What is “craft”?

If you need a lot of pictures, read no further.  If vulgarity offends you, read no further.

I’m enchanted by the internet discussions about “what is craft?”  For me it’s pretty damned simple.  As my Grandfather would say, “We have a job of work to do.  The things that we create have a purpose, a function.  That is our craft.  That is our trade.  That’s how we make our living.”

But phenomena like NAFTA and IKEA have changed the landscape dramatically.   The market for entrepreneurial craftsmen has been decimated across the nation, with the exception of several tiny areas on the right and left coasts.  Doctors and lawyers, social historians, artists and computer designers feel free to provide an explanation as to what the meaning of craft is.   There is no doubt that some of the finest woodworking practitioners today do not make their living “at the craft”.  And that’s fine, because we need people with a sense of stewardship and who are passionate about the knowledge we share.  But, please, let me give you a observation drawn from a somewhat more practical perspective.

The craft is a job, a way of supporting yourself and your loved ones.  But much, much more.  And someone sitting in an air conditioned studio or editing a digitized “re-publication” is, in my estimation, probably not the one who is best prepared to share its true meaning.

To me and “my brothers in chips” the reality of “the craft” means:

Having to beg my lumber supplier to trust me for another five hundred board feet of material;

Asking Sister “Mary Ridiculous” to keep my kids in school for just another month.  “The tuition is coming, I promise”;

Wondering if I’ll ever be paid that final draw, that ten percent that constitutes the profit on any given job;

Filing Mechanics liens;

Trying to agree on a vision with someone who has absolutely no understanding of the task at hand and does not value the investment that I’ve made in study, tools and practice;

Wondering when the next project will come;

Wondering, how in the name of God, I’ll get all this work done;

Loading the truck in the fucking rain;

Loading the truck in the fucking snow;

Loading the truck when it’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit  in the shade;

Unloading the fucking truck;

Taking time off the job to meet with the accountant about taxes;

Wondering what will happen if I get sick;

But when all is said and done, I only have to answer to two people, me and my Grandfather.  And, there’s only one question – did I do my best work.  That, to me,  is craft.  Vocation while you’re trying to stay afloat.  Avocation after you retire.  A lover that will never let you go.

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8 Comments on “What is “craft”?”

  1. Interesting take on “craft”. Honesty in this post speaks loudly. I think it’s time for a van. 😬

  2. Alan Bishop Says:

    I had to check the dictionary – nice choice – ‘avocation’

  3. rene. Says:

    I wish to you, that you craft will stay solid and bring income.
    Perhaps it helps the craftspeople movement that the people with other main jobs are active with internet blogs and other media presences. It may help to show the immense background that lies within crafted pieces.

  4. Beth Covert Says:


  5. Well said.

    I left the building craft but continue as an avocational out of necessity and a desire to continue this tradition. My grandfather and great grandfathers too were craftsmen and seemed to be able to do just about any task necessary with wood, stone, or metal (or find the right person to do it). When he got old my grandpa liked to tell everyone he was really a lazy guy at heart and was glad to not have to scramble every day on jobs. He was the busiest “lazy man” I’ve ever known.

    You obviously see the same as the rest of us with the on-line woodworking community. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of tools, immaculate shop spaces, crazy exotic woods, and an obsession with nifty fasteners. Not the same as building dormers on a two story house on a 15 degree day (or a 100 degree day for that matter).

    Thanks for this post.

  6. larry porter Says:

    dennis- do you think your wife knows you do not have to answer to her . mine still thinks i have to answer to her.

  7. Cruciform Tool Says:

    “And someone sitting in an air conditioned studio or editing a digitized “re-publication” is, in my estimation, probably not the one who is best prepared to share its true meaning.”

    Oddly enough, the Jim Cramer of woodworking has quite the following. I give him credit for getting people interested but the shameless self promotion and bloviation is tiresome. To me, craft is what comes from the series of decisions and actions to get to a result. Superior craft is the result of those decisions and actions, not the tools. You can support craftsmanship, but you can’t buy it.

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