Craftsmanship

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1 INTRODUCTION

Sennett’s1 Chapter 1 opens with a romantic but popular image.

Peering through a window into a carpenter’s shop, you see inside an elderly man surrounded by his apprentices and his tools. Order reigns within, parts of chairs are clamped neatly together, the fresh smell of wood shavings fills the room, the carpenter bends over his bench to make a fine incision for marquetry.

Quakers might be more familiar with Walter Rose’s2 portrait of The Village Carpenter. The experience of being a craftsman and doing well-crafted work is very different.

Craftsman is a term reaching back to our earliest recorded history. Sennett3 has traced its first celebration to Homer’s Hymn to Hephaestus. The “man” in craftsman refers generically to the human species, Homo sapiens. It is not a reference to the gender of members of the species. The term is gender free and, in our overly politically correct society, I will continue to use it.

Early Quakers were no strangers to crafts (George Fox himself was the son of a weaver, an apprentice cobbler and an itinerant shoemaker), craftsmanship and the craft livery companiesand - at least in London. In the Goldsmiths company Quaker members can be identified as being admitted into membership while non-Quaker members were admitted and sworn.4

2 CRAFTSMANSHIP DESCRIPTION

Craftsmanship is about how you do something, doing it well and getting a good result.
How I do something is about how I think, how I feel and how I act. When I do it well, I perform acts that produce the result I want. I control and manage what I do so that I avoid and deal with errors, use as little time and energy as possible and I have fun. When I get a good result, I meet my own and other people’s needs, I have fun (and so do they). I get recognition and respect from other people. What I do motivates others, helps us all move forward, make the world a better place.

Craftsmanship is not a simple idea that one knows intuitively. Most people today have no idea what craftsmanship is, either they have forgotten it or the concept has simply passed them by.5

The craftsman cares about the work he produces; there is a sense of craftsmanship, regardless of the job (practical, abstract or academic), because it is a reflection of his personal character and integrity. It is a pleasure to watch him work, as it is to watch anyone who knows what they are doing, be it a waitress, a programmer, a labourer or a clerk. Quality and service are considered paramount. If it is not just right, it is done over again until it is right. Money is not the prime motivating factor, although clearly it has an important role.6

Craftsmanship, applies universally to any line of work including furniture restoration, software programming, Quakerism and home-making.

Craftsmanship is more than workmanship. It includes quality, effectiveness, efficiency and artistry. Good quality, well-crafted work meets the need and does the job it was intended to do. It is efficient of time, materials and effort. It is free of faults. It is likely to be durable, easy to use and easy to maintain. It is aesthetically elegant and may be decorative.

A good craftsman is also a good workman who uses the best most appropriate materials, deploys techniques, tools and methods in an efficient process to produce the result quickly, with least waste of time, energy or material. The good workman is reliable, producing consistently good work under various forms of stress – personal, social, economic, practical and so on.

A craftsman deploys skill and knowledge and judgement as well as workmanship. The craftsman combines the observation of a artist, with the curiosity of the scientist, the discipline of a monk, the control of a manager, the manipulation of an engineer, the problem solving of a designer, the care of a medical doctor, the insight of the academician, and the risk-taking of the entrepreneur. The craftsman aspires to excellence, recognizes the experience of achievement, of meeting challenges. The craftsman is also a person in a community.

In the absence of craftsmen, a rigorous methodology or assembly line process is needed to produce quality goods using workers without the expertise of craftsmen. Such processes detail "Who" is to perform "What" work, "When", "Where", "Why" and "How", thereby assuring that a quality product or service is produced. Such is the underlying rationale of the ISO 9000 certification as used by many companies today.7 In moral terms do you do what you say you will do. The point is, quality is not the exclusive domain of the craftsman.

Craftsmanship can be found in either the whole work process or in just a section of it. For example, there are craftsmen who are intimate with all facets of building furniture, such as a table, a chair or desk, and can implement the product from start to finish. However, as products grow in complexity (a house, an aircraft, a factory nor and community), it becomes difficult to find people suitably qualified craftsmen to build them from the womb to the tomb. In other words, craftsmen have a specific scope of work. The scope of work may integrate with other craftsmen through a chain of work dependencies, e.g., Craftsmen A, B and C concentrate on separate sub-assemblies which are eventually joined into a single product.8 For example a joiner, caver, turner, wood-finisher and upholsterer might come together to produce a dining chair according to the designer’s vision under the management of the business. In the eighteenth century period of classic English furniture it was not economic for one man to produce a single piece of furniture craftsmen were specialised so the products of say a Chippendale or a William Vile were constructions of the various craftsmen in the workshop business.

Craftsmanship is not a single all-or-nothing thing. There are degrees or levels of craftsmanship. At one level say an apprentice, the craftsman can do what he is told to do, to the required standard. The journeyman, can perform a complete job without supervision. At a third level say expert, the craftsman is able to solve problems and devise new methods, ways of working and so on to adapt to a new situation. At the advanced levels the craftsman might combine practical craft skill in say cabinet-making with trade and business skills to be a master craftsman; or with teaching skills to be a craft teacher; or with research skills to be an academic craftsman.

Talent, a God-given capability to perform and achieve to high standard of craftsmanship is often confused with craftsmanship or thought to be a prerequisite for the exercise of craftsmanship at a high standard. I find it is more helpful to distinguish between the God-given capability for physical or mental crafts (which includes physiological and neurological arrangements) and the achievements gained through the training, exercise and dedication of whatever capability one might possess. Neither physiology nor schooling determine high attainment though the lack of either will preclude it. In the grey area in between these extremes, training, exercise and dedication can in general deploy talent to achieve a creditable result.

3 ELEMENTS OF CRAFTSMANSHIP

I suggest there are six basic elements of craftsmanship.

3.1 Domain

Although he might use many different types of material, the work of a craftsman is characterised by one particular material with which he works. The material might be physical, as in the case of handcraft (such as wood for traditional furniture), or mental (a novel or an original research report) or intangible (a computer program or a dance).

Craftsmanship is always for a purpose and has a function – even when deployed by an artist in a work for art’s sake. Craftsmanship does not exist in a vacuum for its own sake. The craftsman is conscious, aware, purposeful and intelligent.

3.2 Skill

The core notion of craftsmanship involves manipulation of the material to a high standard of efficiency, effectiveness and aesthetic quality. Skill carries with it knowledge of the tools, materials and tasks that are appropriate to the domain. It also involves practices, disciplines and standards – physical, mental and spiritual. In my observation the best craftsmen have both mental and physical skills and use them both to good effect.

Traditional craftsmen talk a great deal about practice as repetition of a procedure or technique, as expertise developed from long experience of many different situations, as good and bad practice. In traditional handcrafts these practices are undocumented, time honoured and passed on from one craftsman to another, often as ‘war stories’. In more recent crafts one can find engineering and laboratory manuals that contain at least some information on practices. In many engineering and bureaucratic crafts one can find formal standards - local standards thorough to international standards.

The craftsman has tools that make it easy, efficient, and possible to manipulate the objects and materials in his domain. The tools are obvious and physical for the hand craftsman, engineer or scientist. They are less obvious (but no less real) for the diagnostician, the thinker or the artist.

The craftsman understands and respects the process of delivering a product or service and is acutely aware of the penalties for cutting corners. The craftsman is intimate with all details of his scope of work, he creates the methodology himself. Further, his intimacy with the work process means he can produce a reliable estimate of time and costs to perform the work.9

Although many of the craftsman's [actions] may be repetitive, it doesn't mean he easily falls into a rut. Instead, he is constantly looking for new tools and techniques to improve the work process. As such, he plays the role of Industrial Engineer who is normally charged with such a task.10

3.3 Knowledge

The craftsman has a body of organised perceptions, information and manipulations, theories and models, conventions, traditions, standards, attitudes and experience.

Sennett follows Polanyi’s influential work on Tacit knowledge also known as personal knowledge. In essence the knowledge of the craftsman is the unconscious knowledge in one’s finger-tips, thought to be unknowable, un-expressible and un-teachable, which can only be learned through observation and imitation. In a cynical mood I would see this as the self-serving camouflage of the craftsman protecting his area of expertise; the attitude of the intellectual who does not want to engage with a phenomenon; the dismissive one-up-manship of someone who does want to expose himself to criticism on a topic of difficulty or ignorance. In my opinion, this view denigrates the craftsman and may have a lot to do with the decline of craftsmanship in our education, economy and general society.

It is true, at least in my experience, that highly skilled craftsmen know that they have a skill and know what they can and can’t achieve with it but are often (even usually) unable to describe how they do what they do. Often they invent their own personal language for what they do. Recently as I have worked with my crafts, I have made notes on what I do and how I do it. I have noticed that I tend to develop a language for what I m doing. This seems to be typical of crafts people. Unfortunately each person, each craftsman invents a different language, using different terms for the same thing.

It is one thing to be unaware of and unable to describe actions or instruct others. It is quite another to claim that unconscious knowledge cannot be described, symbolised analysed and discussed. Listen to two craftsmen swapping ‘war stories’! Every teacher and academic researcher will instantly refute the idea – they teach and discuss practical and intellectual skills every day.

All craftsmen, in addition to their practical or handwork skills also possess and use a considerable body of knowledge of their materials, tools, methods, techniques an problems. Often this knowledge is spoken about as a set of rules: in this situation do this; do this in this way; do this before that and so on. Some of these rules are codified and taught as standards of good practice, trade, industry and international standards. In principle as with other bodies of knowledge, it would be possible to codify these rules. However I believe there is more to a craftsman’s knowledge that a set of production rules.

All craftsmen need reliable information. Traditional knowledge tried and tested over generations is one sort of reliable knowledge. Personal experience of many jobs and situations is a highly trusted source of knowledge. Science-based knowledge is another sort of trustworthy knowledge. Science-based knowledge is often packaged into the craftsman’s tools and into the materials and supplies that he uses.

It is obvious that the crafts of science and technology involve and might depend on understanding and knowledge of science. It is equally obvious but less generally recognised that knowledge derived from science also plays a significant role in practical and traditional crafts. As scientific knowledge extends and develops in fields such as human and animal behaviour, social psychology, sociology and anthropology, science-based knowledge becomes increasingly relevant to the practice of any craft. The important attributes of this knowledge are that it is reliable, objective and relevant to the situation in hand.

The craftsman is an expert in his field of endeavour; so much so that he could easily serve as an instructor in the subject matter. But the craftsman is also smart enough to know that education is not a one-time thing, that his world and field evolve as new tools and techniques are introduced. As such, the craftsman is a student of his profession and is constantly looking to improve himself. This is exercised through such things as continued education, routine certification, studying books and trade publications, and industrial groups. The craftsman willingly participates in craft and professional groups, often at his own expense, in order to network with his peers.

While some forms of craftsmanship require the craftsman to have an academic or formal education, others can be transmitted less formally by apprenticeship in some form. The essence of the education is the transfer of knowledge, understanding and insight from the master to the pupil. Education in its formal sense is a function of society by which transmits knowledge, skills and values to the next generation. The essence of training is the transfer of practical competency in the craftsman’s domain from one to another. Here again some mental and communication skills require the rigor of an academic experience while others need critically supervised physical experience.

3.4 Values

Craftsmen’s values are expressed in the nature and quality of the work they do and in the way that they do it. Recently, there have also been concerns about the nature of the materials they use in relation to a sustainable ecology and to endangered species. Craftsmen are dedicated to good quality work, to efficiency and to effectiveness. To this I would add professional and moral ethics, quality of performance (as well as achievement) and continual pursuit of excellence.

3.5 People

Craft work is always a social activity although it appears that the worker is solitary and focused on the work in hand. Most obviously learning a craft from one or more masters is a social activity – the two must be physically present together and interacting in some way for the knowledge transfer to take place. A great deal can be transmitted through words and pictures but at some point even mathematicians prefer face-to-face interactions.

In a multi-person shop (engineering works, development team, or whatever) there are clearly social relationships between the people involved. Hopefully they are all craftsmen with a shared interest in the enterprise as well in their own craft.

The craftsman meets and interacts with his customer (notional in the case of family and friends) at least twice: when the commission is accepted and when the result is delivered. The craftsman buys tools and materials from suppliers. In times past these were also face-to-face social encounters. Today there is more and more buying and selling on the internet. Nevertheless these remain social exchanges, though no longer face-to-face. The craftsman, even the lone craftsman working from home, belongs to a community of similar craftsmen. They meet face-to-face, correspond with each other, inhabit chat rooms, contribute to and subscribe to newsletters and journals (physical and electronic) and so on.

All crafts involve trading in goods and services, for the materials, tools, time and energy needed to produce them. It is rare to be able to mine one’s own flint or harvest one own rush. Less tangible and more arcane crafts still require time and energy to acquire and to practice. These must be paid for somehow by someone. In the past great artists and great scholars always had a patron or the endowment of a seat of learning.

In my observation, success as a craftsman depends as much on social skills and contacts as it does on the excellence of the craft work.

3.6 Experience

The experience of doing good work is the same for all good craftsmen. There is the mystery and wonder of seeing material transformed from before to after and the elation of solving a problem and competing a job. For some there is the added excitement of creating something new. On the other hand there is a constant fear of failing and the challenge of dealing with threats, difficulties requiring patience, fortitude and resilience. There are uncertainties to be embraced and risks to be managed. Judgements need to be made and decisions taken with wisdom, executed with commitment and responsibility taken with maturity.

Craftsmen focus on the task in hand and follow a discipline, sometimes of their own making sometimes handed down by tradition. They engage with the task and they are committed to their craft, accepting the sacrifices that this entails. Focused attention, engagement and discipline are the bedrock of the craftsmans’ characteristic attention to detail.

Craftsmen are endlessly curious in their domain. They inspect and study each new situation, interpret it, visualise the end result, manage the logistics of materials and skills and execute the actions necessary to realise their vision.

Expertness, the wise problem solving and giving of advice is characteristic of the good craftsman and is often the product of wide rather than long experience. “Experience is doing the same thing a thousand times. Expertise is doing a thousand different things.” Expertness alone is not craftsmanship. And many people confuse experience with craftsmanship.

"Dependable", "professional", and "resourceful" are adjectives that aptly describe the craftsman. He is not one who makes excuses but, rather, always finds a way to get the job done. The craftsman is typically your most productive employee.11

4 QUALITY AND CRAFTSMANSHIP

Quality of the end result be it a piece of furniture, a software program or an piece of research, is often confused with the quality of the process by which the result was achieved. It is believed that if a good result has been achieve the process must have been good and the process is not very interesting compared to the result.

A good craftsman constantly checks and monitors what he or she does. At the end of each small step there is a time of inspection of what has been done. Progress is assessed and a judgement made about whether to continue, rework and modify the work plan. Inspecting something for quality is a matter of
• Knowing where to look
• Knowing what to look at
• Knowing what to look for
• Knowing how it interpret what you see
• Having a standard with a set of realistic criteria against which to assess what one sees.

In my experience highly skilled craftsmen know when something is not right and can point it out. they know what they would do to put it right. What they find difficult is to tell me whet i did wrong in getting that poor result. They also seem unable to tell me what quality standard I should be working to.

There seems to me to be a need to teach (and learn) quality and what quality means.
• What quality is: good and bad examples with commentary to point out what is good and bad. Need examples available for reference as training progresses. Teach what to look at, what to look for and how to interpret what is seen in relation to an appropriate quality standard.
• How to achieve quality: teach the process for working, understanding how things work and how to control them. Teach how to perform the best actions and why one method is better than another. Teach what to practice and how to practice it.
• Good judgement, [judgement is about making good interpretations and making good decisions which lead to desired results] is akin to wisdom. It might be taught by guided application of theory and experience, guided interpretation of real examples, the active development of intuition, encouragement of observation [seeing/hearing, noting what is seen/heard, learning/recording it, interpreting it, applying it to a similar situation]
• Respect for passions and emotions. Creating and engineering are intense emotional experiences. There are times of great anguish when things break or go wrong. Times of elation as something works or there is success beyond expectation. Frustration can be very upsetting. A good craftsman must learn to cope with these feelings in himself and in her staff and colleagues. Walking away is just not good enough.

5 TEACHING OR LEARNING GOOD CRAFTSMANSHIP

This is topical for me because I have just graduated from the highest grade upholstery course in the country with a merit.

Traditionally craftsmanship was taught though a seven-year indentured, time-served apprenticeship. Learned by example, imitation, trial and error and practice. In modern courses there are a series of progressively more difficult practical tasks which are subjectively assessed by an authority. Theory I sometimes confused with the history of the craft or the history of art.

This contrasts with the way that science is taught. Understanding and theory are taught by lectures with example exercises and laboratory work. Laboratory and research techniques taught as crafts.

6 MAKER AND RESTORER

6.1 Introduction

I have focused on “mending the world” as the point at which craftsmanship bears on the Quaker. A Quaker who deals with intangible personal relationships, is unrecognised but none the less a craftsman. It is illuminating to think of a Quaker as a master craftsman.

Craftsmen are not all the same. When one thinks of a craftsman, typically one thinks of someone who makes something, a creative, an engineer and so on. I suggest that the person who maintains something, who fixes what is in error, broken or failed is also a craftsman, but of a very different order. Parents who make and bring up children are one thing, teachers and medical practitioners are of a very different order (but of course they may also be parents).

6.2 Maker

We tend to think of craftsmen as creative designers, artisans and makers of objects of artistic or economic value. A maker is someone who makes an object in response to a brief. In the case of an object for his own use the maker provides his own brief, which might be formal or informal. Highly rated makers are original and creative, as well as reliable in performance. Entrepeneurial makers are also traders and business people.

Makers are focused on the creation of a new or original object that satisfies the brief. The maker’s values are typically in order: creative, utility, fashion, status, commercial value, and originality. Usefulness or utility in this context typically means function and appearance. The core process model used by makers is typically: design, build, finish and use. The primary criterion in selecting materials and substances for use in a construction is that it is available. A good maker will have a sound working knowledge of product design. A typical maker will have a primary skill in construction. The maker’s general attitude towards the work, its methods, judgements and objects is typically realistic, practical and prompt. The maker’s risk tolerance is typically entrepreneurial.

In the arts-science-practical space, makers typically tend more towards the artistic. Increasingly, especially in technology areas, a sound knowledge of the relevant sciences is a factor in creating a good product efficiently.

Makers typically work with ‘perfect’ pieces such as flat surfaces and squared angles. They work with new consistent or coherent materials. They have design drawings with shapes and profiles – for original artists and artisans they have drawn them themselves. Makers work with a primary material such as wood, metal, plastic, textile. The maker requires knowledge of the application as well as the materials, tools and methods of working it. Greater attention to detail usually means a better, more robust and longer lasting solution.

Typically makers are formally educated and trained. Design skills and originality are among the keys to success for a maker. Trading skills in obtaining materials and in marketing are typically required for practical success in making. Ethical considerations enter into the maker’s business activities, the employment of staff and the procurement of materials.

Management of the commission including timely satisfaction of the brief and economic management of the overall business is critical to success. Expertise is focused on satisfying the brief and in reliable performance.

The maker begins with a brief that specifies the client’s requirement: states the problem to be solved and the conditions that must be satisfied. The maker researches the problem and the requirements, looks for solutions, materials and methods until the best solution is found. He then makes detailed and careful drawings of all the components, plans and costs the making process. The maker constructs them (or has them constructed) from the chosen materials according to the drawings, fashioning them at workbenches and in workshops according to the craft employed. The components are assembled and fixed together. The objects are treated with the chosen finishes and tested. There are revisions and refinements through the process as the solution object is realized.

6.3 Restorer

Restoration is a scarcely recognized trade or profession, perhaps because it is one of the most demanding and difficult. Restoration of heritage objects is thought of as a voluntary or leisure pursuit; plumbers, electricians and builders are thought of as necessary, inconvenient fixers, rather than craftsmen and professionals.

Not only must the restorer master the dozen or so trades that go to make, say a chair, and match their performance of them to the quality of the likes of Chippendale, he must be a sculptor of form, an engineer of structure and mechanisms, an artist to match colours and tones, he must be a forensic detective to understand each piece of furniture, a scientist to test and apply theories and principles, a doctor to diagnose and treat the ailments of furniture, a designer of processes and treatment regimes and a manager of a project.

The restorer’s focus is on the object’s ailments: what has happened to the piece of furniture, what is broken, what is damaged, what needs to be replaced. The primary criteria in selecting materials and substances for use in a treatment is that it is available but also contemporary with the piece being restored.

Restorers have to deal with parts that are bent, broken, friable, dented scratched, corroded or otherwise degraded. They have to deal with the actual dimensions and angles of parts – rather than with what they should be or were designed to be. An important part of their job is to preserve and sometimes replicate the patina12of a surface. The restorer has to cope with partly disassembled or partly assembled objects with difficult to access areas and restricted work spaces.

The way the restorer works is very different from the way the maker works. The furniture (or car, or house, or whatever) is in the middle and the restorer brings tools, materials and skills to it. Restoration begins with a stage of inspection, study and diagnosis, from which emerges a diagnosis of the ailments and their root causes. From the diagnosis the restorer moves on to choose the most appropriate set of treatments for the circumstances. Implementing the planned treatment is not a simple, linear exercise like the one the maker uses. At each step the restorer has to check, inspect and evaluate. Further repetitions might be needed to match a colour, the step might not give the results expected and contingency steps or even rework might be needed. Only when all the work is done and all the ailments dealt with, can the restorer be sure that it is satisfactory and only then can he be sure of how long it took and how much it cost.

The restorer’s primary skills are in diagnosis, problem-solving and treatment. The restorer must have a sound working knowledge of the materials and tools used and the science that underpins them. The restorer uses the disciplines of science and technology as well as the insight and creativity of the artist. The restorer is intimately acquainted with mistakes and failures and with the richness of the subjective experience of a restoration project.

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