Olly Writes

Woodwork, writing, walks, DIY and more!

Life Choices: Woodwork

It should come as no surprise to many people that I have talents and abilities when it comes to working with wood. I appreciate there are still likely to be more-recent followers to this blog who aren’t aware of this site and its inception. But for my training as a carpenter and furniture maker, these skills are only fractionally utilised in what I do on a day to day basis.

Still, if I was to shift from my current role in to something different then, looking at things on paper (in particular, my CV and qualifications), it would make the most sense for me to return to one of the woodworking trades.

Carpentry and Joinery

This year, it’ll be ten-years to the day since I finished my three-year Carpentry and Joinery course at the City of Bristol College. By the time that had ended, I already had a full-time job as a ‘trainee’ working within a small local firm, mostly with one of two people. But the experience as a whole was largely negative. I made mistakes in the beginning and was heavily over-criticised for that. As the weeks went on, my boss became even less tolerant and the true bully of his nature was unleashed with a daily succession of abusive insults and criticisms.

There never seemed to be an intention to help me see where I was going wrong or to show how I could overcome my mistakes. I wasn’t good enough and that was his final word. Worst part is, I went on believing this for several years to follow and that ultimately had an effect on my self esteem and confidence.

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Last month, I met a guy who’d previously worked as a site carpenter and he seemed to have been through a similar experiences, relating to three things with an interconnection – carpentry, anxiety and depression. Just hearing from someone else who’d been through a similar experience allowed me to feel a little more confident in my own choice not to simply ‘follow my qualifications’. If the working environment is unhealthy for me then I have a right to avoid it.

In joinery workshops, I’ve often been told that I’m ‘too slow’ and have been criticised for it, albeit without further insults. I have only ever truly enjoyed working with wood in two separate situations – once was at college, the second was at home, in my own workshop. College provided a huge learning experience without the pressure or demand of having to cover costs and satisfy a customer. Within a single car garage, I was gradually able to grow and develop the space and my equipment in to something that worked quite well for me.

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That almost leads us neatly in to the second topic for this post – ahead of which, I would like to state that I left 2015 with the serious thought of joining an agency in the hope of finding work as an ‘improver’ carpenter… I’ve made no practical progress towards this though. Currently, I hold too many anxieties amongst having to buy more tools, whether I’m actually being lured in by the hourly rate of pay and that’s all before thoughts of re-entering what could be a painfully-familiar environment.

Furniture Making

I miss having a workshop, even though I’m not convinced I would have the free time to make good use of one around a full-time job and other interests. For over a year, I’ve held on to a thought about finding a workshop space to rent locally. From a practical point of view though, I do not have anything close to £200-300 to spare from my wages each month, once I’ve paid my rent, topped up the electricity, bills, fuel and added food.

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Back in 2010, after two-years of unemployment, I toyed with the idea of working for myself. Over a twelve-month period, I’d already made a few pieces for friends of friends and such but I wasn’t making money. Towards the end of the year, I got involved with two furniture exhibitions in Bristol, with the hope that potential customers would take an interest and things would begin to kick-off for me… That didn’t happen and, as I very nearly ran out of money that winter, I found myself a full-time job cleaning in a chilled warehouse.

For whatever reason, my phone didn’t ring, the e-mails did not come flooding in and people weren’t desperate for me to recreate the arm chairs and drop-leaf tables they had seen. It appeared to be a similar situation for everyone else who’d been involved in at least one of the shows.

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With my failure to price jobs adequately and estimate the time I would spend making, I also found it an uncomfortably isolating experience. I’ve always been a bit of a loner and I’m not very uncomfortable in my own presence. But even extreme introverts need a little human contact now and again. Spending all-day, every-day in that garage was unhealthy and became a good excuse for me to ‘avoid’ life. If I was to set up another solo workshop and leave my current job, I’d fear the same would happen again but perhaps, with dire consequences.

But I do still dream on the thought of working for myself and having my own workshop. I might consider a shared space in the right situation. It’s one thing to make someone else’s designs but there’s a joy and satisfaction I miss in seeing your own ideas come in to fruition. Again, I just don’t think it’s financially viable right now and so, I try to remind myself something I was told maybe five-years ago – that I am still young and that there is plenty of time for that. I’ve met a number of people, a good decade older than I am now, who’ve left a mundane career to continue life as furniture makers.

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I’m very good at coming up with excuses for reasons not to do this and certainly, not right now. Another would people that people won’t pay for it when they can buy something for a fraction of the cost from Ikea… But I can challenge that with the realisation that other makers ARE getting by. Somebody is buying their work and paying for the true cost of craftsmanship.

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Perhaps it would help it I could subsidise this with another interest running alongside?

Some of those ideas will feature in an upcoming post.

Thanks for reading.

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5 responses to “Life Choices: Woodwork

  1. William Muir 07/02/2016 at 13:50

    I read your post with a great degree of sympathy, when I left school at 15 in Glasgow and started as an apprentice joiner, I had no idea what the working environment was going to be like, the building trade is a hard life at the best of times, in the five years of training I was subjected to much the same criticisms as you experienced, but augmented with threats of physical violence, which were on occasion carried out, I think it served to toughen me up for life in the building sites in and around Glasgow, I must stress I am in no way violent or intimidating myself, but I learned a great deal about life at a relatively young age and a great deal about joinery from some brilliant, inspirational people who would stand for no nonsense from young whipper snappers.
    I would encourage you not to give up, no matter how hard life may seem there is always someone else in a worse situation, keep learning the trade, you will eventually become better and faster with experience and with that comes self satisfaction and a desire to learn more.
    Being a self employed joiner and cabinet maker is even harder going at the start, it takes years to build up a client base, unless you have a few customers to keep you employed you will likely spend the first few years doing work you would rather avoid in order to make a living, again it’s hard but the rewards can be good, now after 33 years as a self employed joiner and cabinet maker I am looking to retire soon, I’ve had employees who showed great promise and some who were hopeless and most in between the two and the occasional rogue.
    It’s not going to be easy, but can’t you get a job with a local joinery firm and do you own work at weekends and evenings?
    Then you can finance your own set up and eventually take the leap when you know you are ready and know you have some work to start with, start small and slowly build up your business, good luck I hope you don’t give up.

    W Muir

    • Olly Parry-Jones 09/02/2016 at 20:47

      Hi William and thank you very much for reading and for taking the time to comment.

      When I first saw your name, I thought you might have been another William Muir – in 2012, I did a evening course in short fiction writing with a man of the same name. I don’t think he knew much about woodworking, though.

      I’m pleased to hear that you found you could take positives from your own bad experiences at a young age. It’s been a few years since I last tried to get involved with a local joinery firm and even then, we were deep in the recession and I just couldn’t find my way in. When I had a workshop at home and was working in the trade five-days a week, I found I didn’t have the same enthusiasm to spend my weekends in my workshop and only ever wanted a break. I see sense in what you’re saying.

      Again, I thank you for commenting. I know I’ll always have the skills I have acquired and the opportunity, therefore, will always be there.
      Olly

  2. celticlass 07/02/2016 at 14:54

    Have you thought about passing on your skills to young people on a voluntary basis, whilst you figure out your next step? You could still do that around a full time job, and as well as improving confidence it might open some new doors for you. Teaching carpentry to disabled students in the evening for instance.

    • Olly Parry-Jones 09/02/2016 at 20:40

      I like the idea. But two negatives I can instantly realise are that it would most likely involve travel for at least ten-miles to the nearest town or city. Plus the fact that my job involves 7am starts and I imagine the whole experience would feel shattering to me. Then there’s my lack of confidence socially. ;-P

      • HayleyC 09/02/2016 at 20:53

        Lots of buts and negatives there 😊 Volunteering can open many doors, and help improve confidence. You certainly don’t have to be an extrovert.

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