Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Quality school part 3

Yesterday as I was adding doors to a book case I made years ago to turn it into a pantry for our kitchen, I worked through most of the day, only to discover that the geometry for the way the doors would open would not work. In the practice of craftsmanship one is often doing something for the first time, or something not done in awhile and there may be a learning curve that requires making mistakes and correcting them. In this case, I had to move the hinges to the other side of one door, and that meant that there are now wooden plates covering the holes that were drilled for Blum hinges on the wrong side. But quality school conveys the realization that real people make mistakes, and that willingness to try new things is part of the territory. In any case, I now have the new pantry almost complete, as you can see in the photo above. It was dispiriting to grasp my mistake. I dreamed in the night about possible solutions. I found the correct solution in the morning, and in no time at all, had made the fix, and arrived at a better regard for myself. In the meantime, the plumber and kitchen appliance installer did their work in making our new kitchen usable at last.

My wife paid me an interesting compliment on the completion of the pantry project. She said that very few people in the world could do what I had just done, and perhaps fewer would even want to. It was a complex project converting a book case to have doors attached. The original structure was not intended for doors, so small blocks had to be installed to carry the weight of hinges, and spaces for each to fit had to be carefully routed in place. That required the making of specialized routing templates. I make no claims as to the perfection of craftsmanship involved. But those who have had the opportunity to work in an experimental manner may have two distinct qualities lacking in those who have not. They will likely have an appreciation for those things that are done well. And they may also have a appreciation for sincere effort to offer quality, even when that effort may go awry. We all know that human beings make mistakes. It's not perfect craftsmanship we expect, but that the effort to achieve quality work be sincere. Carelessness and mindless labor does not work well for anyone. The true purpose of pursuit of quality is not to be found in the elusive perfect object, but in the development of the individual. And the purpose of quality school would be to teach the kinds of caring that we lack in the current economy and culture.

This shallow pantry will be the perfect place to store canned goods and food stuffs. Unlike normal kitchen cabinets, it is shallow enough that things will not get lost in it. Need that jar of spaghetti sauce? We won't be on our hands and knees looking for it anymore. The door panels are made from a sheet of corrugated aluminum that comes backed by a Formica-like material.

Part of what prevents the evolution of craftsmanship, and hence the evolution of quality is the fear that is built into our current system by the industrialized mentality that rules it all. The assumption is that time is money and that jobs should be quickly done, so workers are encouraged to cut corners, or take things for granted, leading to costly mistakes and a lack of satisfaction in the workplace. The more drastic effect is in the diminishing of the spirit of the individuals involved.

On a related subject, my very good friend William Symes (Bill) has published a major book on Psychotherapy. The book is 400+ pages and intended as a guide for psychotherapists. It also offers nuggets of insight that will be useful and inspirational to others. I'll mention the full title so you will see how it fits with the  purpose of this blog: Mastering the Art of Psychotherapy––the Principles of Effective Psychological Change: Challenging the Boundaries of Self-Expression. The book is not much about crafts or craftsmanship per se. But it is about bringing the experiential self and expressive self into alignment. Friedrich Froebel would have loved it. We are made powerful when we act in harmony with the innermost self and with a sense of the inter-connectedness of all things. We are also made good when we act in better alignment with the healthy self that had been previously battered down by the damaging circumstances of our early lives.

Underlying Bill's method is a healthy regard for the goodness of man and mankind...  Every child wants to do good, and stand out from his or her peers by doing good things in service of others. Children will choose (if given a chance) the opportunity to do so. Craftsmanship, and the pursuit of quality, whether in woodworking or psychotherapy are about the liberation of the individuals to express themselves fully and creatively and to be actively alive to life with all its ups downs and wonders.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to learn likewise.


  1. Doug,
    This is the argument at the heart of Ruskin's "The Nature of Gothic," and goes straight to the monumental problem of the degradation of labor. “No good work whatever can be perfect," he says," and the demand for perfection is always a sign of the misunderstanding of the ends of art.”

  2. Tim, that is an interesting quote. It fits with the Amish and Japanese crafts in which the object of work is not to compete with the perfection that can be found in nature. And if everything were to approach perfection, how would we practice the art of forgiveness? The making of useful beauty is the anvil upon which the higher self is forged.

  3. It's universal in pre-modern cultures, I'm sure, because it's elemental to our nature: "I'm only human," is what we say in defense of our shortcomings. Ruskin points to it as central to Medieval Christian thought: “…to every spirit which Christianity summons to her service, her exhortation is: Do what you can, and confess frankly what you are unable to do…” Only in communion and covenant and charity do we reach perfection, never as individuals, was the teaching. Also, he was making the point made more famously by (his friend) Robert Browning: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, else what is a heaven for?" You cannot expect perfection of workers who are left free to bring their own powers of invention to bear, and to push their skills, seeking to grow and improve. Perfection must be sacrificed to the flowering of the human spirit.

    But most importantly, he was addressing the degradation of labor in industrial conditions which turned men into "operatives"—mechanical tools subordinated to a system of division of labor (“it is not the labor that is divided but the men”) and set to do horrifically monotonous and meaningless tasks to produce “perfectnesses [which] are the signs of a slavery in our England a thousand times more bitter and more degrading than that of the scourged African, or helot Greek.” As to the latter, the “flawed god” Hephaestus, crippled god of craft, remained a far truer guardian of civilization than the “satanic mills” of industrialized society.