Not the retiring kind

There have been many times when I’ve thought, “This is not good”. One was when we stopped referring to people as people and started calling them consumers. Another is when we began to call the older members of our society senior citizens.

I know this is supposed to be respectful but it always struck me as exactly the opposite. I have always felt that this is a way to sideline older people in a culture in which youth is the Holy Grail and age is considered a disadvantage.

In some cultures, older people are still valued for their wisdom and experience. In many cases, true mastery is thought to come only with many years of time on task. Some of the most respected names in woodworking were those of venerable makers who had spent a lifetime learning and perfecting their art, such as Sam Maloof, Jim Krenov, George Nakashima, Tage Frid and Toshio Odate. These were not men who retired at the age of 65. In fact, they all stated at various times, in one way or another, that they felt that they did not even hit their stride until that age.

When you think about it, spending a lifetime mastering whatever line of work you have chosen, only to abandon it at the very point when you have reached true mastery is sheer folly. Even if you slow down a bit and spend the remaining years passing your knowledge and skills on to the younger generations, it would seem to me, much more productive than spending the last third of your life clogging up freeways with bus-sized motor homes and overpopulating Florida.

And don’t even get me started on senior retirement communities. If that is not hell, then hell does not exist!



  • Jerry Finch says:

    Go David! I have always felt that “senior citizen” was somehow demeaning. The fact that I am 70 has not changed that opinion. I also see folly in putting the best talents in any field “on the shelf” at a certain age. That concept is rooted in the arbitrary age of 65 selected when Social Security was enacted, and is part of the nanny state philosophy.

    For myself, after developing my woodworking skills over 40 years, I continue to work at
    some project every day. I am fortunate to volunteer at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum, restoring the woodwork and furniture in antique wood-framed railcars. Last year I reproduced a table and desk from original Pullman Car Co. drawings from 1911. I also still occasionally work as a training consultant with various woodworking companies.

  • As one approaching 65, I agree totally. Though I will change my focus (fewer 10-12 hour days) I intend to continue learning and making a creative and useful contribution as long as I am able. Older people tend to be roughly the same as when they were young, so classifying them as a group is pure political expedience. We need to interact with one another as individuals at each stage of our lives, which will benefit everyone.

  • Mik E says:

    Absolutely correct. You have to take things down a notch or two, but quitting is not an option. I will quit when they pry my cold dead fingers off my nail gun!

  • Don says:

    I’m with you on this one. I didn’t start woodworking seriously until 10 years ago. I am far from being a master but I strive to be. I continue to learn and practice in the hope that I will at least become proficient. I will turn 62 this year and I wish I could afford to quite my “day job” so could devote all of my time to becoming better at what I love to do. OLD? The hell you say.

  • John Gresko says:

    Well said David, I am in agreement. While I am not in the ranks of the men you mentioned, I am a competent woodworker. Back in the day, before all the gadgets, German engineering, and cnc. I, we made do nicely. Before all the companies making everything ie drawers, etc, came to be. I made all my drawers and doors for my built ins on site as well as fabricate shaped woodwork. I had a few good mentors that got me started and read many books written by some of those people you mentioned. Without them, I would not have been able to do what I have done. Thanks for the reminder.


  • Jim Allen says:


    Well Said.

    Jim Allen

  • I’m 84 years old and have a lifetime collection of tools in my large workshop. Last week I delivered two major furniture projects to our daughter. She was delighted to have them and I was delighted to see them done. I am reluctant to start another major project because I am making more mistakes and spending more time re-engineering projects to get them done. I love woodworking , but I think I would be happier if I con centrated on smaller projects like wood turning, carving, and maybe even sculpture of sorts. It’s amazing what can be made with scraps of wood confiured into some design. I like to make fireplace sculptures that can sit in the fireplace for a while before watching them burn.

  • bob harper says:

    thank you very much,most youngsters don’t even know what end of a board to put into a plainer or why you do i that way. i have found that when trying to teach most it is not important to most how a tree grows, what moisture movement can do, why humidity is never blocked by finishes, many us older ones are to old fashion or the younger are to stupid . thank you for bring this point to light do not want to be call guru just acknowledger as having some common knowledge and ar willing to pass on those who will listen.

  • David says:

    This is the best take on retirement I have ever read!! I will be 69 this year and feel like I have just begun. Maybe to late for the party but I’ll give it my best. Thanks for the encouragement!!!

  • 2 1/2 years ago in a meeting with the president, the gerneral manager and myself during which I listened to the company’s 5-7 year plan I quietly said “you guys realize I was 65 last week”. In stunned silence they just sat there staring at me. You aren’t retiring are you, they asked. I let them know that I thought I would work a couple more years and then my wife and I were planning on moving to Ecuador. Randy, the president, asked if they had internet there and I sure they do. He said “well hell you aren’t retiring, you are just moving your location.” We have been here 2 months and I am working everyday same as when I was in Dallas. Our workforce is mostly Hispanic and several years ago I noticed tht most referred with a spanish term I was not familiar with. I finally aked what they were calling me and was told “Grandpa”. At first I was slightly offended and then realized this was a term of respect and affection and that was part of their culture. This partly influenced our decision to move to a latin country. Thanks for the post.

  • SP says:

    I completely agree. Thank you for sharing some good sense!

  • Tom Hartman says:

    Beautifully stated. Of course, this comes from an 85 year old still working. (But cut back to 40 hours).

  • Clark Swan says:

    Sir, interesting blog–I turned 65 in Jan–and I embraced it because I have been short on medical insurance for a couple of years–Medicare and no Obamacare–priceless! I have also just finished my second graduate degree–having come back to school in 2011–after flunking out of college in 1967. So, I feel as if I am just starting again (to re-invent myself). I sold hardwood lumber for 20 years and now dabble in reclaimed beams, timbers, barnwood. I was forced into “retirement” 10 years ago when my wife was diagnosed w/ dementia–I was honored to be her caregiver–she has been in a nursing home for the past 4 years–her caregivers are a Godsend. I hope to tool up and begin to make tables out of slabs–I have access to doug fir, oak, hickory,–Thank you for your articles. Best regards, clark swan Billings, Montana

  • Larry Haines says:

    I liked your article on retirement and ‘senior citizens’ because I’m 70 in two weeks and not ready to quit. In fact, the last two years I’ve spend researching, remembering, writing and publishing a free booklet I call “Math Enrichment Tactics”. It’s my third such endeavor as an author, and it’s now up to 80 pages in length. Of course I have to distribute them at the local eye doctor’s office, a lube center, and the public library because the schools in their great wisdom don’t want students to learn about math short cuts, tips, tricks, etc. I’d love to reach the home school folks, but I don’t have the know how for that. Good going on your article.


  • Tony says:

    Teaching woodcarving and painting classes evenings at the local vocational school here in Cape may County,have authored 33 how-to books for carvers and painters,and am getting ready to ID bird species on a Marsh Tour Boat during the summer…am a part time musician, a full time professional woodcarver and am just starting to rough out book # 34 for a self published project.
    When I was starting out, I realised that by the time I’d turned 66, I’d be a “respected authority in my field”. Unfortunatly, I still have to mow the field…Great Article!

  • Chuck R says:

    I’m 72 and just upgraded my Jet 8″ Jointer to a Powermatic 12″ model…

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