What does "Made by Hand" Really Mean?

Hand Made

When a person looks at a piece of furniture that says its hand made, do you ever wondered what their expectation of what that really means to them is. This is something I have thought about from time to time. I’ve wondered, do they think that it was totally made by a person using nothing but his hand tools. Maybe they think it was made by a single person who loves their craft working in a small shop instead of in a factory, on a production line, in a foreign country. Maybe some just don’t care at all they just like the looks of the piece.

If a woodworker cuts their dovetails with a hand saw then cleans the waste out with a router instead of a chisel, is that still a hand cut dovetail? and can the piece still be considered handmade? what about if you spray the finish instead of hand applying it with a brush, or a rag. What if they picked up their lumber with their truck instead of packing it home in their horse and wagon? Where do we draw the line between handmade and production?

In this age of mass production where the idea of a being a cabinet maker, furniture maker, or even a carpenter is being trained to do just one or two operations and then passing it off to the next person in the line to complete the next step and so on, and so on, until its ready for shipment. I think that if a craftsman builds a piece from conception to finish that what makes it a handmade piece, even if they did use power tools to do some of the grunt work. I really don’t think that they are misrepresenting their work by calling it handmade.

I respect woodworkers who choose to use the hand tool only approach for doing their work. I know how much skill and labor it takes to work that way. I also know that most of them do it for their own satisfaction more than for their customers or as a marketing ploy. Most customers in my experience are more concern with when the project will be finished, the total cost, and how it looks when its finished, than they are about whether you hand-cut the dovetails or lovingly planed every boards to a nice finish. Some I think would even prefer the uniformity of a machine made piece over the subtle difference they would find in piece that is made from hand tools only. Mainly, I think this is because that is what most people have been taught to be quality. Again some people just don’t care.

Now when someone is doing the work for themselves, or for someone who would appreciate their skills, that is a different story. I don’t know any woodworker that don’t love to talk about how they sawed this joint, or how sweet their plane was zipping along making fine shavings. That is why so many of us have blogs I think. The experience of making something just using hand tools is a very rewarding project that I believe every woodworker should do at lease once.

Me, I use both my hand tools and machines to do my work. I’ve worked hard for many years to learn how to use both. learning to use my handtools taught me how and when to better use my power tools, using power tool lets me get repeatable results in less time to make what I produce more affordable, and when I finish a project, I consider it a 100% hand made, after all it was my hands that held that router as much as it was that guided my handsaw.

Just My Thoughts


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