Tools & Craft #57: "Cheap – The High Cost of Discount Culture"

I am too darned depressed to write a cheerful blog today. My wife got a copy of Ellen Ruppel Shell’s book “Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture” from the library for me to read and well so far it’s a real downer. We all know about the drive for the cheapest possible price on any product and the consequent long slide in industrial and craft wages during the past 40 years. Actually it’s been going on for centuries. Charles Hayward once remarked that early in his career, on top quality work, scribe lines on dovetails were not left visible. But during his lifetime custom changed and furniture with visible scribes was no longer considered of lesser quality.

In any event my son is getting bigger and needs a larger desk. Our original thought was just to go to the local Big Box Store. I hate the place but you can’t beat the price. The furniture won’t last but that’s not relevant for a growing boy. In any case I don’t have the time to make a proper desk for the lad. I know – I’m part of the problem.

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After reading half way through this book, I decided that there is no way I can justify buying a desk at the Big Box. The problem is that there is very little middle to the market. You either shop at the Big Box, or someplace else with Big-Box-level quality or you essentially get custom made furniture.

In the modern “furniture making as a hobby” world there is no low end either. The projects for any desk-like thing in any of the woodworking magazines and books that are around today are pretty fancy and certainly not something you knock off in a few days with a only small outlay in materials and tools. It’s a commitment. Maybe that’s why more people don’t make their own stuff anymore.

In last century’s “Work Magazine” a lot of their designs were middle ground. These projects were designed to get the job done with a minimum of tools and effort. They were nailed together, sometimes out of scrap. I know Adam Cherubini has written on nailed furniture but not enough.

So here is what I am going to do. I am planning to figure out some simple desk that I can easily build, will look reasonable, will get the job done, and if the boy dumps paint on it, I won’t jump out of my skin.


This “Tools & Craft” section is provided courtesy of Joel Moskowitz, founder of Tools for Working Wood, the Brooklyn-based catalog retailer of everything from hand tools to Festool; check out their online shop here. Joel also founded Gramercy Tools, the award-winning boutique manufacturer of hand tools made the old-fashioned way: Built to work and built to last.

Source: core77

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