Issue 07 T.O.C. – Understanding David Pye’s “Workmanship of Risk”

This is part of a blog series which reveals the table of contents of upcoming Issue Seven. As always, we’ll be discussing one article per weekday in order to give you a taste of what is come.

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Understanding David Pye’s “Workmanship of Risk”

Joshua A. Klein 

Have you read David Pye’s classic book, The Nature and Art of Workmanship? If so, you’re in the minority among those woodworkers who express a strong opinion of this seminal work. Many have heard of Pye’s concept of “Workmanship of Risk,” and often hold marked views of the concept (either positive and negative) based on secondhand opinions rather than personal reflection on his actual arguments. Pye’s philosophical explorations into the nature of craft seem even more relevant today than they did when the book was first published over 50 years ago, as tremendous advancements in woodworking tool technology (CNC machines, Bluetooth-equipped saws) have found their way into many hobbyists’ shops. 

Author Joshua Klein takes a fresh look at this classic book in an effort to get to the heart of Pye’s arguments, and shows how the concepts of “risk” and “certainty” can inform and inspire our approach to the craft in reflection of the natural world. Himself a “hybrid” woodworker who developed several ingenious jigs for carving, Pye did not shy away from machines in his shop but sought to define their use within a proper context. His work is not an us-versus-them, hand-tool/power-tool dichotomy, but a thoughtful look at what has made artisans tick, from ancient times to today.

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