Lap 3 - Craftsmanship

Craftsmanship, as it turns out, is more about iteration than pure skill. Ok, that might be a bit of an overstatement, but I too think it is fair to say that highly crafted products are more the result perseverance, balancing form and function and material selection. Craftsmanship requires attention to process AND product.

“Craftsmanship means dwelling on a task for a long time and going deeply into it, because you want to get it right.”

Crawford, M. B. (2010). Shop class as soulcraft: An inquiry into the value of work. New York: Penguin Books.

Podcast Companion Episode(s):

  • Erin Riley (Part 1) - Greenwich Academy: Craftsmanship & Critique
  • Erin Riley (Part 2) - Greenwich Academy: Critical Making

MVIFI Blog Companion Post:


In the previous lesson we talked about FABRICATION. It where we all want to get to. It’s the cool thing at the end. After all, as I try to address in this blog post, the product is every bit as important as the process. Nobody waits in line at the Apple story because they are so excited about the process. The shiny object at the end, while not the end all - be all, adds value and meaning to the process used to create it. AND a thoughtful design cycle process begets highly crafted products that increase that value an meaning.

Some say that craftsmanship is a lost art. Others argue that access to easy to use digital fabrication tools has all but killed craftsmanship for good. I’m somewhere in between. I DO think that craftsmanship is a fundamental skill/mindset to teach in MakerEd. If you are going to make something, make it great! I also happen to think that digital fabrication tools make it easier to achieve higher crafted products with lower barrier to entry. Not all a bad thing! Once again, our friend David Lang add to our conversation with a commentary on “Craftsmanship Re-imagined” in Chapter 5 of Zero to Maker.

As an introduction to the inspirations section below, check out this video from the President of North Bennet Street School - a school that takes craft very seriously.

The Driving Cog

While the majority of this lesson will focus on the form and function of a well crafted product, I would be remiss to leave out another really important facet of craftsmanship. When we talk with our kids, craftsmanship is also the context with which we broach the subjects of safety and working in a shared space. With regard to safety, we use a mantra that we call CARECHECK - Gear. Secure. Bubble. Pause.

  • Gear is a reminder to check that the tool you are using is appropriate and in good working order. AND it is a reminder to wear all protective gear.
  • Secure is a reminder to secure your workpiece. Most often with clamps, but if you use your hand(s) then you’ll you have to be especially mindful of the…..
  • Bubble. As in, Blood Bubble. The bubble is anywhere that a tool can hurt your. For instance, the business end of the drill is obviously the dangerous part, but students will often not realize that underneath the workpiece or as far as you can reach with the drill is all within a blood bubble. It is normal and necessary for working students to tell others “get out of my bubble.”
  • Pause is a mindful moment just before turning on and working with tool. It a chance to take inventory of the surroundings - Is someone else working nearby? Is someone about to enter the room? - and make sure the operator is feeling good to proceed.

A related bit is that craftsmanship can apply to the space itself. Clean up after yourself, put things back where they belong and let others know to do the same. It is part of working in shared workspace.


Places to wander and wonder

When we talk to students about craftsmanship, we talk about doing “laps”. Specifically, we talk about doing lots of little tinkering/practice laps within a larger build. How might we encourage cycles of foundational practice, fabrication and back again?

If we really want to get in the weeds of how to teach craftsmanship, I can’t think of a better philosophy than the one promoted by Otto Salomon about 135 years ago (!!!) called educational sloyd. I did a fair of amount of research on Sloyd in my graduate school work and was absolutely fascinated by just how relevant and applicable Salomon’s philosophy was even today. What intrigued me even more was that his philosophy was targeted toward primary school students as he believed that manual skills should be taught alongside academics. He is in the same league as the Deweys, Piagets and Paperts of the world. Core77 - and excellent industrial design blog - wrote an incredible synopsis on educational Sloyd and Otto Salomon in Dec 2016, but below is just an underscore on some of the work that I think is particularly relevant to CRAFTSMANSHIP.

Otto Salomon's "The Teacher's Hand-book of Slöjd" is free to download via Google Books. Within you’ll find his opinion on what makes a good maker-centered teacher:

“The artisan who has great technical skill is too often tempted while teaching to use this skill in a way which may be for the advantage of the work with which the pupil is occupied, but is certainly not for the advantage of the pupil himself.”

“At the same time, it is by no means intended to convey the idea that the skilled artisan may not be a good teacher of sloyd - provided he understand the difference between sloyd and his trad, and is in possession of the other necessary qualifications - but it is maintained that in such a case it is les because he is an artisan than in spite of it, for the first condition is that he must renounce the traditions of his craft, and become penetrated by the educational ideas.”

Furthermore, Salomon succinctly describes 10 Aims of Sloyd education:

      1. To instill a taste for and an appreciation of work in general.
      2. To create a respect for hard, honest, physical labour.
      3. To develop independence and self-reliance.
      4. To provide training in the habits of order, accuracy, cleanliness and neatness.
      5. To train the eye to see accurately and to appreciate the sense of beauty in form.
      6. To develop the sense of touch and to give general dexterity to the hands.
      7. To inculcate the habits of attention, industry, perseverance and patience.
      8. To promote the development of the body's physical powers.
      9. To acquire dexterity in the use of tools.
      10. To execute precise work and to produce useful products.

There, that last one, THAT is what we are getting at with CRAFTSMANSHIP, yet it takes the other 9 aims to get there.


Your Turn to Play

REFLECTION PROMPT: Interesting philosophy, right? But you want to know what it actually looks like in a modern classroom too. Here again, we may not need to go “high tech” to accomplish goals of iterative tinkering and “laps”. How much time are you willing to allocate students to achieve highly crafted products? What is the trade off? What foundational laps can you build into your projects (while allowing for student choice in the end)?

Archive.org has published “Paper Sloyd: A Handbook for Primary Grades” for free, although I would argue it relevant for all ages. Within it you will find dozens of objects to be made of increasing sophistication using only paper and a knife or scissors. You might look at a few of them and find them appealing. You might even imagine that you could know those few out in a couple of hours. It is important context to know, however, that when this book was published in 1905 the intent was that students would work through the ~70 objects over the course of three years. Yes, it is implied that craftsmanship takes time.

HELPFUL HINT: Time on task, particularly in service of craftsmanship, is a topic that Erin Riley and I discuss in our podcast conversations quite a bit.

ALTERNATE ROUTES: Expanding on the idea of starting with paper, have we mentioned how much we LOVE foamcore? It is relatively inexpensive and with the right techniques can be used to achieve really highly crafted prototypes with low barrier of entry tools - glue and xacto knives. There is a reason it is a favorite medium for industrial designers and architects.

Try sending your students on labs with foamcore as medium with explicit intent to practice craftsmanship. Some resources to help:

  • Foamcore Construction Basics - a fantastic set of small builds whose form and joinery techniques you will find come up in woodworking projects again and again.
  • Eric Strebel Youtube Channel - I like Eric’s videos to demo foamcore technique basics, advanced basics, and “pro moves”.
  • MakeDo - A cool set of tools and fasteners designed specifically for working with cardboard. Try using sloyd philosophy with this easily accessible - and slightly more sophisticated - material.
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