Differences Between Craft as Hobby or Business. Does Monetization Decrease the Enjoyment of Making Things?

Some finished and in-progress wooden paddles and spoons.

It may seem odd for someone who conserves and makes things for a living to have a hobby. Mine is making wooden spoons and paddles.  After all, isn’t this pretty much the same activity as my job? Both involve similar craft skills: working precisely, measuring, knowing material properties, and hand tool use. Two years ago, I wrote a piece on the beginning (and temporary ending!) of my spoon carving hobby.  More recently, I started to think about how spoon making as a hobby is different from knife making or bookbinding as a business.

This Sears Craftsman mini hatchet is a great weight and size for how I work.

One of the primary differences is that a craft business is, uh, a business. Once you come up with a product that sells, you need to make more and more identical ones, often according to a client’s order or deadline. With spoon carving I have no such constraints, since I have no intention of selling them. This is freedom from having to make a consistent end product, which is the corner stone of craft. Or maybe I am not skilled enough at spoon carving to turn out an easily and naturally consistent product?

Many people can make one of something, but to make hundreds requires discipline and often knowledge of traditional craft techniques which make the work of repetition easier and more certain (in the David Pye sense). With spoon carving, if a piece of wood splits at the end, I don’t care, I’ll just make it a bit shorter.

My only self-imposed restraint is not to use sandpaper, and leave the faceted knife cut finish.  This is mainly for the pragmatic reason that I don’t like creating a lot of dust, not for any purity-craft-workmanship-ideal kind of thing. I have no qualms about using a bandsaw to rough out blanks, which Pye would consider workmanship of risk.

I had a small steel stamp made from my handwriting to mark them.

In fact, I couldn’t sell them since they take so long to make; I’d only make a couple dollars an hour. I can only give them away. Freedom from monetary constraints increases my own agency in making, so it is a more relaxing activity, as a hobby should be.

But don’t get me wrong, I feel lucky to be able to spend a day making knives or conserving books, rather than being a wage slave making nothing but money.

The lines become blurred when I make a knife to make a spoon.

When monetizing craft, there are continual pressures to simplify production, increase output, or raise the price in order to keep up or outpace the cost of living to profit. Continuing education and research into materials and techniques is a way to accomplish this. With conservation and knives, I keep up on new techniques, philosophic approaches, and materials. With spoons, my primary interest is the process of making them: whittling, shaping, and carving. The history of them and what other people are doing is interesting, but doesn’t influence me all that much.

A hobbyist has the freedom to make what they want, when they want, without regard to how long it takes, how other people make it, or how other people regard it. These are some of the pleasures of a hobby, pleasures that can diminish by making a living selling your work. Caveat Venditor!

An Unusual Bookbinder’s Roll for Dictionary Tabs

Bookbinder’s Roll. J. Marks maker mark.
There are 12 letters on the roll. Note the “A” has been repaired or replaced.

A few years ago, I picked up this roll, and I am still not completely sure what it was for.  I’m pretty sure is for tooling cut out leather thumb tabs, which would then be glued to the book.

It contains the letter sequence “A – C – E – G – I – L – N – P – R – T – W – Y” The makers mark is “J. MARKS”.  Tom Conroy’s Bookbinders’ Finishing Tool Makers places this English company between 1868 – 1901. He also mentions there are no marks known, so this will be an entry for the revised and enlarged edition. No marks for J. Marks! Tom would love it, since he also wrote a book of humorous bookbinding verse. If you enjoy reading this blog, you will love both of his books.

The letters were hand cut on the double yoked wheel, which must have taken incredible skill so that they ended up essentially even in height.  The “A” was repaired or replaced at some point, and soldered into place. All the letters are quite worn.

The dealer I purchased this from cleaned it up and polished it, more than I would have liked. Cleaning is irreversible!

Conservation Tools at the 2019 AIC Annual Meeting, May 14 – 18, 2019.

Some tools popular with book and paper conservators.

I’ll be attending the annual AIC (American Institute of Conservation) meeting at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.  If you are interested in taking a look at any of the conservation and bookbinding tools I make, please let me know and I’ll bring some examples.  I will be there May 14 — 18.

Some items popular with book and paper conservators include: the modified 151 spokeshave for paring leather (top), 2-inch triangle and bookbinder’s pliers (middle), and (l – r) A2 leather Swiss style knife, 8 inch Delrin lifter, Delrin folder, Delrin hera, and the set of lifting knives.

Contact me to arrange a meeting, or look for me at a low stakes Blackjack table.