Reply by Lee Barker

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Posted on What in your mind constitutes custom woodworking?

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Lee Barker

2170 posts in 3023 days

#1 posted 06-22-2011 06:14 AM

I’m hearing Chris’s question, but I’m starting from Randy’s camp: Custom, to me, is something that cannot be purchased, premade, elsewhere.

If there is a chair in the store, and you want one just exactly like it, I can build a replica. Nothing custom about it—copycat stuff, although it may very well require a high level of skill.

But if along with that chair you want a refrigerated footstool with stereo speakers in it, it would be a custom piece.

In that case I am building precisely to the specifications you, the imagined client here, provide. It’s custom because you can’t get one off the shelf, and for sure there will be challenges and I may solve them on my own or we may work collaboratively. Either case, it’s custom.

If you want a footstool that keeps your lemonade cool and helps you hear your Beethoven better, and you ask me to design it and build it, there will be lots more of my soul in it, yet, in my mind, it still lands squarely in the custom camp along with the case above.

If, on my own, I imagined a footstool that accomplished these two other tasks, I might design it and build it and…it’s custom until I start making 35 units a week…

Now let’s go back and look at Chris’s #1 scenario. A perfect example would be a Sam Maloof rocker. This gets interesting. Sam created that design, (and was as generous as a human being could be with it) and yet when I make one it is not a custom piece. It is inspired by Sam’s design (I wrote this on the bottom of the seat of the rocker I made) and I have no desire to insinuate in any way that I have a better idea. Am I just a craftsman at that point?

Well, to take Randy’s point, no, because I am making the seat lower for your comfort. You wanted no light color strips in the rocker glueup. So perhaps it is custom!

Anxious to hear other inputs,

I remain,

Y’r Hmbl srv’t,


-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

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