Wow that’s gorgeous! How much time did it take to build that? Do you get asked this? How many hours do you have wrapped up in your latest furniture project? I’m always skeptical about the pieces in the gallery section in the magazines where it states that “Archie Kleptack took 700 hours to build this armoire”. I’m sloppy about keeping track of time building in my shop. Maybe it’s a backlash from all those years in industry where an army of accountants tracked costs out to three decimal places. That doesn’t stop people from asking the inevitable. The answer is, I don’t know. I enjoyed reading the comments by Larry Williams and Don McConnell from Clark and Williams in the latest issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine about making wooden hand planes.
“The honest answer is: We don’t know how long it takes to make a set,” Williams says.
“The truth,” McConnell adds, “is that we really don’t want to know”
The real time it takes to build something is the actual build plus all the investment of resources it took to arrive at a place where you have the capability to bring it about. How do you quantify that? It’s inescapable though, especially for those brave souls actually trying to eke out a living building with their hands. Being able to quantify our time and turn that into money is the age old question artisans have been battling with since the first cave man invented a better club. Do I just charge for time and materials or do I account for my uncle Thag who got eaten by a saber tooth tiger testing out the first prototype?
One nugget I see often repeated from historical design texts is that it seldom costs any more to build with pleasing proportions than it does to slap something together irrespective of design. This is especially true when it comes to one off furniture production. In a world of shifting sand where so many things may be out of our control, design is one skill we can use to place our mark on our work and set it apart. It may be your goal is just to please yourself and posterity. Or you may be fighting to stay afloat in a very hostile economy.
At its simplest level, I have just a few maxims I try to stick to:
1. Do good work.
2. Strive to make something that will be appreciated generations from now, perhaps even inspire others.
3. Keep that delicate balance of beauty, function, and sturdiness.
George R. Walker