There’s workmanship of risk and there’s bad design
David Pye wrote The Nature and Art of Workmanship. It is a book we recommend to every Rowden student, and one I certainly recommend to you. David goes a long way to help explain why hand made furniture has value beyond its functionality. And far beyond the value of machine-made products.
He introduced, or at least formalised, the concept of workmanship of risk, a concept that is central to making by hand. And because I couldn’t put it better, here is an elegant definition of what he means:
“Workmanship using any kind of technique or apparatus, in which the quality of the result is not predetermined, but depends on the judgment, dexterity and care which the maker exercises as he works.”
A cabinetmaker lives a life of almost constant jeopardy. The physical nature of wood, and its variability, means that no outcome, from sawing to planing, through jointing, gluing, sanding and finishing, is certain. A skilled cabinetmaker does everything they can to mitigate these risks. This is done by using sharp tools, testing, experimenting and practicing. We make spare components, good quality jigs and templates. And we have mountains of patience.
One of the best ways to mitigate risk, however, is through considered and thoughtful design.
But it is fair to say that most elegant designs are also elegantly made. There is a calm assurance that comes from a piece of furniture that is well designed and yet strong and robust enough to be a useful piece of craft.
So woe betide any junior designer maker, especially those being trained at Rowden, who design a piece that creates excessive risk to the maker. The chances are that the piece will not only be a total nightmare to make, it will probably also be rather inelegant.
It takes the genius of combinations like David and Daren to throw this simple mantra out the window. And of this I will talk more next time…