Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Product vs. Process

A friend said to me the other day "So when are you going to start building tables and entertainment centers? I mean, you do all these little things..."

Now this guy is not a woodworker but I've met non-woodworkers who understand the joy of having a hobby and just fiddling around while accomplishing nothing. In my opinion, there are people who are product-oriented, people who are process-oriented ("it's the journey" people) and those who are both. I think this guy falls into the product-oriented category. I'd say I'm both, but I always get a little maudlin when I finish a project, so I suppose I'm a process-oriented gal.

Other friends ask me to build furniture for them and when I say I'm not for hire—woodworking is my hobby—they seem incredulous. They look at the size of my shop and all my tools and can't believe I'd spend that much money on a hobby.

How do you convince product-oriented folks that even just handplaning boards makes you happy?The guys in my ww club think I'm nuts for handcutting dovetails. They tease me that "there's this new thing...it's called electricity." (okay, that one's pretty funny...)

I don't have a response. I just laugh. Any suggestions?

32 comments:

Shazza said...

I think for some folks who have a hobby or a craft that they like to do it's an escape. They become involved in what project they are doing and it helps them forget the stresses of work, life...whatever.

It's a time to decompress and re-focus.

As far as handcutting your dovetails - well that's just crazy is what that is! But if it makes you happy...you go girl!

The Village Carpenter said...

You are right on both counts!

Jeff S. said...

Ask them how much skill is involved in running their router through their Leigh dovetail jig?

Your Product vs Process questions are good. I myself knew that there was something wrong with my early power-tool centric approach but it was not until I read Krenov's A Cabinetmaker's Notebook that I knew what was precisely what was wrong. It was unarticulated and latent, waiting to be energized, rather than something that I had to be "convinced" of. Do you know any woodworkers who long resisted hand cut dovetails, but who were later "convinced" that it was a better way?

Jeff S. said...

Oops.

Should read "....that I knew precisely what was wrong."

The Village Carpenter said...

Jeff, I need to read Krenov's book. I've heard so many woodworkers say it is one of the books that most influenced their work.

That's an interesting thought, that it might be a latent skill, waiting to be energized. There might even be a little fear involved with some folks, that they won't be able to do a good job. I always figured there were "git 'er done" guys and "it's the journey" guys, but it's more complex than that.

Donald said...

Have one of the guys who gives you a hard time join you in the front of the club at the next meeting, and ask him to use a hand saw to make a straight, square cut off the end of a board. Put a box of marking and measuring devices in front of him, and give him his choice of saw of, say, 5 saws. You would think a person with a lot of woodworking skill would be able to saw a straight line - right?

Vincent said...

Give me process.

Put down the power hobby - and wood itself - 30 years ago. Got busy, made and lost too much, and now return to wood again, wanting hand tools only. As I build my arsenal and shop friends ask "what are you going to build" I answer with a crooked grin "boxes to keep all the tools in"!

Best of all my teenage daughter is getting it, catching it, starting to play...and SHE understands.

"It's fun" she tells her puzzled friends, "I like it. I will make you something" ('the journey of a thousand miles...')

It's process - and sometimes it's prayer.

I'm with you VC!

Jeff S. said...

Though Krenov’s particular style is not my cup of tea, his philosophy of craftsmanship can be universally applied. You are also probably aware of David Pye's The Nature and Art of Workmanship. If not, then put that one on your list as well. :-)

On the topic of process, there is an article by Patrick Edwards that you might find of interest, especially in terms of how tools or process affects form.

http://www.wpatrickedwards.com/cons.htm#

Click on “magazine articles” and then click the “Form Follows Process” article.

Also, his Old Brown Hide Glue is very good for those that want the convenience of hide glue without the need for heating it.

http://www.wpatrickedwards.com/gluepage.htm

And….if you want to drool over a nice assortment of hand planes..

http://www.wpatrickedwards.com/bench.htm

The Village Carpenter said...

Donald, you are right that sawing a straight line looks easier than it is! That would be a fun woodworking meeting to see who can saw the straightest line. Might make some handtool lovers out of them. ; )

Vincent, that is so awesome that your daughter is interested in woodworking. What a great thing for a father and daughter to share. There's a guy in my club who also has a daughter interested in woodworking and he just loves spending time with her in his shop.

Jeff, I'm not familiar that book so I'll have to check it out. It sounds cool from the title. Patrick Edwards' shop is fantastic. He has the bench I want to build! Shoulder vise and tail vise. It's a beaut. I don't know whether to be inspired or depressed when I look at his collection of handtools, though...

Jeff S. said...

Yeah, Pye is the one who developed the whole "workmanship of certainty" vs. "workmanship of risk" dichotomy.

I am curious. Why does Edwards' collection of hand tools depress you? It depresses me a bit because I would hope that woodworking by hand would not require so much...well...stuff. I see these pictures of woodworkers in Vietnam or China doing incredible work with minimal tools and it gives me pause.

The Village Carpenter said...

Hey Jeff, you're right that we should be able to do more with less. I should have said I'm "envious" of all his tools. : ) I'd love to have a bunch of molding planes to play around with. I have a very nice, barely used, set of antique beading planes but that's about it. I should just make some molding planes, given the price of them these days!

Gary Roberts said...

Just ask the guy who pushes electrons to count up how long it takes to set up his jigs, machinery, etc. before he can produce a dovetail. Add in the screaming daemons, ear protectors, blade guards, dust collection units and who is smarter? Them or us? Remember what Pogo said...

Gary

The Village Carpenter said...

Sorry Gary, I don't know Pogo. So, I wikipedia'd the word and got all sorts of fun answers.

My favorite: POGO, a popular brand of Corn Dog sold in Canada.

You make a good point about the time it takes to set up a dovetail jig, plus all of the safety equipment. Handcutting dovetails won't make you lose your hearing or eyesight or fill your lungs up with carcinogens.

Jay said...

Some things become obsolete, some things are simply timeless. Hand skills and good crafts(wo)manship belong with the latter.

Luke Townsley said...

I really don't know why there are some who will always work almost exclusively with power tools and others who will work almost exclusively with hand tools and yet others who think it is silly to limit oneself and work with everything from CNC routers to antique hand planes. Perhaps it depends largely on what you want to get out of it.

Myself, I learned power tool woodworking as a kid and actually got fairly good at it. I still have some of those tools. I enjoyed it and could still enjoy it.

However, without ever having been exposed to hand tool woodworking or even understanding what it was about, I started dreaming about one day having a hand tool woodshop. I figured that one day when life slowed down a bit and perhaps the kids were grown, that I would get into it.

One day, the thought came to me, "Why don't you go ahead and do it now?" And my journey was started.

I suspect there are some people who will never understand what we see in hand tools. Others will understand but not want to give up some of their power tools. However, I suspect there are a lot of people who should be doing hand tool wood working and have never had any exposure to it or heard about it.

Ironically, I think that in this day and age of computers, fast food, commercialism, and fast lifestyles that we have an unique opportunity to promote hand tool woodworking like never before.

My opinion is that there should be far more people doing it than currently are.

Some people will never see it, but don't be surprised if we see a veritable explosion of interest in our little hobby over the next ten to twenty years.

Perhaps some will be converts from power tools, others will be those who have the natural interest and abilities, but never had the exposure or the opportunity.

Perhaps you should just tell your friend that you prefer to do your own woodworking (instead of letting the electricity do it for you).

The Village Carpenter said...

I hope we do see a resurgence of hand tool use, Luke! Second thought, I don't need any more bidders competing with me at the antique tool auctions I frequent...

I do think I should clarify something, though, in defense of all my power tool buddies. I don't knock using power tools at all (my shop is a blended one). I think whatever makes you happy is cool.

My main point, and I wasn't clear, was that I don't think any of us should have to justify the amount of tools we have by the number of finished projects that come out of our shops.

In other words, who cares if I never finish a piece? I'm just having a good time playing around in my shop. And that, in and of itself, is justification for my tools. :o)

But, definitely, I agree that handtool use and craftsmanship are timeless, as Jay stated.

Identity Mixed said...

So I need to paint my kitchen cabinets.... and I thought of you. They're wood. That's all.

So now I am sorry.

Vic said...

Just ran across your site,compliments of Marc(TWW). Very nice. The biggest reason for hand-cut dovetails is in the photo. You can't do the dovetails on the right any other way.
It's just a good indicator of how much attention was paid to detail in the entire piece. Nice dovetails, btw!

The Village Carpenter said...

Thanks, Vic! And that's absolutely right...the English style dovetails can only be made by hand, which is one of the reasons I really like them.

Shazza said...

I just read this about dovetails:

Traditionally, the dovetails would have often be covered by a veneer. However, dovetails have become a signature of craftsmanship and are generally considered a feature, so they are rarely concealed in contemporary work.

So...looking at your picture I'd say you are a very skilled craftswoman!

The Village Carpenter said...

Thanks for the information, Shazza. With all the work involved in handcutting dovetails, I'd have a mighty hard time covering them up!

Wyldth1ng said...

I tend to build for fuction, but like to add "decoration" so what category is that?

The Village Carpenter said...

Hey Wyld, I was looking at more if the final product is your main focus or if the process of building the piece is your main focus. Your's is a form follows function question and is a great topic for a new post. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Its an "inconvient truth" that we wood workers need to "Save The Electrons"! You're doing your part by saying no to the tailed devils. Hand power rules! Keep up the good work and continue to fight for hand tool rights everywhere!

The Village Carpenter said...

LOL! :o)

jaspr said...

.. at the end of the day, you just got to do what makes you happy - you - not someone else

btw - love your blog

The Village Carpenter said...

Well said, Jaspr.


...and thanks! : )

XTL said...

I've also found that while mostly power tools are stressing, hand tools are very nearly relaxing. Of course you eventually get physically tired, but it's a whole different kind of tired. :)

As for tool auctions, there also seems to be a small rise in interest to old photography gear for example. Lots of people (other than me) are looking at 1960's Nikkor lenses now that dslr's have taken a huge chunk out of the price of photography while keeping compatibility. Those who can, may build darkrooms, pinholes and obscure optics and lighting etc.

Others make tube amps or vintage clothing and some speak or program in obscure languages.

I'd say it's a kind of hacker spirit. The desire to have tools that do what you can make them do instead of what they were designed to do (when they happen to work in the first place). Tinkering. Seeing that you aren't a slave to the pipelined life of buy and sell. That good things aren't always the ones with big numbers on the side.

Sorry, getting carried away :)

Mike said...

When I've got a project that I really need to get done (like a rail for the stairs that has to be up before the baby arrives, and she's due in (holy crap!) 4 weeks, I use power tools.

Otherwise, I use handtools as much as possible because the goal of being in the workshop is to be in the workshop, and also because I need to be good enough with them to teach my daughter as soon as she's old enough.

The Village Carpenter said...

What a good dad you are! :o)

Gye Greene said...

Dovetails & electricity: No snappy comebacks that aren't insulting, I'm afraid.

IMO, dovetails with jigs are expedient -- but kinda weenie. It's using tracing paper rather than drawing something freehand. It's snugging an original drawing into the top left corner of the photocopier, before pushing the green button.

Kinda like someone who claims to be into cooking/baking, taking a cake mix, adding two eggs and 1/4 cup of oil, and being proud of the cake he "baked" -- as opposed to making it from scratch.


For hand tools vs. floor-mounted power tools: an analogy is that power tools vs. hand tools is the difference between using software to define vectors and color gradients to "draw" a picture -- vs. making a painting with oil paints, canvas, and paintbrushes.

Both take skill and knowledge: but one is in the precision with which you can set up the gear; the other is one's manual skill.


--GG

Gye Greene said...

"They look at the size of my shop and all my tools and can't believe I'd spend that much money on a hobby."

Clearly, these aren't sport fishers, golfers, or car nuts...


--GG