Fit as a butcher’s dog


A very English saying that, and supposed to be complimentary, and certainly my husband wore that one with pride for at least a week! Strong heart and low blood pressure, all good.

We both noticed, when we started training as makers at Rowden, that making furniture is hard work. Especially if you’re focussing 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!

Anyway, there’s no two ways about it, your hands strengthen incredibly, your forearms too, and shoulders, hips, core. Training to be a cabinet maker is a proper workout. 

Except it isn’t a work-out, 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 have it’s toll though, and that’s where it diverges from a work-out. If you think about it, a gym work out 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. 

Compare that scenario to what happens at the workshop. You do the physical work necessary to get the job done, and it 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 no body is going to thank you or what you have done. 

Apart from periodically stabbing yourself with something sharp, must workshop injuries come from accumulated bad practice, bad backs being 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 cabinet maker 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.


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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