Measure Twice, Cut Once: Applying the Ethos of the Craftsman to Our Everyday Lives

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 3, 2013 · 43 comments

in A Man's Life

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Across cultures and time, the archetype of the craftsman has represented man’s ability to create and has been the mark of mature manhood. He is homo faber – man the creator. Instead of passively consuming and letting things happen to him, the craftsman fashions the world to his liking and proactively shapes and influences it. Ancient philosophers in both the West and the East have used the craftsman as a symbol of he who contributes to his community and as an ensign of humility, self-reliance, and calm industry.

When we think of the archetypal craftsman, images of a bearded man clad in a leather apron and rolled-up sleeves, toiling away in his workshop producing beautiful and useful items comes to mind. What’s interesting is that the ancient Greeks had a much more inclusive idea of the craftsman than our modern conception. Besides masons, potters, and carpenters, the ancient Greeks included jobs now considered “knowledge professions” like doctors, legislators, and administrators under the craftsman label. Even the work of a father was considered a craft of sorts that required the same care and attention to detail as that of the carpenter. Indeed, the ancient Greeks believed that the values and ethos of craftsmanship were things all should seek to live by. In so doing, a man could achieve arete, or excellence, and thus experience eudaimonia, or a flourishing life.

Over time, the ideal of craftsmanship was cordoned off to just the technical arts. Physicians and legislators no longer thought of themselves as craftsmen, but as philosophers and natural scientists who were more concerned with the theoretical as opposed to the practical. Such a shift is a shame, for the principles of craftsmanship truly do apply to every man, whether he makes furniture or crunches numbers. Below we take a look at how these overarching principles of the traditional craftsman can apply to all areas of your life, no matter your profession.

Many of these principles are things we’ve covered before on the Art of Manliness. Make sure to explore the links within this article to more fully understand the concepts held within.

Do Things Well for the Sake of Doing Them Well

Make every product better than it’s ever been done before. Make the parts you cannot see as well as the parts you can see. Use only the best materials, even for the most everyday items. Give the same attention to the smallest detail as you do to the largest. Design every item you make to last forever.” – Shaker Philosophy of Furniture Making

Fundamental to the code of craftsmanship is the desire to do something well for its own sake. Sure, the craftsman often gets paid for his work, but it’s not the paycheck that determines how well he does the job. A true craftsman will work until the job is done and done well, even if he’s working for free. Philosopher and motorcycle repairman Matthew B. Crawford shared a story in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft that exemplifies the craftsman’s compulsive fidelity to this ethic.

A guy had brought an old Magna motorcycle into Crawford’s shop that needed work on the clutch. Crawford could solve the clutch problem just fine, but he also noticed that the engine’s oil seal looked “buggered.” He tried to fix it but didn’t make any headway. Due to the damage and the nature of the oil seal, replacing it would require a lot of work and a lot of time. Frustrated, he left his shop for a smoke. While the smoke filled his lungs, the thought came to him that:

“The best business decision would be to forget I’d ever seen the ambiguously buggered oil seal. With a freshly rebuilt slave cylinder, the clutch worked fine. Even if my idle speculation about the weeping oil seal causing the failure of the slave cylinder seal was right, so what? It would take quite a while for the problem to reappear, and who knows if this guy would still own the bike by then. If it is not likely to be his problem, I shouldn’t make it my problem.”

But as he walked back into the shop, he couldn’t stop thinking about that buggered oil seal:

“The compulsion was setting in, and I did little to resist it. I started digging at the seal, my peripheral vision narrowing. At first I told myself it was exploratory digging. But the seal was suffering from my screwdriver, and at some point I had to drop the forensic pretense. I was going to get that little f***er out.”

Crawford goes on to explain how he’d often bill his clients fewer hours than he actually worked on a bike because of his thoroughness or just his plain curiosity of tinkering with things:

“I feel I have to meet the standards of efficiency that [an independent mechanic] set, or at least appear to. So I lie and tell people a job took ten hours when it might have taken twenty. To compensate, I also tell them my shop rate is forty dollars per hour, but it usually works out to more like twenty. I feel like an amateur, no less now than when I started, but through such devices I hope to appear like somebody who knows what he is doing, and bills accordingly.”

Money wasn’t important to Crawford, just doing the job well for the sake of doing it well was what mattered.

You can apply this craftsmanship ethic to more than just tangible objects. Even if you do more ethereal work, you can do it well for the sake of doing it well. The reward for doing an exhaustively thorough job can sometimes be monetary, but it may very well go unnoticed by one’s customer or boss. The most fulfilling reward of living by the craftsmanship ethic is the feeling of pride that comes with knowing you gave a certain job your damndest effort. It’s the unmatchable satisfaction of seeing one’s inner integrity displayed in the wholeness and quality of one’s external labor.

Plan (But Not Too Much)

cobbler

With any project, the craftsman creates twice: first mentally and then physically. Before he sets chisel to stone or hammer to wood, the craftsman has already created his work in his mind. In other words, he plans how to bring out the object from the rough materials and tools before him.

On the other hand, while the craftsman understands the importance of planning, he isn’t over-fastidious about it. Instead of detailed blueprints, the master craftsman prefers the rough sketch because he knows that unforeseen problems (or opportunities) can arise once he’s actually working. The rough sketch, philosopher Richard Sennett argues in The Craftsman, provides a “working procedure for preventing premature closure.” It gives structure, but leaves room for improvisation and change if needed.

Follow the example of the craftsman in the way you plan your life. Envision what your ideal life (and even year, week, and day) would look like and roughly sketch out how you’re going to go about making it a reality. Some folks fall into the trap of trying to plan out every. single. detail. Their over-planning often leads to frustration when things don’t exactly follow their ideal blueprint. Even worse, uncompromising attention to a highly detailed life plan can cause a man to miss out on more rewarding opportunities that he could not have foreseen ahead of time. When planning, sketch out a rough plan on the trestle board of your life and make course adjustments as you actually go about the work of living.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

This is one of the simplest and most memorable maxims of craftsmen, although it’s not always easy to follow through with in your everyday life. Suffice it to say that while you should leave room in your plans for improvisation, when it comes to making decisions that you can’t take back, make sure you’ve studied and pondered the choice thoroughly before you make your “cut.”

Work With What You Got

car-mechanic

The master craftsman understands that most times he’ll never have the ideal materials, tools, or environment to work with. Unforeseen knots are discovered in wood and hidden imperfections in stone are revealed. Instead of becoming frustrated by such curveballs, the master craftsman adjusts his plans and works these imperfections into his creation so that you’d never know they were there. He can sometimes even work the imperfection into a source of strength for the piece.

Sometimes a craftsman doesn’t have the exact tool that he needs, so he improvises with what he has and learns something new in the process. As Sennett argues“Getting better at using tools comes to us, when the tools challenge us, and this challenge often occurs just because the tools are not fit-for-purpose. They may not be good enough or it’s hard to figure out how to use them…However, we come to use it, the very incompleteness of the tool has taught us something.”

Just as the craftsman cannot exactly control what he has to work with, we cannot control every aspect of our life. We’re all given different materials and circumstances to work with. Some of us were born with physical or mental handicaps. Setbacks happen like divorce, accidents, and job layoffs. Instead of working against this resistance, embrace it like the craftsman. Instead of seeing these constraints and contingencies as obstacles, see them as creative opportunities and incorporate them into your life as unique and interesting pieces of texture. Remember, some of history’s greatest men turned what could have been a weakness into a strength.

Cultivate Patience

A good craftsman has the patience to stay with frustrating work, even when it takes longer than he originally thought. He avoids frustration by living by the following maxim: when something takes longer than you expect, stop fighting it and embrace it.

Much of our frustrations in modern life could be avoided if we would just develop this zen-like patience of the craftsman. Us moderns have a perverse expectation that things should happen NOW. We want emails answered immediately and we even expect success to come right away. Mark Zuckerberg is not your average success story, so stop trying to be like him. The reality is that things almost always take longer than expected, especially those things that are good and noble. So instead of fighting it, embrace it as the calm craftsman does. Life will become instantly more enjoyable and less stressful once you cultivate this virtue of patience.

Let Go of Your Ego

swordsmith

The craftsman willingly opens himself up to teaching, criticism, and judgment from his peers and clients because that’s the only way he can improve. He doesn’t take criticism personally because the craftsman is more concerned about doing good work than feeling good about his work. A true craftsman understands that nobody cares how he feels about his work. In the end he knows that the only question that matters is: “Does it work?”

According to Crawford, ”the tradesman must reckon with the infallible judgment of reality, where one’s failures or shortcomings cannot be interpreted away.” The work of the craftsman isn’t wishy-washy. The craftsman must be able, as Crawford notes, to point and say, ”the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on.” Besides being able to concretely demonstrate whether his creation or repair actually succeeds, the craftsman must also face instruments that determine whether his work is “true” — the level, the square, the compass, the plumb, the ruler. There’s no fudging with these tools. The shelf a carpenter made is either level or it’s not.

Modern culture has indoctrinated us that it’s more important to feel good about our work than to actually do good work. Self-help and career books tell us that we should find work that feels “authentic.” School children are taught that the only thing that counts is their effort, not if their work is actually good or correct. Crawford calls this emphasis on feelings as opposed to results a consumer ethic as opposed to a craftsmanship ethic.

The problem with the consumer ethic is that it creates individuals with self-inflated and fragile egos who are unable to withstand the sometimes harsh criticisms and judgments that invariably come in life and in work. Clients and bosses don’t care if you felt “authentic” when writing a memo or if you tried really hard on a project. All they care about are the results. In life, it often takes mistakes in order to get better. You can’t get better if no one ever points out your failings.

If you wish to become the best man you can be, you must rid yourself of the consumer ethic of feelings and replace it with the craftsmanship ethic of results. Does your creation work? Does it look good? Does it add something to the world? If not, seek feedback and use that criticism to improve your work.

Develop Your Practical Wisdom

Through years of experience, the craftsman develops what Robert Greene calls a “masterly intuition.” He can sense problems and solutions by merely looking at an object or listening to it operate. I liken it to how a man will often know if there is something wrong with his car just by feeling the way it drives or hearing something subtle that wasn’t previously there. Crawford argues that the master craftsman’s ability to intuit and work by “hunches” allows him to “know what do when the rules run out or there are no rules in the first place.” It’s what allows a good auto mechanic to diagnose a transmission problem even when the computerized test equipment says the car’s transmission is a-okay or a carpenter to know what sort of joint would work best on a project.

Aristotle called this kind of intuition phronesis, or practical wisdom. The ancient philosopher believed that the phronesis was a virtue that all men should develop, not just carpenters or masons. Practical wisdom is what allows us to make good judgments when we face decisions when there’s no clear right or wrong answer. It gives us the ability ”to do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason.” Aristotle argued that practical wisdom for everyday life develops the same way craftsmen develop theirs — through experience and trial and error.

Mastery Brings Meaning

gunsmith

Mastery is the goal of the true craftsman. As an apprentice, the would-be craftsman devotes years of his life humbly submitting to quiet observation. He watches his master work and gives an attentive ear to his instructions. After years of passive observation, an apprentice begins experimenting his craft to determine his skill. Through years of trial and error, he slowly hones his skill to a sharp edge. Even when a craftsman has obtained the level of master, he continues to dedicate his life to constant improvement. He understands that by increasing his ability, he increases his value. By mastering his trade, the craftsman is better able to live by the craftsmanship ethic, which in turn allows him to feel deeper personal satisfaction, develop confidence, contribute to his community, and thus discover greater and greater meaning and fulfillment in his work.

In Drive, Daniel Pink highlights research that has shown that, contrary to popular belief, it’s not the type of work that we do that leads to personal fulfillment. Rather it’s mastery of our work (along with autonomy and purpose) that brings us satisfaction. If you feel like you’re lacking meaning in your work or in your life, follow the example of the craftsman by seeking mastery. If you’re a computer programmer, make it a goal to constantly improve your programming chops; if you’re a manager, read the latest management research and apply it in your daily work. By seeking mastery, you’ll increase your self-efficacy and your ability to leave a mark on the world.

Find Your Workshop

We often imagine the archetypal craftsman toiling alone in his shop, but historically, the vocation of a craftsman was and still is very social. When a master craftsman wanted to commune with his fellow masters, he’d head to the nearest guildhall where new insights were shared and policies governing the craft debated. And now, as then, a craftsman’s workshop is the real hub of his sociality. Here he mentors and teaches an apprentice or journeyman, works alongside his peers, and interacts with his clients.

The workshop and guildhall give the craftsman a sense of community, identity, and belonging. Crawford says this of the community that craftsmanship fosters:

“So my work situates me in a particular community. The narrow mechanical things I concern myself with are inscribed within a larger circle of meaning; they are in the service of an activity that we recognize as part of a life well lived. This common recognition, which needn’t be spoken, is the basis for a friendship that orients by concrete images of excellence.”

At its core, a craftsman’s workshop is an honor group. It’s home to a small, intimate group of men, where a code of honor — in this case, the craftsmanship ethic — guides and shapes the behavior of those within the workshop’s walls. As we’ve discussed in our post on reviving manly honor, traditional honor inspires and compels men to be the very best. The tight-knit community that honor requires serves as a check on narcissism and reminds a man that he’s not the center of the universe. More importantly, honor gives meaning to a man’s life.

Mimic the craftsman by finding your metaphorical workshop. Be intentional about forming life-long brotherhoods. Find your platoon of men that will hold you accountable to a code of honor that demands excellence and honesty in all you do.

Whether you spend your days knee-deep in sawdust, paperwork, or diapers, by adopting and living the traditional values of the craftsman you’ll find more personal fulfillment and meaning, enrich your family and community, and hammer, mold, and sculpt an indelible legacy as a man.

________________

Sources:

The Craftsman by Richard Sennett

Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford

Mastery by Robert Greene

 

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jonathan R. Baker July 3, 2013 at 10:17 pm

Excellent article, Brett. Had a difficult day at work today, and this helped me to focus on doing the job well despite the frustrations.

Semper Virilis, my friend.

2 Steve July 3, 2013 at 10:26 pm

I have been a cleric for twenty years; previous to that I was a joiner for Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers and previous to that a fencing master for Cornell University. I believe in the principles of craft and mastery as you’ve laid them out above, have sought to make them real in my life and still do. However, a small proviso: pursuing craft for the sake of craft and caring not about compensation can be carried to the point of irresponsibility. If you are supporting a family, too much noodling around for the fun of it can short your wife and kids. That said; by all means, measure as many times as you need.

3 Riley Padron July 3, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Hands down, the best article I have ever come across on this site. Thank you so much.

4 Tony Ricketts July 3, 2013 at 10:56 pm

I must ask this. Have you travelled far?

5 Drew July 4, 2013 at 2:13 am

On a random note, sounds like a very ISTP (aka “the mechanic/craftsman”) way of going about life

I train in martial arts, so then view on life is heavily emphasized on the mat.

6 Gareth July 4, 2013 at 5:35 am

The ethos of the craftsman is a very rewarding way in which to approach our work. This article shows how to extend it even further. Thanks for a fantastic article, Brett and Kate.

7 MattfromPoland July 4, 2013 at 5:42 am

Damn it guys, you’re the only valuable website for me lately!

8 James July 4, 2013 at 7:57 am

Really great article. Touched a nerve today and put a great deal of my feelings of angst about my work into a different perspective. Thank you.

9 Pete July 4, 2013 at 8:05 am

Great Post. I wonder whether being a true craftsman depends to a large extent upon being self-employed… as a sole practitioner I give my clients those time discounts quite literally all the time, whereas if I worked for a firm the hungry (or should I just say it: greedy) partners would sack me immediately for such reasonableness, such generosity. Thanks for posting.

10 John July 4, 2013 at 8:21 am

I just finished Shop Class as Soulcraft and savored every page of it. Even though I’ve never even ridden a motorcycle, let alone repaired one, he makes universal points about work and pride of craftsmanship that are applicable to matter what your profession or hobby.

11 Jimmy K. Ramirez July 4, 2013 at 9:35 am

Hi Y’all,

Wonderful article! I began training to be a machinist 35 years ago. Still at it. The training program was 21 months in a school setting. Since then, I’ve learned the lessons shown in this article.

12 Ze July 4, 2013 at 10:18 am

Brilliant article. Funny enough, by profession, I am a computer programmer and felt that this article speaking directly to the work I do.

I especially enjoyed the bit about how feelings are irrelevant to craft as they do not justify the product’s behaviour. In the end, one has to point and assert with confidence that something exists and has value by fulfilling the need that it was created for.

13 Marcus July 4, 2013 at 11:04 am

Fantastic article, Brett. Thank you.

14 Mike Martel July 4, 2013 at 11:09 am

One thing that struck me as I read the article is that a craftsman measures twice, not three, four or more times. He is makes sure he has it right and then goes ahead and does it.

Way too many people agonize over their decisions. judgements and never get the job started.

Part of being the craftsman is confidence in your abilities and falling through.

15 Michael Day July 4, 2013 at 11:59 am

One of the best articles I’ve read on this site, and that is saying something. This place keeps getting better and better.

16 Isaac July 4, 2013 at 12:23 pm

What an amazing article.
You, good author have clearly applied every principle you have set forth in this article to writing the article.

Ethical, Moral AND self referencing.

I hope this article gets about a million reposts…it deserves it. I have no criticism…it’s a masterwork .

17 Dario July 4, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Gents. I am a traveling man, and these tools are something I recognize. So simple yet so important, I for one will be spreading this article around.

18 Dave July 4, 2013 at 3:12 pm

I am a carpenter by profession. Sometimes I easily forget the rewards and life lessons it teaches, getting lost in ego and frustration. Articles like this really help keep things in perspective.

19 LaPortaMA July 4, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Applies in GOOD medical care, too. You’d be amazed how many people get started on complex dangerous regimens or expensive supplements without confirming a single, simple finding that does not take laboratory — or personal — variation into account. Caveat tester! Another good example is a single high BP reading. DON’T start a regimen unless it’s confirmed, and consider a second opinion. ON that subject, second opinions are supposed to be impartial!

20 Kalroy July 4, 2013 at 11:40 pm

I’ve always liked that one. Here’s two more. “Plan your work, work your plan.” “Take care of your tools and they’ll take care of you.”

Kalroy

21 Shane July 5, 2013 at 1:20 am

About a few years ago, I needed to learn how to properly role up my sleeves, and this site showed me the light! And now this article–wow–you got me reevaluating my life ^^

22 Alan July 5, 2013 at 3:38 am

As a freelance advertising writer I am indeed judged on results.

I’ve been doing this for years but am always buying more books and course, studying successful ads and trying to improve.

It’s fun being good at something :)

23 Ara Bedrossian July 5, 2013 at 8:06 am

“Mastery brings meaning” I see this as the fundamental reason for developing the skills of the craftsman. Whatever that is, only we can choose it. At the end of the day, we’re the only ones in our heads asking, Did I do something of value today? I think of that question when I’m dithering in the middle of the day, not working on my daily goals. Great subject, guys.

24 Claude July 5, 2013 at 11:24 am

I try very hard to obey the suggestions of this article. This is a fantastic reminder.

Im currently in a job that frankly I consider beneath me. It’s very repetitive clerical work and it was a cut in pay from my last job and where I live, there isn’t much hope of anything better at this time.

But I took it upon myself to make the best of it. I dress neatly and keep my hair and work area clean and take pride in the work I do in an attempt to master the tasks. I’ve found its become much more fulfilling that way and while I still look for promotion, I’m not depressed about where Im at. And I believe my attitude will help me get that promotion.

Thanks Brett.

25 Jim Collins July 5, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Esteemed Brett, Kate, and Readers,

I have often wondered whether I have witnessed crises in craft in our society during my own life or whether I am progressively exhibiting the symptoms of curmudgeonlyness (I am aware this word is not recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary). When I am inclined to the first thought – that craft is in decline, I recall that the revolution of the counter culture, with its renunciation of established order, associated itself with macrame, the well carved hash pipe, and elaborate embroidery on military surplus clothing. The Foxfire books were embraced by old rednecks and hippies alike. In my own field (biological science) I see young people who are undoubtedly more intellectually gifted than I am or have ever been who haven’t the hands to competently assemble a sandwich, let alone perform a micro-dissection on a fly. They can type up a storm yet can’t slowly compose a coherent sentence. I wonder how much the computer has had to do with this trend; I do not know. At the moment I am drunk, irretrievably I am old, I have had a beautiful life, and I both despair and hope for youth.

Perhaps the larger value in our vision of the crafts-person working on artifacts is that the feedback for the quality of work is more sensual than in knowledge professions. I have seen a Ph.D. in biochemistry incompetently put the soil in a pot in which an experimental plant was germinated and then get pissey over my claim that they had been outwitted by dirt. I have listened to young people who are undoubtedly more gifted than I spew disordered words hoping that they would eventually hit on the combination that would convey their ill formed thoughts. I have watched young people with good eyes fail to observe the differences in viscosity of various fluids they were attempting to measure in miniscule quantities. I love these kids. I am childless myself and the only mark I can leave on the future is in what these young people can learn from me and I take in turn what I can learn from them.

This site is dedicated to men striving to be better men, yet I suggest that we can learn from our sisters, daughters, and wives about craft. My experience in the narrow venue of academic science has been that our double-X chromosome peers have done better with the details of craft than our brothers have. My prejudice is that this stems from cooking, needle point, and child rearing. We accept and expect that a woman will note that a child’s snot is thicker, or thinner, or green or clear, that the babies shit smells sour or sweet. We accept that a girl will spend time on sewing and pay attention to exactly how tight the thread is drawn. We accept that a woman will consider whether a tad more flour ought to go in gravy made from broth and a tad less in stock.

When I interview young people for positions in a lab, I ask little about science. I ask what their hobbies are. Do they tie flies? Do they paint water colors? Do they cook? Do they whittle? Before 9/11 I always asked if they carried a pocket knife. A person with a pocket knife is a practical person. Now, they may have left their knife behind in order to fly. I also take note of whether their sentences can be parsed. That too is craft.

I employ a method similar to Ben Franklin’s for the promotion of my own virtues – the most important difference being that I use a random number generator to select my virtue of concentration for the day. Craft is among the virtues on this list. In order to weigh this among my other chosen virtues, I include the entire list: temperance, humility, cleanliness, industry, focus, restraint, training, receptiveness, courage, frugality, patience, Here and Now (be aware of the present), perseverance, craft, pro-activity, and WWHD. As these are selected by a random number generator nothing ought to be inferred from the order. WWHD is the only virtue on this list I think might be found cryptic: What Would Howard Do? – that’s Howard Roark. One could easily and with some truthfulness consider this to be a list of the antitheses of my self recognized weaknesses.

What can we do to promote the value of craft in our society? I offer only this and I invite suggestion: as a child I spent a lot of time building models, especially model airplanes.

Regards,

Jim Collins

26 Corrie July 5, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Hey everyone, a couple of links that relate very well to this article. Enjoy

http://vimeo.com/user8971412/unionwoodco

http://vimeo.com/andrewdavidwatson/waitingoutwinter

Great article Brett. New to this site and am all about it.

Cheers
Corrie

27 L. Tomlin July 6, 2013 at 9:04 am

A fine article! So much of it reminds me of my maternal grandfather…even the most of the illustrations remind me of him toiling away in his shop. Even though he was only educated to around a seventh grade level, he was a master at working with his hands.
I guess he had to be. He was a WWII vet, wounded in action by an enemy sniper in the Pacific. He came home from that and immediately went to work as a mechanic. As a boy, he grew up farming.
By the time I came around and got to know him, he could fix anything…..anything at all. Plumbing, carpentry, roofing, tearing engines down…..you name it, he could do it. He spent his retirement running a 100+ acre farm…..and he ran it well.
His crops? Top notch. His livestock? Tame and well tended to. His machinery? Kept in excellent repair.
“Measure twice, cut once”? I bet I heard him say that a thousand times. As a 20 something, I helped him build a house addition one summer. He was in his mid 70s and could outwork me without blinking an eye….and I was in outstanding shape, or at least I thought I was.
One of my fondest memories of him is actually an argument we had about a cut on a piece of 3/4 inch plywood. It was a tricky cut and I had followed his advice by measuring it out twice and was prepared to make my cut.
He looked at it and stated “That won’t fit.” I told him I had measured it and that it would. We argued about it, gentlemanly, of course, and I told him that I was going to cut it marked as it was and if it didn’t fit, I’d go buy another sheet on my own dime AND lunch.
I fired up the circular saw and made my cuts………and it fit like a glove.
I glanced over at him and he just turned and spit some of his Redman chew out. He never questioned my layout skills after that day. His way of telling me that as far as carpentry goes, I had arrived.
I’m trying to pass that knowledge along to my 13 year old son. I try to find things daily that get him away from his computer and video games. I owe both he and his great grandpa that.
Regards.

28 James M. July 6, 2013 at 11:40 am

Great article.

One small point, detailed planning and setting out of work is part of the craftsman’s way. Early on in life, I trained/worked in leatherwork and preparing accurate drawings and templates for articles was always essential. Equally applicable to cabinetry which I work at as a hobby.

Now working professionally in architecture, the sense of craftsmanship is something I bring to my projects. It’s interesting that the projects I work on that have not been satisfying in the end, are the ones where I’ve haven’t had the time to invest in all the details, and the ones which have been undertaken by Contractors with no sense of craft. It’s painful to see badly executed interpretations of designs and details that one has worked hard at preparing. Shortness of time, and lowest price are truly detrimental to craftsmanship.

29 Peter Thompson July 6, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Randy
This is like a few bits from the art of war ..We have talked of my work for Simon and reflected on a number of points in the above .As Humans have the ability to create distinctively in the venue of choice . I appreciate your ability to awaken such in others by being in tune, A true swords man of words.

30 Andy July 6, 2013 at 9:58 pm

I used to be a cabinet maker – still am really but not charging money for it now. Found out that perfectionism doesn’t pay the bills and I didn’t like the idea of compromising my work.
Sadly now I see mass produced crap that I would be ashamed to put my name to.
Few really live by the craftmans, or any other creed these days. The majority accept mediocrity, in themselves and their aspirations.
Awesome article guys!

31 Martin July 7, 2013 at 12:47 am

Thank you both for this article and this site. It had been a busy two months in my life, moving into another country away from family and life long friends, in order to pursue a dream and a new beginning. This articles inspire me to new heights and make me see that arethe is possible, it just needs work.

I reccomend anyone interested in this ideas to delve into Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values, by Robert Pirsig, I believe already recommended in this site.

Mastery is the purpose of life, without mastery, no matter what we decide to master, purpose is lost.

Thank you once more.

Martin

32 Kenneth Lange July 7, 2013 at 11:18 am

Great article! Speaking of craftsmanship, I always liked the story of a young Steve Jobs watching his father paint the fence around their house, and Steve is puzzled that his father also paints the bottom side of the fence as it is not visible to anyone.

But then his father explains to him that a good craftsman cares about doing a good job for it’s own sake and if you compromise with the quality anywhere (even in the hidden places) then you don’t have a quality product anymore.

I adopted this rule myself when buying new things. For instance, if you’re buying a cabinet, pull it out and see whether cheap materials have been used for the backside; if you’re buying a laptop, flip it and see whether the bottom looks beautiful as well.

I know that craftsman products often costs a little more upfront, but as Benjamin Franklin said, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”

33 Kammes July 7, 2013 at 12:35 pm

I really enjoyed the bit on finding a guild house: you keep social, get inspired, get exposed to ideas, get challenged and challenged by others, and you feel a part of something greater than yourself.

34 Nikhil July 7, 2013 at 9:14 pm

I was really inspired by this! I work in a lab and am going to keep the philosophy in mind when I have to do procedures.

35 Doug July 8, 2013 at 10:32 pm

I haven’t taken the time to read many long articles on here lately, but I’m very glad I read this one. I think in all honesty, if you were to sum up this website by one article, it would have to be this one because it incorporates so much of what you have posted before.

I can’t help but think of something my professor actually told me in class today. He meant it about studying, but it’s applicable in many different facets of life…

“Imagine you have a piece of wood, and you tap a nail into it. After a while, the nail’s going to fall out, right? That’s because you haven’t invested enough time into it. You have to consistently hit the nail again and again, until it is firmly into the wood. It is only then that you have accomplished the work that you set out to do.”

36 Thom July 8, 2013 at 11:17 pm

This is a great article, but be prepared to lose your life savings by living out these principles. I speak from experience. Sadly, Americans today don’t give a rip about craftsmanship. Most seem addicted to their treacly trinkets and hand held distraction devices.

37 KierO July 9, 2013 at 8:44 am

Loved this one….if only because it made me think about something I was doing recently.

My wife is pregnant with our second child, so the spare bedroom was in need of decorating. I am normally in a rush to get things done because of externals pressures, but also like to do the best job possible. I am deeply self critical. But last Saturday was somehow different.

I was fitting coving in the room, the first time I had ever done it. I read some advise, organised my self, measured TWICE, marked up and started. It took me all day, but I was calm, cut with precision and the outcome was something to be proud off.

38 Drew Diaz July 9, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Outstanding piece McCays-
When asked if I meditate I reply yes- and sometimes explain my latest meditation is sharpening hand saws….
My newest guru of craftsmanship is Mr. Keith Fenner. Keith Fenner – YouTube
http://www.youtube.com/user/KEF791

39 kc July 9, 2013 at 11:43 pm

Nicely written. I enjoyed Crawford’s work a few years back, so this was a good reminder and follow up with new dimensions for life thrown in. Thanks, kc

40 Alberto Guadarrama July 10, 2013 at 1:30 am

After a tough day of interning, this article really slapped me in the face, and I appreciate it. I rushed through my work and landed up creating twice as much once it was time to review and edit. Thanks Brett and Kate!

41 Paul July 23, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I’m coming at this article from a writer’s perspective and the section on ego really stands out, especially “A true craftsman understands that nobody cares how he feels about his work.” I need to remember this while working through a chapter with my tough but supportive editor (aka. wife)! Oftentimes we come upon a turn of phrase or word that she, logical and well-read, does not like—and I, with a (perceived) better sense of style and definite attachment to the work, refuse to change or remove.

I wonder: is it fully up to the consumer to judge what is created? If a carpenter engraves birds onto the back of a chair and someone refuses to buy the chair because they hate birds, that does not mean the carpenter has done a bad job. Similarly, if I want to use the word ‘tenement’ instead of ‘apartment’ but my editor doesn’t like or hasn’t encountered the word before, whose perogative holds precedence?

42 Zaz July 24, 2013 at 3:58 am

Thank you ! It’s a real pleasure to read your posts, always something to think about, and many advices ! AoM is full of resources, and well-written :) !
Good Day !

43 Eco July 26, 2013 at 11:46 am

I love this article, especially about results. However I’ll give you a perspective from the female experience: as a woman, no matter what our results are, we are often subject to be punished in spite of our results by our superiors because of personality, much MUCH more than men are in the workplace. It’s a reason I work for myself – becoming a consultant changed the dynamic and while I still get a bit of pushback for my craftswoman-like mentality, I see a lot more respect from my clients than if I worked for them as an employee. Again though, brilliant article and I’m sharing this with my peeps :)

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