Machines in the Workshop, Part 6


Part 1 is here
Part 2 is here
Part 3 is here
Part 4 is here
Part 5 is here

MACHINIST: Well, I assume that you generally make small things. If ever you decide, say, to panel one of your rooms, I trust that you will remain true to your prin­ciples and do all your ripping out, grooving, moulding, and jointing by hand!

(Editor’s note: This is the final entry in this series. No surprise – it ended with a troll. — CS)

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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24 Responses to Machines in the Workshop, Part 6

  1. If today’s product placement practice had applied back then, there would probably have been a small bracket in the bottom stating “This conversation has proudly been brought to you by the Michel Electric Handsaw Co. or Skilsaw Inc.”, as to show who’s paying for the (printed) bias towards the machine.

  2. jayedcoins says:

    Okay, gotta hand it to the guy, he was way ahead of his time on trolling. Expert level stuff right there.

  3. Eric R says:

    I think the machinist won the argument with the last comment…trolling notwithstanding.
    And, I wouldn’t have wanted to live in that location where traffic jams grew to those proportions.

  4. leeboyz86 says:

    I’m not sure why the Machinist’s remark is considered trolling. Seems like a pointed remark that goes straight to the heart of the whole discussion to me. Machines have their place. Handwork has its place. We can all live peacefully together.

  5. Lee B says:

    I think it’s a fair point to make, but I don’t see how it’s any kind of dagger in the heart of the handworker’s point. If you’re doing a major, architectural level project, you can hire some help if you want, or rely on some friends and neighbors. It’s like raising a bent on a timber frame. One man can do it by himself with a crane or excavator or something. Or you can just have some people help you. Is that so hard to imagine? We don’t have to do these things all that often, nor do we have to always do them by ourselves.

  6. kingarthur900 says:

    Any idea what city is depicted in the photo?

  7. jleko says:

    “The 1830s marked the end of cabinetmaking as it had been known since the end of the 17th century. The Industrial Revolution that had brought labor-saving machinery to the craft required a large capital investment. To cover the cost of that investment, furniture had to be made in quantity, and quantity required simplicity and homogeneity. As a result, furniture designs were largely stripped of their labor intensive decoration and detail, and reduced to a manufacturable form. In order to mass-market these mass-produced pieces, manufacturers had to design them to have a universal appeal, necessitating the lowest common denominator of styling. Individually made pieces of custom furniture were still available to the more wealthy or discriminating buyer, but the vast majority of Americans purchased factory-made furniture. Workshops had become manufactories, and with the exclusion of hand work those became factories. While furniture of good quality became more affordable to the average person, it had lost its individuality and spirit in the process. Other interesting styles came and went, but the remarkable chain of events and web circumstances that sparked the American masterpieces of the 18th century were not to be repeated.”

    Quoted from Jeffrey Greene, “American Furniture of the 18th Century”, Taunton Press, p. 108, 1996

    • The above quote from Greene gets it entirely backwards on how business growth, technology adoption, and consumer society works. There never have been people sitting around with large chunks of money to invest in capital goods and then figure out all the ways they need to change markets and consumer taste in order to make the machines worthwhile. (Or at least those people are soon parted from their money never to see it again)

      The way Greene tells it, converted into the modern day, would be that Chris et. al. acquired the Crucible Tool machinery and then wondered what they could do with it. So they decided to convince people that they needed holdfasts and dividers, and so built a publishing company to write about how great holdfasts and dividers are.

      What really happened then and now, is that the business owners saw customer demand that was unmet and saw a way to meet that need. Meeting that need revealed additional needs and they invested along the way to continue meeting customers needs. More specifically, Greene would have been closer to the truth if he had written something like: “The industrial revolution brought large numbers of people to cities, people who dreamed of a better life than ekeing out a marginal existence on used up land (if they had any land at all), always subject to the whims of weather and Mother Nature’s less than kind denizens. These new urban residents still needed furniture and the basic accoutrements of life, and due to their jobs in the wool and cloth factories had cash to spend–but no trees to fell, nor the tools or space to work the wood. Some enterprising carpenters saw day after day that people gazed longingly at the goods they were producing but could not afford them. They realized that if they could produce something cheaper, they would have a large market–but how to produce cheaper? By employing labor saving devices to shorten the amount of time it took to produce each piece, and in turn simplifying designs and standardizing them so that time of production was reduced further. The buyers were more than happy to have these simplified and vastly cheaper beds, chairs and cupboards. They never could have afforded the ornamented styles even if they had spent their entire lives busting sod.”

  8. Here I thought “trolling” was a modern advent…I learn something new every day!

    I really loved Lee B’s point about…”getting help.” Seems most that are either “Machinists” or lean that way in over all view of woodworking and craft have completely lost touch with most aspects of traditional modalities. HELP being just one very good example.

    Oddly enough I have paneled several rooms over my life time with hand tools only…so I guess the Machinist never had those skills to begin with…or didn’t know how to ask for help?

    I do agree, just make stuff, and do it anyway you wish to..but please don’t suggest that modernity has made Art and the ability to make things better…it hasn’t.

  9. Hello Timothy Ogden,

    “…The above quote from Greene gets it entirely backwards on how business growth, technology adoption, and consumer society works…”

    Is it Greene that is getting this backwards? I don’t think that is reflected at all in the historic economic record.

    I suggest you take a much deeper look into the historical normative culture of the Victorian period and the birth/development of the IR (industrial revolution.) Greene’s presentation was just a small snapshot of that time period’s economic culture. What went on during that time did in deed absolutely kill artistry and craft…partial by accident and in some cases (and areas) entirely by the intent of Industrialists.

    Industrialist (the Great Grand Parents of this generations 1%ers) of that time period knew full well what they could do with technology of that time period and the machines it created… run by an unskilled (or less skilled) labor force, and the modalities of operation and design they rapidly gained utter control over. This was not accidental then, nor is it by accident now. It is by design and clear intent. It is how big business operates, controls and nurtures a…consumer culture.

    “…What really happened then and now, is that the business owners saw customer demand that was unmet and saw a way to meet that need…”

    I’m sorry, I would have to disagree with that statement as well, and its rosy perspective is more hype than history. That is not what happened at all. I’m not suggesting any necessary back room conspiracies, yet what did take place (big picture and in basic breakdown) is just plan old IR economic modeling and intent that took place from the steel to textiles industries and on to many other as well…including the forestry, milling and related wood industries. Our current culture and make up of manufacturing can very easily be traced back too it. Its not (in the big picture) that complicated an economic model. From a coldly business related perspective it was pure brilliance in a method to gain mass control over many commodity and production markets that still have a hold on economics today. Just one of modern economic global effects being studied that came from the IR is called the Walmart (or Walton) Effect. It speak directly (and in more complexity) to exactly what Greene was describing. There are many more, but that is for a much deeper academic discussion of economics, and its history.

    So your general premise that the IR was for the betterment of people leaving the country side, and fulfilling their dreams is anything but the historical reality reflected about the normative cultures of the Victorian time period. The history of IR economics, actually reflects very savvy Industrialist that took full advantage of a country rich in raw natural resources they now had access to after virtually eradicating, or boxing in the indigenous Native (aka First Nations) cultures. A very common event wherever the different European countries colonized, be it Africa, India, or North America. Then the massive influx of immigrants after each decade, and globe conflict further fueled a consumer base (and virtually unskilled labor force by the latter half willing to work for very little) to not only operate the machines, but also consume the mass produced products.

    Your rosy picture of production and needy consumer is not reflected at all in the historic record…

    • jayedcoins says:

      IMO Mr. Ogden above talked past the Greene quote a bit, and you are talking past Mr. Ogden’s comment above.

      Saying on one hand that capital seeks out demand, and saying on the other hand that the Industrial Revolution hurt craftwork and art in America (or really, the “west” at large), are not mutually exclusive statements. In reading all of the above, I’m not sure I see a clear disagreement!

      Undoubtedly, once the industrialist has harnessed demand to the point of building a near (or very real) monopoly, it becomes easier for them to make markets on their own by pushing out competition.

      Interestingly, on this entire series/debate, it feels that while there is a fair argument that machines and automation eliminated the imperative to teach handcrafts and keeps skills alive, I find (and we are all quite literally finding, as we exchange these thoughts on this very medium) that total rebellion against the machines won’t win any battles, won’t improve education on handcraft… rather we are living and breathing proof in this instance that there are things machines are quite tremendous at helping us do to resurrect these crafts and ideas that are meaningful to us.

      Sometimes I suppose “leaning in” does actually work.

      • “…you are talking past Mr. Ogden’s comment above…”

        I did do just what you have suggested; just a bit (to make a point…and ramble as I do sometimes…ha, ha.) Excellent observation, and comment.

  10. kaunfried says:

    Because of mistakes I’ve made in my past, I don’t think I’ll ever make it out of corporate work force. With that said I do love the idea of making my own furniture. I’ve lost all of my tools a few years ago and am very slowly building my collection back up. At home in my shop I use hand tools because that is the way I want to go. I have several projects on hold waiting on a tool I no longer have. But if there is a project that has to get done I do have access to a shop that is almost exclusive machine. There is a place for both and until I retire and collect all the basic tools I’ll have my feet in both. All of that said I loved this series and found neither won but stated there is a place for both. I hope some day I will have the skill and the time to pass on the knowledge I have learned but at the very least I hope I sparke some one younger to learn.

  11. After several years of hand tools only I just bought a bandsaw that will resaw up to 12″ thick boards.

    The first thing I will do is use it to break down some stock so I can make a Roubo saw so that I can resaw boards bigger than 12″ thick.

    There is a time and a place for machines and hand tools. Life is all about balance. Why be rigid one way or the other?

    My time on hand tools will make me as accurate as I can be with machinery. When I am done with machinery I get to the lovely task of joinery and finishing, mostly by hand. That’s what I really enjoy.

  12. I think it was Scott Taylor (in this conversation thread) that suggest the Festool Domino…Which to me is an excellent example, as I own both sizes and use them all the time…

    I’m a human “Mutt” so why shouldn’t my approach to art and craft be the same…I clearly love traditional work and do it often, and as part of my living. Yet, most of the time its a mixed bag of power tools and hand tools so I can get the job done and move on to the next. This is because I don’t have a onslaught of indenture apprentice…If I did…I would have less power tools…ha, ha.

    So, in my view, I admire any and all that use only hand tools, and this approach is quite viable and becoming more so as the market and economics of the planet start shifting back to admiring, wanting and being able to afford bespoke work. Power tools are not an absolute necessity…by any means…They are a technological luxury for those of use that can afford them and use them well.

    I would make another observational note though…It seems clearly to me, that those of us (and those that learn to) us only hand tools and tradtional methods first (and for the most part) seem to do much better making things effectively and efficiently with the power tools we augment with, compared to those that only come from the perspective of the Machinist…

  13. premodernbloke says:

    What happened AFTER the industrial revolution when “hand craft” was rediscovered? The Arts and Crafts Movement. There is almost no hint in its design that it requires any special hand skills whatsoever. The Arts & Crafts movement spokesmen looked down upon 18th century furniture as “bourgeois”…which is both laughable as well as ironic. Who, after all,, were able to afford the rather uninspired, bland products of the Roycroft Collective? Certainly not the yeoman whom they supposedly championed.

    Look around at today’s “movement” of hand-tool-only moralizers. Most of these individuals make their living not by actually making furniture in a machine-less workshop, but by selling books and magazines, selling expensive boutique tools, teaching expensive classes, hosting woodworking entertainment TV shows, restoring antique furniture, role playing as historical interpreters….and all of it very well image-crafted. And I for one rejoice with them that they are able to do so. But let us remember that this is only possible because of the Industrial Revolution. Almost all of these endeavors are dependent on the fact that a good number of people now have this thing called leisure.

    The one exception is vocational chairmakers. Because of the nature of chair design, it remains an object that can still be efficiently made using primarily hand tools because of the size of the components and the lack of stock preparation found in case furniture. The cranky John Brown could do what he did because of the inherent nature of his particular product.

    What is disconcerting is to see the once productive woodworker….. who was once able to make well-crafted furniture for himself and others by using both machine and hand tools….. get derailed by the woodworking ethicists into selling off his machinery. He might keep his bandsaw but rest assured, it will be on wheels and well hidden in the corner of his ever shrinking shop….and he will feel guilty about owning it. He then finds himself spending what free time has left, not making furniture that his family needs, but his 4th iteration workbench (anything but one of those Scandinavian benches), testing yet another set of sharpening stones, making appliances for his hand tools to replace the function previously supplied by his machinery, endlessly making dovetails using method X, Y, and Z, etc.

    Then, when he does finally decide to make a piece of furniture, he finds that he does not have the skill or time to make what he used to because he is spending endless hours preparing stock, resharpening tools, etc. Of course, the solution is to then criticize that style of furniture as something only the rich would have owned, and that “ethical” furniture is that of the peasant, complete with tear-out, out-of-square joints, and only finished with either oil or a slathering of milk paint. Finally, after reading Walden for the 4th time, he questions why we need all this furniture anyway. Consumerism!! And he settles into making wooden spoons and shrinkpots and other “democratic” objects suitable for the simple, ethically responsible lifestyle… least as seen on his Instagram account.

    David Pye long ago articulated the principles that reconcile machine and hand tool and many folks have quietly gotten on with the work of building well-crafted furniture applying those principles….and have done so without fanfare or condescension.

    A final note. Machines can be objects of beauty, craftsmanship, and intelligent design which themselves manifest a creative and unique human fingerprint and can be an absolute joy to use without robbing anyone of their humanity.

    • Your reply makes me think (perhaps) we have a closeted Steampunker in our midst…?? (I mean that jokenly and in good respectful humor…)

      Your views are their own, yet perhaps founded on an aberrant perspective?

      The A&C movement was many things including being part of the Greene and Greene architectural movement as well, which indirectly was based on elements of 侘寂 (Wabi Sabi.)

      So to suggest that,

      “…There is almost no hint in its design that it requires any special hand skills whatsoever…”

      is not only obtuse, but would suggest that there is a failing to understand A&C foundational design elements and the craftsmanship that did come back to create it..and yes…with both power and hand tools alike. It was the beginning (perhaps?) of actual Artisan and Craftspeople with “hand skills” tacking…good advantage…of technology for the first time.

      Much of 18th century furniture could be describe as “bourgeois.” Nothing wrong with having that view, which is honest and can be a logical assessment of parts of it…Nothing wrong with that as a general statement? A lot of stuff today could have the same said of it…

      “…Who, after all,, were able to afford the rather uninspired, bland products of the Roycroft Collective?…”

      Hmmm…At that time, and in that area…quite a few actually did. You may want to look much deeper into A&C collective culture, view and goals of Elbert Hubbard and his followers/supporters. Then again I will admit to leanings toward Hubbard’s views since I am paradoxically a Socialistic Libertarian with anarchistic characteristics. So yes, I would suggest that a number of “Yeoman” class citizenry followed and garnered much favor (and did) from this group historically. I would further suggest that there are a number of very keen and well thought of Artisans and Designers (now and historically) that would never ever describe Roycroft’s products as bland or uninspired..but good taste and sense of aesthetics is not the same for everyone…

      “…Look around at today’s “movement” of hand-tool-only moralizers…”

      Errr.Uhmmm…That is very “trollish” in flavor, but I will bite a little…

      Few that work with hand tools only (that I know or have every meet…including myself) would ever try or want to stop anyone from using power tools, since most of us at one time (or another) have to ourselves. We just suggest that the foundational skill of learning and embracing hand tools only builds a better Artisan and/or Crafts-person…That isn’t moralization that is just a simple fact of skill and knowledge building.

      “…Most of these individuals make their living not by actually making furniture in a machine-less workshop…”

      Really…???…You know most of us do you..?? This is a link to just one of our current projects:

      I would be careful about claiming who you know and understand so well or the work “of most of these individuals” and what they do, and stand up for…as you would be clearly incorrect…

      “…But let us remember that this is only possible because of the Industrial Revolution…”

      Really…well that is not a common or well held opinion historically or today among us that are part of the traditional movement. The IR was an historic event…it was a hindrance at best, and gave little to art or craft, but did make for a very wealthy upper class and bread a culture of consumerism we still have today.

      Did some good come of it??…sure, just like WWII was a great thing since we defeated Hitler…One can find Silver Linings anywhere if they choose to…So that we can agree on…Also…the IR did not give us “leisure.” That is a side effect of living in a 1st world nation…but we do have to own by living in one what it is lubricated on…

      “…What is disconcerting is to see the once productive woodworker….. who was once able to make well-crafted furniture for himself and others by using both machine and hand tools….. get derailed by the woodworking ethicists into selling off his machinery…”

      Who is doing this…??…I haven’t met any yet…So please introduce me to just one of them…I would love a discussion with them and there view of our current goals in arts and crafts.

      As to making furniture (or in my case entire buildings also) we don’t spend “endless hours” preparing stock, resharpening tools, etc…we spend just the correct amount of time doing so…And yes, some project are completely by hand tools only with the rest being a 50/50 split there about. That’s not hubris or ethics…that is just the way we have chosen to do our work…So what?

      “…A final note. Machines can be objects of beauty, craftsmanship, and intelligent design which themselves manifest a creative and unique human fingerprint and can be an absolute joy to use without robbing anyone of their humanity…”

      On this we can agree fully…yet, I don’t know of anyone in the traditional Arts and Crafts area that doesn’t agree with that…So I will keep my oil and milk paint finishes because they are superior to anything modern and if there is tear out in some of my joinery you will never see it since the guts of most things tend to be a bit rough and messy looking sometimes (or in some views) to begin with and that is why they are on the inside where they belong…

      • jenohdit says:

        With each of your posts it has become increasingly difficult to figure out what you are trying to say or who you are responding to, since what you write has little logical connection to the posts your comments follow. That has already been pointed out but apparently made little impact. I feel like I do when I’m reading instructions automatically translated from Chinese.

        • @ Jenohdit…Not sure if you where addressing me…??

          If so, I apologies if you can’t follow my comments…You seem to be the exception for the most part since I seem to get a lot of likes and side conversations about my comments by email, and directly within the discourse.

          I am also sure (pretty sure that is??) if Chris (et al of Lost Art Press) had too much difficulty with my comments (or following them?) they would speak up. Or just ignore me…either is fine.

          By all means, if anyone has such difficulty following my post…please feel free not to read them or respond to them…

          • Jay,

            A few commenters took this discussion off the rails and it became personal.

            You are a valuable voice in this community, and your thoughts on woodwork are always appreciated. Please continue to do what you do. And I’ll try to rein in some of the bare-knuckled stuff next time.

            All best,

            • No Worries Chris…This was an awesome series of post, with 99.9% of the exchanges both informative and insightful for all that chose to participate in a positive manner.

              I, for one, was made to revisit topics in more detail I hand not in for a while. New learning (or re-learning) I always find enjoyable…

              Much Thanks!

    • Don’t forget the part where Adam Cherubini show up in a (treadled-powered) Blackhawk helicopter and imprisons the woodworker’s family for his crimes against the Band of the Hand!

      • Yes, yes…bring in the the Blackhawks!!!

        With Roy Underhill in a spring pole operated Self Propelled Howitzer firing U.S. Marine grade nerve agent intended to bend the minds of all that ever dare think of touching a power tool…

        (I was going to post this reply yesterday but reconsidered it because of the bend in the conversation…Feel free to remove it, if too disturbing…but I though it was funny being an inactive U.S. Marine myself that has both fallen out of a Blackhawk and had to bury completely on a sand beach an S.P. Howitzer with only a shovel (hand tool only, mind you) for my indiscretion in catching venomous snakes for which I have a known propensity to do when they are around…)

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