“Space travel and Woodworking” or “High Technology’s Effect on Heritage Crafts”


This may shock my darling audience, but I am of two minds regarding the dire negative effects of space travel, robotics, modern factory technology and chinese ultra-mass production trends. Is the market being flooded with Walmart and dollar store junk, made for half a cent and sold for a couple of bucks doing bad things for our heritage trades? Will outsourcing our labour to foreign countries where workers in sweatshops get paid a sack of rice per month to make Nike sneakers for a fraction of a percent their retail cost encroach on our market shares? You know what? I really don’t think so. I will confess that it has an effect, but I don’t think it has the one you might suggest. I think it improves our market, considerably, for those savvy enough to consider the shifting dynamic of an increasingly demanding customer base.

“Why would someone spend $500.00 on a hand-made desk, wait a month for it, full of flaws and defects, when I can buy a factory desk made by IKEA for a tenth the cost?” I’ve been asked (I paraphrased). I often return with a smile, “Because it’s hand-made, takes a month to build, is full of flaws and defects.” The people who scoff and walk away are the ignorant people you don’t want to deal with anyway. It’s the people who walk across the room at a party and hand you their number scrawled in lipstick on a cocktail napkin… that… Hey! It could happen!

No, you’re probably right. But many people do love heritage items. Say they lost a beautiful armoire made by their fourth paternal fore-father or some-such, lost when their house tragically burned down in the great electrical storm of whatever… but they have a picture! With a photograph and any reasonable measure of scale it is very possible to design a satisfying model of the unit in a rendering package like Google’s Sketch Up, and fiddle with dimensions until it’s hard to differentiate from the original.

What about that precious keepsake for your little pint-sized plundering pirate? A perfectly petite portable port-of-call for pretty playthings? Ordering a pirates treasure chest to replace that scuffed-up old plastic Fisher Price box after the lid caved in when your little man jumped on it, trying to get that last plushy giant squid monster inside the lid. Fortunately, the squid was unharmed and intact; seemed quite… stuffed… actually.

To speak nothing of replacing heirlooms and creating new heirlooms-to-be, think of the advantages that the vast and mighty interwebs have on reaching new markets to peddle our wares (Import/export challenges of organic materials like wood notwithstanding)?  The possibility to sell wares on Ebay. Etsy, Amazon or private stores literally opens up the entire world to those who can market it right (I’d write an article on proper internet marketing but I don’t have a clue). What about computer science used to render objects rather than the trial-and-error method.
Consider this: For every factory knockoff desk, table, bureau, etc that ultra-mass-producers like china or IKEA can crank out, there are people who want a REAL Greene & Greene chair, or some REAL Figured Honduran Mahogany for their master bedroom headboard, or maybe some Spalted Curly Maple for their bookshelf, or, dear I say, Padauk Amboyna Burl for the floating panels of your new kitchen cupboards? Make no mistake, spalting (fungal infections lightly discolouring grain patterns), burls (fungal infections “hideously” deforming still-growing wood) and some figured woods like “curly”, “crotch” or “tiger” woods simply cannot be replicated with any justice being given to it. I have zero desire in owning a factory knockoff made from OSB (oriented sheet board, or “chip-board”) or MDF (medium density fibre board) that was fired through a factory by the lowest bidder to make something on an assembly line that kinda, sorta, maybe looks like what I want if I have a fifth of scotch in me and squint in the right light… when I could hire a true craftsman to find a unique piece of exotic hardwood and make that perfect piece of furniture for me to my exacting specifications and have a product that will outlive my grandchildren. Tough choice.

Technology and progress, like all things, has good sides and bad sides. The space program may have brought us velcro and tang, but also established answers to some deeply seeded questions. The NASA budget is a fraction of what Americans spend on DOG GROOMING in the run of a year, so don’t talk to me about wasted money. It serves a purpose, and like true and beautiful craftsman(woman)ship, can be used to inspire. The behavior and conduct of high-technology and retail giants can actually inspire people to shop local and from craftsmen. Robotics save lives, sweatshops can mean the difference between a job and your children starving to death, and gods know that the owner of Walmart CEO Michael Duke’s $35 million salary is required to keep him in the life to which he has become accustomed, and increasing the minimum wage of his workers to a living wage would obviously bankrupt his company. That lousy cheap, bast… Wait… what was I saying?

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