The "HANDMADE" Myth

by Scott Edwards
Oct
21

When we say something is handmade, the word tends to conjure a popular opinion that this represents quality of the highest standard. The mental picture of craftsmen using traditional methods, learnt through a lengthy apprenticeship under the guidance of an old master to create something unique or specialist can be very appealing to a customer. Perhaps it’s the personal touch, and the feeling that someone has poured a part of their self into the product that’s such an attraction, but the phrase can easily be misunderstood.

A prototype model may well be constructed totally by hand and tool, but once the design is perfected, production is then generally undertaken by machinery. Modern technology and CAD (computer aided design) has largely removed the need for products being totally hand crafted. Although, this doesn’t mean that the personal touch has been lost and it certainly doesn’t mean that quality has been compromised. There’s no doubting the skill involved when hand crafting for example, a sweeping staircase, circular window frame or panelled door. However, no matter how experienced and accurate the tradesman, it’s virtually impossible to consistently reproduce the same quality over and over again by hand.

It’s also easy to confuse “Bespoke” as being handmade, but by no means does it suggest that the item has been completely made by hand. Bespoke actually means made to measure (replicated in a non standard size), or constructed to a unique design specification. There may well be certain stages of production that are accomplished by hand, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this is always the case, or that being totally handmade means the product is in any way superior.

When looking for quality, the phrase that would be a more accurate representation is “Hand finished”. This means that there’s some sort of quality control and the product has been inspected for faults, and deemed fit for the end user. Unique and specialist items (Bespoke) are quite commonly inspected during every stage of production to ensure an accurate finish. This is the reason there’s such a price difference in products that are categorized as standard or stock size, and those that are bespoke (made to measure).

Modern designs are highly dependant on accuracy, especially when multiple materials are being used in one product, such as hydraulic drives for automating timber gates, glass balustrade in a contemporary staircase or a sliding track mechanism’s for bifold doors. Therefore, if one part of the product is engineered to a fraction of a millimetre, it makes sense that all parts are manufactured with the same accuracy. The only way to do this is by using modern CAD design and machinery.

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