Hand made vs. Computer made


Well, I’m back. Sorry for the brief sabbatical but I’ve been out of town and upon my return I have been completely covered up with work. I’m certain this affects the lives of so many as I’m sure I have an absorbent amount of people just hanging on every word I say. (this is a joke and thank you mom for reading my blog though I’m sure you have no interest in woodworking.)
With that said, I believe I left off with the last blog, about power tools vs. hand tools, by saying I would get into the hand made vs computer made discussion. I will once again preface this with, this is my opinion, there are many like it but this one is mine. It may not be what you think but I try to come at subjects from both sides because, as I’ve stated in past blogs, I’m neither fully hand tools nor fully power tools. So with that, here goes nothing.
Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the new technologies that are coming out and whether or not utilizing them is really hand made. These items are things like CNC machines, lasers, 3D printers, etc. All these items are almost 100% hands off so how is a product still considered hand made when a computer does all the work. While I’m not going to lie and act like I know everything there is to know about any of these products, I do know this. It’s not entirely a hand made project but it’s not completely hands off either. While the computer does guide the router or laser to create perfect lines, someone sat behind their computer for hours writing code to make that router do that. They also could have made the product that the laser or router is engraving or whatever it may be doing to enhance the project.
I love carving. I just like chisel out little pieces until the picture is finally clear. I also can’t deny that it would be easier and more cost productive to get a laser or CNC to do that for me. I truly believe that you should do what makes you happiest but if you’re going to compare the cost of your man hours to a router it’s not going in your favor I promise. I have people ask me all the time to carve names or initials into something. and I make nothing off of it. There is just no way I can charge for the amount of hours it takes to hand carve something. I enjoy doing it so I take it on from time to time but strictly for my own enjoyment. A computer driven machine could put me to shame in time spent and quickness of completion. Money is the biggest thing keeping me from getting one honestly. It’s a big cost but I think it’s worth it for the efficiency it would provide. It would be a way for me to take a project that I made and enhance it in the same way I would normally but way more efficient.
The other side of the fence is that there is a look of something that is hand carved that you can’t get with a router or laser. It’s called imperfection. I know it’s crazy but there is something about the little flaws of a hand carved item that give it it’s charm.
That’s something that a computer can’t give you. It doesn’t chisel down a little too far or run a curve that’s got a hump in it. It doesn’t sit there for hours thinking about the person who it’s going to and how they will enjoy it for years to come.
Computers have their place in every part of society including woodworking but I think it’s a lot like the power tools and hand tools argument. They have their place but if there’s no personality and experience behind the tool it won’t matter what you paid for the tool. It can’t run itself no matter what tool it is. Computer driven, power tools, or hand tools all require the same thing, a person who has studied his craft to use them to create amazing things. So while a computer may seem like it does the work sometimes there is still a person behind it that worked hard to design it. While it may seem like a hands off type of work there is still a good bit of work that goes into it. It may be a different type of work but it’s still creating.
A bit of a disclaimer, I don’t own any computer driven tools. I would love too but the cost is more than I can afford at the moment. I know it may sound like I’m leaning towards computers more than woodworking by hand but I think that if you can take a piece of technology and use it alongside the tools you already have along with your knowledge and experience, you are only going to be better for it. Innovation never would have happened if everyone would have just stuck to the old way. There’s a time and place for everything and computer driven machines have to find a way into that.

Indeed it would make things easier and I agree that computer driven machines need to find their place but I’m not one for computers and I’ll find any excuse not to use one. That’s just personal preference and I think a lot of it has to do with what we get used to and comfortable with


I agree, like I said I don’t own any myself but I can see a place for them and if I get the chance I’ll purchase one. Mainly to enhance a project I’ve already had my hands on. I don’t know that I ever want to let the computer fully do the work. I enjoy doing it myself to much.

I think that they have a place but in a tiny hobby shop like mine it would be excessive consumption. I disapprove of excessive consumption. If I needed it to make a living I would have it. As of now I don’t as I have other options.

Is it hand made? My take is not really because if no hands actually cut the mortice, no plane was drawn across it, not really hand made.

Having said that I do use a table saw and a band saw and a thickness planer so…
The thing is your point that someone sat in front of a machine and did the work that will tell the machine how to do the work is valid. You still have to cut the bits to size, etc. I still feel like it’s hiring a guy with a really steady hand to do it for you.

-- Alec (Friends call me Wolf, no idea why)

I think the bond between the person, the tools, and the item created is the important part. If the computers do too much, it makes the creation impersonal and not loved. The love of the person creating it is carried by the item created.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. I guess my overall idea about computer driven machines is let the tool help to enhance your project not make it for you.

Not much to argue about.
Handmade is just that using hand tools and it will tell the story.
Machine made is giving it to a machine that will try to produce a similar looking product but will have tell tale signs because of it and no soul like a handmade project .


I think you present a well-balanced perspective.

In the end, when a project is on display in a furniture gallery or fine exhibition, nobody debates the level of authenticity if it was hand made, CNC machined, or to what degree either was used.

The project is either found to be beautiful and desirable or not, and customers are compelled to purchase or leave it in the showroom.

The path chosen to produce the project is solely for the pleasure of the maker. It is not a right/wrong, it is simply the path they chose for themselves.

There is much more than machine vs. hand made goes into a project. There are lots of decisions to be made about the material and layout so it is not a visual train wreck with grain.

Modern Stickley furniture uses computers and modern industrial equipment to manufacture their furniture. But it’s beauty comes from the fact that they pay attention to what boards to use and how they are displayed on any given piece of furniture.

Even Thos. Moser incorporates CNC machines in their work.

How much ‘soul’ anything has is really a matter of personal perception and perception is very malleable. That is the role of marketing.

Todd A. Clippinger Share the Love - Share the Knowledge