08 May, 2014

Craftsmanship (an alcohol fueled rant)

There's a time and place for craftsmanship and then there's a time and place for getting things done.  The box you see here is one of my latest projects and is going to one of my nephews.  He was recently sworn in as a deputy at the local county Sheriff's department and I wanted to make something special for him.  I selected some of the best wood I had on hand, carefully prepared that stock by hand, cut the dovetails by hand and am at the point of putting some sort of finish on it.  A project like this is worthy of my best efforts because it's not something that will be thrown away when fashions change.  It's also built well enough that it will outlast (by a long margin) any crap that you can find at your local Ikea store.  This simple box will, probably, go through a generation or two of future family members.  It's totally worth the effort I put into it.  Then there's the Limbert-esque bookcase I have in my living room.  It was in an issue of Popular Woodworking and I thought it was something I could make.  I found out the hard way that my skills were not up to par with the project.  About five years passed from the start of that project until completion.  When I look at it all I see are the glaring flaws, but that's a self inflicted punishment all woodworkers seem to have.  That bookcase is one of the things I've made that will probably get handed down from one generation to the next.  Again, worth my best efforts.

A woodworking magazine editor recently put a photo up on their blog of a kitchen drawer that had been dovetailed.  By hand.  The reasons given were "practice", "Good therapy", "Lack of efficient power tools at home" et al.  Fine.  Whatever trips your trigger.  The reason this editor was getting so much crap, from other woodworkers, was because this editor is trying to sell the house.  Why is this fact important?  I'm glad you asked.

In this day and age people don't know quality cabinetry from a hole in the wall.  They don't give a rat's ass either.  The overwhelming trend is people thinking good furniture comes from Ikea and kitchen cabinets are purchased from the local Orange Borg.  Again, whatever trips your trigger.  What you people don't realize is that the cabinets you're purchasing from Lowly's are mass produced like cars and toasters.  They're made to match whatever kitchen styling fad is current and they can only be expected to last until the next fad comes along.  Period.  I look at these assembly line cabinets regularly and can see the signs of CNC robots everywhere.  It's probably a long shot, but I'll assume you know what a dovetail joint looks like.  You might be browsing cabinets at the Orange Box, will pull open a drawer and notice some dovetails.  "Ooooh, look Muffy.  Dovetail construction."  Yeah, dovetails made by a computer aided machine.  The cabinet doors will probably be "cope and stick" instead of mortise and tenon.  And that "Antique Cherry Finish" that you're drooling over?  It's plywood.  Sorry to burst your bubble.  Does it really matter?  No, probably not.  You'll fill your kitchen with whatever is trendy and then, ten to fifteen years later, rip it all out and replace that stuff with something "modern."  You should be ashamed of yourselves.  You, through your lack of knowledge (thanks for cutting all those shop classes public school systems across the US!) are the reason real quality cannot be found in every store.  If you found a local woodworker and asked him/her to make you cabinets for your kitchen, you would pass out when told what it would cost you.  The shit you find in the box stores is cheap because there's hardly any craftsmanship involve.  It's all assembly line CNC stuff.  It's not made to last for generations.  The factories are giving you what you want.  Low prices, simulated styles and just enough quality to last until you change your fucking mind again.  Sad.

What really irks me is that the people creating the demand for cheap, lack-luster kitchen cabinets are often the same people who haunt antique stores.  Where the hell do you think those "antiques" came from?  Ever think about that?  You should.  Those old blanket chests, tables, secretaries, wash stands, dry sinks, chairs etc came off the workbenches of men (not being sexist, women weren't doing this sort of thing way back when) who were working with hand tools and ages old construction methods.  That's why those antiques you treasure so have lasted as long as they have.  Just look at all the shit DIYers are making with old doors.  Headboards, dressing screens and such.  Ever ponder why those doors are still around?  In a hundred years from now, you won't be finding any "antiques" that have been put together with pocket screws.  The public demand for lower and lower prices drove all those old craftsman out of business.  It became a factory thing.  And what is the goal of a factory?  Lowest possible overhead and highest possible profit.  Quality?  Meh.  Whatever gets the "product" through the warranty period and then nobody gives a fuck. 

If I was planning on selling my house I would not waste any time or craftsmanship when replacing kitchen cabinets.  The chance the next owner would even know what a dovetailed drawer looks like, much less a  hand cut dovetailed drawer, is slim to none.  I'd thrown effort only into the drawer pulls, door knobs and cabinet doors.  Those are all anyone is going to be concerned with.  "Ooooh, look Muffy.  Those drawer pulls have an antique brass 'finish' on them."  Hook, line and sinker.  I would spend my skills only on things that I could take with me.

You need to stop treating cabinetry and furniture as disposable items.  You're the problem.  Quality furniture and cabinetry is going to be really, really expensive.  But it will last many lifetimes.  The cabinets in my kitchen are original to the house.  They're ho-hum in style and lack dovetailed drawers, but they were built when people still gave a damn.  Despsite the lack of dovetails, they've lasted 60 years and counting.  Get a subscription to a woodworking magazine.  Just one year will do.  After you've read every issue cover to cover, go to the local box store and look over their cabinets.  I guarantee you'll see them much differently than you did a year prior. 

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