Claremont Designs

What Does Handmade Mean? Please Ask…

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So I’m a little late in writing this post… I guess that “late” is a relative term. In one sense I meant to write this 2+ weeks ago when I took the photo below. At the same time, I think that the topic is more timely than ever. And timely in the sense that it won’t be answered here, tomorrow, or frankly anytime soon.

If it’s not clear to people that occasionally read my blog posts, I sell things on Etsy. I don’t sell everything on Etsy, but I do sell some items. And I definitely consider them “handmade.” Etsy marginally mentions the term handmade on their site, but I would guess that in the consumers’ mind, the term “handmade” is much more prevalent. That’s okay; I’m not trying to say it is bad…

But it is a different context than I think some people consider… For me “handmade” has meant many things. In some case it might mean literally that it was built by hand. Or should it mean that it was created with tools that require no power? Or maybe somewhere in between as long as there was a human touch at some point? For some people, handmade means that there are flaws that should be excused… This is where I’m most conflicted… When you are dealing with real world supplies, there are defects. You may want it to be 100% perfect, and that is possible…

But frankly if you are building to enough scale that you can’t reach out to customers to ask if you like a certain look to a piece of wood or not, that means you are not handmade…

I don’t mean this in a negative way. I mean this in a descriptive way. Many of the designers that I admire don’t adhere to this mindset, and I don’t ascribe any lesser value to their designs. But I do assume that there wasn’t a human helping to guide every crucial design decision…

So there is my long convoluted description of what handmade means to me… it only took 4 “paragraphs” and I don’t pretend that it is crystal clear as a result… My only request is that if it means something to you as a buyer, please ask the people you are buying from what “handmade” means to them… In some cases you will be more than willing to do business with them. In other cases, the exact opposite holds true…

Anyway back to me (because everything must eventually come back to me)… The photo below is for an end table that I’m building. It is essentially, 3 through dovetail boxes with a floating top. The photo shows one of the last steps in the process… before this step I cut and joined the 3 through dovetail boxes shown in the picture. Although, the boxes were made with same jigs and lumber of the same dimension, they were not identical within 1/16 of an inch…

What’s happening in the photo, is that I’m clamping the three boxes together so that I can ease the transition from one piece to the other… It was definitely a handmade piece (in my terminology). Each piece wouldn’t be perfectly identical… In fact I would eventually round over the corners of each piece, so they couldn’t match perfectly. For me exact duplication, would mean that it was machine made. But if near duplication might mean that it was made by hand and matched to the clients’ needs… That’s what I was doing here… Ultimately, I sanded all of the joints of the boxes flush in the photos. That doesn’t mean that I did everything by hand, but it does mean that I was there with tools controlled by hand that did not depend on mechanical accuracy to get the final look.

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