Fit as a butcher’s dog

When we started training as makers at Rowden, both Jonathan and I  noticed something: making furniture is hard work. Especially if you’re focusing on learning how to use hand tools. Make no mistake, planing wood for 4 hours a day puts  all sorts of hitherto unknown muscles to work. Sometimes I think Daren, Ed and John are a bit too happy to see the students collapsing after a little bit of hard work!

There are no two ways about it – your hands strengthen incredibly, your forearms too, and shoulders, hips, core. Training to be a cabinetmaker is a proper workout. 

Except it isn’t a workout, not really. It’s just hard manual labour. It’s very (very) controlled, but it is also very physical. To me, that was part of the pleasure of making, that something is created through significant physical effort, as well as considerable mental effort.

It can take it’s toll though, and that’s where it diverges from a workout. If you think about it, a gym workout is designed to strengthen you, but also keep you flexible and balanced, and the sessions are usually carefully orchestrated by a qualified instructor. The last thing they need is for someone to have an injury. 

Back in the workshop…

Compare that scenario to what happens at the workshop. You do the physical work necessary to get the job done. This can be very repetitive, planing for an hour, or sanding for several hours, unloading timber from a truck and throwing it around the machines. Nobody is watching what you do, and nobody is going to thank you for what you have done. 

Apart from periodically stabbing yourself with something sharp, most workshop injuries come from accumulated bad practice. And bad backs are right at the top of the list, along with workshop elbow (a less posh version of tennis elbow), cranky knees and sore shoulders. The physio in Bude has done well out of us over the years.

Jonathan was bragging about how being a cabinetmaker made him officially ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’. His friend stopped him short. He said:

“Don’t mistake being fit because of your job with being fit for your job.” Sage words indeed.

Look after yourself, and don’t go thinking because you can lift stuff you’re in good shape.

Here endeth… etc.

Until next time,



David established Rowden Atelier in 1995, a now world renowned fine woodworking school. Discover Rowden, the woodworking courses, and the work that students go on to do.

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