not writing a sodding autobiography, I should probably get to the point.
I never really got a kick out of finishing a job.
I have one of those minds where I know I could always have done a smidge better.
And I’m the first to admit I’m lazy, so I’ve never been drawn to the hard graft that comes with making a living with hand tools.
So what on Earth is it about woodworking that gives me that kick?
To begin it was the focus. My mind shuts off completely to the outside world. All I focus on is the exact job at hand.
Shaving after shaving. Hour after hour.
I’m a slow starter but after a few pots of tea I’m ready to give it the beans, then before you know it it’s the early hours of the morning.
It’s this deep meditative-like, focused state that I get from it.
Strangely though, I don’t really get that these days.
But I do get a different kind of kick.
Since most of what I do now is for making videos, I put a lot more thought in to each process, rather than just going at it willy nilly.
I love trying to simplify right old sod’s of jobs, so that people armed with just a bit of will, could do it too. I like analysing my own processes trying to make sense of them.
The best part for me though is the freedom to continue learning myself.
I’m now researching a lot more on furniture, something I’ve never really had time to think about. And I suppose putting the focus on to building for a builder, not a buyer, if that makes any sense.
I would love to say that the best part is seeing the response and success that so many of you have, but the truth is I still can’t face the fact that so many people give us their time of day.
When I’m filming I’m talking to a couple of people, maybe someone who’s asked a question in the comments.
That’s how I get through it. If I saw the bigger picture I’d be running for the hills!
So I thought I’d put the question out there… What is it about working with wood that makes you tick??
I like the simplicity, the way that you don’t have to go exactly to a plan, there is room for “mistakes” and you can hide glaring mistakes by turning them into a piece of art using inlay, or a shellac filler or whatever else you can devise. I like the exercise and the challenge I get planning wood into boards (from riven green stock) using hand planes. Even when I make an unfixable mistake there is still something to be learned (having to remake something is a good teacher). Anyway these are some of the things that make me tick when it comes to working wood.
John Thomas says
Good Question. As a kid I watched my Dad build things in the garage. Now, most of these things were household repairs. My father was an Engineer for the railroad. Yes, he started with steam engines. His father was Master Plumber. So my background was doing things that involved handwork. So I build a few toys and things with hand tools as a child. They were building new homes a few blocks from our house and I watched the carpenters put the houses together. I had no training building things from someone who really knew how to sharpen tools.
There was no internet in those days. I went on to learn and work in the electronics field. I really enjoyed it but I missed the satisfaction of creating something. I got married in my 30’s and build a chest of drawers for one of my daughters. That was the first piece of furniture I had ever built. That chest is still being used today, about 40 years old.
Since then I have read a lot of books and perused the internet to learn more about woodworking. I had a nice workshop for a while, all the bells and whistles, cabinet saw, bandsaw, planer, etc. I retired and we downsized and moved. I now have one wall in a two car garage that is shared with a car and a bunch of household items (junk). I am learning how to build without power tools. At 75 I am not as strong or fast as I used to be, but I have a lot more time. I still get the satisfaction of seeing something I created with my own hands.
Peter Miller says
I am a retired lawyer. Being a lawyer is really being in the business of finding unique solutions to difficult problems but….. a lot of stress. Hand woodworking is also about finding solutions, figuring out how to correct mistakes, when to re-do or chuck the whole mess and start over. The joy of a “hobby” is that there is no time pressure (except when the wife says “can you make this for me”) and no great financial pressure. So, in a nutshell, this is what makes woodworking my joy.
Andrew Wilson says
I am also a retired lawyer – and fully agree with all that Peter says. The absence of time and commercial pressures are central to my enjoyment of woodworking. The only thing that I would add is that, after a long career of dispensing advice, I relish having something immediate and tangible as the product of my labours.
MICHAEL MICHALOFSKY says
it hurts a bit when you say you gave up your tools
i am 73 almost 74
and i wonder how many years i have left
John Thomas says
I gave up my power tools since I had no place for them. I do enjoy tthe quiet. I could never do this for a living, I enjoy it too much.
ivan walker says
I really enjoyed reading your post, So many woodworkers stories are so different but, there’s ‘something’ that surely unites them, brings them all together like beads on a string, This ‘something’ is so bloody real but apparently so bloody difficult to identify. Anyway, there is that ‘something’ and, whatever it really is, it’s great!
A boat was first. I was maybe 8 or 9 and my father passed away suddenly 4 or 5 years earlier. He had just bought a Stanley #4, a set of 4 Stanley butt chisels, a Stanley 9 1/4 block plane, Craftsman 8pt. crosscut saw and a few other tools. The basement had some scraps of wood and I took some pine, cut a point in it for the bow, cut a small block and nailed it to the top for the wheelhouse and put finish nails around the edge of the the hull with string for a railing. It was mine and I did it with my own hands. I still own all those tools from the mid ’50’s. They are in great shape and still get used. I have other chisels, saws and planes, and I can build chairs, tables, bookcases and boxes, but I will always remember that boat, my hands, the tools and the white wood.
Ivan Walker says
So Dave, that boat, did you ever give it a name?
Great story bro!
Dave Hepworth says
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that I love the smell and feel of wood; always have. I suppose it’s the same reason I like walking through woods and forests.
The second thing I think would connected to what you said about focus; when I’m in the workshop, it’s just me and whatever I’m trying to do; none of the other problems that may be taking up most of my day.
Lastly, I like learning things, and especially practical skills; I sit at a computer all day every day at work, so this is something completely different that requires very different skills.
I do get fed up when I can’t get in to do anything, which has been the case for nearly a year now as the workshop is a 10’x12′ shed that has managed to accumulate a variety of odds and ends that mean I can’t get in; I need to add a 6′ extension to clear out the workshop proper, but I need to get into the workshop to do that …
I retire next year so if I don’t manage it before then, that’ll be the first task on the list.
Ivan Walker says
Clutter in your workshop eh?
There just doesn’t seem to be a workshop in existence, no matter what size it is, that escapes the dreaded clutter. Wee workshop big clutter. Big workshop huge clutter.
Ah! I’ll clean and tidy the place up at the weekend but, we never seem to be able to determine exactly which weekend we had in mind. Are we just conning ourselves?
Interesting topic! I come from a family with no craft orientation. Thus, I have had no experience in or confidence to start practicing any crafting skill.
The main kick I get out of woodworking has to do with the fact that I am so terrible at it. Everything is new and every step of every project challenges me and requires me to learn something new or improve my skills in some way. It is delightfully refreshing and exciting!
I also feel a great sense of pride and joy when I take the stairs to my basement and look at my shop. The thought that I have a woodshop and I can actually build things with my hands is a happy one.
Aaron Sprague says
I read every comment and yours is the best.
Kurt Schultz says
I just have to second that! My stuff is not the greatest….there are mistakes….but holy crap! I made that! And that makes me happy too.
Fred Pierce says
i can relate to your comment regarding the happy feeling you get as you walk down to the basement. I experience this same thing. It’s like slipping on a Cloak of Happiness and Contentment!
Fred Pierce says
For the last 40 years I have been in the sales field. I have seen about an equal number of ethically good and bad people receive top sales results and corresponding rewards. I have generally felt that the primary skill that many of these people brought to the table was a clever mouth with little real concern for others. I yearned for a personal outlet where only true and widespread skills could achieve the desired result. I found that in woodworking. A smart mouth gets you nowhere. Only skills get you to the finishing booth! Fred in Boston
Ivan Walker says
Nice one Fred!
Mike Bullock says
I should preface by saying that for me woodworking is a hobby. As a hobby it has intrinsic value as an “activity’. It is also nice that the activity produces things.
As an activity, I like woodworking because I can get pleasantly lost in it. Both my mind and body find occupation. My mind gets exercised with design decisions, geometry, simple maths with measurements, and similar. At the same time, my body is occupied and exercised. Exercising both mind and body is a recipe for removing stress from one’s being.
I work mostly with hand tools because I appreciate the exercise and connection back to my body. I also appreciate not having to gear up in layers of protective gear or worry about having my arm ripped off by some huge piece of machinery while I’m essentially trying to relax and find joy. I like the flexibility of being able to do more up front design or less- with hand tools there is some latitude to just fit things as you go.
I’ll confess that I also like the tools themselves. I enjoy learning how these tools that have been around for decades and often centuries were conceived, built and used. I spend a lot more time than is strictly necessary, rehabilitating old tools. Richard does a great job of explaining how you don’t “need” to do much of this to get started with woodworking. For me it isn’t about need. I enjoy studying the tools, taking them apart, tuning them, experimenting, etc. This isn’t woodworking. It is a second hobby that dovetails nicely with the other. Since both are hobbies, I can spend time with each as I’m inclined.
Finally, I do like that woodworking produces things. As with a hobby like cooking, there is this bonus that you get something at the end of the day (or week or month). Since I am just a hobbyist, I develop skills slower than someone working hours every day. The things I produce are more perfect or less perfect. Still, I do end up with things that I can keep around me and actually make use of- a toddler tower for the kid, a spoon or three, a bed frame for the kid, shelves for some books, etc. As imperfect as some of my outcomes are, I still end up with things that would cost more than I can afford if I were to shop for items that are solid, fit for use, durable, etc.
These are some of the things that make me tick.
Micheal Kingsley says
I can make ANYTHING out of wood. I learned at a young age… mostly by myself because I didn’t grow up with a father, that if something is broken… I can usually find a piece of wood that will make it work. Even Volkswagen parts! As the oldest and supposedly most capable, I had to fix what was broken, bring in whatever cash I could and watch out for all my younger siblings. Wood always had an answer. And it smelled good, it felt good and I could lose myself in the grain as I worked on it. Upholstery and woodworking came to be my meat and potatoes. As I got older I started using power tools, watching the men I worked with in the factories and saw the mistakes that would cost them their livelihood, fingers, hands and even toes, so I made my own rules. NEVER touch a tablesaw was the first one, although at the age of 60 I decided I could use one safely and bansaws can do anything to wood that you can think of. I got a lathe and got lost for a few years making things with it. Now, sometimes I just go out to the shop and plane a board out of a log, just so I have wood for my next guitar build. I love wood and wood loves me. I guess I’ve become some sort of wood troll.
Don B says
I can make things out if beautiful wood.
I can find Zen just listening to the snick of the handplane while jointing a board!
Requires patience and practice to make joints as perfect as I can make them!
Allows me to dream and plan new projects from a picture or a description that someone wants!
It will remain long after I am dust and bring enjoyment to someone!
I can share my knowledge of woodworking with others and learn new knowledge from them, too!
Paul Sacra says
You ask what makes us tick working with wood… Well, for me it is quite simple. I sat on my backside writing computer code for a living. A job full of stress and deadlines. However, it wasn’t until I called it a day on that job did I realise that I needed to work with my hands and try to build things. I got some woodworking tools and had a go. Not great but I tried. Funny enough, I wasn’t unhappy about my failure. I started watching YouTube to get hints and tips and before you know it I was sawing in a straight line and taking lovely shavings with my planes, but my joinery still sucked. Then I came across your tutorials. Under your tutelage I have started to make things that I am proud of and the wife is impressed too ( that is not easy to achieve ). I am currently making a Tool Chest which will be followed up by a Dressing Table for my lovely wife (Sorry about the previous statement darling) based loosely on your Hall Table.
Due to all the above I am happy, content, creative and satisfied. That is what makes me tick and keeps me ticking.
Thank you for all your help ( past, present and hopefully future).
Ivan Walker says
I think that there might be an encyclopedia of clues in your post. I mean about, what it ‘really’ is that is the great connector, mentally, spiritually and probably physically too for all the people who create with or work with, or just fiddle with, or plane (plain) just waste (no such a thing) wood. I still haven’t got the answer but I swear I know that I’m closer to finding the answer than I was.
Paul Schofield says
About 10 years ago I made two single beds out of oak and elm, mortice and tenoned, held together with homemade steel bed bolts and left unfinished. The elm head board on one has fine pink and blue lines running through the grain. The other has a brown oak head board with little cats paws across it. Other than that, there’s nothing beautiful about them. I basically made it up as I went along, hiding mistakes here and there with a bit of re-design. There’s a few bad judgement calls on display, not least the 3 inch square legs that stick out at about knee height on the footers. Anyway, my girls sleep in those beds now and, of course, think their Daddy is a bloody genius who can fashion amazing objects from wood with his bare hands. They love their beds and I aspire to be that man.
Ivan Walker says
No need to aspire any more. When your little girls say that you are that man then,
John, you are that man! Who, really, when the chips are down, gives a (insert your own word here) what anybody else thinks when your wee girls just know that their old man is “The man”.
Nice post Bro!
John Noble says
For me its the never ending learning curve, the smell of planed pine, the fascinating vintage tools, the vast source of books/ info on the subject but most of all its a way to relax, learn new skills and unwind from work.
I used to be an architectural technician mostly stuck in an office so I don’t come from a trades background but, after deciding I wanted to do something with my hands rather than be chained to a desk, I re-trained as a gas engineer/plumber. Whilst I enjoy it a hell of a lot more than my previous role, I don’t find it satisfies the need to “use my hands” as much as woodworking does. I use a lot of power tools in my job but I don’t much like using them. Using hand tools only in my workshop (well shed!) may be more effort but I get so much more satisfaction from them. So much so I wish I had gone down the joiner/ carpenter route after leaving uni.
In the past I have tended to jump from hobby to hobby but working with wood is the first one that has stuck. I’m attempting to build Richard’s workbench at the minute and the sense of achievement when you stand back and look at what you’ve made with your own two hands is priceless. I love it!
Ivan Walker says
Great post Bro!
Isn’t it funny, how sweating your arse off (and you will when you’re flattening and squaring your workbench top and sides) building something like your workbench, that will be way better than anything that you could buy, building that ‘workbench’ that’ll cost next to near nothing compared to the cost of that bought one that will never be something you’ll be 100% happy with and, we then sort of belittle the thing we produce, the effort we put in and the skill that we encounter and develop (that was in us all the time) by calling it and thinking about it as being the result of “a/my hobby?” ‘Hobby’ and ‘Amateur’ are two words that sort of conjure up the same kind of “lesser in value” sort of feeling, aren’t they? They shouldn.t be!
Back to my point, I got carried off on a Richard just then. (a rant). Sweating your arse off and half blinding yourself into the bargain with the sweat that’s running down your forehead and dripping off the end your nose onto your finished job . . .
it’s just, whatever that hard to find word is, isn’t it?
Aaron Sprague says
I love building things. My profession is in software, I build things all day, but it is all digital. When I get home I love to work in my shop building something I can hold in my hands and say, “see this I built it with that chisel and plane over there.” At first I used hand tools because of how quiet they are. I mostly do woodworking at night in my basement while the wife and kid are asleep upstairs. Now I do it because I enjoy it more, every time I turn on a power tool the noise and dust shocks me and disturbs the piece I get from the creation process.
I come from a family of problem-solvers. Good eyes, good hands, good 3-D-seeing brains. I grew up on a farm, money was scarce, so we had to make do.
Then I got a fancy education, spent my working life at a desk. Now it is such a relief to turn a pile of rough-sawn lumber into furniture that just fits its space, does what it’s supposed to, and looks good. I feel like I’m finally starting to use parts of me that lay waiting for 50 years. I’ve finally come home to my shop and to myself.
Ivan Walker says
I really love your post Judith, particularly the “3D seeing brain” part.
I’ve spent my life in construction or maybe I should write that my life in construction spent me. (Actually, both are correct)
The number of people I encountered on my way, who should have had a brain that could see in the third dimension but, were stuck in the old “Walt Disney” cartoon, “flat world society” condition would leave me utterly dismayed.
Anyway, I’m gone away from that era of my life now and can only remember those days and them there people in fond, two dimensional, shades of grey.
Dennis O'Shea says
I am in my 70th year My grandfather was a master cabinet maker. He also built a few Church Alter’s where we lived .He had quite the reputation also did a lot of historical restoration’s. I was 12 years old when he passed so all this at that time didn’t mean much to me .My dad and him built the first house that we lived in he use to say about my Dad that he’s all thumbs.I first got introduced to woodworking in high school.One of my project a table was put on display for parent teacher night.My father was quite proud. After I got married it was like the switch was turned on we bought or first house I made some cabinets for the laundry room It made me feel good to hear or friends and family say they were beautiful.I would make things for friends a bath vanity a nite stand on and on. And as I grew older and read and watched Norm Abrams on PBS I learned Oh sure there were many mistakes but I learned how to fix them And what great satisfaction that is .Oh I had all the tools Unisaw Planer Band saw Drill press on and on.But then I started to collect and use hand tools it was a whole new ball game.I fell in love with it and the power tools got used less and less I truly could just sit there and make shavings all day with a well tuned plane steel or wood Or better still chop out a mortise with a mallet and chisel I can’t describe the satisfaction but once I get going there’s nothing else there just that and the big smile on my face knowing that my Grandfather and My Dad are looking down and I believe they are very proud .My prize possessions My Granfather’s NO 5 & No7 Stanley Handplanes and three of his hand saws And I know he is there guiding me when I use them! I bored you all enough Thanks for listening One last thing my Mother who is my grandfather’s daughter will be 102 this December when I show her a photo of something I have built she say”s your brains are in your hands
Ivan Walker says
Lovely story Denis.
My mum always said to me, “Son, your brains are in your arse”. I don’t think she like me very much!
Anyway, I loved reading your story Bro!
Good luck Denis.
Andy K. says
The main thing is the total absorption in the task. There have been times when I’ve thought, “That was a productive 40 minutes” but a look at my watch shows it was two and a half hours. That level of concentration on something real – as opposed to abstract – does the soul a lot of good.
Secondly, there is the slow acquisition and then polishing of skills. For instance, morticing seems to be beginning to fall into place. It is so rewarding to see effort being repaid in improved ability.
Finally, there is the buzz I get from putting two bits of wood together in a joint and – wonder of wonders – they are square first time and need no further adjustment! It doesn’t always happen, far from it, but it’s a similar buzz to scoring a try when I was a lad.
And at the end of it all, you’ve got something to show for it.
Ivan Walker says
Aren’t a “Try square” and a “Try score” really the same thing? As near as damn-it eh?
Enjoyed reading your post Bro!
Meikel Brandmeyer says
I’m a mathematician and work the whole day with dry numbers on a computer screen. In my spare time I was writing software or played computer games. A few years ago I finally jumped the shark: I wanted a hobby which didn’t involve a computer.
I always loved wood. I love taking a walk in the forest. I love to touch it. I love to smell it. I love to work it. Rumour has it that quite a few carpenters were in my family in the past times. So it just seemed to be a no-brainer to look at woodworking for a hobby candidate. I put up some rules. 1) Every tool is allowed, unless it has a cable or battery. 2) I’ve got time… The purpose was to relax.
My first project was a bed frame for my parent’s guest room. I messed up everything you can imagine about such a simple project. Still it’s done. You can sleep in it. It squeaks with every movement. But it’s done. That was totally pushing my endorphin levels through the roof. I had done something! With my hands! I could touch the result! Awesome! It was so satisfying.
Now I want to build other furniture (current project: kitchen chairs) for our needs. This brought in also some politics (I’m sorry): I like the thought of not buying into the consumerism. I want to build (as far as I can) our furniture to last and in a sustainable fashion. Maybe not as chic as from a pro, but made by myself. Also I paid attention to where my tools come from: planes from ECE and Ulmia, chisels from MHG in Thüringen, saws from Thomas Flinn in Sheffield, the drawknife from Arno in France and one or two gouges from Dastra. I enjoy knowing where the tools come from and that all these shops are relatively small, local and have a long history. Shock. I’m a traditionalist! o.O)” Ok. Ok. Enough politics. I’m really sorry.
I watched every handtool video on youtube and elsewhere. I read every book I can lay my hands on. Learning is also part of the fun. So please keep up your good work with the videos! I learned so much from them. (Especially regarding sharpening. It was sort of a problem. But your reality check finally took away some the anxiety. Sharpening seems to attract a lot of perfectionists, who dominate a lot of information with their opinions. That can be very daunting for the novice…)
Ah. Come to talk about videos: Wasn’t there some rumour about a maiden called Helen creating gold with the magic paint in her alchemy fridge? I vaguely remember something… 🙂
Ivan Walker says
I remember that “Helen does paint” thing too! Soooon!
Jim Fellows says
I built things out of whatever was at hand from my earliest years. This did not amuse my parents. My dad had a few tools and a bench because there once had been skilled folks in our family, including a surgeon who built fancy victorian desks with scrollwork. But Dad had no knowledge or interest other than showing us how to repair a flat bicycle tire. I was awed at his skill, but that was pretty much it. By high school I was fascinated with musical instruments. But I also had a teacher in high school whose husband was a sculptor and he set me up with two gouges, a mallet, and a few hunks of cherry from an old tree in his yard. That was my start and he was my first mentor.
In college I took a do it yourself instrument making class and learned a bit from those who had read a book on the subject. The term blind leading the blind comes to mind.
Then I ended up in Spain and picked up a high end guitar in a shop in Madrid…. It was almost weightless and the french polish finish and body sharply resonating in my arms made a large sized dent in my imagination that remains to this day. Soon I was in Granada and watched many makers building on the street going up to the Alhambra. I saw things that amazed me and they generously explained and answered questions. So, I was confronted by a real instrument and then by real makers from a tradition going back hundreds of years. Almost no power tools existed in those years in Granada, thank god. I came back to Spain after building a few instruments on my own over the next year. The third one actually looked reasonable.
This time I found a mentor who showed me every single thing and welcomed me into his shop for as long as I wanted to stay. Then he introduced me to amazing artisans whenever I expressed an interest. I was lucky, I felt like it was my destiny and fate cooperated.
Returning to the US presented some serious problems: no one to ask questions (and get expert answers — calling Spain was not an option as there were no phones in those guys shops) no other builders to share ideas, hard to find good materials, and far below poverty wages even after I built instruments for a famous player. Strike three was that my potential customers were a bit simple minded, as there was no history of building Spanish guitars and actual knowledge in the US. So they all insisted on guitars made from Indian rosewood in the style of the times — the only years of the twentieth century when guitar making had actually fallen into a bad way. They tolerated a french polish finish, but would have preferred thick lumpy sprayed nitrocellulose had I offered it. It soon became clear I needed to either build violins or steel string guitars, preferably electric guitars exactly like the ones coming from factories 20 years earlier. Instead I chose a different career.
Forty years pass. Three years ago a friend mentioned that he knew an American making classical guitars in Florence and that I should take a look online. I found things had changed: knowledge was everywhere, everyone was french polishing, and interesting woods and ideas were being celebrated. Prices seemed extraordinary. After finding that a tree in my own yard had spectacular wood I could not find anywhere else, I was sold. So, I decided to return to my old passion with a far better sense of how to sort out obstacles. I have never been happier and tracking down types of wood no one else is using makes my day. Plane shavings make me giddy. Thanks to Richard I have sharpening skills to match some of the ornery yet gorgeously tortured wood I am working with! Challenges are so much better than being told to do less than you are capable of. I keep finding the one person with the wood I need, or the one guy who knows how to do something no one else does. These convince me I really am on the right track.
Normand Painchaud says
For the last 45 years or so I have been working wood. First it was a hobby then it became my second carrier as a woodworking teacher at college level. I have done almost every thing in the field and at 70 I am still in love with the craft. My next project well under way is setting up a community workshop in the small town where I live. Of course I will give a large place to hand tools. I use both machines to save my energy and hand tools a lot. I even made infill planes after Bill Carter who I had the honour to meet last year.
I appreciate very much websites like yours that maintain the spirit of things well done . Following the rules of the art and transmitting the passion to newcomers as well as to old timers.
Keep on the good work.
Normand Painchaud Montreal
There really aren’t that many of us! But it’s proof that what you’re saying and demonstrating resonates with a wider audience.
Derek Bayley says
I love the feel, smell and sensations of working with wood, although most of my work is done using table and band saw, planer and router table I still use my hand saws, planes and especially chisels, regularly.
Although I use the electric option for speed and accuracy in my own case, I love hand fettling, it feels connected somehow, or am I just a romantic old fool? maybe.
Since I’ve been following your videos and bought the sharpening series I now regularly sharpen where I would have previously made do, Thank you for that. that alone lifted my confidence a couple of notches.
J. M. Kennedy says
I “get lost” in my shop. I love every phase of designing to finishing. Even sweeping out the shop and finishing up for the night can be meditative and fulfilling.
This next draw to woodworking surprised me – and it wasn’t even an initial draw to woodworking for me, but has been something I’ve noticed a few years after building: I woodwork in my mind all the time. Antique shopping with my wife – I get lost in wondering how the furniture was made. Visiting a large convention center – I think of how I would construct it or add the finishing trim while walking the halls. Everywhere I go, I find it joyful to look at all kinds of things (even metal work, etc…) and to analyze it from a builder/designer perspective. I hate being away from the shop for long periods, but it is just as fun to view the world as a builder/designer as it is to work in my shop.
I have always been drawn to woodworking though I’ve never really thought about why. Real life got in the way of me doing anything tangible about it but whenever I wanted to imagine another, different life, it would be one where I was creating something beautiful made of wood. “One day, one day”, I’d think.
But things are slowly falling into place and that day is coming closer. I’ve made the Spoon Rack, two side tables, the Hall Table and a couple of other small ‘pieces’ I designed myself. They’re not like, beautiful, but they’re pretty good and I’m very pleased with them. Everything I’ve made so far is being used which gives me a big kick. I enjoy learning how to use the tools and love the feel of them in my hands. I study the timber I have acquired for a project and try to figure out how to get the best out of it, even whilst knowing it’s still a mystery. I even appreciate the tough reality that dimensioning wood from the raw board by hand is hard graft (certainly with my current level of skill) but, once it’s done, rubbing my hands with glee because the best bit – the joinery – can now begin, but carefully. That I’m learning all the time is the thing I think I love the most. Not just the technical skills but the mindfulness and the realisation that what I’m doing shouldn’t be hurried and subject to any deadlines. That’s liberating. There are light bulb moments which only occur by actually doing. When they happen, I get a small insight into what it must be to be a craftsman. I like it when that happens.
As a physician and surgeon, I work with my hands all day. Woodworking with hand tools is an extension of that, but is completely relaxing as opposed to the stress associated with my day job. I absolutely love the feel of handplaning a board and shaping it into what I want. There is a connection to the wood you get when you “touch” it with hand tools that doesn’t come with machines. What a wonderful hobby!
Started work at a restorers bench in ‘61. Motivation and the “tick” element has evolved over the years. But now? Well! I can be found on occasions to feel vaguely content with the practicality of what I make, as well as the shape and balance of where the thing I make sits.
I enjoy the sketching, the order, the logic, the thought, that goes into its making. The long practiced brain grooved and fluent use of keen tools in my own still strong hands, tools that are old friends. The accumulation of knowledge that allows mistakes (the mark of human kind) to be understood and tolerated. The privacy of mind that making engenders.
I guess that makes me feel OK.
Love the post! Keep em coming.
Marcus Aurelius once said, “Give yourself a gift: the present moment.” Woodworking brings the present moment. Head down, focused on the task at hand. No worry about the future or past. That’s bliss. What’s even better is you’ve got something to show for it. You get the present moment, as well as a chair, or table or whatever. How cool is that?
Indelible, that’s what also makes me tick. Woodworking helps feed the ego because I build to last and I know my work will be around forever.
Now, what are your thoughts to my post?
Scott Smith says
I work at a thankless job everyday. The same thing everyday. I never seem to get anywhere. My time in the shop is incredibly rewarding. Even if my pace is slow and it seems like it’s taking forever to make any progress, it’s that little bit of progress that keeps me coming back. Like Richard said. It’s the focus that is so appealing. I totally forget about what happened at work. It’s kind of like therapy.
I like making whatever I can make rather than buying it. Not too much falls into that category though. I like making furniture and toys for my daughter. Its fairly rudimentary, but it holds, and I make it partly with my grandparents’ tools. Animation pays the bills, and working with wood frustrates the hell out of me. I do NOT come by it naturally. Years of doing this and I still make dumb mistakes. Just yesterday cut a dozen dovetail pins on the wrong side of the line. Cut baseboard a quarter inch too short. I make myself nuts.
I’d like to make something really beautiful like a chair or a desk. Knowing how use my hands keeps me going. Not knowing how to work wood well keeps me learning.
Edward in Vancouver says
I am a pastry chef by profession, and while there are a lot of similarities with woodworking, ( each ingredient/ species of wood has its unique characteristics) in order to make a living you have to have several things on the go: something in the mixer, in the oven, on the bench, proofing, freezing, thawing, ready to be enrobed in chocolate, etc.
With woodworking you can only focus at what you are doing right now, nothing else! Sure, you can have stuff in clamps, but it can stay in clamps until next week, it’s not time sensitive. For me, to focus on only doing one thing—say, sawing a tenon cheek, is a real luxury.
Edward in Vancouver
Jeth Bartlett says
I would say the holisticity of it, if that makes sense.. (I think I made that word up, but forgive me, I am English but its not my first language these days)..
What I mean is that it exercises our full range of abilities. There is hard physical work, it’s good to sweat from time to time (or most of the day if you live in the tropics like me) .. There is plenty of mental exercise too..problem solving, maths and standing around staring and thinking.. And sensory stimulation, smells, textures. On top of that you have an artistic/creative component which you can involve or ignore as much as you are inclined.
I love feeling aware of that process of learning.. not learning from information but the incredible way our bodies themselves learn and can be programmed to carry out complex tasks almost automatically.
I make a living at it and on that side I would find it hard to think of anything else I would feel right doing.. The world is a funny place these days. It’s all about pulling one over on everybody else to get ahead. With woodwork I feel there is no bullshite.. Nothing more honest than making something with your own had, hands and heart then flogging it to someone who wants it.
So, for me it ticks all the boxes.. but I still spend half my time wondering what the hell I am doing with my life ..ahaha
Always happy to see content from you in my feed Richard.. Really enjoy your attitude and point of view..
I make shavings and dust as a hobby. My brother got me into woodworking 15 yrs ago. He too is a hobbyist. We made (I followed instructions) a bed for my daughter and I was hooked. I am a little OCD when it comes to sets of things…got to have a complete set of whatever I’m into at any given time.
Currently, i have a hybrid shop, but the Stanley Hand tool bug bit me and my walls and bench are littered with old Stanley planes and just about any other vintage tool I can aquire. Im slowly trying to move into hand tool work as primary.
I really dont know what drives it, i just know I’m going down the road. I have done some restorations and made a gun cabinet for a friend, but mostly I build for my home/shop. Maybe its watching the projects come together or the smile my friend had when he saw the gun cabinet. I made for him.
Like you, I am rarely satisfied as I know where every flaw is and I beat myself up about them to a fault.
Matt McGrane says
What is it about working with wood that makes me tick? The challenge. The learning. The satisfaction of having made something that is beautiful and functional and will long outlast me. And I love being with my tools.
Randy Owens says
It is the beauty of the wood. The personality, the wood grain. No two pieces are exactly alike, not even a bookmatched pair of wood panels.. Even though they reflect each other, they are still just a bit different than each other and it is that difference I find exciting and stimulating.
That is what keeps me coming back to the workshop to work with wood and find out the personality of each piece I use.
Michael Ross says
I like the planning. I like learning to use tools well. I like producing what is in my head or on a sketch pad. I like the sense of accomplishment after. I like the conversations that come from it. I like seeing what is inside a piece of wood. I enjoy the quiet solitary work, and I too like to get in a groove and work until the sun is near rising.
I would not like making videos, I really enjoy watching them, dreaming and planning. I am very grateful you are enjoying making these super interesting and useful records. Please keep doing this for a long time.
Stephen Melhuish says
What is it that I love about woodworking, so much really. A lot of it is locked up in experiences and memories of the past, the joy of learning from teachers at school, my father or just being around and watching an uncle or my grandfather. It starts with the inherent need to make things, a go kart, bow an arrow, whatever it initially was it was fun with no pressure, if you made mistakes it didn’t matter because you always enjoyed the end result no matter what.
To be honest deep down the same thing applies today although I get a further kick out of making something more polished.
The main thing is to escape into a world of tools, wood and a project to end up with something useful again, all the other things add to it, the beauty of wood grain, using my hands, adapting different tools for different tasks, the scent of wood. I guess all of these things usd our senses it makes you feel alive and useful. It’ll never diminish.
Cheers Steve ???
I think that in simplicity is beauty, I work all day in some office I have pain in my back and in my head…:)I dedicated one room in my house to be my woodworking shop. (till I finish the one planned on the yard).
Once sometimes twice a week I have the chance to be in my shop for almost the whole night, the most peaceful moments of my life. I had to find the way to avoid banging on chisels and assembly work(my family is sleeping above this room). It is a challenge to find another way of doing things, to make the joints more precise so I can dry fit them by hand and take apart easily.
I have realised that it doesn’t really matter what I do, it can be joinery, plaining, sharpening or restoration work I enjoy every moment! I always feel like I have found peace in my life.
Are you asking about woodworking in general? Or specifically with hand tools? Because there are different reasons for both for me.
Michael Ballinger says
It’s been transitional for me. It started when I designed a crest for a national school that was established in 1818. I wanted to make it out of wood, without using CNC or laser techniques. So I began digging around to work out how it was done back in the day. Next I discovered joinery and it captured my imagination. That feeling when to parts are cut and united.
I have always been quite disconnected from myself, which I only became aware of in the last year. I have been using woodworking with hand tools as a vehicle to connect with myself. It’s that zone where I’m focussed on the material, what’s happening in the grain, feeling for resistance and adjusting, feeling the saw and plane as it works and tuning into myself all at the same time. There was a time where I tried to work fast, I’ve learnt to slow down and tune in and ironically I’m faster as a result because I make less mistakes.
As a medium in itself there are few if any which have had such a long and associated history of usage to enable our species to attain such knowledge by association and then in a modern context almost lose it, as we apparently progress. The knowledge, the skill, the practical application, the methodology, the tradition, the greater understanding and the boundaries which can be reached and then reset to be further reached through a conduit which is another lifeform of our planet has a draw which other mediums do not to me. Working metal, stone, fabric, clay, earth, plastics, leather, paper etc all have a place in my personal world. Working wood resonates and entices, asks questions, provides answers, confounds and challenges, and it engages, on multiple levels, which is why you could write, rant, educate and if I am open enough, enlighten me on pretty much anything to do with the subject Richard. You engage people because of who you are , genuine like the medium we all love to work, not like the thin veneer covering the crap underneath from a flat pack * which serves a purpose in some way but has little to no character often pushed by people of a similar ilk. Look forward to hearing more about your Dad and your journeys as well as the education about the craft.
*Disclaimer- I have used quite a bit of composite material prettied up with a variety of surface coatings to good effect and understand the reason for its existence and that a lot of it actually is constructed of wood based material. It just doesn’t engender the same response from me as solid timber. A lot of it sucks when worked with hand tools as well.
I remember clearly the day in 1956 that my dad rolled a Shopsmith up the driveway and into the garage. My 11 year old mind was awash with visions of possible projects. I wanted to build a canoe, a sailboat, a cabin, bunk beds for me and my brother and a bi-wing glider to soar over my suburban hometown. Dad”s interest in woodworking faded after a few years but I have remained smitten with visions of what I can make out of the amazing material that is wood. Now, 61 years on from that memorable day, I still find great satisfaction in visualizing what I want to make and then making it. The process of building, start to finish, is meaningful, satisfying and fun. I love the material more than ever just for itself and the hours spent in the shop are both energizing and calming. Without woodworking in it, my life would be lacking a dimension. Oh, and the spirit of other woodpeckers, as the posts to this site attest, is a great encouragement. Being part of the tradition and community of woodworkers is definitely part of what keeps me ticking.
Paul Dallender says
Being brought up in a single parent family and with very limited finances, my brothers and I did the best we could to help mum keep the homestead from crumbling around our ears.
That stood me in good stead for when my partner and I had our first house. It was a struggle and after paying the mortgage and bills again money was very tight. None left for ‘tradesmen’ if we needed anything doing and so out of necessity I very quickly became a reasonably proficient DIY er.
Like many I was a desk jockey all my working life, but then at 57 I retired and vowed the moving picture box in the corner of the room would not be my master. I love antique clocks but never had the money to buy a decent one. But I found a 1920’s pendulum wall clock going for a song (£30) on Gumtree which when I got it home I could see it was in need of a lot of TLC (well what do you expect for 30 quid I hear you cry). I managed to get it going, but upon closer inspection saw the case was, well, as Richard might say…buggered! Woodworm holes, split joints and a couple of very bad repair jobs. In fact the quality of the whole job looked like a George the V version of mass produced MFI.
Looking at how it was put together I thought perhaps I could do a better job and so set about searching the internet for guidance, where I came across Richard and another woodworking guru (Paul Sellers) who set me on the path I now tread.
Never having presented a plane or chisel to wood in anger, my first task was to build a workbench, planing, sawing, laminating and chiseling mortise joints, and bringing an old 1950’s record vice back to life to complete the job. I’ve also made a saw till and a plane till too. They may not be perfect, but it doesn’t matter, the point is ‘I made them!’ and they will probably last longer than me but more importantly, it has given me the confidence to start on something with a bit more finesse….that clock case.
I love the serenity of working with hand tools, the smell of the wood, the unhurried pace and as others have said, what starts with an intended hour in the workshop often turns into 4 hours before you know it.
If I’ve learned one thing since starting woodworking with hand tools, it is this…….If there is something you want to do and are physically able, it is never too late to start, because be it for 6 months, or 10 years, doing something you love no matter how good or bad you are at it, is better than never doing it at all.
My aim is to try and at least make something for every room in the house before time, health or both, prevent me from doing so.
Thanks to people like Richard and Paul Sellers, there’s a very good chance I’ll achieve it…..and a lot more.
Ivan Walker says
A very nice post Paul. I really enjoyed reading it.
Tom Angle says
I really do not like working with power tools. I find the noise distracting and it seems empty to use them.
I have been working in the IT field around 20 years. It had lost if flare quite a few years back. I am really hating the chair, the cubical, lack of anything real and the working class people (I use to be one and am out of place). So whatever I can do to escape that, I do.
Working with hand tools relaxes me. I can mentally reflex on things and just live in the moment. Then there is the challenge of it. I am not very good at it and I want to be. So this drives me and I like it. In a way I really would like to get to a very simple life style. I guess a job at a place like Colonial Williamsburg would be a good one for me.
I also like old things and shopping for old tools is very enjoyable. I just try to imagine who held the tool, what was build with it, where all did it live… I do with just walking down an old path, standing in a old building and such. I love history.
My father was a cabinet maker but he wouldn’t let me touch power tools until I was grown up. He made me learn the use hand tools saying that I could do anything with them that he could do with his machines. Now I have a skill that I can take anywhere even in my own shop when the power is off. I can also put on demonstrations like Roy Underhill although I don’t cut my self nearly as often. In Roy’s defense I’m not as pressed for time as he is.
Simon Wray says
I think you hit the nail on the head Richard. For me, it’s the whole shutting the world out and focusing on the task at hand. Every time I go into the garage/shop, which also serves many other household needs….storage etc……it’s like a magnate drawing me in. When I know it’s time to put away the tools for the day, there’s always the “let me finish ONE last thing” thought that is quickly followed by another and hey presto another hour has evaporated. Beyond the meditative quality, I enjoy the project concept and development phase, I love learning about wood, my tools, and my expanding/improving my skill set. I even enjoy the many screw ups…..well maybe not initially……but figuring out an implementing a fix is very rewarding. Few things in life fulfill me as does woodworking.
Ditto for me- On good days, my mind focuses, shuts out the world, and gives me a break from its critical assessment of all and everything. Unfortunately, the more I learn and the better I get at things, the more I cannot get away from that critical, reflective, evaluative voice, but I still like woodworking because there are still moments now and then. So, I hope to get back to the beginner’s state one day. I am grateful for Julian’s comment. It is insightful and gives me hope. Maybe I can come to a state of “knowledge that allows mistakes (the mark of human kind) to be understood and tolerated.”
Richard Leppard says
For me it is just that smell you get from the different species and the grain pattern….that really does it for me….you never really know what is awiting under the surface.
For me it is coming full circle. In school I had four years of industrial arts,drafting and woodworking. After I worked a number of trades, always learning best through my hands. Moving to the country after buying a farm (a steep learning curve with no farming experience.) once again learning through hands on. Have backed off on the farming in order to spend time in my wood shop. A forty four year journey to the life I was looking for, peace and the smell of fresh cut wood.
Ivan Walker says
“A forty four year journey to the life I was looking for”.
Have you been living in my head Bro!
All my life I wanted to work with wood and I knew I’d love it but,
all my life I worked with steel and concrete and I knew I hated it.
Now, “Free at last, free at last”.
I wouldn’t set one of my little toes back in my old business even
if I had a guarantee that every penny that I wasn’t paid then I’d
get now. The better part of my life imprisoned, thinking I wasn’t.
Richard, in video #3 of the workbench series:
“I like gluing up, I like getting things together. It kind of feels like getting rid of all the little problems in your head, sort of just turning them into one manageable problem.”
You may have only been referring to gluing up a bench, but this nicely sums up how I look at woodworking as a whole in my life.
And working with hand tools is just so much more satisfying than with power tools. I knew it the first time I picked up a hand plane and took a few first strokes.
Vlad Rasper says
To be honest, sometimes after a hard day’s work pushing paper at a desk, I go to my works shop and just make shavings with my planes or bang out some dovetails. Most of the time I don’t actually build anything but I love the sound the plane makes, the sight of curly shavings piling up on the floor, or the satisfaction when I can’t see any light coming through between a pin and a tail. Does that make me a bad person, or just a woodworker without a cause?
Pete Williams says
It pays the bills.
Len A says
I had not seen this post before today – what a fascinating read and I must come back and read all the contributions.
I wondered why I had missed this post from Richard as I am an avid follower and then I saw the date it was posted. Just a few days after my son was killed in a road traffic accident. The weeks after are still a bit of a blur so I am not surprised I didn’t see the post. I only found the link today by reading today’s post and then seeing the link to similar articles. so I am rather belatedly catching up now. More from me later.
John D says
For me it was a combination of things. My dad and grandfathers all like to work with their hands, either professionally or avocationally. I went into archaeology and despite the “academic” aspect there are lots of hand jobs and the revelation that some of the things they taught you in school are actually useful. Then my wife and I bought a house built in 1929, and it needed work, mostly finish carpentry – replacing strips of hardwood floor, unmangling mangles created by previous owners, and replacing some of the original work, doors and drawers in built in cabinetry that had aged badly. We could pay for it, or I could learn and make it. Making it was more fun, and even wasting wood to learning mistakes, it was cheaper than hiring out. The quality was also perhaps a bit higher.