image Fine Woodworking Magazine article about The Struggle of Pricing Your Work

The Struggle of Pricing Your Work

For Philip Morley, finding a balance when pricing work has been...


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Phillip Morley’s Three Ring Circus

Unfortunately, being a professional woodworker requires more...


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The Dyslexic Furniture Maker

The Dyslexic Furniture Maker

by Philip Morley

I am dyslexic. . . . Some people view dyslexia as an inconvenience. They imagine simply switching letters and writing numbers backwards. But for me, dyslexia is my life . . . something that constantly hovers around me affecting everything that I do. When I write a post or text, I panic that I have misspelled something or misused a word because I RELY on auto-correct. At the same time, I frequently misspell words so badly that even auto-correct won't pick them up. I am constantly anxious that people will pick up on these deficiencies. I explain that I am dyslexic but I can tell that people are surprised by what that actually means for me. I once had a conversation with a man as he related an encounter he had earlier that day. He ridiculed another man saying, "The guy was illiterate. .. . I mean in this day and age how does anyone reach adulthood without being able to read.??" I remember nodding absently thinking, "You have no idea." My biggest nightmare is being asked to read in front of others. My wife sometimes checks my texts and e-mails for me because sometimes misspelling key words can be unfortunate. Once, I invited a friend over through a text to help work on my deck. My wife burst out laughing when she checked the text because I had mistakenly written, "Can you come work on my dick."  It is inescapably a part of who I am and something I constantly struggle with.

Being from England carries the additional expectation of some sort of innate erudite intelligence. Fortunately, even my accent gives away a more humble beginning. Once people get to know me, they realize that the excuse of "We say it that way in England" is more of a joke. It is certainly true for words like "vitamin" "aluminum" "maths" and "tomato." Honestly, sometimes I cannot remember how a word is pronounced where. But for me it is just another tactic to save what face I can. . . .to laugh off my inner humiliation if at all possible.

Now, I have improved considerably since my school days thanks to many people. My wife has always encouraged me. I received considerable help from the public library. In Florida, a learning specialist worked with me once a week for a year and a half (special shout out to Sarah Karlo). :) I have also learned as many coping mechanisms as I can. But I still PANIC whenever I fear that I am about to be made to feel stupid. Reading in front of people is my personal nightmare. Will someone ask me to read something? Will someone ask me to write something? Will someone notice that I mispronounced a word? And as everyone knows, PANIC is a great way to perform at your best.

Dyslexia is a part of my story. If I didn't have dyslexia. . . . if academics came easily to me. . . . (and if I am being completely honest with myself). . . .I certainly may have chosen a more lucrative career.  But I do love what I do.  My brain definitely seems to be wired differently but I think there is a gift in that. When I started studying carpentry and joinery it came naturally. Furniture making seemed to make sense to my brain. It was something that I was able to excel at for the first time and I was not going to let go of that. I did not become a furniture maker because it seemed  like a romantic career. I became a furniture maker because I was good at it. . . . and for me that was a new feeling. I wanted to excel because I never had before. Working hard actually led to tangible results. So, in many ways for me furniture making is not just a career but a saving grace.

pencil breaking on paper

The Angry Dyslexic Versus the Nuns

The Angry Dyslexic Versus The Nuns

by Philip Morley

In answer to an earlier question. . .  At the time, dyslexia was not well recognized in England and there were no alternate forms of instructions available that my family had access to. As I grew older, the gap between the other students and myself also grew. . . . .a fact other kids did not fail to notice. By the time I was about 11 years old, I had become a considerable disciplinary problem. I constantly got into fights. I think that I was essentially a good kid. But I grew up in a rough part of London and my struggles presented an obvious target. Saving what little face I could meant not backing down. Finally, I was expelled from school. This turned out to be the best possible decision for me.
I was moved to a Catholic school that specialized in students with behavioral issues and a wide range of learning differences.  The decision was not made lightly. My commute was about an hour and a half each way. Academics were pretty much out the window. These nuns were just trying to get me back on track and help me avoid getting into more serious trouble. Fortunately, the school was filled with many compassionate teachers who were on a mission of their own. The mission of the school was to help students with a wide variety of learning differences to regain self-esteem, confidence and to help them develop their own skills and gifts. For me. . . . it worked miraculously!
I discovered wood shop. My teacher, Mr. Richards noticed that I was naturally good at woodshop and I was keen to learn more. He encouraged me on various projects beyond the basic class lessons. For the first time, a teacher began to speak to me about my prospects for the future. I didn't know that I had a future! My focus had been mentally surviving from one moment to the next. But after several years of encouragement, I began thinking about college and considering a trade.
Still, the biggest blessing of this school was that I learned to discover my strengths as a person. . . not just my gifts. I learned that there are many different people in the world who face a wide range of challenges. . . .  many of those challenges were far greater than my own. I also learned to find the gifts within others as well as myself. I learned how to be more compassionate and patient when interacting with those whose challenges differed from my own. I became a mentor to those who struggled more than I did and found that I had the ability to help others. To my continuous surprise, I found that the students facing the greatest struggles often had the greatest degree of optimism, grace, and joy in the face of those challenges. I am always amazed by the same truths found in nature. Wood that has experienced some trauma in the course of its life often turns out to be the most interesting. This growth did not take place instantly. I had many more obstacles to overcome.

man staring a a piece of custom furniture

Educating the Fool

Educating the Fool

by Philip Morley

For some reason, I emerged from childhood (and I think others did too) thinking that if you don't feel like an expert at something then you probably shouldn't do it. You should feel competent in your profession. You should feel. . . well. . .  like an expert. Yet, I know I still have my moments of thinking. . . .Am I really good at this?? I have come to learn that many people feel this way in many different professions. I am always surprised how many people feel like they are not yet quite grown up and simply playing at it. (This is where you agree with me wholeheartedly!)  But in furniture making, where the product of your work is very visible, standards of perfection can be REALLY concrete. Maybe that is why many furniture makers have (at least) a touch of perfectionism in them. But this mind set and perfectionism in general can be crippling if you are not careful. You may fail to try new things then you often fail to move forward. I never feel like I achieve the perfection that I am seeking. Some days, I berate myself, question myself and consider throwing in the towel. . . . . and beating my creation into small imperfect pieces. But then I realize that this is the only thing I am good at and I have to move forward. So, most of the time, I try to use it as a challenge. . . . a goal I know I can never quite attain but one that keeps me moving forward none-the-less.
Because, as we all have been told, mistakes teach us. But if mistakes make such great teachers, why do we dread them so much? I suspect it is because mistakes do not always seem like the kind encouraging teachers that the statement implies but rather harsh teachers that rely primarily on shaming to get their message across. :)
Below is just one example. :) I was about seventeen when I made this. Although I didn't know it at the time, this piece taught me a big lesson in wood movement among other things. :) For some, this probably sticks out to you straight away. But if not, take a look at the door panel. There is a huge gap between the panel and the frame. I assure you that was not by design and was not there when the piece was originally built. This piece taught me in a way that I will always remember, that I need to be conscious of wood movement and make sure not to build with wet wood!


Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Experience is a dear teacher but fools will learn from no other." Yep! I theoretically knew about wood movement, but this piece REALLY convinced me. Beyond wood movement, I think that I also learned to pay more attention to what my mentors said. Surprisingly enough, when I was younger I was sure that I knew better.. . . Okay sometimes, I still do. :) Having never had a problem with wood movement, I assumed I never would.:) Of course, while mistakes are inevitable, some (many even many) can avoided by simply listening to the advice of those who have been there before. More on mentors later. :)

The other benefit of mistakes is that you learn how to fix them. Yes, some mistakes are WAY too big to fix. There have been several heartbreaking pieces that ended up feeding a fire. There is fine line between deciding when to throw in the towel or try to move forward. Most of the time, however, the mistake can be fixed. The cool thing about furniture making is that in fixing in the mistakes, you learn new techniques and brainstorm new ideas that can applied in ANY situation not just trying to correct a problem. Sometimes, you have to go back a step or two but you learn from it and move on. In this pursuit of perfection mistakes are inevitable. I have learned you can either allow the mistakes to stop you cold or understand that mistakes will be made and you will learn from them. A friend once told me that if you feel totally comfortable in your profession then you are probably doing the wrong thing. As I take risks, make mistakes, and try to move forward, I take comfort in this conclusion. I may be really uncomfortable at times as a furniture maker, but I am definitely in the right profession. :P