Handmade vs Ikea (Spoiler: “Handmade” wins)

Ikea has massive warehouses full of identical pieces of furniture, some are even made of that hard to find material in big stores called “wood.”  But, I despise Ikea.  It actually annoys me.  It’s too EASY to furnish your living space (including bedroom, kitchen, garage, basement, yard, porch, pool, dorm, summer house, winter house, pool house, etc.).   It’s getting something for “free” without putting any effort into it, which makes it hard to truly appreciate.  Thomas Moser explained this feeling better than I ever could, so I’ll let him explain further.

The following is an excerpt from Thomas Moser’s book “How To Build Shaker Furniture.”

Strictly speaking, the only handmade object, so far as I know, is free-formed clay pottery which is sun dried.  No tools are used, just the fingers and nature’s processes.  However, we use the term “handmade” more loosely and apply it to processes that include the use of tools of every sort.  And this, of course, is why the term really isn’t serviceable.  A better distinction, certainly a more interesting one, was advanced some years ago by a British philosopher who, when discussing the nature of workmanship, used the terms “manufacture of risk” and “manufacture of non-risk.”  According to this dichotomy, what separates one class of goods from another isn’t the use of hands but rather the risk that was present during the manufacturing process.  In other words, a man working slowly in a shop utilizing both powered and nonpowered tools, but without elaborate jigs, templates, and automatic clamping devices, runs the risk of making a mistake at almost every turn.  As he proceeds, step by step, a multitude of variables affect the outcome of his efforts.  He never really knows how it will look when he finishes.  And if he makes more than one, the parts will probably not be interchangeable, and certainly the finished objects will all be different.

The manufacture of non-risk, too, may or may not use power-driven tools and human hands, but because elaborate steps are taken at replicating parts with extremely close tolerances, the outcome of the manufacturing process is guaranteed at the very beginning.   There is no risk: the outcome is predetermined and has been programmed into the manufacturing process.

Hence, as our philosopher advises, man soon becomes bored looking at a parking lot full of shiny new cars, manufactured with no risk as to outcome, one indistinguishable from another.  Yet take the same man to a fishing harbor crowded with small boats of every description and he will spend hours delighting at the differences before him.  Is it fair to say the boats, because each one is designed and crafted one at a time, are better built than cars?  I think not.  Rather, the manufacture of risk is a far more humane enterprise for both the builder and the perceiver.  The human eye thrives on differences, the mind on the unexpected  and the soul on the individuality of human production.

Therefore, in discussing tools let us see the tool not only as the extension of the human hand but as the extension of the spirit as well.  In our shop we use power tools, jigs, templates of various sorts, and so on, but we control them, they do not control us.




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