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Thread: OK, so what does "hand made" really mean?

  1. #1
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    OK, so what does "hand made" really mean?

    On a recent thread here, reference was made to machine cut and hand cut dovetails. I don't know if this ranks up with the middle east issues in importance but the argumentative among us want to know. When does use of power tools eliminate the braggin' rights to say something is 'hand made'. After all, even the hairy, smelly Neanders among us use tools. It is possible to fashion something with a saw, or chisel and hammer without actually touching the wood with bare hands. I hang out with a few wood carvers. Their definition (not without detractors) is that as long as the cutting tool is held with the hand, it is hand carved. That means even a power cutter. For us, howzabout a dovetail guide and router. Is that 'hand cut'? I think so. Let the barbs fly.
    "Folks is funny critters."

    Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too. ~Voltaire

  2. #2
    Starting us off with the easy ones eh Frank?

    This is a definition that I am interested in because I sell my products as "hand made" but I use spindle moulders and planers and pin routers and.... to make them. For me they are hand made because the final fit and finish is done by a human (probably!) using hands and eyes to adjust for fit and finish and the entire piece is made at once by one person.

    Dovetails is an interesting train of thought. A set of dovetails created using a dovetail template and a router is not, in my view, hand made or maybe more accurately hand cut. But if that set of dovetails is on a drawer in a dresser which is made by one person from start to finish and is fettled by hand and eye to a finished product then the dresser is hand made even though the dovetails aren't.

    I am considering installing a CNC router to shape some of the components that I use. These components will make up a smal part of the overall product and will be finished by hand in any case so I will continue to consider my chairs as "hand made" although I will bet that there are as many definitions as there are definers.

  3. #3
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    This is so simple.

    If you get an idea in your head, walk over to a "system" and speak in some detail to it and then walk to the other end of the "system" and pick up the finished product, retail packaged....it ain't hand made!

    This topic comes up often in comparing crafts such as laser cutting via computer program, a puzzle for an example, versus cutting with a scroll saw. For me, they represent different skill sets. The same person with the talent to cut on a scroll saw, may well not have the skill set to program the design into the computer/laser.

    I have a friend that vacuum forms plastic car's, destined for the RC market. He then assembles a collection of different components to make up the finished product...is it "hand made"...not in my thinking. It may be hand assembled but not hand made.

    Don't think there is a definitive answer to this one.

  4. #4
    I define that to mean "Made by one's own hand" as different from production construction where a series of industrialized work stations go together to mass produce a series of look-a-like products. The industrial product might be as good as or even better fitting and stronger joints and "perfect in every way". Hand Made means someone built the project from start to finish. If or not he used power tools and jig and fixtures or scratched it out with a flint knife, he/she still produced the product through his/her skills.

    Hand made is not always better, just as Amish made is not alway better made, just it is made by Amish craftsmen. We assume through past negative experiences with production pieces that hand made is better. In many cases it may be, but often new technology can produce a far superior product, Exact fitting joints, excellant surface prep and smooth enduring finishes can be had more redially by production industry (Speaking of top end furniture) than a man (or men/women) working in a small shop. But on the other hand... Hand made will also mean there is a difference in every piece because only machines make flawless cuts and passes.

    Is it hand made if a turner makes his four table legs using a duplicator? I have an opinion on that issue but the entire piece may be considered hand made, knowing the legs were machine copied. Personally I would prefer that each leg have that slight defining difference that signifies someone spent hours addressing a lathe and his/her skill was able to produce matching set.

    Dovetails with a router or with a saw? Should be defined as hand cut or handmade as the whole piece is the determining factor. By my definition, I believe it still goes back to who started the piece and who finished it, Are they the same?

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Douglas Jones View Post
    This is so simple.

    If you get an idea in your head, walk over to a "system" and speak in some detail to it and then walk to the other end of the "system" and pick up the finished product, retail packaged....it ain't hand made!

    This topic comes up often in comparing crafts such as laser cutting via computer program, a puzzle for an example, versus cutting with a scroll saw. For me, they represent different skill sets. The same person with the talent to cut on a scroll saw, may well not have the skill set to program the design into the computer/laser.

    I have a friend that vacuum forms plastic car's, destined for the RC market. He then assembles a collection of different components to make up the finished product...is it "hand made"...not in my thinking. It may be hand assembled but not hand made.

    Don't think there is a definitive answer to this one.
    Indeed, many gray areas are involved. Does your friend buy the molds for the vacuum-formed car bodies or does he make them himself? Does the laser guy buy his patterns or draw them himself? For that matter, does the scrollsaw guy buy his patterns or draw them himself?

    Leaving aside the rather knotty question of artistry vs craftsmanship, I have a fundamental issue with people determining the worth of a product by the technology level of the tools used to produce it. In the end, the mind drives the hand and the hand drives the tool...if the mind and the hand and the tool belong to the same person, that's "hand-made" by any definition that truly matters.
    Where are we going? And what am I doing in this handbasket?

  6. #6
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    If you plug it in or turn it on, is it made by your hands or a machine?
    Sounds to me to be one of those personal conviction things.

  7. #7
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    I too sell my furniture as 'hand-made'.

    I too use power tools and machines to help me do it.

    I don't see any contradiction in this; the machinery simply aids me in producing the componants I need for the piece of furniture - everything is then assembled completely by hand and then finished by hand.

    Where do you draw the line? Does 'hand-made' mean that you don't use a jointer or table saw to dimension your timber? No. So what is the difference between that and using a router to cut dovetails?

    At the end of the day it makes no difference anyway. There is nothing intrinsically better about a hand cut joint than a machine cut one, and a client is certainly not going to pay more for it!

    To me, 'hand-made' simply means that a piece is made by a person rather than popping out of a big factory on a conveyer belt.

  8. #8
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    This is a very good question and one that I could not easily answer when I first read it.

    However, most responses to the question have been very good and I think that I now have an answer. That answer is best summed up by Duncan in his sentance: "To me, 'hand-made' simply means that a piece is made by a person rather than popping out of a big factory on a conveyer belt."
    Cheers, Frank

  9. #9
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    I have a whole shop full of machinery, and also a lot of hand tools. Overall, I think I use one type just as much as the other.

    I consider all my 'stuff' hand made.

    I may use the jointer and planer to prepare the stock. My hands guide it thru the machines.

    I may cut the pieces to shape/size on the table saw, band saw, or with a Disston D-8 or a Japanese pull saw. In each case, though, my hands guide the piece, the tool, or both.

    And the joinery... Whether I nail (with hammer or air nailer), screw (by hand or with a power driver), or glue (with or without biscuits) a joint together, it's my hands that fit and align the pieces for the joint.

    and finally, whether I spray, brush, or wipe the finish on, it's my hands that do the applying, rubbing, waxing, etc.

    So, yeah, everything that comes out of my (well mechanized) shop is hand made.
    Jim D.
    Adapt, Improvise, Overcome!

  10. #10
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    Let's see . . . I made a small box pretty much without burning electrons but, I did use a dado blade to hog out the bulk of the material in the G&G-like finger-joints. A wall hanging jewelry cabinet entailed a lot of hand work but, I did use a TS to rip the boards and I did use a lunch box planer to thickness them.

    I would still consider them both hand made as I made them doing something other than just pushing a "George Jetson" style button on some magical machine and having whatever I had envisioned in my mind just pop out the other end. If I did it all with hand tools, would those tools have to have been made by hand as well? Hmmm, a very interesting question and not one that I can see a black and white answer for. I did enjoy the mental exercise though ;-)
    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
    - Arthur C. Clarke

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