Teach 'em Woodcraft - Technology is Innate

By Matt D'Anca | Posted: 06/18/2014 7:00AM

 

 Once upon a time, you could obtain an education in the Industrial Arts. Now you can't even find a program in the industrial arts. Everything is industrial technology, or manufacturing technology. If you're know about the history of CNC technology, you know that it was developed as a way to enable engineers to gain more control over the machining of parts. It was a way to be less dependent on the inconsistencies of skilled labor. 

And as it began...all was perfect. Academic engineers used university budgets and grant money to have fun and do what engineers love to do: build things. Wait, no, even better: build things that make other things! And it was even better, because they based it all in the context of parametric mathematics, using the mysterious Cartesian coordinate system to define real space.

Things are quite a bit different than they were at MIT in the 1950's. In fact, it's probably quite reasonable to say that the wealth of research and knowledge held by the brilliant minds that developed the first servo controlled machining center is available to anyone in a tenth of a second to the degree of millions of hits on Google.

And this is where we have come 180 degrees in the manufacturing world. Those of you who have young children or adolescents already know exactly what I'm talking about. It is an absolute certainty that the modern 12-year old is more “technologically capable” than an MIT professor of the 1950's. But that capability to operate is not synonymous with an understanding of how things actually work--or more importantly--WHY they work.

Which brings me around to my argument. I'm going to jump on Bill Esler's bandwagon of promoting the WCA curriculum. The reason I think this curriculum is so fantastic is that the bulk of it is focused on tried and true craft and basic machinery. When I came up in woodworking, they said, “learn how to do the operation with a hand tool, then you'll understand and appreciate the machine that does the same job.”

I completely agree, and moreover, I think that the modern person has an easy transition to understanding industrial technology--simply because technology is EVERYWHERE now. I say with total confidence that if I were pitted against any fresh-out-of-school designer in a contest of  making 100 widgets, I'm gonna win (no outsourcing permitted!). 

Don't get me wrong. It's going to be a Secretariat style come from behind victory for me—but it's gonna be Secretariat style. Despite the fact that our contender might have his CAD work done in 1/3 of the time it takes me, I'm already thinking about my setups, process and pitfalls as I'm designing. In fact, as I'm designing I'm doing so in a way that accounts for all those things. Where can I be sloppy, where must I be exact, where will the next step correct the previous step, where will this steps failures be magnified in the next step.

That's the craft. There's nothing technological about it. It's man and materials. Mind and matter. I say teach the craft, and use technology as just another tool.

 

About the Author

Matt D'Anca

Matt D'Anca

Matt D’Anca, president of D'Anca Design, Inc., a custom woodworking and metal fabrication firm in Cicero, IL: "Using our own designs, based on customer's needs and specifications, we create top quality custom woodwork, metalwork, and mixed media pieces, including heirloom quality furniture, fine home interiors, and small batch manufacturing of short-run (under 100 units) of product for our clients." - M.D. He holds a B.S. in Environmental Chemistry.

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