Made By Hand

The mind tends to wander when you're busy with repetitive tasks. During my last few sessions in the workshop I've been pondering the nature of handmade work, and where it stands in relation to the mass manufactured objects that surround us. A recent article by Michael Updegraff in Mortise & Tenon magazine concluded that "variety is [the] singular virtue defining the grace and beauty of the handmade". I couldn't have phrased it better myself, but that's not going to stop me trying.

Consider an analogy between furniture and food. I'll happily admit that my teenage years were fuelled by Pot Noodles, and I'm far more likely to be found slumped on my sofa covered in sticky orange Wotsit residue than amusing my bouche at any Michelin-starred establishment. To continue the confessional; my home is full of mass produced furniture, gradually being replaced by the output of my workshop. Still, even my earliest efforts at furniture making were usually of a better standard than IKEA, just as home cooked food is better than anything you'll find at a motorway service station.

I was recently struck by a small point in a price guide to antiques; post-1815, European furniture was often designed by cabinetmaker rather than by architect, demonstrated by an emphasis on the materials (rather than ornament) and evidence of considered workmanship. Again, I'm reminded of home cooked food. It tastes better as it's usually the result of a recipe that's become a personal favourite, careful use of ingredients and, most importantly, an enjoyment in the process. Mass manufacturing, on the other hand, relies on the division of labour, cost engineering and other ingenious but ultimately joyless methods. The machine never stops to admire the curve of grain in a board of Ash, and whereas a small scale manufacturer might use such details to their advantage there's no time for that on the production line.

It's my conclusion that handmade objects stand out due to the maker's involvement in, and enjoyment of, every stage of their creation. For instance, I suppose I should probably view a trip to the timber yard as an unavoidable cost of doing business. Instead it feels like booking a holiday; laden with possibility, every board having potential. And that's just the start of the process...


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