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Being a craftsman


#1

This comes off of the “Oil container on Benchpin” thread, but it’s
not really the same topic.

Two people said things there - doesn’t matter who - that pretty much
startled me in a way that I’ll get into here. I’m going to talk
about myself, but not in a prideful way, it’s just to paint a
picture.

We had a new redwood fence put up 12-15 years ago, and there was a
big stack of scrap wood - #2 redwood. I ripped that into pieces and
built an 8 foot long butcher block picnic table out of it. I also
built a bar to match, with carved redwood legs and I had a massive,
nice scrap of oak that I milled and carved into a solid drawer front
and handle.

Our doorbell push is engraved brass, made by me. We have chimes
inside that have a cover over the top mechanism. That is a brass
frame with a mahogany front overlaid with a pierced and engraved
aluminum floral spray, inside a garland. We wanted a better lamp in
the bedroom, so I made one out of carved Koa wood, brass and nickel
silver.

My bur holders on my bench are milled out of solid aluminum blocks -
they have little trays milled into them for drillbits, too. Jo-Ann
wanted a marker for the rolling mill - a pointer that shows which
slot you left off at. I turned a piece of steel and “ornamentally
turned” it on the miller so it looks like an ornate minaret, and
mounted it. My letter opener is turned and knurled steel and brass
trimmings…

That’s not including construction work - the storage shed, the
laundry center, vanity and tile, the slate floor, the brick planter
in the patio… The fountain…

All of this comes from my suggesting that people can make a little
cup to go on the bench pin, and one said you could buy a copper pipe
fitting, and another said you could use a bottle cap. But that’s not
what craftsmen do. It’s my bench, I live there 1/2 of my life. I
would actually go even farther and say to make your little cup, trim
it with contrasting wire, carve that decoratively and engrave the
center with a rope pattern and flowers. That’s to hold a bit of oil
on your benchpin.

I don’t have a day job - I’ve been working as an artist and
craftsman since my first job at 19 - I’ll be 58 in December. I make
jewelry for a living, but I see it, mostly unconciously, as my
mission in life to make the world a better and more beautiful place.
I used to get some good pocket money by painting mandalas on windows
with model paint…Was a potter in a commercial shop for a bit.

Imagine a world where we all ate beans every day on white stoneware
plates and plain sheet metal spoons. It’s the ability of the
craftsman to see a place where something simple can be done better
and more beautifully that makes them a craftsman to begin with, and
that’s how the great works in this world are done. One step at a
time, by people who aren’t satisfied with “good enough”… As with
all things, it’s all in how you look at the world. Me, I’m not going
to use an old bottle cap on my bench, I’ll make my own. That’s what
I do, is make things. I’m a craftsman.

http://www.donivanandmaggiora.com


#2

Have to agree with John.

It is a cold day in hades before I’ll buy something I can make. It
might seem to cost more but in the end usually doesn’t. I get exactly
what I wanted the first time around.

I too am a maker, little trinkets, tools, stuff involving big chunks
of wood and dry wall, and what ever else I want. Usually I enjoy the
effort. I might avoid large concrete foundation jobs (really too
much work) but any thing else is fair game.

jeffD
Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing
http://www.gmavt.net/~jdemand


#3
It is a cold day in hades before I'll buy something I can make. 

I could tell that, Jeff - there are many “real” craftsmen…

But it’s a bigger picture than that, even. I got a record amount of
off-list mail on this one, and I’d like to share a couple of good
quotes:

  I don't feel as alone in my obsession to have my hands and my
  mark on everything around me. It's not knowing that I made it
  that's important; it's knowing that passion and thought went
  into each piece. Life is so much more meaningful. 

  It is what I love about Italy where it seems to me everything
  even is not only a functional but aesthetically pleasing. 

I begins when somebody says, "We don’t just want a thing to get us
across the river, we want a bridge everyone will be proud of for the
next century


#4

I guess I differ in that I don’t see the point of me making
something that already exists at a price and convenience level that’s
consistent with my goals.

Redid the kitchen last year. I bought what I needed. I didn’t make a
sink, I didn’t form the stainless tiles, I didn’t even laminate my
own counter tops. Used off the shelf paint colors. Passes muster.

However currently I am fabricating an intake manifold for my hot rod.
Sure I can go out and just BUY one. But it wouldn’t be THIS one. You
can buy Hemi manifolds for single or dual four barrel carbs. You can
buy one for three Holley 2BBLs (the famous six-pak), you can buy one
for 4, 6 or 8 strombergs(wild, but done). But you can’t even find one
designed for thee four barrel carburetors. So that’s what I’m
making…a twelve pak, just cuz I feel like it. AND, I’m gonna make
it look pretty too. Maybe it stems from my business model…I make
what doesn’t exist, well, if somebody wants one. I happen to want
one.


#5

Art Nouveau, Mid-Century Modern, American Folk Art - there’s room in
the world for all different styles and approaches to “making”. Choose
whoever you think is the top craftsperson in those three styles and
imagine how they would approach an oil cup on a bench pin. IMHO,
you’d end up with the three solutions presented in this thread.

They are all equal in my opinion and all those who thought of them
are craftspeople. Be proud of what you do and be thankful that
everyone doesn’t do the same. Diversity enriches our world (and our
craft).

Mary Lu


#6
All of this comes from my suggesting that people can make a little
cup to go on the bench pin, and one said you could buy a copper
pipe fitting, and another said you could use a bottle cap. But
that's not what craftsmen do. 

All true, John. But as the sig file at the end of my cousin’s
frequent joke emails reads, “enjoy life now. it has an expiration
date”.

You see, time and energy are not unlimited. I could spend lots of
time having lots of fun jazzing up everything on the bench. There was
a time when I sort of did that. My first engraving block, bought
rusty and very used decades ago, got very restored, a nice hammered
background finish, then engraved, just for practice. Still looks fun.
Took lots of time. Doesn’t work any better for all that time…

But these days, I save the time when it comes to the little tricks,
like a bottle cap coming in handy at times, because frankly, I don’t
have forever, or unlimited energy. And there’s always more work to do
than I seem to be able to fit in. This is the jewelry work, and I
enjoy doing it just as much as I’d enjoy the little fixups around the
shop. I’d rather spend the time doing that, which I hope will have
more lasting importance to me and others, than with the little things
that, while fun, are merely undulgences. That’s not to say such self
indulgences aren’t important. Like the occasional piece of chocolate,
they certainly are. But some rationing is in order. Now, I make
exceptions for those times when I really WANT to waste some time, and
need a good excuse. That’s when I have to do those jobs that aren’t
such fun, and want some way to put it off just a little more. (I’m
afraid I’m way to good at the procrastination skills for my own
good…) And when it comes to things like that bottle cap idea, well,
such needs usually arise, at least for me, when I’m in the middle of
something else that’s taking my attention. I could break away and
make some really cool new tool, or really dress up the gadget, or
whatever. But I’m more focused on the primary task, so the bottle
cap, right there at hand, comes in handy without any wasted effort or
distraction. I don’t feel that this makes me any less of a craftsman.
Just one with limits on time and energy available.

Peter Rowe


#7
That's not to say such self indulgences aren't important. Like the
occasional piece of chocolate, they certainly are. 

I’m not going to argue with Peter (or Neil) because everything he
says is true. We use a constant supply of meat trays - those shallow
styrofoam trays from the grocery - for all sorts of things. I’d say
the day people quit making 18 cent silver earring posts (today’s
price at Otto Frei) by hand is the day they’ll start making money.
It’s ridiculous to think you’re going to make your own flex shaft.
All sorts of things. Time is money…

Or time is yours to do with as you will, depending on your point of
view. I DO have a quibble with “Nah, just use a pipefitting, or
whatever…” Because the little cup I mention is ideal for the task -
tiny, fits into the benchpin, shallow so you just swipe the graver
that direction to pick up a bit of oil…And it takes 10 minutes to
make.

But, as Peter says, there are limits to what we can or should spend
our time on. I just think that some of this is what’s wrong with the
world, and the American jewelry industry as a whole. “They” didn’t
build that bridge, we did. “They” didn’t go to the moon or design
that airplane, we did. And “they” don’t have to make your things for
you, you can.

http://www.donivanandmaggiora.com


#8

I truely enjoyed reading all the comments on being a craftsman.

I find the older I get the more I want to do and the more pride I
have in what I do. Sometimes I use to think that being at the bench
and away from the world I was not making a contribution, but I find
now that I am. I had a lady so happy with the last ring I made that
she posted it on her facebook page for all to see, and that made me
very proud. As I look back and see all the influence I have had, in a
small way, on peoples lives it makes me smile inside.

So keep it up all you craftspeople out there and make the world a
more beautiful place!

Sandy


#9

Thanks for your post, Peter! I was feeling SO inadequate.

When I was flying in the Army, I thought flying was life. I was
wrong; flying is flying and life is life. No one can afford to pay
me for the value of my life, and there’s not as much left at the end
of each day.

Having no helper in my life or my shop means I have to choose wisely
where I spend my time. Much as I would like to be crafting elegant
things for the house & shop, laundry has GOT to be done, dog has to
be walked, cat boxes have to be emptied, floor has to be swept.

Anyway, Peter, you said it better than I could.

best regards,
Kelley Dragon


#10

Hi Guys,

I guess I differ in that I don't see the point of me making
something that already exists at a price and convenience level
that's consistent with my goals. 

I have a set of personal rules :-

If I can make one better then I will make one.
And/or can I make one cheaper
If not, can I afford to buy one
If not, can I make one that performs the same
If not, save money or do without.

There’s an exception to these rules… if I just want to make one
for fun.

Regards Charles


#11
I guess I differ in that I don't see the point of me making
something that already exists at a price and convenience level
that's consistent with my goals. 

I agree with this!

When I need something I ask myself… how much will it cost to buy
vs make? If I make it myself, can I customize it and make it unique
or is it a generic product that offiers little chance of
customization? Will making these myself give me the chance to
increase my skills in certain areas, or is this something I don’t
need to practice my skills at?


#12
Now, I make exceptions for those times when I really WANT to waste
some time, and need a good excuse. That's when I have to do those
jobs that aren't such fun, and want some way to put it off just a
little more. (I'm afraid I'm way to good at the procrastination
skills for my own good...)

A friend of mine named this “Productive Procrastination”; doing other
work so you can avoid getting to what really needs your attention. I
like the connotation that at least it’s productive.

April Bower in Az, where its starting to get hot.


#13

Hi Charles,

I have a set of personal rules :- 
If I can make one better then I will make one.
And/or can I make one cheaper
If not, can I afford to buy one
If not, can I make one that performs the same
If not, save money or do without.
There's an exception to these rules... if I just want to make one

I think you forgot one rule.

Do I need it before I can order it & have it delivered?

If that’s the case, then the only option is to make it (assuming you
have the tools & skill).

Dave


#14

My late mentor, being a child of the Depression and spending his
high school prom days landing on the beach at Normandy, was a very
resourceful soul. Not ever one to throw anything away, or to resist
finding treasure in someone else’s trash pile, I have the following
tools that he made for me:

  1. Tumbler, made from an old commercial refrigerator motor and a
    cool whip container (certainly NOT U.L. listed)

  2. 3rd hand made from toilet parts

  3. Heat sink made from half a budweiser can filled with carefully
    strained beach sand

  4. A huge assortment of hammers, pliers and cutters, all acquired at
    yard sales and carefully modified for jewelry work

  5. Anvil made from a section of railroad track

His bench chair was a captains chair out of a totaled dodge van.

He also built his own air boat, and used it to rescue neighbors
stranded by the Great Ash Wednesday storm that hit the Outer Banks
in March of 1962.

God forbid he ever caught me buying new tools or throwing anything
away.

I sure do miss him!
Peggy Wilson


#15

When I make something, I know that no one else has one exactly like
it. What ever it is, it is personal and unique. And part of that
uniqueness is making as many of the components as I can, the end
result being a truly handmade object.

I sew and still make a lot of my clothes, even small handbags; I
make all my own greeting cards; I raised many fruits and vegetables
until I blew my back out in the garden; I cook a lot from “scratch”;
and now, I am making my own adornments and having a jolly good time
studying, reading, taking classes and learning a whole bunch of new
"stuff."

I still have a ways to go as a metal worker; I will never be famous
nor will I get rich from metalwork. After all, someone said, it is
the journey, not the destination…

This has been an exceptionally interesting thread.

Sandra Gilbert
www.julycreek.com


#16
But, as Peter says, there are limits to what we can or should
spend our time on. I just think that some of this is what's wrong
with the world, and the American jewelry industry as a whole.
"They" didn't build that bridge, we did. "They" didn't go to the
moon or design that airplane, we did. And "they" don't have to make
your things for you, you can. 

Very true, John. Both aspects of the issue are true. Between lies
balance. A good thing in most instances. There’s another aspect too,
that of the consumer’s attitude. All too many people in today’s
world view the items they buy as having been made somehow by magic,
by “high tech”, or by some version of a lightening bolt from god
himself. If they think of people having been involved in production,
somehow there’s an image of a vast mindless factory workforce. All
too bad, because even in those factories, the workers are often
highly trained, skilled, and involved with their job, the process
they’re a part of, and the end product they produce. That’s all the
more true with things we do, where as often as not, we are the sole
producers, from initial idea to finished product and it’s marketing.
Even people who come to us and commission such items to be made for
them often don’t really understand what we’re doing, or the fact that
in jewelry work at least, we’re the current iteration of a series of
techniques and technologies and skills and art that goes back to the
very dawn of human civilization. On my bookshelf sits a British
Museum publication called “Jewelry through 7000 years” (Or something
very similar to that… I didn’t just go check the title). That’s
going back well before any written history, yet we have tangible
items made by human hands that we can connect directly and viscerally
to the same skills we use today. Very cool indeed, and integral to
the way we define ourselves as craftspeople and artists.

It falls into the same category, though on a different scale, of
pondering the fact that every atom in my body, or the world, heavier
than helium, was born in the death, eons ago, of earlier stars. The
iron and heavier elements were born in supernovae explosions of
unimaginable energy and violence, again producing elements that did
not exist before, and which now, for the brief time I include them in
my life, are a part of me. And which, long after I’m gone, in fact
long after humanity itself is gone, will still be here in this
universe somewhere…

Or that in all statistical probability, every breath I take includes
at least a few atoms that once were breathed in and out again by
Julius Ceaser, others by Jesus, others by yet more people, or by
dinosaurs…

Or that I cannot for certain know just where the atoms of gold I
used today have been before. Was today’s use their first use as
jewelry? Or were they previously in some Roman, Greek, or Egyptian
ancient jewel, now melted down and reused? If so, who made them? Was
their craft all that different from mine at all? Their life?

Circles and cycles.
So it goes.
Peter


#17
Between lies balance. A good thing in most instances. 

I started this, as usual, to get some deeper dialogue going, not
just to spout isms. I’ve enjoyed it, too. I think the real thing I’ve
been trying to get across is that craftsmanship is a state of mind.
Somebody today mentioned a tumbler made out of a cool-whip
container. I doubt it’s a thing of beauty, and I might opt for
~something~ a bit more stout, but it’sthat sort of can-do attitude
that does it. As Peter started and others have continued, that
doesn’t mean to make everything. Certainly findings have been debated
here and some consider them cheating or worse. But somebody asked for
instruction on making a spring ring - why on earth would you do that?
The happy medium when you reach a stage is in making the things that
NEED to be original and buy the rest. Make money pay rent, go home,
have a vacation sometimes.

I may or may not be more skilled than you, whoever you are. But I
would say you can have 1/4 of my ability and yet be an equal
craftsman, on some level. It’s a state of mind…


#18

There are times when I find that “cutting bait” is so much more
enjoyable than fishing.

Larry Bima


#19
All too many people in today's world view the items they buy as
having been made somehow by magic, by "high tech", or by some
version of a lightening bolt from god himself. 

I agree with everything you said, Peter (and that IS the correct
title of the book, by the way. Amazon has it, but my library doesn’t.
Do you recommend buying it?)

To add to the above point, if I may–

I think that for many of the beginners who take metalsmithing classes
from me, it is their first real contact with the notion that there is
not some “magic” way to get things done. They are very happy with the
idea that you can put things in the tumbler and they come out shiny,
or in the ultrasonic and they come out clean-- that’s the way they’re
used to thinking. Some have a lot of trouble with the idea that
filing, as just one example, requires you to learn to really see what
is there in the metal, in very small scale, and mindfully alter it to
what it needs to be to look and work right, no magic tricks that
automatically make it right.

The most common comment I hear in the early weeks of class is “Well,
anyway now I understand why jewelry costs so much!” and they aren’t
referring to metal prices.

I would like to think that this realization will inform other
aspects of their lives, consciously or not.

Noel


#20

I love the idea that Peter presents about gold and other metals
having been a part of the universe much longer than we’ve been
around… Possibly touched by persons of greatness… Possibly a
part of history that we’ve only read about. Antiques intrigue me for
the same reason, but metals and the craft of jewelry are much older
than any of the antiques we might have around today. Imagine the
stories that each atom could tell. Perhaps that’s why humans have
decorated their bodies with jewelry since the beginning of time.
Stones have their own stories & different cultures have given them
various significance. It’s like wearing a bit of the earth or the
universe when we wear true metals and stones… Interesting thread
indeed. Dawn

Dawn Lawrence Floen
http://www.sunshineindustries.ca