We at M&T have long been inspired by the work of David Pye. His arguments and distinctions on the nature of craftsmanship are both clear and controversial. But why are these thoughts on the essence of skill and of tools, encapsulated in his classic The Nature and Art of Workmanship, such hot-button topics among woodworkers and artisans? What gets everyone so fired up about this book?
If you don’t know, you should probably read it for yourself.
Many folks have strong opinions about Pye’s concepts of “the workmanship of risk” and “the workmanship of certainty,” but often those opinions are based upon an inaccurate understanding of what his book actually says. This confusion is what I attempted to dispel in my distillation of this book in Issue Seven. But to get the unfiltered view of what David Pye actually thought and wrote, you have to go straight to the source. And since we think that is so important, we’ve decided to offer his book for sale in our store.
From unique insights into the nature of “free workmanship,” where the outcome is unregulated by the tool and shows precision only as far as the skill of the worker permits, to careful thoughts on regulated or “jigged” tools, where part of the design ensures a predictable outcome, Pye looks at many different trades and arts in his exploration. Earthenware pots, a blacksmith’s tongs, even an early Argus 400 computer (among many other examples) are considered for both their highly regulated traits as well as the freehand, creative aspects. Every layer of Pye’s argument is richly textured from the broad perspective he possesses as both scholar and craftsman. His work is perhaps more relevant today than ever before.
If you are a maker of any sort (especially one who enjoys working with hand tools), consider The Nature and Art of Workmanship essential reading. The book is $29 and shipping now. Get your copy here.