What does Handmade mean to you?

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Forum topic by Mike posted 08-04-2011 06:53 AM 10531 views 0 times favorited 208 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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409 posts in 3742 days

08-04-2011 06:53 AM

Topic tags/keywords: handmade cnc router laser discussion crafts websites question wood project humor carving milling shaping turning finishing refurbishing scrollworking veneering sanding sharpening woodburning arts and crafts rustic victorian greene and greene shaker modern traditional

Hi all,

I am going to open a monster can of worms with this question. What does handmade mean to you?

The reason I ask is that many websites where you can sell items have different classifications as to what handmade means. For instance, one site says that a laser cut wooden object is not handmade when a second site states that it is. Is a CNC router handmade if you design what is going to be routed? Is a precut project that you assemble handmade? Where is the line? What is your definition?

I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks!

-- look Ma! I still got all eleven of my fingers! - -

208 replies so far

View ryno's profile


106 posts in 4719 days

#1 posted 08-04-2011 07:04 AM

I personally wouldn’t consider either of those hand “made”.
Before I “make” a project, I design it. So design and make are two different things to me.
If I was assembling a chair that had the pieces precut, I don’t think that entitles you to claim that you “made” it.

-- It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.

View Hoosierwoodcraft's profile


80 posts in 3564 days

#2 posted 08-04-2011 07:10 AM

To me, handmade items should be produced in a home-based workshop with a combination of hand tools and modern machinery to a small clientele base where the owner (not a board) dictate the style and the craftsmanship. I would use George Nakashima as an example of one who created hand made furniture in modern times. I would exclude Gustav Stickley who ran a factory, whose staff ran sandpaper over the final finish to make it appear hand made.

-- Thanks to the Wood Spirit, Tom

View rance's profile


4278 posts in 4215 days

#3 posted 08-04-2011 07:49 AM

- A one-off is usually hand made.
- Power tools such as TS, router, planer, jointer are used in hand-made stuff, so why not CNC?
- I would allow CNC for some parts but not the whole.
- Oddly enough, I frown more on laser-cut than CNC in a hand-made product.
- I also frown on those things that route spiral legs.

Its really difficult to find the line in the sand that makes something hand-made or not. Maybe it has to do with the skill required to run the machinery. If any ole idiot can do it, then its not hand-made, but if it requires skill to operate the machine, AND you are required to know something about the wood, then maybe it can be considered hand-made.

OK, let me step on a few toes here. How about dovetail jigs and a router, do they violate the hand-made rule? Or the conveyor driven drum sanders many of us use? Power fed Shapers? Or how about using jigs where you make many many of the same thing? What if I hand-make a nice wooden box and then take it to my manual milling machine and mill some interesting pattern on one side? The mill is NOT automated, it is controlled entirely by the hand cranks. To really nit-pick, I could argue that using a smoothing plane is hand-work, whereas a grooving plane is not since the fence accomodates and makes up for the lack of skill of the operator.

Can you determine based on the tools used, or is it the time it takes you? Maybe it has to do with the consumption of electricity, or how many of the same widgets you put out, or how fast you can put them out, or how the tool bit was guided.

Specifically targeting CNC since it seems to be the big taboo. What if you hand-crafted this very nice piece using only hand-tools(hand planes spokeshaves, a steak knife, and hand sanding, THEN you had a nice laser engraved name put on it? Now we’re talking about how much was done by hand. Is ANY ‘automated’ work allowed? Maybe you do all the shaping and cutting with accepted hand tools but simply add precise hole patterns (used for assembly) using a CNC machine?

When building a homebuilt aircraft (see, there’s a thing called the 51% rule. If you do more than 51% of the work, you can claim yourself as the builder, or ‘manufacturer’, and register the plane as a homebuilt and it falls under the ‘Experimental Aircraft’ class. Can hand-built woodworking follow a similar rule, perhaps with a different percentage?

Fat chance nailing this Jello question to the wall. :) All the above is my own thoughts and opinion, nothing else.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View usnret's profile


184 posts in 3563 days

#4 posted 08-04-2011 07:56 AM

If you put in the machine and then it does all the work for you it is not handmade. Machines would be like CNC and laser cutter. With a TS, bandsaw, jointer I still have to do work to shape the wood.

-- Chief Petty Officer USN(RET) 1991-2011

View Greedo's profile


473 posts in 4015 days

#5 posted 08-04-2011 08:27 AM

i agree with usnret, to me it is handmade when the tools or workpiece are operated by your hands.
but you need to draw a line somewhere in the fuzzy gray area, a planer or a shaper with an infeed roller work without any assistance. but to me those are exceptions as they perform only 1 simple mechanical task.
cnc is a step too far for me, you program a computer to operate a machine for you and do complex and multiple tasks.

but then most modern tools have electronics in them, so i would say it depends on whether the electronics are there to make the work more easy, or just to protect the tool and user. in the latter i think it’s still handmade, not when the electronics assist you.

View S4S's profile


2118 posts in 3736 days

#6 posted 08-04-2011 09:16 AM

I think a one off or off by wood on genrarly consideredat most but even then ifdesigned and caded by even some machine could be but then acustom of wood or combo of metal wood glass etc. could be for in sale of shops or amazon ordered as compared to etsy or other custom venue of choosing . Also duplicating duplicateres
might original to it or something else totaly new and only heard about tooling fabricated by custom only at request of reproducing many wood things in production settings and not hand planed by handed tools as such. Electonics and buckyballsLED lights would not.. even purchased at home depot or recycled from stuff at home or even found at home and fabricated by delivery of totalygreen craft items by hand or controlable electric planerlathes which arecontrolled soley by eyes andhands without marking by indutrial means of cottage industrys but only in artistic funtions following forms or fucntion flowing with the exclusiveness of the creativity of the original intentent of builder/sellerof origin before sale or delivry into markets or fairs adjusted for such things as long as the buyer is made aware of that fact . Other wize i would say no , unless results vary either by imply wood or duplicatedwood pictures ofwood placated from and or copied from other webb desing downloded to decieve custom from someone elses download copywrte to outrite steel the woodwork or even picture of it as it can be at handmade at any given with materials and sources.or machines by hand cranks and chisels are most best for that and that handmade only nice chisels …..or planes ....maybe block planes feelfreetoblockme planes also, but allmake individula choice with respect to respecting other handmadeor otherwise.

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3922 days

#7 posted 08-04-2011 03:17 PM

When I think of hand made I think of items that are one off pieces (made one at a time) made with hand and traditional power tools in a small shop. I suppose you might could say that perhaps at least 50% of the work would be done with hand tools. I personally would not consider the items made by laser engraving or cnc routing to be hand made items. However, I am not saying at all that these items are not quality items that people can’t be proud of making or owning. Generally, even if the same two hand made items are the same design, and use the same patterns, these two items would show differences and to a certain extent the style or personality of the craftsman who made them. Naturally the more hand work in an item the more hand made it is. For example, a traditionally made woodcarving would be almost completely hand made.

These are pretty much my thoughts on this from the top of my head. I’m sure that everybody will have a different definition.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View BobTheFish's profile


361 posts in 3607 days

#8 posted 08-04-2011 03:37 PM

handmade- “primarily made with handtools”.

I make allowance for cutting logs into boards, or boards to general size and shape with a tablesaw or its equivalent saw. Bandsaws and scrollsaws are questionable for my definition – sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Some tings I don’t really classify as handmade by the nature of what they are. A wine bottle balancing board is basicaly a block of wood with a hole drilled into it. Not a handmade item.

Hope that helps.

View Tootles's profile


808 posts in 3557 days

#9 posted 08-04-2011 04:49 PM

What a question Mike. Where to draw the line?

For me, I’d say it is hand made if I have personally, with my own muscles, set up the tool and then moved either the tool or the wood. That definition allows me the use of either static or portable machine tools, where the machine simply turns the blade / cutting edge etc, but it pretty well excludes anything where the machine measures, controls and regulates the movement of the blade / cutting edge relative to the timber.

Now I realise that a planer “violates” the rules above, but it is worth saying that I’d consider it possible for an item to be described as handmade even if all processes are not done by hand – and planing is certainly one of those processes.

My definition could also allow the use of something such as a dovetail / box joint jig as it requires some skill to set up and use the jig (trust me, I watched someone else the other day, and if you don’t know what you are doing you’re still stuffed). I just wouldn’t claim that the joint was handmade.

I’m sure some will disagree with at least some of what I have said, but for now, those are my thoughts.

-- I may have lost my marbles, but I still have my love of woodworking

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 4041 days

#10 posted 08-04-2011 05:01 PM

If anybody wants to say that anything CNC is not handmade, I encourage them to check in on the next couple of stages of my giant earth project blog. :)

I work mostly in CNC and I’ve worked some in laser and my opinion is as such:

If you do a significant amount of work to the piece aside from the machine cutting it out, it’s handmade. A laser cutter usually doesn’t qualify (the beauty of laser is you can chuck in material, have it cut it out, and it should be “ready to go”). You certainly CAN make things with my CNC equipment that aren’t handmade, but they also won’t be sanded, finished, sealed, etc.

Last: I get this question hammered at me all the time due to the nature of what I make. I don’t particularly care anymore if people think I’m a cheat or a hack because I don’t carve exclusively with a chisel.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17272 posts in 3673 days

#11 posted 08-04-2011 05:25 PM

This is a great topic. I’ve wondered, for example, how a fast food chain (Hardee’s) can claim their breakfast biscuits are “homade”. Nobody lives there!

For work to be handmade is to use too few words, first and foremost. But it would obviously imply ‘not done in a factor setting / done by me and me alone’, essentially. Everyone that builds is going to (rightfully) state their stuff is handmade, I think. But each will have understandings of what that means that differs from the person sitting next to them, saying the say thing.

To me, it means the work I did, using the tools I use. That’s primarily hand tools, no router, spindle sander, CNC, etc. Table saw and RAS almost certainly, shaper maybe. Only a small portion of LJs would define that same way.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 4041 days

#12 posted 08-04-2011 05:29 PM

-CessnaPilotBarry, I don’t know if you’ve actually worked with CNC before but often the finishing (and prep) will take up significantly more time than the actual cutting and carving process. To me, saying “hand finished” is misleading because it indicates that it was the small, end step of something.

CNC is rarely a shortcut.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 4038 days

#13 posted 08-04-2011 05:30 PM

Your question seems to lean towards the commercial marketing aspect of the word handmade. The same is said with handcrafted, hand carved, custom made used as marketing keywords to catch the attention of the consumer. Thereby having a totally different meaning to the crafts person in describing their work.

For instance a scroll sawyer may describe their work as handcrafted, even though they will use a pattern and a machine to create their project. Yet because of the fact that they manipulate their work around the blade with their hands it is handmade by them.

A woodworker who uses both hand tools and power tools, might consider their work handmade due to the fact that their hands are on a piece through every step of the process in creating a project.

The purist will say unless its made with strictly hand tools it isn’t hand made. So when describing my work to others I generally use words like I made, personally crafted, created personally. In describing a process I might say that I hand worked this piece with this hand tool or that hand tools. Whereas I might say I machined this piece with this tool or that.

So in the commercial sense of the phrase handmade for laser cut or CNC cut to me would not be handmade.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View TimL's profile


36 posts in 3829 days

#14 posted 08-04-2011 05:42 PM

I’ll take the bait. A CNC is nothing more than a motor driven plunge router. I know I have lost about half of you by now, but why do the masses think handmade needs to be a 8 penny nail creation completed with nothing more than a sharp rock and lots of glue?
And to answer the question. Handmade to me is me taking the raw materials and me using/operating tools to make a finished product.

View Bertha's profile


13615 posts in 3748 days

#15 posted 08-04-2011 05:44 PM

I seem to be in the small minority here but I, personally, don’t consider anything touched by a CNC to be handmade. I think it excludes that definition as soon as it touches the wood. By the contrary argument, the Space Shuttle is handmade. However, you can design something in CAD and execute it with a drawknife and sandpaper; I would still consider that handmade. So, it’s clearly not the computer that defines my personal definition; it’s the tools to shape the item. I have a hard time calling anything handmade unless a hand tool was involved. My definition allows the common non-automated hobby stuff. I guess you can have an autofeeder by my definition;)

No offense meant to CNC junkies (I want to be one). We all have our personal definition.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

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