Tobias George - Woodworker
A chipper fella
What a treat. There are some places that you go and you just smile the whole time. The smell, the temperature, the history, the personality... And I can tell you this chap's set up is a crafters dream. The amazing decisions he has made with where and how he pursues his crafting, is all part of his chronicle. He is full of passion and ideas. It was truly exciting to get to hear some of his journey. His scars and scrapes on his hands, his attention to creating shapes in the wood they all tells stories. Thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with this gent. I hope you enjoy the read...
Q. Who is Tobias George?
Toby. I am Gloucestershire based. My Mum and Dad were creative, with Dad focusing on gardening and Mum doing window displays for shops. Their creativity in our family home had quite an impact on me. Dad was always very practical, an “I'll fix it or make it myself” person.
In my growing up years I used to love helping my dad out and would even take days off school, pretending to be sick, so I could garden with him. My grandfather was also really good with his hands and I loved fiddling around in his workshop.
At school I thrived in the hands-on practical subjects more than the academic. I came out of school not knowing what I wanted to do, except I knew the competition to do photography and design at university was tough. I ended up gardening and landscaping. Then for a year I worked in a dental laboratory which was ridiculous. I was making braces, retainers and false teeth. I usually keep that quiet! I also did an internship doing youth work.
One winter it was dark and miserable and I was bored and, as people were looking for Christmas presents, I made something and started to post pictures on social media, just to show off a little bit. People started asking "how much is this?" and I got a production line going selling what I was making. I continued this into January so that was the birth of Tobias George - in my parents garage over 3 years ago.
Q. So how much of your time do you spend doing it now?
I'm in the workshop as often as possible, and a lot of time has been spent behind the laptop, doing the admin-y kind of stuff and building the website. I usually spend a couple of days a week working with a tree surgeon, and 3 days in the workshop. It's great to have the cash flow from the tree work. It takes a morning to readjust to the studio with it's interruptions and it is tough to get into a rhythm, but then I will work 3-4 solid days there.
Q. What happens to you when your in ‘that zone’ of crafting?
I’d love to say that I ‘switch off’, but I’m definitely not. If I go for a walk on my own, my mind will not stop from spinning and thinking about ideas. So when I’m in the workshop, it's much the same. But there is just so much joy working with your hands, creating and making something. And it obviously comes with its negatives when you put so much time and money into making something and it doesn’t sell, or people don’t appreciate it. Or people do appreciate it and it still doesn’t sell. Getting over that can be a struggle.
A few years ago, a person I had met only once prayed for me. He didn’t know anything about my business, but shared this with me, “Worship God through your business not your business success”. It hit me so hard, and even now I remember that I need to be thankful for the joy in what I’m doing, rather than the finances coming in through it.
Q. So how in this process have you come to define success?
If I have made something, I will be happy, then I can leave the workshop tidy.
Q. What makes you laugh uncontrollably?
[show the photo on phone of a chubby kid smiling down on the viewer with the comment ‘what bacon sees when I’m frying it’ ] It makes me lose it every time I see it. It makes me weak. Little memes. "I try not to laugh too much" he says sarcastically.
Q. On the flip side, what makes you mad?
There is nothing worse than one of those days when things aren’t going right in the workshop. It is best to pack up and go home and get on with something else. I hate leaving things in a mess, tools and products out, but if I’m having one of those days, I just have to shut the door. I can remember a friend telling me, you are more likely to hurt yourself or ruin a product on that day. Just leave and have a bath.
I haven’t done this much recently. Maybe I've just got a little bit more stubborn when things have been going wrong.
Q. What is it about what is happening around the world that you just want to see made right?
I'm a huge huge HUGE advocate of Patagonia clothing at the moment. Their ethics and morals are based on ‘buy less buy better’. Rather than just being a consumer and buying, buying, buying things that we want, we should actually buy really good quality things that we need so that we won't need it again for a while. I had a workwear jacket that I wore all the time, and it has lasted so well. I kept accidentally cutting my t-shirts, so I went back to the company I bought the jacket from. It has the ethics, that if you break it, you send it back and they will fix it. Like with Patagonia, they encourage you to fix all your clothes yourself. And if you ruin it you send it back to them and they will fix it themselves. I cannot talk about it enough. It's incredible. I come across people who say they don’t want to spend 50 quid on a chopping board and go and buy a 3 quid plastic one, then they complain about not being able to find a good quality one. Buy quality and it will last longer. [moving to go and grab a spray paint can] There is a quote on this… “The memory of poor quality lasts longer than the brief delight of it’s low price.” THAT IS SO FLIPPING GOOD! You always remember something that fell apart after 2 weeks. You will always look back on it and be cross at it.
Q. Is this what you aspire to have in your work?
Yeh, I want things that are made properly, that are going to last a life time. That's why I love restoring things. If I go to an antique shop or a flea market, I just find stuff that is so well built and have lasted 40, 50, 60 years already. You give them a jet wash and sand down and they just keep going. This chair here was my great grandmother's [pointing to a chair by the fire]. She bought it new in the early 30’s and it’s just testament to the build quality of that age. It’s rock solid and it’s been through the flipping war! I want my products, even though they are just small things, chopping boards, spoons or weaving looms… I want them to last and be something people are really sentimental about. I love the idea of sentiment and things that have stories.
Q. What is it about story that you love?
When you buy new there is no character. We bought a seat for our house recently, the parents wanted to buy a new one, and I was in an antique shop, and saw this old arm chair, and we had to buy it. You don’t have to do anything for it to fit in. As it's already worn, all ready lived in and loved. You could point out anything in the workshop and it would have a story to it. I love the history. The five lampshades, hanging up there, were from a war time goldsmith's factory. They were wrapped in newspaper from the 40’s. The guy who invented the mechanism for the machine gun to fire through the propeller moved to Ledbury to become a goldsmith and set up this big old barn. He died, and a friend of mine went to go clear it out for an auction. and everything was untouched. The guy's hat and coat were still hanging up on the back of the door. I love the story!
Q. What's beautiful to you?
When you split a log and you see the grain in the wood. People generally see trees as so beautiful from the outside but when you see the inside, the bit that nobody usually sees, it is just as beautiful. When you think that God is the Creator and the detail that he has put into that creation, it just gets me so excited. I am amazed to see the grain and patterns in the wood. I see beauty both in creation and in creating.
Q. What is something that you would love to see happen in this world?
I would love to see people support smaller business more, and not just because I’m a small business. I love to see better quality, better customer service, people working so hard off their own backs to try and make buying a nice experience. I love hanging about with creatives, it’s so inspiring. You can be creative in everything you do. It does mean physically producing a craft, but it could also be in taking notes at uni, your penmanship, your writing… there is creativity in everything, it's just a question of people waking up to it.
Q. What is your craft? How would you summarise what you do?
Oh mate! [laughing] I have no idea! I see friends ask others what I do and they sort of look to me for help. And I love watching them struggle with it! I don’t like saying carpenter, I think cabinet maker, a master joiner… I think craftsman. I hate this stigma that craft has these days of being tat. I would describe myself as a craftsman. Doing woodwork.
Q. Where has it come from?
I was never one of those kids who was stuck inside gaming. I was always outside doing something. Or if I was inside, I was taking things apart. I was always just exploring, tinkling and fiddling. And I think it has all just come from that. Working with wood. What else would you work with?! I love it. It came from helping out with my dad and grandad. I was in someone's house the other day and they were having it painted, and I was like "why doesn’t your dad just do it?" For me it has always been a "just do it yourself!" If you want something made, then just go buy some wood and some screws and do it. Obviously some people are more capable than others. For me it came from the love of doing it myself.
Q. So you're in the crafting zone, no one to distract you, what are you feeling in that moment?
I'm not really thinking about anything else, I get on with the task at hand. I’m just being. I'm more interested in what the product is doing, than what I am doing.
Q. What is causing you, at quite great cost, to start this business?
Because I like it.
I could have got a full time job ages ago. This is the stage at the moment, make or break. I'm 24 next month. I want to start thinking about the future, and I’m asking whether what I want for the future can happen with what I am doing right now. Or is it time to just pack it in, and say it was a good 4 years. So far I haven’t found anything I want to do, except this.
Q. What do you do to push through in resistance to find excellence?
Often letting something sit, and starting something else is a good way. If I can’t see the end product in it, and I’m sort of chipping away for the sake of chipping away, getting away can help you get a new perspective on it. After some time I forget that it was frustrating and get back to it. Frustration holds you back.
Q. In going after your dreams, what advice would you give to people wanting to do the same?
Don’t. No! I’m joking. Persistence is HUGE. I have outlived businesses that on the outside of things were doing far better than I was. They let the business success over-take the joy of the business. I don’t know if it's stubbornness with me. But I see so much more in this, and I want to keep going with it. So persistence, just keep going when it is super tough.
Network. Don’t do it alone. The joy and inspiration that you get from networking can help. Networking can always lead to things. Don’t be afraid to connect with people. If you don’t know how to do something, get someone in who does.
Q. What's the dream? Where are you heading?
In my head.... A bigger workshop. I would love a bigger space where I could just do things. And every day be sending things out that have been sold.
To find my niche. I have found that I can make near enough anything, but I can’t sell near enough anything. If you look at the successful woodworkers they have found that one thing that will sell time and time again, and it won’t go out of fashion and it won’t get boring. So it's finding what is that one thing, a niche. I’m trying to discover that.
Finding something everyone wants, but no one else is doing.