Issue 11 T.O.C. – Ray Deftereos – “Unto this Last” Book Recommendation

This post is part of a blog series revealing the table of contents of upcoming Issue Eleven. As is our custom, we’ll be discussing one article per weekday in order to give you a taste of what is come. 

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Ray Deftereos – Unto this Last Book Recommendation

As woodworkers, we are all dependent on the supply chain to some degree. It might be in purchasing a new tool or a stack of milled lumber from a retailer. Or conversely, we might seek to sell something that we’ve made – a Windsor chair or carved spoon. And if we’ve spent any time pondering the value of making things with our own hands over simply buying factory-produced items in a store, we realize how the spheres of craft and economics are inseparable. 

Author Ray Deftereos knows books – he has reviewed dozens of titles on his podcast, “Hand Tool Book Review,” but has found himself drawn repeatedly back to John Ruskin’s Unto this Last. First published in book form in 1862, this work (while a short read at 86 pages) encompasses ideals and meditations of great value to anyone engaged in creative pursuits. Deftereos notes, “Of all the authors I have read, John Ruskin comes closest to expressing the true essence of value, beauty, and the nature of meaningful work.” 

Ruskin extols the idea that the value of an object is inextricably tied to more than dollars and cents – the process of how the object was made, fair treatment of the artisan or worker, and the overall impact on quality of life are all considerations to be weighed. An article or piece of furniture made through a destructive or consumptive process, abusing both laborer and environment, should be rejected in favor of a different way of doing things. This is a book that offers possibilities, as well as raises questions. But as Deftereos observes, “If we took some of Ruskin’s messages to heart, we would require fewer waste dumps for last year's products and feel more inclined to ignore next year’s upgrade. Instead, we could surround ourselves with beautiful and functional craft works, while also providing a fair living for the craftsman.”

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