I appreciate your comment "praestans," and I'd like to clarify a couple of things. First, I never claimed that everyone values furniture in the way I do. This is a claim that is made in Matt's post when he claims that the value of furniture is derived solely from its beauty and utility, but it is not a claim that I made. I did claim that in addition to beauty and utility, many people also care about the way in which a piece of furniture is built, and I argued that the feat of creating hand-cut dovetails is more impressive than machine-cut. I am open to an argument to the contrary, but I didn't hear one in your post. I wonder what that argument would look like. In what way would the feat of creating machined dovetails be more impressive? It seems to me that hand-cut dovetails are more difficult, require more skill to execute well, and more practice to master. Would you disagree with any of these claims? I readily accept that not everyone values furniture in the same way. But are there really no feats of craftsmanship that we can collectively deem more impressive than others?
One last point...I don't think there is anything snobbish or elitist about appreciating and placing value on something that is difficult to accomplish. Acknowledging and appreciating the skill and difficulty of working with hand tools should not in any way demean the efforts of others who choose to work with wood in another way.
I take the central question of the blog post to be: does it matter how a piece of furniture is made, whether by a skilled hand, or with the aid of jigs and/or machines? To me the answer is quite obviously, yes it does matter.
To begin, Matt's argument rests on the claim that a piece of furniture is appreciated for only two reasons: its usefulness and its beauty. I would argue that many people, and certainly the most discerning connoisseurs of the craft, appreciate furniture not only for its beauty and function, but also as an impressive and valuable human achievement. It seems to me that what gives a piece of furniture value as a human achievement has everything to do with how it is made.
Very simply, a set of dovetails made by hand is, I think we can all agree, more impressive than those made on a dovetailing jig. This is true for a number of reasons. Making dovetails by hand requires more skill. There is also more risk of failure. The woodworker is also more accountable for the end product. (When using a router jig, a good deal of the accountability for the dovetails has been ceded to the manufacturer of the jig.)
This appreciation for human achievement is evident in just about every craft I can think of. Whether woodwork, pottery, metalwork, etc., if I know that a particular piece of craftwork was made in such a way that required more skill, and a greater level of difficulty, I will appreciate it more. And I imagine we all would to some degree.
Theoretically, if we stumbled upon a piece of furniture, with no clues as to how it was made, we may appreciate it simply in the terms set forth by Matt. But for those of us with an abiding interest in woodworking, I would argue that we rarely encounter furniture in such a way. We are constantly seeking out the story behind the object, and looking for clues as to how it was built. This is at least partly because the story of how it was made is inextricably linked to its value.
I want to be clear that none of this should be read as belittling those who use machines or jigs in their woodwork. As most of the comments suggest, we all engage in woodwork for somewhat different reasons, and find joy or our livelihood using different methods. Certainly we should all be encouraged to enjoy woodworking in the way that best suits our particular disposition.
That doesn't mean however, that technique and skill don't matter. They do. And I find it rather ironic that an editor of a magazine dedicated to the craft of woodworking would argue that the value of a piece of furniture has nothing to do with the way in which it was made.
The information you give in the video is first-rate, but it's also widely available in a number of articles from FW and elsewhere. The advantage to video tutorials, to my mind, is that they allow the viewer the opportunity to pick up on the qualities that distinguish a master craftsman from a good woodworker. The viewer has the opportunity not just to read a list of techniques, but to see them performed by a master. When the basic skills being performed are already familiar, the way in which these skills are performed becomes more significant. And that's where having a master performing the task becomes critical.
These differences in technique may have to do with a slight variation in the way a tool is held, or attention to body positioning when making a cut. It's somewhat difficult to be too specific in describing what I'm looking for since, by definition, I'm asking for techniques that I'm not already aware of. So perhaps the best way to answer your question is to turn it back at you. What kind of video tutorial would you like to see, that would improve upon the fundamental hand-tool skills you already have? And who would you like to see in front of the camera?
I enjoy these informative competitions, and would like to see more of them in the future. I would strongly urge FW, however, to consider using master craftsmen in these tutorials. No disrespect intended to Matt, who does a fine job at his skill level, but so long as you're going to the effort of making these videos, why not use one of your many contributors who have been woodworking for 20 years? There are certainly some helpful techniques that can be related to the audience by anyone. But there are many more subtle and advanced techniques that can only be learned by watching a master at work. By providing a more experienced woodworker in these videos, I think you'll make them appealing and useful to a broader cross-section of your audience.
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