At what point is "handmade" no longer handmade?

I posted on another thread about recruitment of youth into woodworking for the sake of not just having a bunch of old codgers talking about hemorrhoid cream and dentures in 20 years.  It got me to thinking about the skill, today's skills required to start woodworking.  In that thread I also mentioned Thos. Moser as they produce quality, likely beyond what would typically be available from most run of the mill furniture stores.  I was intrigued about any videos they might have and sure enough, I found a factory tour.  One of the things they seemed to be particularly proud of was their massive CNC router, instead I found it rather disappointing.  On the front of the catalog beside me is written "HANDMADE AMERICAN FURNITURE SINCE 1972" which strikes me as a bit of a misnomer given the "hand" made and not "machine" made part of their advertisement.  Ordinarily this would just be another "oh well, that's just how things are done today" scenario but the "handmade" distinction is concerning.  That the prices are very high in my opinion, would place a sour taste in my mouth had I purchased in-part due to that false advertisement.  At what quantifiable point can a product be machine made yet still be advertised as handmade?  Is there even a legal definition?  I know vehicles are no longer digital in their COO definition, rather having a percentage of parts with a COO defined on the windows sticker.  Even ground cow for human consumption has a defined limit as to how much feces can be included.

Back to getting youth involved, if screen obsession/addiction better prepares them for programming the CNC router to produce "handmade" furniture then part of that could be viewed without total contempt.  How far in the future do we need to look before AI deems the programmer obsolete and that job is gone too.  Do we really want the terminator designing, cutting, assembling and finishing our furniture for us?  How do we covey the value of being able to create with our hands our own designs to today's youth?

12 Replies

good question yeti. seems every furniture maker probably incorporates some type of no hands needed machinery. i guess even thos. moser had to do something to cut costs ?

working with my hands is a joy,it gives me a sense of fulfillment,somthing so many seek and so few find.-SAM MALOOF.

If they're cutting costs, it certainly isn't reflected in their prices.  The sell a clock that's little more than a 2' chunk of 2×6 walnut for $950, it was $875 five months ago.  

That they're incorporating CNC into the manufacturing process doesn't bother me one bit, right up until they reference that as being "handmade" which it simply is not.  I totally get charging a premium for something that's genuinely handmade and done so with quality but when it stops being handmade, it stops being different.  Continuing to call it something it's not is somewhere between lying and theft.
The main problem, as I see it, is hand made is a sliding scale from
Dig the ore, forge the tools, cut the lumber, make the item for full galoot
AI Bot designs and builds the item for full machine made

You could put a case in for anything before the Bot being handmade.
And even some outliers like Ikea furniture is handmade because the buyer assembles it themselves by hand.

Trouble is - where do you draw the line?
Is it handmade if you use a CNC?
How about power tools?
What if you just use hand tools, but design it in Sketchup?

I think a better term that preserves their "handmade" claim with a bow to leagalese would be "made by craftsmen" or something similar. 

It still takes an eye for design and understanding of wood to produce stuff, even if cut by machine.
Now if AI gets involved to run the show, fuggetaboutit.
This is a really tough one.  Every time I try to rationalize CNC's place in a shop that specializes in pieces made by craftsmen I wind up down the rabbit hole.  

Obviously, loading sheet goods onto a CNC bed and cutting parts to be screwed or glued together is not craftsmanship.

However, Darrel Peart definitely qualifies as a true craftsman, and he incorporates CNC in his work, both to cut parts and to create custom cauls for some of his insane glue ups.

I guess I dunno.

Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

Hard call on the handmade with CNC, it to bad that is the way the world is going. The skilled craftsman is few and far between. I would hope that at least the craft continues with folks in the design phases of a project. 

I use a mixture of tools both power and hand, that is who I am. Really don't have the desire to get a CNC.

Main Street to the Mountains

Where do we delineate?  I have no interest in a CNC but would kill for a Shaper Origin.  Could not live without my laser's cutting ability.

I do not recognise MDF as wood, yet I use it in "my timber" classification... who still plants and mills their home grown trees... Breaking your nose while swinging on a tree as a kid does not render it exotic bloodwood (no matter how famous you might be)... so where do you get your exotics? cut with big handsaws and rafted internationally. 

I agree that the term handmade in the example is a misnoma, but then so is "Made in USA", with anything up to 95+% of the material and labour imported.  Here in Australia, that is a congecture for many legal battles.

Does sharpening a chisel with a Tormek render it non-handtools.... must all sanding be done with blocks?

We need to come to terms and appreciate we are now living in the present... warts and all.

Nowdays the art is in the design... including B-UKy and his SketchUp... Its the fabrication that is in the hands of the creator (not the one sitting up in the clouds) and how he chooses to create should be transparent. How he sell it is in his conscience, caveat emptor.

But back to what I interpreted as the crux of this blog.... how the hell do we entice newbies to "woodworking" (in whatever shape) and to this forum?

If your first cut is too short... Take the second cut from the longer end... LBD

But back to what I interpreted as the crux of this blog.... how the hell do we entice newbies to "woodworking" (in whatever shape) and to this forum?
A 6-week fellowship at the LBD school of technical wonder could bridge the gen-Z gap mixing technology with some truly unique design skills. Could come home with some maddingly complex wood puzzle, LBD collectable night shirt and a vino affection that would carry them into their retirement.

Seriously, it begins with sparking an interest at a young age and when they get the means to take up a hobby, they will come.

Tool reviews are an excellent option for this. Wanting to get into the hobby and looking for the tools to do so. Find a review (here), read it and explore the rest of the sight to get the juices flowing. 
Not dropping this in to be a smart ass, but think about it seriously. Woodworking is often compared today to how it was done back in the dark ages, with many advocating the only way to do correct woodworking it with hand tools only. As you start adding tools, and equipment that have come along since you will see a number of adapters, and equally a number of resisters, and foot draggers.

Consider it wasn't Edison who brought along electricity to us, but rather a caveman named Ogg, and we had it available 2000 BC. Festool was offered in 2001 BC, and CNC's came along later in 2010 BC. Does anyone truly believe that the peeps we view as Furniture Innovators who came along much later in the 15 to1700's and closer wouldn't have used every damn one of them in their work.

It is after all work for them, they make something to sell to others. If they could make 25 chairs a day, would they use much older technology to make 1 chair a week/month? The way I see it the "pride" part comes in when you use the tools you use, to make the best possible chair you can, not the tools you use.

The last part is if their hands directed, or touched and set the tools into motion, isn't it still hand made? In the not too distant future it will all become mind controlled, and a person without hands wouldn't be disabled in this work, but we are just getting into that, until then use of hands is required.

I only own one Festool tool, and don't have a CNC, BTW.
Handmade  ?   I like LBD with his intricate puzzles have our own little niche.  To my knowledge there is nobody out there ( except Sasha) making bowls and lamps like my offering and as well, LBD has his puzzles.
Handmade  -  no they are not.   I couldn't create my items without the help of all of my Incra tools and the ringmaster.  I don't use them all but I do have 6 Incra miter gauges of different configurations and 2 Incra sleds  -  to me they are invaluable tools but they do diminish the HANDMADE label. 

 Recycle 1943 
but they do diminish the HANDMADE label. 

SWMBO refuses to let me have a handmaid!

If your first cut is too short... Take the second cut from the longer end... LBD

Duck she knows you better than we do, she probably has reasons beyond jealousy. :-)