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Paul Sellers & My Start in woodworking

There is only one post that is the right first post for my blog on woodworking. It must be about Paul Sellers. I’d been interested in hand tool woodworking for years before finding Paul Sellers online. Why hand tools? Well, I didn’t have the money to spend on power tools or the space for them. I remember reading Peter Korn’s Woodworking Basics – Mastering the Essentials of Craftsmanship, in which he explains how to square wood using hand tools and power tools. I read the book and thought that I could do it. After making a list of the minimum tools needed, I bought them from my local woodcraft store and picked up a workbench from harbor freight.

My first attempt to square a board was a complete comedy of errors. The harbor freight workbench was very light weight and completely inadequate. As I tried to plane, the workbench would slide back and forth… I can recall the frustration. That workbench was donated to the trash. The hand plane was a totally different issue. I disassembled it to sharpen the blade, which I really didn’t know how to do, and after a decent attempt at sharpening I confidently re-assembled the plane with the blade upside down. With every thrust of the plane forward, it felt as if I was planing a railroad. The chatter was unbearable. Well surely, I was just planing against the grain? Flipping the board over, I came to the realization I was in over my head when my plane dug in and went nowhere. I needed professional help.

My first woodworking lessons were the opposite of what I needed. Searching online, I found an amateur woodworker who gave lessons in his home garage workshop. I signed up for three lessons, and they were all about the different machines, how to use them safely, set them up, and of course the tricks to get the machines to do what you want. It was hardly satisfying. At the end of the last lesson, I asked him if he could teach me how to cut mortise and tenon and dovetail joinery. He looked at me shocked and said, “by hand?”. Confirming that I did in fact want to learn to do it by hand, he said no one did that. After he finished show and tell with his dovetail router jig I realized I was in the wrong place. He left me with one last gem of woodworking wisdom. He said it was a waste of time to cut mortise and tenon joints. He preferred to screw the wood together and then paste a rectangle of end grain onto the outside of the joint to make it appear like it was a mortise and tenon. Despite these lessons being more helpful in showing me how I didn’t want to work with wood, he did tell me about “the guy online that does hand tool woodworking in a castle”. He didn’t know his name, but it stuck in my mind. That was my last lesson.

I found the “guy in the castle”. The castle was Penrhyn Castle and the guy inside was Paul Sellers, a self-proclaimed amateur woodworker, who had started making instructional woodworking videos with his son. I started watching all I could. Videos like, how to set up a hand plane, how to sharpen a chisel, and some of his introductory projects. I signed up for woodworking masterclasses, his paid subscription, which at the time was required to access many of his projects. Paul has no doubt found tremendous success in his online woodworking instruction. Many of his projects are now free to access which is a testament to his generosity and overall goal of teaching as many people as possible the ways of hand tool woodworking.

I now had a sharp plane, and transparent thin shavings came flowing out of the throat of the plane. I’d found my teacher. Check out Paul’s site. He writes a great blog, where you learn a lot about his personal reasoning for woodworking the way he does. Even if you don’t necessarily want to go out and do woodwork, if you enjoy learning you will likely find his videos interesting.

Here is his video on setting up a hand plane, for any of you just getting started:

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