Many moons ago I had a job foreman tell me “build it like it was your own”. It may not seem like much but it spoke to his integrity and he was in essence telling me to hold on to mine. See he did what he told me to do. Everyday he went out there and made sure that everything about the house we were building was done correctly. He never worried about an inspector because he had done everything by the book if not overdone it. He had built it like he would have wanted someone to do it on his own house. I swore I would take his words to heart and apply them in every facet of my work.
Integrity is something that is hard to come by these days. With the constant want for prices to be lower, it comes at a cost of quality. The cost of using cheaper materials, easier but less effective joinery, essentially carpenters and furniture makers having to, or intentionally, compromise their integrity to lower prices. I’m sure it’s not something that heads of major companies are thinking about when they do this, but I’m sure that they wouldn’t want a piece of furniture that falls apart in their own house. Nor would they want a house that is not built to withstand time and all that comes with it. It’s about their bottom line I’m sure and we as a society have helped them trend in that direction. When did we become people who didn’t care about how something was made? When did we start to say “well, I’ll just get a new one when this one breaks”? We tend to blame big companies for not making quality products when we are the ones who go to the stores and want a blu ray player for $25, a bike for $30, or a piece of coffee table for $75. All we care about is how to get something for the lowest price. While that’s fine, you can’t expect to get a quality made item for a price that barely covers the cost of the terrible materials used to make it. I’m not saying that big companies are evil and I’m not saying you are a cheap skate for looking for the lowest price on something. I’m simply saying that don’t compare apples to oranges. Don’t look at an artisan of any kinds work and say I could get that cheaper at Wal-Mart, because you can’t. That bike your looking at in the small neighborhood bike shop isn’t the same bike sitting on the Wal-Mart racks. Neither is that coffee table you saw on Pintrest or Etsy. Those items were most likely handmade by americans who did their homework and put in the long hours to come up with the technology to make that bike faster or more comfortable. They worked late nights and early mornings, went to classes, did apprenticeships to learn to make joinery that will last a lifetime. They use the finest materials, though they cost a fortune sometimes, to make that product the best that it can be. They decided not to compromise when they were in their shop and you weren’t looking. When no one was there and they would probably never know they chose to build it like it was their own. They built it like it was going in front of their couch or like they would be riding it through the woods. They made sure that everything about that product was going to last.
I think this is what drawn me to the woodworking side of things. The integrity that most artisans have is something that I hold dear. When I build something, I make sure that it’s something I would want in my house. Whether it’s kitchen cabinets or a small gift box, I find the best materials for the job, the best form of joinery to make it stay together, and the best finish for that item to make it beautiful and lasting. It’s not the best way to keep prices down but it’s the best way and that’s what I care about.
Next time you come across an item that is too expensive and you could go find it somewhere else for cheaper, make sure you remember that there is more to that coffee table than just wood and nails. There’s a lot of hours in that table and a lot of time spent thinking of you as he/she was building it.