Crafting a Life- Episode 4

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Hello, and Welcome to Crafting a Life.

I’m Evan Dunstone and this is the Dunstone Design podcast
Episode 4, Finally, a Proper Example

Last time I was banging on about the difference between craft and design. Now it is time I think for an example.

Our Cascade rocking chair is a high performance chair design with carefully considered ergonomics. It’s one of our best known designs, and one of our most complicated pieces to make. It is a craft design, not an industrial design.

Let’s imagine for a minute that we are setting out to make 5 Cascades, three in blackwood and two in a jarrah.

Jarrah is a hard, dense timber with a dark red colour and a grain that is not particularly dominant. Blackwood is a slightly softer, more open pored timber with a golden brown colour and a very distinctive grain. Jarrah, because of its nature, will show the lines of the Cascade most clearly. The further away you stand from a jarrah Cascade, the less you will be aware of the wood texture and the more you will focus on the overall form of the design.

Blackwood has such a beautiful prominent grain that you will always be aware of it when you are looking at the chair. The grain and colour lead the eye to focus more on the timber and less on the shape. When using blackwood, we let the shape of the chair be the catalyst for emphasising this distinctive grain. The shaping is a pallet for bringing out the best in the timber.

When making these notional Cascades, we’ll be composing the grain individually for each chair. We want the three blackwood Cascades to have different personalities from each other and obviously the same goes for the Jarrah.

The timber selection process is absolutely critical. We start by pulling out all the available boards that are the correct size and skim them to reveal their potential. We are looking for clarity of colour and a grain pattern that will flow with the curves of the chair. Each component needs a particular grain configuration that compliments the final shape. It easily takes a day to select all the blackwood for three Cascade rockers.

If we lose a single component along the way (say, a knot is revealed that we couldn’t see beforehand), then that whole chair is potentially lost, because its composition has been spoiled.

The last 10% of each Cascade is purely hand shaped. Because of subtle variations in the grain and colour, we might alter slightly the shaping on a particular chair in deference to that specific timber.

Remember that craft making is a celebration of material, not just form.

Now, we could get a 3 d scanner, make one perfect Cascade, send the file to China and have it injection moulded and upholstered in vinyl. That would sure bring the price down, and in fact in the past I’ve been approached to do just that. More people would end up with a wonderful high performance chair, but if would become a piece of industrial design, not a piece of high craft. People would value the performance of the chair, but lose appreciation for the object as a whole, and some of the shapes, which are there to compliment wood, would no longer be a relevant. Handmade Cascade rockers in fine timbers will be cherished and handed down over the generations. Injection moulded Cascades would be in landfill within the decade.

Now, some of you will be thinking, “what an idealistic fool, go in to mass production you idiot, sit back and enjoy the money.” In response I would ask you to go back to that hand-made object I set for you as homework a little while ago. Remember that? Would you still love it if it was made from injection moulded plastic? Would it have the same meaning? The thing is, there are many industrial designers and literally thousands of factories that can make what they design. By contrast there is only one workshop in the world that has the particular combination of skilled craftsman, design ability and access to material to make the Cascade rocker what it currently is.  The whole point of craft is to make something sublime. It is only in this way that each piece can take on a meaning greater than the designed function. That’s how your favourite object was made. And frankly, I would hate a world in which injection moulded plastic items were the only choice.

You have been listening to Crafting a Life, the Dunstone Design podcast on all things furniture and woodwork. I’m Evan Dunstone, and I look forward to your company next time.