Happy(?)New Year – thinking out loud

The disturbing state of politics globally and the demands of a growing population on the environment are clearly a cause for deep concern which raises the question of what can one do to improve things? What is the point, the value, of hand made objects in this context?

I am reflecting on the effects of a vision for making that began 30 years or more ago as I consider my response to some of these issues. I have from the outset sought to buy sustainably managed temperate hardwoods that are replaced several times over during the life span of a piece that is designed and made to last a very long time. Tropical hardwoods are not suitable for what I do and anyway for all kinds of reasons I avoid buying them.  I am now primarily using organic finishes, only resorting to petrochemical based products when it is absolutely necessary.

My use of machine tools is minimal as I increasingly realise a long held passion for the efficient use of good hand tools. The sense of connection and awareness of direct hand tool use is profound and I believe translates itself to the finished piece. I sold 3 machines a couple of years ago and replaced them with one far more efficient one. I have found, much to my surprise, that I am no less productive but I am whole lot more relaxed, the workshop is cleaner and less cluttered. The process requires less dust extraction use so saves energy and generates less waste and timber use. My off cuts are burned at home in a wood burner, dramatically reducing our gas consumption. My workshop is very well insulated requiring no air conditioning or humidity control and very little heating.

Beautiful functional objects that don’t need to be replaced create a sense of connection and history in the people who live with them. The English vernacular furniture that is my inspiration evolved over several centuries and my interpretation of it continues to be distilled and perfected with time. In a world seemingly wedded to built in obsolescence where things have a shorter and shorter designed life span as time goes by, I contend that my work is actually both cost effective and environmentally friendly when compared to mass produced furniture over several decades. The issue of value verses price has been something I have thought about a good deal. My work is not often objectively unaffordable to people when compared to what they will spend on other things but it is a commitment to a certain kind of choice.

Regarding our own choices, we live very simply. For one thing the earnings of a self employed maker are not great but more than that it is a lifelong philosophy of minimal consumerism and social as well as environmental awareness. A practice of ‘if you need something, buy a good one’ or ‘previously owned’. I usually find that ignoring this is a mistake in the long run. It stems from a desire to live in a way that would be sustainable for everyone. This includes small house urban living and at one time near self sufficiency in food from an allotment before circumstances limited us to our small garden.

So am l being an apologist for what I do and how I do it? Well yes I am, and for investing in work made in this way. Up to now I have been minded to let the work speak for itself but may be it is time to give it a helping hand.

Of the issues we face I believe the environment is the greatest, could I do more? Of course and I am considering what but I was recently taken to task for not saying enough so this is a small start. Sharing hope is always so more effective than wining or preaching and I aim to instil a little hope here. A simpler, more focussed life is often qualitatively better than a complex and distracted one and in many ways more challenging.


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