Disposable Goods for a Disposable Planet


Some of the pieces I worked on were well over 100 years old, still strong and easily repaired, while much newer, mass-produced pieces were already broken and not worth fixing.

This experience reacquainted me with the ethic of craftsmanship. In retrospect, this was something I think my parents and grandparents had tried to teach me. But I grew up in the postwar consumer culture of cheap manufactured goods and planned obsolescence. We were making disposable goods for a disposable planet. Craftsmanship seemed like an antidote to that kind of thinking, and I think that is why those old pieces of furniture resonated with me. It seems terrible naive to see it in print, but I thought that maybe the first step in making a nondisposable planet was to make things as if they would be passed down to future generations.

— Craig Nutt on his transformation from a period furniture maker and restorer to a maker of art furniture. In “The Penland Book of Woodworking” (Lark Books).

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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17 Responses to Disposable Goods for a Disposable Planet

  1. Kansas John says:

    Do you sell plans for this? PDF? I want to make one for my Grandma.

  2. charleseflynn says:
  3. jenohdit says:

    “No matter how fine it is, an antique is always eccentric; no matter how authentic it is, there is always something false about it. And indeed, it is false in so far as it puts itself forward as authentic within a system whose basic principle is by no means authenticity but, rather, the calculation of relationships and the abstractness of signs. ”

    -From: The System of Objects by Jean Baudrillard (first published as Le système des objets, 1968) Translated by James Benedict Verso, London, 1996

    • Paul Murphy says:

      Without context I can honestly say, that paragraph makes absolutely no sense to me. There is ALWAYS something false about an antique? What false thing is that?
      In other matters, I have a question: What is that table in the photograph? Can you tell your readers more about it please?

      • The table is one of Craig Nutt’s pieces featured in the book quoted below.

        More of his work here:


        As to the Baudrillard quote, I take it that antiques were frequently used a status symbols. And so they are used to represent the social position of the owner. And in that way they are false signs. But I’m sure jenohdit will set us straight.

      • Kansas John says:

        I think this is what is commonly called Academic Masturbation.

      • jenohdit says:

        In the original post, Nutt disparages mass produced objects as fragile and not worth fixing. He then suggests that quality and craftsmanship are what it takes to make an object that will be passed down to future generations.

        While that may be true (debatable in my view), Nutt’s body of work seems to indicate that he believes that “artistic” novelty applied to furniture design makes it even more likely to be passed down. Investment value is a concern for his market and undoubtedly helps him sell things. That is a product of their novelty not their craftsmanship although that can’t be dismissed entirely in that market.

        The link in the comment directly above mine is to the website of a company that as far as I know has never sold anything but the mechanically mass-produced designs of Deiter Rams, one of the most influential designers of the Bauhaus/HfG Ulm School. He, Max Bill, Otl Aicher, and their associates are the originators of the modern corporate aesthetic which is widely regarded as completely soulless.

        Vitsoe has a take on making a “nondisposable planet” that I would say diametrically opposes Nutt’s, although they both seem to aspire to “make things as if they would be passed down to future generations.”

        “Good design is long-lasting

        It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.”

        Baudrillard’s essay, which I did provided a link to, begins with a proposition that suggests that something else may be at work. He suggests that an object’s status as a conveyor of multilayered symbolic cultural meaning plays a more significant role.

        “There is a whole range of objects — including unique, baroque, folkloric, exotic and antique objects…[that] appear to run counter to the requirements of functional calculation, and answer to other kinds of demands such as witness, memory, nostalgia or escapism.”

        Antiques, Nutt’s and Vitsoe’s furniture, Baudrillard would argue, sell new and are preserved for future generations because of what they signify about their owners at least as much as for how well they are made or how well they function.

  4. Andy in Germany says:

    During my carpentry apprenticeship my biggest disappointment was that we worked almost exclusively with plastic coated chipboard which is essentially shredded wood waste (including screws) glued together with formaldehyde and so nasty it has to be disposed of under strict regulations in Germany. It was considered utterly disposabe.

    The most ridiculous instance of disposable furniture was when we made a huge built-in wardrobe in a retirement apartment, and six months later the resident who had bought it, died, and we went and tore it all out again and threw it away.

    The really silly part was that the next resident liked the wardrobe, but if she kept it, she’d have to pay rent for an extra two months before she moved in, and it was cheaper for us to remove the wardrobe, bin it, and build a new one.

    I seemed to be the only person who thought this was odd.

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