Traditional Woodworking Techniques and Why They Matter

Wood is a beautiful material. You’d be hard pressed to find a home in which wood does not feature somewhere. Wooden furniture and surfaces made with traditional methods really does set wood apart though, creating unique pieces that exemplify craftsmanship, quality, and take advantage of what wood offers as a material; a far cry from mass produced stuff.

As demand for wooden products increased, and technology improved, more and more of our wooden products have become mass produced though. As approaches go, these two approaches to wood differ in a fundamental and philosophical way. While they achieve broadly the same goal, they get there in a totally different way.

Is Traditional Woodworking Synonymous with Handmade?

Take, for example, the traditional classic technique of the dovetail. Different types of dovetail exist and can be extremely difficult to do by hand.

Traditional techniques can be complex and time-consuming to do by hand. Photo credit: Aiko Vanhusen, Flickr

Traditional techniques can be complex and time-consuming to do by hand.
Photo credit: Aiko Vanhusen, Flickr

One such dovetail, the through dovetail, is very strong and a real thing of beauty. This joint can also be made using modern technology in the form of a router, dovetailing bit, and dovetail jig. Other than the tell tail signs that a bit and jig, rather than a saw and chisel, had been used, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference.

Beautiful handmade products, like this cherry wood worktop, can last several lifetimes. Photo Credit: Bordercraft workshops

Beautiful handmade products, like this cherry wood worktop, can last several lifetimes.
Photo Credit: Bordercraft workshops

Different Philosophies

The primary difference between traditional methods and mass production is not just in the methodology; it’s the philosophy attached to the individual piece and the reason why it has been crafted in the first place. Traditional methods will be employed when authenticity and quality takes precedence over ease of production and low production costs.

For example, you commission a handmade box. When a beautiful handmade product appears, will you care if the dovetail was made by hand, or by router and jig? In all honesty, you probably won’t even notice. Your primary concern will be that the piece was made exclusively for you and looks stunning. This holds true for bigger pieces such as wardrobes, tables and chairs, and kitchen worktops.

You will, it should go without saying, pay more for this kind of workmanship. Regardless of the method (hand or machine assisted) the time and cost required to design and make one-off pieces to order is always higher than their mass produced equivalents.

It is here that mass production’s appeal can be clearly seen. It is unlikely that most people could justify having every wooden item in your home made by hand to their own specifications. Dining tables and wardrobes are good examples of a standard sized item that can be mass produced to a fair degree of quality and at a surprisingly low price. Of course you shouldn’t expect to see all that exquisite dovetailing or difficult joinery. Rather you will see the lowest cost options such as simple glue and screw joints.

Whilst it’s practical for most of us to buy much of our furniture from mass produced suppliers, it will make all the difference to your home to add a bit of a personal touch and seek out some authentically hand made products.


About the Author: Jon Buck is managing director at Bordercraft, a family owned business that has been producing fine hardwood furniture from their workshops in the Welsh borders since 1972. The timbers they use are all sourced from sustainably managed forests and everything they sell is made by their experienced craftsmen in the UK. Connect with them on Facebook or call them on 01981 550251.

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