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!

3 Replies to “Differences Between Craft as Hobby or Business. Does Monetization Decrease the Enjoyment of Making Things?”

  1. I describe myself as a professional conservator and amateur bookbinder, which seems to amuse people.

  2. It is so true. I think Chris Clarkson was the first to question if training in hand bookbinding was a good foundation for future book conservators, around 40 years ago. Since then, at least in the US, we have seen the Graduate education in book conservation shift to the art conservation programs: NYU, WInterthur/ University of Delaware / Buffalo. Obviously the students often have extensive experience in binding through internships and workshops they have taken on their own, but the month long Historical Book Structures Practicum which I will be teaching next month, is the core of their bookbinding trainning.

  3. That’s so cool you make spoons! I have a friend who does that too. He lets us borrow his tools and work on his spoons while we’re camping. He got some birch wood with the bark still on that came out really nice…
    I make a lot of things outside bookbinding, and the practice of doing these things always enriches my bookbinding practice. I was trying to explain making leather pleated corners once to a class, and said it was just like setting a sleeve in a blouse! Blank stares all around… It made perfect sense to me though!
    Even though the tasks of different crafts are particular to each craft, hand skills are transferable, a point that my teacher Mark Andersson repeatedly stressed. Hand skills, like any skills, also benefit from practice, so it’s great to keep making things even when the work day is done.
    Making things for myself as the client helps me practice solving design challenges too. And I don’t even have to do any pesky paperwork or documentation! There are so many benefits…

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