April 6, 2008

Dad The Builder: Can You Fix This?

Clive Thompson, who just wrote an article for Wired about the resurgence of DIY culture, points to an excellent essay by Matthew B. Crawford, "Shop Class As Soulcraft," which ran in 2006 in The New Atlantis, A Journal on Technology & Society. [Definitely New to me.]

The whole thing's worth a read, but this paragraph practically demanded to be quoted here:

Hobbyists will tell you that making one’s own furniture is hard to justify economically. And yet they persist. Shared memories attach to the material souvenirs of our lives, and producing them is a kind of communion, with others and with the future. Finding myself at loose ends one summer in Berkeley, I built a mahogany coffee table on which I spared no expense of effort. At that time I had no immediate prospect of becoming a father, yet I imagined a child who would form indelible impressions of this table and know that it was his father’s work. I imagined the table fading into the background of a future life, the defects in its execution as well as inevitable stains and scars becoming a surface textured enough that memory and sentiment might cling to it, in unnoticed accretions. More fundamentally, the durable objects of use produced by men “give rise to the familiarity of the world, its customs and habits of intercourse between men and things as well as between men and men,” as Hannah Arendt says. “The reality and reliability of the human world rest primarily on the fact that we are surrounded by things more permanent than the activity by which they were produced, and potentially even more permanent than the lives of their authors.”
"This indelible impression in my forehead? I was just learning to walk, and I creamed into the corner of this coffee table my dad built in college."

Will DIY Geeks Save US Ingenuity? [collisiondetection.net]
Shop Class As Soulcraft [thenewatlantis.com]


"hard to justify economically"? Sure, if you're using mahogany and comparing it to what you see at Target. But I recently built a coffee table, entertainment bench, and a step to help my wife into the tub, all for less than a hundred bucks in materials. If I'd had to buy the tools new, it might have bumped things up to $250 or so, but I ended up with three coordinating pieces that look good and fit their spaces better than anything I could find in a store.

I also just finished building a changing table setup that I completely ripped off the design of the PBK "Madison" system (minus the central dresser, which we found at an outlet for super-cheap) and spent less than $250 on materials. A LOT less than the PBK price, and I got to sign it on the back dedicated to kid on the way.

Thankfully, just before I finished my coffee table and put it in my 7x7 living room, I finished my DIY home-suture kit and my latest non-scarring DIY band-aids.

Implementation pending.

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