Day 25: Workmanship of risk

ITE Day 25, June 27 2013. Risk is one key thing that differentiates craft from industrial production. When parts are being batch-produced using jigs and fixtures, everything is under control and each piece comes out the same with little if any risk of catastrophe. Not so in craft production. The workpiece is in constant peril, saved only by the skill and attention of the artisan. One false move, one thoughtless decision, and the workpiece can be changed irrevocably, not necessarily in the desired way, or ruined altogether. The artisan himself is also at risk for all the same reasons. This important distinction was written about most clearly by the British craft artist and theorist David Pye during the 1960s, in his book The Nature and Art of Workmanship. Some of today’s photos illustrate the point.

Ben Carpenter turned and painted this interesting shape, from heavy wet oak. He's pointing to where the wood grain is liable to split as it dries. The piece might split apart.

Ben Carpenter turned and painted this interesting shape, from heavy wet oak. He’s pointing to where the wood grain is liable to split as it dries. The piece might split apart. It might have split on the lathe, one never knows.

Ben also turned these two figure sketches from spalted maple. Seems pretty safe...

Ben also turned these two figure sketches from spalted maple. Seems pretty safe…

...until you notice the shiny nail embedded in the wood, which Ben's turning tool uncovered. Had he not noticed right away, the metal could have caught on the tool and destroyed both tool and workpiece, and perhaps the craftsman as well. Workmanship of risk.

…until you notice the shiny nail embedded in the wood, which Ben’s turning tool uncovered. Had he not heard the sound and reacted right away, the metal could have caught on the tool and destroyed both tool and workpiece, and might have injured the craftsman as well. Workmanship of risk.

Here's the pile of chips Ben created by turning the pieces shown thus far today.

Here’s the pile of chips Ben created by turning the pieces shown thus far today.

Malcolm applies liming wax to the smooth side of a bending-ply panel that he's spent most of a day texturing. It shines the wood while leaving white in the pores of the grain. It came out looking good, but if the liming effect turned out to not look right, there's no way to get it off. The panel could have been ruined.

Malcolm applies liming wax to the smooth side of a bending-ply panel that he’s spent most of a day texturing. It shines the wood while leaving white in the pores of the grain. He made a small sample and it did come out looking good, but if the liming effect turned out to not look right, there’s no way to get it off. The panel could have been ruined.

Bars, pivot pins, collars, boxwood washers. These are the parts for John's next gizmo. What you don't see are the botched parts that also got made today.

Drilled bars, pivot pins, collars, boxwood washers. These are the parts for John’s next gizmo. What you don’t see are the botched parts that also got made today.

Maple that's too soft to hold a thread. Cherry pins turned a smidgen too small. Walnut pin with a spiral catch. Boxwood bolt with a very drunken thread. Workmanship of risk.

Maple that’s too soft to hold a thread, which you can’t know until you’ve already turned it. Cherry pins turned a smidgen too small. Walnut pin with a spiral catch. Boxwood bolt with a very drunken thread. Workmanship of risk.

One thought on “Day 25: Workmanship of risk

  1. John, Great blog. We’re here and we’re reading. I wouldn’t miss it every day.
    Ben, I love your simple, colored rendition of the classic bead and cove forms.
    I would call it a “float” because it reminds me of a lobster buoy in Maine.
    A group of them in different colors, artfully arranged, would make a nice installation — perhaps reminiscent of a grouping of Chihuly glass forms.
    It’s nice to see how much fun you’re all having. …Gary Guenther, Silver Spring, MD

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