FTC guidelines

Quote from FTC guidelines

were accomplished by hand labor and manually-controlled methods
which permit the maker to control and vary the construction

The words “manually-controlled methods” allows for such tools as a
buffer, a skillsaw, a table saw, a drill press, a mill, a
lathe…etc All are manually controlled and are within the bounds of
the FTC guidelines.

You can saw a piece of wood on a table saw, the cut might be
straight, it might not be straight, you might even cut your hand off.
The “manually controlled” tool always includes the “workmanship of
risk”. I would highly recommend anyone truly interested in
"hand-made" vs. “machine -made” issues read the book by David Pye
"The Nature and Art of Workmanship", along with looking at case law
regarding “hand-made”. Pye has defined what is valuable in terms of
workmanship on two levels: the workmanship of risk, meaning a quality
of work dependent on the judgment, dexterity and care with which one
works, and the workmanship of certainty, which involves predetermined
results before a thing is made, such as in automated production.

The question really comes down to where one draws the line. If we
were to interpret the FTC quote above so literally as to not allow
any electricity, then wouldn’t a smith have to mine his/her own
metal. Incorporating sheet made by powered rolling mills would render
your piece machine-made.

What about pre-electricity manufacturing when water wheels were
driving entire machine shops and factories?

Just a few thoughts on this recurring topic…

I phoned the FTC and talked to a nice lady Jean who’s job it is to
interpret for the layman - that’s me - exactly what the letter of the
law is as to FTC rules.

Her answer is this

"This law was put into place to stop fraudulent representation of
computer manufactured jewelry that was being represented as
Handmade or Hand-wrought or Handcrafted. Where the raw material
is placed in the machine and out comes the finished produced.
This law has nothing to do with artist jewelers period." 

I asked her about the power tool and mule thing. She laughed it
seems that they, third world, have jewelry machines that don’t have
electricity but are run by mules walking in circles or water wheel.
You stuff the sheet in, the mule goes round and round and you have
some-sort of end product. Oh she did mention that they get
correspondence on beaders calling their jewelery handmade,
handcrafted etc. She was clear that you can’t call stringing beads
handmade because the parts are finish when you buy them.

Her next comment was "Boy you artist why over emote - when have you
ever heard of an artist getting busted by the FTC for calling there
jewelery handcrafted when it had a manufactured finding, or you used
electricity or touch or whatever, you are still handmade. She works
on the 80% rule. If you have touched, worked, sawed, filed, sanded,
polished, etc 80% of the finished item and you have a earring finding
on it or a post or wire…etc at this point she
stopped. I get the point.

So if you have a small shop or any shop it don’t matter that you us
whatever. As long as you are not putting a CNC Machine in your shop
and calling it Handmade your good to go.

In that case, the question was whether an electrically powered
buffing motor made such a mark invalid, and his answer was that so
long as the process was hand guided and controlled, so the
operator had complete control over the results, that the presence
of an electric motor didn't negate the hand made aspect. In short,
it only provided extra power, and didn't determine the result, only
the time needed to get there. 

Ok, so I’m an idiot, as more than one pointed out. But I’m a happy
idiot!!! The interpretation that I put out, wrongly, I guess, was
told to me when I made turquoise jewelry in Albuquerque in the 70’s,
where the difference between handmade or not made a lot of
difference. And we used the ways that I said as much as possible. But
it wasn’t official, even though I personally like the narrow
interpretation better, myself. But that means nothing if the FTC
takes a wider view. Personally I don’t see much point in calling
something handmade if it’s made with machinery even if somebody is
turning the crank, but that’s just me and my training, apparently.

So if you really are a purist and if you carry this far enough…
you’d better mine some iron - by hand. Forge a pick, shovel and
hammer heads, make the handles for them, and then hand dig your
precious metal ore.

From there, build a hot WOOD fire and melt it, refine it, dig your
alloy metal(s), refine it/them, alloy the metals together for your
purpose, form your ingot, use your hand forged hammer to pound it to
shape… Do you see where this can go?

And of course you are gonna HAND make your sawblades, sawframe,
files, pliers, dividers, burnishers, gravers, drawplates, drill bits,
abrasives, polishing compounds, etc., etc. Right? And ya gotta do ALL
of this YOURSELF, right? Otherwise you can’t really claim that your
work is truly handmade!

Show me one person ANYWHERE who doesn’t use some kind of tool that
was manufactured with the aid of a machine to produce a commercially
viable product? (Other than maybe a gold nugget with a hand bored
hole in it:) I’m guessing you could bore the hole with a twig and
some sand as an abrasive…

Brian Marshall
Stockton Jewelry Arts School

I’ve been following this discussion, with some interest. I would like
more clearification on what they mean. If they they are ruling out
electric powered tools, then there are a lot of handmade work that
woundn’t qualify. A potter couldn’t use clay that had been processed
by a pug mill, a leather worker would have to be able to prove that
the leather they used was not machine tanned. Seed bead work, would
not qualify, because the beads are machined, after being made. What
is worse, folks have used machines for centuries. There were water
powered hammer mills, in the 1400’s. Iber-Oberstein was using water
powered grinders, by that time. By the way, what is their definition
of ‘raw materials’? I would think that hand controled power tools
would be OK. My feeling is this a government regulation, written by
someone, who was not aware of what is really handmade. The city of
Dallas almost passed an ordinance, some years ago, that would have
banned mammals from the city, also apes, aardvarks, anteaters,
through the alphabet to zebra. Luckily the local dog show folks got
a copy and the city council got warned.

Cairenn, the Howling Artist

I’d be curious as to which way roller patterned wire would be
viewed. Seamless tubing might also be out, but hand drawn tubing
would be fine. I’d also assume that castings made from hand carved
wax originals would also be fine, but not the reproductions made from
molds. If you control the process directly it is fine, if the machine
does it without your direct control, it is not hand made.

My understanding of this is that using any kind of production cast
or die struck parts or findings would negate the handmade label. In
order to qualify as handmade, in a jewelry item, the cutting or
forming tools are hand directed, and all the parts are cut and formed
by hand labor. All of the findings and bezels, heads and other parts
would all have to be hand formed. A powered hand piece would be fine,
an engraving machine or hydraulic press or mass finishing would be a
no no. A kick press might be fine. A piece that was formed with hand
controlled tools, but not necessarily hand powered tools should be
fine. I would guess that parts made on a spinning lathe would also
qualify a piece as hand made since all the forming is done with hand

Certainly a lot of the jewelry on Etsy would not qualify as

From the FTC:

"(a) It is unfair or deceptive to represent, directly or by
implication, that any industry product is hand-made or hand-wrought
unless the entire shaping and forming of such product from raw
materials and its finishing and decoration were accomplished by hand
labor and manually-controlled methods which permit the maker to
control and vary the construction, shape, design, and finish of each
part of each individual product.

Note to paragraph(a): As used herein, “raw materials” include bulk
sheet, strip, wire, and similar items that have NOT been cut, shaped,
or formed into jewelry parts, semi-finished parts, or blanks.

(b) It is unfair or deceptive to represent, directly or by
implication, that any industry product is hand-forged, hand-engraved,
hand-finished, or hand-polished, or has been otherwise hand-
unless the operation described was accomplished by hand labor and
manually-controlled methods which permit the maker to control and
vary the type, amount, and effect of such operation on each part of
each individual product."

Rick Hamilton

Way to go Tim!!! Thanks for clarifying this. The explanation you
received from the FTC makes more sense than a good bit of the on
list interpretations.

I certainly appreciate your effort to get to the bottom of this.

Beth in SC

Does anyone know of the FTC actively enforcing these rules towards
individual artists? By active enforcement, is there a FTC unit
actively reviewing catalogs, shows, markets, and web sites? 

I believe they function more as reacting to complaints than a
proactive role in those things. I know that a chain dealer nearby was
shut down because they were selling huge quantities of bunk chains -
plated brass sold as 18kt. and stuff. That I know came from the FTC,
though I believe it was the FBI that knocked on the door. I don’t
think anybody here has to worry about it, but they do act when

Another example - one of my specialties is hand engraving…

Originally hand engraving on precious metals was done with a sharp
steel tool mounted in a wooden “handle” - or with a sharp tool struck
by a small hammer… There are still teachers out there using these
methods. I myself teach it to two or three students each year. But
these students usually need to do it in this way because they are
participating in black powder shoots, historical re-enactments, or
Renaissance Faires. They are demonstrating in public and the rules
require them to be “in period” while “performing”.

Over the past 35 years in this little corner of metal embellishment
we have developed tools that assist us in the process. Mechanical
impact tools that rely on a cam to provide impacts like NGraver, and
the newer air powered pneumatic handpieces that deliver higher
strokes per minute very precisely. Steve Lindsay invented a new tool
3 years ago that is as close to the “feel” of a hand pushed graver as
you can get, and does not require the sheer strength and stamina that
we needed “way back when”. (The Lindsay Airgraver Palm Control)

There are many advantages to using the modern day tools. Up to 70
percent shorter learning curve. Faster results. 99 percent less
likelihood of slipping and damaging the work. Less physical trauma
from repetetive motions.

To date, I have had 5 carpal tunnel surgeries, 2 elbow releases, and
shoulder surgery - all caused by hand pushing gravers for the first
10 or 15 years of engraving for a living. None of this would have
been necessary had we had the tools we have today.

In my opinion, the work that results from the use of these modern
tools is much, much finer than that that we could acheive by
physically shoving the graver through the metal. I know of only a
handful of professional engravers who still use the hand push or
hammer and chisel methods. Most are well past middle age and will
soon retire. Most have wrist and shoulder problems. Competing with
younger engravers who have the advantages of pneumatic tools is not
economically feasible anymore.

But… I still get people who come up to me at shows and tell me I
am “cheating” and this is not “real” hand engraving. I always answer
this in two ways. First I put the tool down and look at it severely,
then I command it to get up off the table and start engraving…

When nothing happens, I look up at the person who told me I was
“cheating” and hand them the tool. I ask them to cut a simple scroll
or letter with this easy to use “cheater” tool. They should be able
to, right? After all this is not “real” hand engraving, is it? Not
one has ever been able to do so.

My point is that you still need the SKILL - the tools we use are
just simple tools, not machines. Having engraved for 38 years, I
myself, could not engrave the exact same letter or scroll
identically. There will always be tiny differences. The better your
skill, the harder they will be to see. But humans are not
computerized machines, and the work can never be identical if it is
“controlled” by human hands.

It might interesting to see if the engraving I produce now would
still be considered “hand” work by a government agency - but ya know
what? I really don’t care what labels the government (or anyone else)
comes up with. In the end, I know what it takes to do my job…
assisted or not, it’s handwork.

The bureaucracies do their job - most of which seems to consist of
passing useless and totally unenforceable laws, and making up their
own definitions of what things should be… or not be. Then they
change them if they decide they are not convenient. Obviously, ya
don’t want to get me started on this topic!

Brian Marshall
Stockton Jewelry Arts School

I do not agree that electricity is forbidden. After all it’s unfair
to have to fabricate in the dark…LOL.

I see nothing in the FTC language about the power source- Its about
what controls the processes! A hand and fingers with and artists
skills-Or a machinist and a CNC lathe? A hand and a hammer or a press
and die.

As I see it as a consumer, the use of electricity is not the
key-It’s whether the process was automatic or manually controlled-
Did a die stamp the item by the dozen or was it formed by hand-With
or without a flex shaft. Was the item cast from molds and mass cast
(not hand made) or was it a hand carved wax, a torch and a simple
oven and a polishing lathe for a single custom item? (Certainly hand

I trust those who fabricate will not dismiss custom casting as the
same as mass production! Nor will casters see a custom item like
Mokume that was finally formed on a press as some automatic process.

BTW, what if I hand fabricate and hammer out a half dozen
sophisticated compound curved components, then assembled with a
laser-Holding the items in my hand-

Has the laser mysteriously removed the value of all the previous
manual work I did by hand? What if I used an electric furnace to make
my billet to make the sheet and wire from? Is the item suddenly not
hand made because the neat source was electric? Of course not!

“Hand made” is a vague term. Lying about it is fraud. A flex shaft
does NOT makes a liar of any of us!

All this appears needlessly semantic to me. I would suggest we
respect rather than be jealous of the ways or neighbors produce
jewelry and describe their work.

Daniel Ballard

From James Binion: So CNC, rubber or metal mold cast items, die
struck, or blanked work are not allowed but fabricated work with
power tools is well within the guidelines. 
From Tim Jolivet: So if you have a small shop or any shop it don't
matter that you us whatever. As long as you are not putting a CNC
Machine in your shop and calling it Handmade your good to go. 

Ah, but this does pose an interesting delima. I do have a metal
cutting CNC in my shop, and it is a vital part of creating my work.
Granted its only one part, not the entire process. Many other
artisans have similar equipment as well, it could be a wax carver, or
a casting machine. How does this all fall into the over all
definition of being Handmade?

As the technology progresses and the tools become more readily
available, will the line become even more blurred as to what is
considered Handmade. After all, a CNC is just another tool.



I looked up the definition of “manually” to find out how it is
defined. Below is what showed up in virtually all definitions of the

man-u-al [man-yoo-uhl] Pronunciation Key

- adjective 

1. done, operated, worked, etc., by the hand or hands rather
than by an electrical or electronic device: a manual gearshift. 

2. involving or using human effort, skill, power, energy, etc.;
physical: manual labor. 

- noun 

3. a nonelectric or nonelectronic typewriter; a typewriter whose
keys and carriage may be powered solely by the typist's hands. 

So it appears that “Manual” means NO ELECTRICITY. I don’t think that
the FTC really expects Artists to do every little thing by Manual
means. What I think is that reference is for companies that
manufacture by the hundreds or thousand by machine and call it


So, bottom line, are these protracted discussions nothing more than
'jilting at windmills', or is there some documentable pattern of
enforcement toward individual artists? 

I think it’s actually tilting at windmills not jilting but to get to
your question I have never heard of the FTC doing anything at all
about this. I’m sure if enough people complained about an egregious
breach of one of their rules they might get out and do something,
but the reality is that I’m sure it’s the last thing they are worried
about doing (plus with our current government’s laissez faire
attitude about all business practices I don’t think they’re being
funded to enforce anything). The way the rules could be used would
be in a civil suit brought by one party against another, at which
point, the rules could be used as a basis for someone to be sued for
not following them. To find out whether they had in fact been used
this way would probably take some significant research by a legal
aide but given how sue happy this country is I’m sure it must have
been done at some point.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC

So it appears that "Manual" means NO ELECTRICITY. I don't think
that the FTC really expects Artists to do every little thing by
Manual means. What I think is that reference is for companies that
manufacture by the hundreds or thousand by machine and call it

Again it says “manual control” not no electricity. Think manual
transmission vs automatic transmission in a car.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


Hi Pat

As the technology progresses and the tools become more readily
available, will the line become even more blurred as to what is
considered Handmade. After all, a CNC is just another tool. 

The FTC definitions on handmade are to separate the workmanship of
risk from the workmanship of certainty. When an item is handmade the
skill and attention of the maker is constantly required to insure
the desired outcome. In other words the outcome of the work is always
at risk and the the quality of the final item is solely determined by
the makers skill. In the workmanship of certainty the form and
quality of the part are a not at risk because the tool has replaced
the maker in the control of the process.

Granted the computer that controls the CNC tool is just another tool
that will only produce what the human has told it to do and you
could argue that the first part produced by the CNC machine is at
risk because you have not ever programed one like that before but
that is a tenuous “angels on the head of a pin” type argument.

The issue about being handmade is not about Art it is about Craft.
Art does not require the artists hand to ever touch the work but
Craft demands it.



James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


I think you reach a point where the argument of hand made becomes
arcane. True, if you’re selling your goods mostly on the basis they
are handmade, then your claim of handmade is important. But really
now, who buys anything solely because its handmade? Its purchased
because it fills a need or desire and that imho, more involves the
overall look and quality of make.

But... I still get people who come up to me at shows and tell me I
am "cheating" and this is not "real" hand engraving. 

No doubt these accusers are not buyers anyway. We should focus our
attention on buyers. We need to be aware of the ultimate reason we
are making jewelry. Its the sale, the product is the vehicle, how its
fueled is secondary. The mere fact that automated production
techniques have proven successful in the market should hopefully give
us a clue that its the product not the process that is being
purchased. If we are small makers we cannot compete pricewise with
automation so we need another hook. We handmake because it yields a
different product than automated. If we do it well its a better
product(and by ‘better’ I mean more suited to the purchaser for the
purchaser’s reasons) but its not better just because its handmade.

But it seems handmade is not enforced. So people needn’t worry so
much about being ‘legal’. Maybe it becomes more a matter of pride.
Personally, I’m more concerned with the finished product than words
that might be attached to it. Most of what I do is handmade but I
have no problem at all with using, for example, a die struck shank
because there are structural and economic advantages. If there are
compelling reasons I will whittle a shank from heavy stock but the
price can go way up.

All that is out the window if you make jewelry as a hobby and don’t
sell it. No commercial interest and the FTC doesn’t apply, does it.

I do a lot of hand engraving. I use the Lindsey AirGraver. It is
powered by compressed air or CO2. Does the strict definition mean
that if I use an electrically powered compressor it’s not hand
engraving but if I use CO2 it is? What if I build a generator powered
by methane that I produce from my own…, well,…you know, and power
my compressor with that would that be considered hand engraving? What
if I run out of my own and use my mule’s…, um,… you know? Or as
Brian so eloquently explained must I use push gravers or hammer and
chisel? Or my finger nails? My Dad says using the AirGraver is
cheating, so I guess I know his answer, but he drools and can only
hit the chisel on about every third stroke anyway, so I don’t pay
much attention to him anymore (like I ever did).

I think the definition in the FTC guideline is very specific and
easily understandable. You can’t use findings and call it hand-made.
You can use store-bought sheet, wire and tubing, but you can’t use
CNC (an acronym for Computer Numeric Control, by definition not
manual control). It doesn’t say you can’t use power tools. Nowhere in
the definition did I see “electricity” or “gas” or “hydraulic” or
"petroleum" or “nuclear” or “steam” or “donkey”. I did see “manually
controlled”. Pretty simple to my simple mind. But, still, does a hand
pumped wax pot denote “manual control”? I think not. Mass-produced is
mass-produced, even if it’s only two iterations, and you made the
master and the mold.

I would guess that the FTC enforces this like the Department of Labor
enforces their regulations by waiting for a complaint and then
investigating. It would be a pretty monumental task to check each and
every craftsperson’s Hoover and Strong bill and electricity, CO2
or…, uh, you know, consumption to insure compliance.


As I said before, written by a beaurecrat, with little knowledge of
the field. I think that they were thinking about machines like the
fancy sewing/embroidery machines, where you can scan a picture, the
machine will tell you what colors thread you need to buy. You then
thread up the machine and set it running, it beeps at you when you
need to add thread or to ‘feed’ it another set of thread. It can
change colors (I think up to five) on its own. That is NOT manually
controlled. whereas, I would feel that hand feeding fabric into a
seweing machine, should qualify. Did you notice that there was no
mention of where it had to be made? If they mean no powered tools,
then this reg was written so that cheap imports from the third world
will qualify as handmade and American artists/craftsmen will be cut
out of the handmade market. Just my 2 cents worth.

Cairenn, the Howling Artist

Personally I use a lot lot of CNC tools so while biased I do know
the techniques. At the most basic level with hand written gcode files
a highly skilled monkey could take these text files printed on paper
and manually turn the dials on a mill. Still handmade ?? Replace the
nasty monkey with a computer (fancy tape recorder) and is it that
much different.

At the other extreme there are cadcam jewellery programs which allow
the cut and paste of settings and shanks from included libraries…
sort of like using a findings catalogue. NOT hand made.

Middle ground is hand building 3D models and using software tools to
convert to gcode and then cutting. This is the path I use, and the
effort in modelling and creating a good tool path equals the effort
of fabricating a lesser by hand. The only real difference is that I
have more sophisticated tools which require more complex designs to
be cost effective. My files and gravers last longer but I am still
hand making the piece; hand assembly and finishing with the same
amount of rouge in my face.

In light of the thread on “handmade” my opinion is probably not
going to be well received, but tools change. Some of this new fangled
stuff really is fun and probably going to be needed soon by many.
Enough, back to building my treadle powered flex shaft.


Also realizing Orchid is on vacation, but for later… I said long
ago on this thread what I was told years ago, which I am convinced
was wrong, after reading through this thread. However, I’m struck by
how many posts there are that say, in essence, “I expect to use
machinery to make jewelry and I also expect to call it handmade.” To
me, even if it is technicallly OK, it pretty much violates the
spirit of the whole thing. No, the handmade police aren’t going to
come get you, but a discussion of how CNC should be handmade because
somebody wrote the code, or is watching the machine run, is pretty
out there. I’m only speaking for myself - I don’t want the job of
policing anyone. I reserve it in my work for that which I actuallly
sat down and crafted myself with minimum or no machine aids. Just
me…Even though what i was taught long ago seems to be wrong (no
electricity), I still abide by it in my own work - I think it’s the
purest form of handmade, Still. If someone or the FTC says that using
a kick press and dies is handmade because it’s under human control,
well that’s how it is. But I don’t buy it, personallly. Not tryiing
to argue or convince anybody, just my point of view.