Sunday, January 18, 2015

handwork? machine work? does it matter?

blow this one up and have a closer look at it ..we made these in 1997 ...
pretty classy, eh?
they are based on a half round federal card table in the clark art museum that we got permission to measure and flip upside down earlier that year.  we also used a copy of  'the work of many hands: card tables in federal america 1790-1820', a weighty tome for sure.   these tables are also our very first cnc project.  each leg, if you count each separate little piece has 90 pieces, some of which we obviously glued up in blocks and sliced like baloney.  the ovals were custom made by dover inlay in maryland, but the little satinwood bell flower drops and the larger oval satinwood panels were cut on my friend richard's cnc. the rest we did 'by hand'.  there are 43 blog posts regarding cnc work in the category to the right,
'trevor's cnc projects'

on the fine woodworking website today, there is a debate over the distinction between 'handmade' and 'assembled from machine cut parts', 'digital manufacturing, friend or foe', a false debate in my humble opinion.  turn on the table saw and you are no longer 'handmade'.  in the comments to the post, where i, in fact, left my own two cents, i particualrly enjoyed the opinion of belchior, from brazil:

 "Since it's almost impossible to produce something from wood using bare hands and teeth, let's suppose that tools are considered acceptable, for the purpose of this discussion."  perfect !!  

so, onward.  we make stuff.  we use the tools we have to do the parts of the job we need to do, be they hand, electric or digital.  we go forward, exploring the process, which in the end is, hopefully, where the pleasure lies.  here i give you some 'before cnc'; 'with cnc'; and 'after cnc, but not using the cnc', images. 
you be the judge ...
friend or foe?  click the images to enlarge them ...
before cnc, about 1992  ... cherry lacewood, burl, rosewood, milk paint
  after cnc .. 2010 .. much technology here, both cnc and waterjet.. blog posts here
cad/photo design, cnc cut lathe duplicator templates; hand finished turnings; hand carved turnings, steel, copper, aluminum, and brass waterjet cut inlays; etc. etc.see end of this post ...
before cnc; about 1990
after cnc, but not using the cnc  blog post here  .. 
we did use our duplicator to turn the legs, a tool for sure, but not digital
way before we knew what a cnc was.. 1983 .. the cnc would have been  
extremely helpful on this project though.

all handwork ... 2012 .. blog post here  .. 
could have used a cnc but it was faster to do this by hand
1989 .. this table would be a lot easier with a cnc, but we did it all by hand ... slowly and carefully
with holman studios ... 9' x 26' , 88' radius on the edges. all parts, including templates for the granite and the base parts on the cnc.  design, veneer work and finishing by steve holman; call parts cut on the cnc by dcf ..
can't imagine doing this table by hand, though the guy who cut the radiuses on the granite cut them freehand with a handheld 4" angle grinder with a diamond saw blade ..
granite cut here .. no cnc
about 1990 .. all by hand ... a wonderful, fun project
all cnc  a room screen from 2006
with the table above 1992 .. all hand work ...
so, the question is: can we make furniture that appears handmade and combines handwork with digital fabrication?  yes is my answer.  is the digital process good?  is it bad?  does it matter? can we call a truce?

i hope so .. the digital part is not going away, and, in my humble opinion, it shouldn't.  imagine ... 


Unknown said...

It doesn't 'matter' in the grand scheme of things. You produce products for sale, and people buy it if they like it. I prefer 'mostly' handmade stuff because it reflects craftsmanship. In my mind, craftsmanship is acquired over time through experience and trial and error. It reflects a passion and skill in whatever venture. Do I mind a beautiful image that was improved through Photoshop? No! but I do admire and greatly prefer, the image that is perfect straight out of the camera. Would you pay the same price for a laser cut or CNC derived marquetry pattern, or the same pattern made by hand by Silas Kopf? I know that I would not.... We do need to accept the efficiency and repeatability of the digital age, but I fear we will ultimately lose the skill required to do the things that are worth doing, by hand.

Keara Littner said...

That's actually some pretty impressive work in all of those photos! I especially like the different tables and cabinets that were posted. I wouldn't mind getting any one of those to put in my home at some point. I might have to look into ordering some custom furniture once I have a little more money!
Keara |