Thursday, February 26, 2015

printing plastic stuff in our kitchens?

The idea in the 3-D printing community has been that we'll buy printers and then have them available to print out the things we need and want from plastic. Some in the industry are beginning to think that idea is "over-hyped." Today I'll resume 3-D printing of parts for prosthetic hands and my students will finish assembling the parts we've printed so far. The potential for screw-ups in the printing of parts is enormous. It seems small parts lift from the printing plate and after the thing has run for an hour or several hours what you may end up with is not what you might have had in mind. So other than personalized legos that take over an hour to make 6, tiny kitchen spatulas with a personalized emblem or family crest, or things we have downloaded from, what will we make?

The important question about any technology is not what to make, however, for the value of the object is not in the object itself, but in the transformation of self that comes when one is engaged in creative work. The question becomes, how did this process shift my understanding and my character? Did it bring me into closer union (or communion) with my companions in life?

Barbara has finished the last of her first round of translation of I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg. Now she will read the whole of it through, applying to the first what she had learned in the latter part of the book. And is it not the same with everything? We take the materials we are provided, whether it be wood, or plastic, or concepts, or metaphors, and bring them into refinement. Still, in this, it is important to go deep.

The name of this blog, Wisdom of the Hands, came from a radio interview with Stanley Kunich, former US Poet Laureate,  in which he referred to "the wisdom of the body." The further we get from that wisdom, whether we are creating in the wood shop, or writing in the attic, the more disembodied our work may become. The term, in the parlance of the hand, is "out of touch."

This morning, as I lay in bed, too soon to get up,  I was thinking of the metaphor that has become so commonplace, that things dovetail together. The term is used to describe a perfect fit, and yet we may know that dovetails are not always a perfect fit. Nor do they go together just-like-that. They take practice and care (at least the hand cut ones do), and for those with experience in real dovetails to say that these things dovetail (if one is to be honest in the reading and writing of such things) would be an acknowledgement of the work involved. Things don't dovetail, unless they've been carefully crafted to do so.

It is odd that human beings want all things to be easy, even though we know that all things are not as easy as they look, and that it is the hard work we put into learning things and using tools and materials in the best fashion that leads us on the journey in which we arise to higher levels of wisdom and responsibility. In the article linked above, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass suggests that once folks have bought cheap 3-D printers for their kitchens, our fascination with watching cheap plastic stuff arise before our very eyes will soon diminish and the stuff we've made will enter the waste stream, only to be followed later by the printers themselves. But it is telling in contrast, that my woodworking students have collections of their own work. Their parents, too, keep collections of these objects their children have made, as evidence of their growth.

While we look for ease, we may remember that the greatest growth comes from doing difficult and challenging things.And I think that's why my students treasure the things they've made. They worked hard to make them, learned something and managed to arise in the process.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Anonymous7:37 PM

    I'm not particularly enamoured of 3D printers but some people are using them to print patterns for sand casting. Now that's cool.

    Nick Sluyter

  2. Nick, just like any technology, I can think of multiple uses for it. I've thought of interesting hinges I could design on sketchup and then print for use on boxes. We will see this technology used in all kinds of things. But I do hope that folks find a way to steady themselves in traditional tools and woodworking.

    I have a friend who did sand casting of bronze for many years and it was fascinating how he could develop interesting patterns without reliance on anything but what he could find at hand. That seems so much more direct and spontaneous than having to first design in a 3D program and then use a printer, and then make an impression.