My Time at Paul Sellers’ 9-Day Foundational Woodworking Course at Penrhyn Castle, November 2014

IMG_3987 copy_a.m. walk to Castle_11:19:14_morning mists

Morning mists along the walk to Penrhyn Castle, North Wales


Part I

Just before setting out for Bangor, North Wales to attend Paul Sellers’ New Legacy Woodworking School 9-Day Foundational Course that was held Nov. 15 -23 2014 at Penrhyn Castle, I said to several friends on Woodworking Masterclasses that I would create a blog and do a write-up of my time there. Well here it is and here we are, all nine of us students, one week later from what truly can be described as an inspirational and, indeed, life-changing experience.

I arrived last Wednesday from Manchester to Newark, and had a quiet time of reflection with family and friends over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Like a mosaic that takes meaningful shape as you stand back from it, the significance of the course keeps growing the more removed in time you are from it.

IMG_3988 copy_a.m. walk to Castle_11:19:14_approaching entrance

The approach to the main entrance. The bright light coming from the window (lower, right-hand side of  main gate) is the workshop.

Paul stated early on that it was his explicit intention to create such an experience. Paul’s 25 years’ experience (since 1989) teaching new woodworkers essential hand tool techniques and skills joined up with a personal (and quite powerful) vision of craftsmanship, of the crafting artisan, and of the way to approach work in general, and hand work in particular, so that the values of care (< Lat. caritas) and love as expressed in the handwork, are held in highest regard. “It’s about getting off the conveyor belt…”, Paul would remark, as he prepared to show us how to pare a housing dado or demo how to do a round-over of the dovetail box lid. Getting off the conveyor belt of punching a clock at a soul-destroying job was an important message that hit home to every one of us no matter who we were or where we were from. It is not what you make but how you make it, was another insight, among many, that Paul also spoke of.

But it was not just, or even mainly, the accumulated wisdom of a multi-faceted life on both sides of the Atlantic, or his perspicacity that he shared with us in an impeccable generosity of spirit that really impressed me the most. Among the most highly motivating and inspiring aspects of my experience with Paul Sellers (as well as Phil Adams and John Winter, his apprentices. John just finished up and left for his native Patagonia, and Phil works there helping students and handling film production for Masterclasses), was the creation of a unique space where unity of thought and action reigned. What am I referring to?  To the way Paul spoke of how not to let yourself as a worker of wood become an extension of a machine, a mere cog in an artless industrial process, and how he actually has been living this ideal, not merely advocating it, by adopting the values of the artisan, in his everyday life. Unity of thought and action. Another take-way from the Course is the wonderful focus, discipline, and joy that I found abundant from the moment I stepped in the workshop. It was perfect for the journey of becoming skilled craftsmen in our own right. All of the above is not to say that Paul did not issue practical and immediately applicable ideas, he did. It was fascinating to hear of how former students of his went back and became successful, well-paid lifestyle woodworkers, doing architectural, custom woodowork for fine kitchens at around $50,000 each, for example.

There was a fellowship that flowed effortlessly among everyone in the workshop, Paul and apprentices included. And Paul has a great sense of humor, too. And there was more – so much more – to Paul’s teaching than the concepts of “lifestyle woodworking”. I will talk a bit about the projects and the techniques we learned in Part 2 of this write-up.