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Thread: Craftsmanship - Standards

  1. #1
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    Craftsmanship - Standards

    We had company over this morning and the talk turned to our kitchen and to handmade pieces of furniture. Though I'm proud of our kitchen, of the many solid Maple elements and the shaker style cabinetry, I thought back to earlier times when our kitchen would have earned a C+.

    My dad was a machinist, and I remember him telling me as a child --- shortly after WW II --- of his final project as an apprentice. He worked for the large metal fabricator A.O. Smith in Milwaukee. His final project as an apprentice was to fashion a 4 or 5" steel ball out of a billet. He had to do this using hand tools only.

    As a journalist and editor, I bought some pretty high quality typesetting and printing. I remember a seminar where a printer talked about his apprenticeship in Scotland. His apprentice test involved his foreman taking a handful of 8 pt type and he had to identify the font of each piece. And each was a period. A simple dot. The same size as today's New York Times (which may be slightly larger at 9pts).

    And I just marvel what those earlier generations could do with by eye. I'm both inspired and intimidated.

  2. #2
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    I think it is things like this that draw people ( me ) to people like Krenov and maloof...charlesworth.... these guys had ( have ) a romantic love affair with the raw materials and the tools they use. I have read Krenov's books twice already and am reading them on round three now...

  3. #3
    The craftsmanship and standards of the early days is impressive, yes. But as I spend time looking at furniture built today by many current craftsmen and women in person and on the internet I know that such skill still exists. Thanks to sites like Sawmill Creek and the great teachers who participate here we can keep it all going.

  4. #4
    To pass my machine shop class in at the end of my senior year in high school, I had to build a drill press vise. It involved hand and machine operations, precision lay out, and other operations that a machinist would need to learn. I didn't go on to become a machinist, but I learned tons. That vise...and the arbor press I made that year are still in use almost 15 years later. I was given .002" tolerance on all of my measurements. Which is pretty darned close for a second year student!
    Although I know why they used to make the apprentice file a ball from billet, it still never made sense to me. Tell the apprentice to make the vises and other small tools that he's going to use for the rest of his career!
    If it ain't broke, fix it til it is!

  5. #5
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    The coolest one I heard of was the german apprenticship whereupon completion you'd head out as homeless as Jesus Christ only with a frame saw instead of the gospel.

    That charcter is precisely what's missing in society today. If I hadn't gone into the trades I don't know where id be.It would be cynical and ignorant for me to say it has dissapeared completely, but for the most part its true. too much comfort and "academia" have resulted in the youth of today being skilled at things like button pushing and political correctness. A few generations ago our fathers said "no son of mine is going to turn a wrench like I did, he's going to college!". Well, his son learned how to smoke doobs, protest traditional America, chase ambulances and ruin his marriage.

    I'm 29, and in my woodshop class I only got to use a router...ONCE...with dull bits....on a piece of wet pine lumber. I sure learned how not to offend sensitive people though. If "not hurting peoples feelings" was a skill I'd be a master.

    We're all bringing it back though. One day if the SHTF all of us in our neander shops will be ahead of the game...and if it doesn't at least our kids will look back on memories of us on a bow lathe or a shavehorse and have that connection. We're all keeping tradition alive.
    Last edited by john brenton; 11-14-2010 at 9:25 PM.

  6. #6
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    Mark,
    I made a similar vise in 1959. I still have it and still use it, but not on the drill-press. I get a warm feeling every time. Has it been that long?

  7. #7
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    I totally agree with you about wasting the time of an apprentice making a ball out of a chunk of steel when he/she could be making something useful and actually learning more aspects of the trade, whatever it might be.

    Catchyalater,
    Marv


    "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better."

    ~Maya Angelou~

  8. #8
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    Even in areas of lesser skill, when hand skills were required, we had to develop them.

    I started at the university where I worked for 30 years as the receptionist, back in the typewriter days. Our director allowed three corrected errors in a letter, but they had to be invisibly corrected (I generally made my fourth error on the second to last line). I was the office master of dabbing on the correction fluid so it wasn't lumpy and aligning the paper so that the correct character overtyped the erroneous one perfectly.

    Now, the computer fixes the misteaks, and, when you find one, you just reprint the letter. No manual skills required, so they're getting lost. Not sure I could still do that if I had to, at least not without practice.

  9. #9
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    I must have removed many cubic inches of metal with a file as a youth in my self imposed apprenticeship.

    In Germany the apprentice was given a lump of steel,and he had to file it into a perfect cube to the master's satisfaction. While he was doing that,he had to make his own files. THEN,he was ready to actually begin learning to make guns.

    In Holland,an apprentice moved in with the master's family,and worked for 7 years. He made a harpsichord,which became the master's property to sell,to repay the room and board. The harpsichord had to pass the inspection of the guild,too. Then,journeymanship was granted.

    In Williamsburg,a 7 year apprenticeship is the norm. Then,the apprentice can move to journeyman's pay scale. The starting pay is miserably low.

  10. #10
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    Bill,

    Awwwww, the good old days!! Such memories.

    When I was 12 years old, my Dad put me to work off-bearing the head-rig in his sawmill and I fed the cants into the edger. No apprenticeship for me. About the only thing he told me was, don't touch that big saw blade.

    Catchyalater,
    Marv


    "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better."

    ~Maya Angelou~

  11. #11
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    As a journalist and editor, I bought some pretty high quality typesetting and printing. I remember a seminar where a printer talked about his apprenticeship in Scotland. His apprentice test involved his foreman taking a handful of 8 pt type and he had to identify the font of each piece. And each was a period. A simple dot. The same size as today's New York Times (which may be slightly larger at 9pts).
    This is actually easier than it sounds. I did some metal type setting when I was young. Each type face has identifying nicks along the bottom edge. This is the edge that will be pointing up when when the type is set in the stick. It helps to let the person setting type know if a piece from a wrong font got mixed in.

    A person who has been paying attention while setting type can look at the nicks and tell you what font it came from.

    Of course, trying to get today's work force interested in such a thing is a different story.

    To many people are content with getting paid for doing mediocre work.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  12. #12
    Yet, today you can find beautiful examples of fine craftsmanship today while antique stores are full of garbage made by blind monkeys with a broken hand. I hear what everyone is saying, but I really think that the guys at the top of their game today blow away what we were doing 50 or 100 years ago. It makes my wonder how, since no one really does apprenticeships anymore. Must be a lot of folks like my that learn by bumbling around, screwing things up left and right for 10 or 15 years until we accidentally stumble upon the right way to do something.

  13. #13
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    Skills

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Houghton View Post
    Even in areas of lesser skill, when hand skills were required, we had to develop them.

    I started at the university where I worked for 30 years as the receptionist, back in the typewriter days. Our director allowed three corrected errors in a letter, but they had to be invisibly corrected (I generally made my fourth error on the second to last line). I was the office master of dabbing on the correction fluid so it wasn't lumpy and aligning the paper so that the correct character overtyped the erroneous one perfectly.

    Now, the computer fixes the misteaks, and, when you find one, you just reprint the letter. No manual skills required, so they're getting lost. Not sure I could still do that if I had to, at least not without practice.
    I took less than a semester of typing in high school before my family moved to another school district. My typing skills were miserable all through college. Even with erasable paper I could not produce clean copy. In graduate school I began to use a keypunch and my keyboarding improved a bit so that I didn't have to correct too many cards. When word processing came along my keyboarding got even better. As another effect, my spelling improved because I got instant feedback from the spelling checker. The point is that some skills can improve with technology.

    I can make better dovetails with a router and jig, but I like my hand cut ones more. I think that is a function of appreciating skills rather than appreciating the best work.

    There is an old book, "The Saber-Tooth Curriculum", that educators used to read. In the book, prehistoric students are taught 'fish catching with the hands' and 'scaring saber tooth tigers with torches' even though nets have made catching with the hands obsolete and there is only one saber-tooth tiger left. Of course the book is about curriculum and deciding what is appropriate to teach students. It's not about loving to catch fish with the hands. Still, it sometimes has me wondering if I really am a neanderthal when I like the hand cut ones more. And maybe if I practice just a bit more and get that new saw . . .

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Neel View Post
    I can make better dovetails with a router and jig, but I like my hand cut ones more. I think that is a function of appreciating skills rather than appreciating the best work.
    How do you define "better," John? Are the handcut ones weaker? I think the "best work" is the work that folks like more while providing sufficient strength and function.

    Machine precision is sterile. Hand wrought fitting has soul. And I'm not talking about appreciating skills; I'm talking about to the eye.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marv Werner View Post
    I totally agree with you about wasting the time of an apprentice making a ball out of a chunk of steel when he/she could be making something useful and actually learning more aspects of the trade, whatever it might be.
    There's a corollary in traditional wood-carving apprenticeships. Specifically, the novice was given one carving tool, and a basswood block(actually, linden or "lime" since this is a description of British carving apprenticeships). The task was to turn the block entirely into chips, and to pass the test and move on to the next tool, the apprentice was evaluated on whether all of the chips were of uniform thickness and length. That's not an easy thing to do as a carver.

    The catch, of course, was that there were some 30 tools that had to be gone through before the novice was allowed to actually do some aspect of work-for-sale in the master's shop.

    But the point of wasting all of that limewood was teaching muscle memory and tool control, so that the master could ask an apprentice to rough out a form in an expensive wood like mahagony without fear of him slipping and breaking off a major chip that couldn't be replaced.

    I suspect the "file a perfect cube" out of a chunk of steel had similar motivations behind it.

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