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.




Reclaimed Wood Floating Mantels

I have always wanted to have a mantel over a fireplace.  So I made two – And here’s how!

I don’t like the idea of paying full price for anything or buying anything new.  If a tree has already been cut down, why not keep using it until it becomes termite food?  So that is what we did.  We took a trip to a green building store called Building Value on Spring Grove Avenue.  Building Value is a non-profit reclaimed building supply store that is pretty awesome.

In this case we were looking for a big wood beam.  What we found was a wood beam that had been salvaged from a late 1800’s house.  $40.00.

Cutting the beam into the actual mantels is pretty self explanatory…use a saw or 2 or 3 -whatever kind you have.  I used a circular saw, sawzall, hand saws, and hand planes.   Pull out all of the nails.  You can even use a metal detector to check for nails you missed (like I missed).  Luckily I found several nails with the sawzall and not the circular saw.  Make sure the back of the mantel is flat and 90 degrees from the top so it sits flat against the wall.

Once the beams were cut into the shape/size I wanted, I coated them with 3 coats of lacquer-just to give it a little more “finished” look.

Now for the fun part: Making them float.

To do this, I used a pretty simple technique.  The only parts I had to buy were six lag bolts (10″ or 12″ long lag bolts, depending on how thick the mantel is).  First, I decided where the mantels would be mounted.  Using an electronic stud finder, I found where three studs were behind each mantel.  I drilled a hole into each stud and screwed the lag bolt in (fairly deep).

Next, using a sawzall (now with a metal cutting blade), I cut off the heads of each of the six lag bolts.  You are now left with 3 metal “dowels” sticking out of the wall!

To transfer the exact location of the “dowels” to the back of the mantel, I made a cardboard template the exact size of each of my mantels and mounted the cardboard to the wall.  Make sure to mark the top and the bottom of your template as well as the top and bottom of your mantel (on the back) – It makes a difference, speaking from experience…

Then, using the cardboard template, transfer the locations of the holes to the back of the mantels and drill holes the depth and diameter of the lag bolts.

Finally, slide the mantels over the lag bolts and flat against the wall!  I originally planned to glue the mantels into place, however, I found that the weight of the wood is MORE than enough to hold them in place.

This was a two day project:

– Day one cutting the wood mantels/lacquering the wood

– Day two mounting the mantels