What price “Craft”?

Published by Les on

It’s a strange word, “Craft”! On the one hand we associate it with craftsmen and we can look back to MediƦval times when stonemasons, silversmiths, tanners and many other crafts established their craft guilds, with the “craftsman” being the highest rank of the three-tier system of apprentice, journeyman and craftsman. How often, nowadays, do we each use the term “craftsman” to refer to a person whose skills we admire. Yet the word “Craft” can refer to handi-work of a distinctly amateurish and basic quality.

I’ll nail my colours to the mast, here. I think that the current boom in popularity of crafts of all types is a wonderful thing. Anything that encourages people to be creative, is a good thing, yet isn’t it curious that a word which once stood for the epitome of quality and skill, now is used to refer to little more than a hobby, or even just a passing interest.

So, where am I going with this? Well, many people will be familiar with a popular craft-programme which comes to our television screens at this time each year; one which has recently been screened. I refer to Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas, on Channel 4; a programme which takes the format of a competition in which four craftspeople compete to win a trophy. This year, amongst the four competitors, was a wood turner who was a hobby-turner with very little experience and very questionable techniques.

When Kirstie Allsopp discussed woodturning in general terms with the turner, they mentioned just how dangerous they felt it was; Kirstie claiming that if you get things wrong you were likely to get whacked on the nose by wood flying off the lathe. More disconcerting was the fact that the turner agreed and stated that it happens all the time, and that a “…bloody nose” might well occur during the programme. Well, I’ve been turning for close on ten years and have taught well over 200 students, and not once has this happened. Perhaps that’s because we follow sensible precautions and do things safely!

What really worries me is that the turner in the programme was held to be an expert and she even gave brief instruction to Kirstie Allsopp, in the use of the lathe. She stood back and watched as Kirstie adopted a down-right dangerous stance at the lathe, holding her gouge in a markedly dangerous way and then presenting it against the wood in an equally dangerous manner.

When the programme drew to a close, we saw that the turner’s workpiece was poorly finished. It had torn grain and in one area, where presumably a tool had dug-in, there was a lump of grain missing, leaving a considerable indentation in the wood, and yet the crafts-person judging the competition praised the work for its quality of finish. It came as rather a shock to me that the turner went on to win the competition and was hailed as having achieved an “…incredible finish”.

Does any of this matter? It most certainly does! A programme which is supposed to be extolling the virtues of craft work, is showing dangerous methods of working and heaping praise on work of a sub-standard quality. That surely cannot be good for any craft!

I cannot provide any images of this fiasco because Channel 4 carefully set up their “On-Demand” videos such that images cannot be lifted from them and any attempt at taking even a screen-shot, results in a black-screen, so, on a happier note, here’s an example of the sort of work that absolute beginners can achieve when they have suitable supervision, teaching and guidance……and not a “..bloody nose” in sight!

A beautiful little fruit bowl made from reclaimed oak.
A yew branch-wood end-grain pot with wire-bound, and detail.
A partner for the pot above, again in end-grain yew.
A cracking little lidded-box with Tibetan turquoise inset into the lid.
A beaded bowl under way, prior to scorching and lime-waxing


Ken Homer · December 14, 2020 at 2:33 am

You took the words out of my mouth Les,when I saw it I gasped at the way Kirsty was holding the chisel and just how awkward she looked. Made it all look very dangerous to amateurs thinking of taking woodturning up.

    Les · December 14, 2020 at 5:04 am

    Hi Ken and thanks for the comment….it’s good to hear it from a non-woodturner….confirms that we’re not hust being over-sensitive

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