Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Knife Maker (thisismadebyhand.com)
315 points by rglover on Nov 8, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 192 comments

I'm torn between "This guy clearly enjoys his work, bully for him." and "The handmade movement is an extravagantly wasteful alternative to a factory in China to give rich white people an opportunity to demonstrate their social superiority over people who use functionally equivalent objects produced in an efficient fashion." (c.f. organic food, fair trade coffee, etc etc. This topic makes me positively Marxist. There was a time when only wealthy folks could afford goods. Capitalism happened and now everyone can afford goods. This really discomfits some people, so they get very creative at inventing reasons why the goods they are using today are the right goods and the goods they were using ten years ago are now the wrong goods since poor people now have access to them.)

So you're saying that fair trade coffee benefits "the white man" rather than the producers in the third-world country? That's exactly the opposite of what fair trade means.

Also, hand-made isn't fighting against capitalism, it's fighting against mass-production, sweat-shops and machine-people jobs like the ones portrayed on Chaplin's City Lights or even Discovery Channel's How It's Made.

No, but the price difference between buying normal and fair trade (as a consumer) is much larger than the price difference between the underlying coffee crop used in each.

Tim Harford wrote about this: http://timharford.com/2008/04/business-life-fair-trade-or-fo...

In some cases, he says, fair trade is 10X the margin!

Fair trade exists to segment the market and collect more consumer surplus (more than it exists to improve conditions).

Also, the Fair Trade people will only certify certain business structures (they're really big fans of cooperatives), leaving a number of small family-owned businesses out of their world-view. Not that cooperatives are bad or anything, just that it's kind of a narrowing thing to do. They're opinionated. You may or may not agree with all those opinions.

Fair-trade coffees are also subject to adverse selection. The really good beans can be sold to coffee fanatics on their own merits, at a price above generic fair-trade costs, leaving the inferior beans to be branded fair-trade.

This isn't to say Fair Trade is evil, just that it's... limited and has a few issues, and it's probably better these were discussed rather than covered up in the name of promoting an abstract unspecified good which may or may not actually justify the price premium. You may get better results by buying normal and giving the savings away.

On fair trade coffee (and cultural capitalism): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpAMbpQ8J7g

>You may get better results by buying normal and giving the savings away. //

Kinda like beating people up and then paying their hospital bills? Nice.

Yes, because buying something from a non-fair-trade coffee farm is "kinda like" beating up an employee. In fact, for each dollar you spend on any non-fair-trade coffee farm, the owner not only whips an employee, he makes fun of the employee's daughter and calls her ugly. They'd all be better off if you didn't spend any money on coffee at all. Also this is true of every coffee farm everywhere in the world, except those few saintly coffee farms certified by the experts at Fair Trade, who always thoroughly research and monitor every operation and all sales of fair trade coffee to make sure that there's never any abuse or fraud ever.

... Sorry. Cause-and-effect doesn't actually work that way. A facile equation of non-fair-trade spending and employee abuse does not meaningfully contribute to understanding or remediation of the many and varied problems facing the many and varied nations of the developing world today.

Please. Can't you come up with a more meaningful, nuanced critique? The third world deserves it.

Sure man, read this: http://books.google.com/books?id=07YnbioeQoAC&dq=behind+....

and stop being a prick

There has been ongoing evidence of both child and [child] slave labour being used in chocolate production [in West Africa]. For example.

>coffee farms certified by the experts at Fair Trade, who always thoroughly research and monitor every operation and all sales of fair trade coffee //

Research it yourself; and that's the Fairtrade mark (I've not personally researched other fair trade certifying bodies). I did. What I found was a rigorous system of monitoring. Once a firm has been well established and proven to be providing the proper care to their employees, providing safety equipment for example, I think they only send a person to inspect every 3 years - but, like I said that's after a long history of passing the rigorous testing.

Never any abuse? Doubtful, there's abuse in countries with strict labour laws that obviates (or should) the need for fair trade certification.

So then we come back to my metaphor (you understand the term and function presumably, even though you used it as a direct statement). I don't see why buying a chocolate bar should have me being part of a supply chain that includes child/slave/below poverty labour and abuse of the workforce (like spraying crops with pesticides when workers are working on them). Nor do I feel that we're in such a state of poverty as a species that we need people to be worked hard without access to sufficient funds to cover basic health and education needs.

So, you feel Fairtrade fails? That we shouldn't support people working out of poverty by preventing multinationals working for us from offering below subsistence prices for crops? That we should exclude people from getting educated and staying healthy in the name of greater profits for wealthy capitalists?

You appear to be worked up about my metaphor being imperfect; I couldn't care less about the metaphor. From everything I've seen Fairtrade works.

I've seen it before, it amazes me really, that HN has railed so hard against those that are trying to outlaw exploitative labour practices. Perhaps there are too many people here making a profit off electronics put together in Asian factories by underage workers who eke out their existence living amongst toxic chemicals working hard every day to remain in poverty?


http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/producers/default.aspx http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/business_services/product_certif...

If anyone would like to read more on the externalities of fair trade:


He's saying that the main benefit of fair trade to the consumer is a sense of superiority or reduced guilt over those who drink "regular" coffee. That sort of benefit always strikes me as a bit of a "luxury good" as well, in the sense that the benefit isn't about the functionality or quality of the coffee itself.

There is of course a benefit to the producer as well, in the form of a fair price.

I imagine most of the factory workers on "How It's Made" rather like their jobs. They all seem to take pride in what they produce.

What kind of pedantic asshole cares if the main benefit of fair trade is a sense of superiority?

And it's quite something to claim the sense of smugness some people feel is a bigger deal than higher prices for farmers!

Humans are instinctive, not as much as other animals, but still quite a bit. This is no way news. That we are driven by all kind of social trends, rather than pure reason is also damn old hat.

I think I sense of superiority was one of the main arguments behind buy fair trade. So f-ing what!??!? If it gets 3rd world farmers higher prices for the same or safer labor, then seriously so what?

Get off your astronomically high horse people.

>What kind of pedantic asshole cares if the main benefit of fair trade is a sense of superiority?

> And it's quite something to claim the sense of smugness some people feel is a bigger deal than higher prices for farmers!

Whoa, please be calm. I didn't say either of those things. I merely said the the main benefit to the consumer is X, and the main benefit to the producer is Y. I never said anything about the relative importance of X or Y. Of course, the key thing is that the farmers get a fair price.

The mapleoin post seemed to miss patio11's implicit point that there is a benefit to the consumer. That's all I was responding to. patio11 didn't get it backwards, he was just making a point from the consumer's point of view.

>Of course, the key thing is that the farmers get a fair price. //

As a consumer of fairly traded goods this is the main benefit to me; that my purchases aren't forcing other people in to abject poverty, uneducation and poor health.

FWIW in the UK nearly all major supermarkets have own-brand Fairtrade marked coffee (for example) and there are Fairtrade coffees at a wide range of prices.

Yes bastard capitalists try to leverage people wanting to do right by their fellow man for profit but when fair trade becomes pervasive they are no more able to do this than with regular coffees now. That is when requiring that workers are fairly paid for their labour and protected from dangerous working conditions is considered part of the product (as it is for goods made in Europe say), as much as a packet is, then it becomes harder for middlemen to leverage this moral position to increase shelf prices.

If your real aim was to improve the lives of third-world farmers, you'd buy cheaper non-fair-trade coffee and donate the money saved to an organization that helped those farmers more efficiently.

Really? You think charity is better or more efficient than productive work?

>So you're saying that fair trade coffee benefits "the white man" rather than the producers in the third-world country? That's exactly the opposite of what fair trade means.

Does Fair Trade really benefit all of the producers in the third-world? What are the side effects of Fair Trade? I think you could postulate that it drives down conventional coffee farmer's profits, since non-fair trade coffee will try and compete on price.

Wouldn't this lead to lower wages and higher poverty for the majority of the farmers?

I have no data to back this up. Anyone know any facts about this and care to share?

portrayed on Chaplin's City Lights

I think you mean "Modern Times".

Factory jobs pay more than double the average wage in all developing countries. They are demanded by workers and much anguish is caused when they are lost.

This should be mentioned more often. Furthermore, people criticize companies like Foxconn for things like employee suicides, when the suicide rate at Foxconn is actually lower than the suicide rate of China as a whole.

Do you have a source for this? I remember looking into it a while ago and the only consistent statement was that suicide rates at Foxconn were lower than those of OECD countries, not China itself.

I ask because saying that the suicide rate is lower at Foxconn than in China as a whole is a much more convincing argument and I would like to be able to use it confidently in the future!

People's Republic of China suicides 13.85 per 100,000 in 2008 or 128.5 per million. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_ra...

Foxconn has ~1 million workers http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/02/ff_joelinchina/all/1 Although the company disputes some cases, evidence gathered from news reports and other sources indicates that 17 Foxconn workers have killed themselves in the past half decade. Or 17/5 = 3.4 per year per million people. You can play with the numbers several ways but it works out to less than 5% the suicide rate for China. Not that everyone is going to suicide at work, but having a job is probably cuts down the rate by a lot.


> Also, hand-made isn't fighting against capitalism, it's fighting against mass-production, sweat-shops and machine-people jobs like the ones portrayed on Chaplin's City Lights or even Discovery Channel's How It's Made.

That's capitalism. To be more specific, those are inevitable effects of capitalism.

The inevitable effects of capitalism as taken to the extreme, losing any sense of humanity. Which seems to be where we're going. However, I don't agree it has to be this way. Comments like yours push any form of capitalism into the bad stuff corner, throwing out the baby with the bath water IMO.

It's not that any and all forms of capitalism are bad, but capitalism has its benefits and its drawbacks. Obviously, there are lots of benefits. The aforementioned effects are some of its drawbacks.

I'm not sure why people have this notion that we can only take the good parts of capitalism and leave out the bad parts. It seems this is what you're suggesting--but how would we do that? Because when you do, you're most likely making the economy _less_ capitalist, and more of a mixed market economy.

You get the good parts of capitalism by not treating it as the end-all solution to everything, but using it as a tool where appropriate and curbing its excesses where necessary.

Seems that what you call a mixed market economy is exactly what I meant. It worked for a long time for quite a few countries here in Europe, until "free market" was suddenly considered a panacea for everything according to the ones in power. Before we got to the casino-economy of today...

I agree with you. I think the free market infatuation many US politicians have without truly understanding it is a major reason for our predicament.

That said, a free market is capitalism at its purest, and in a free market, we'll get sweatshops and the like (which are very sought-after jobs in developing countries).

I guess my point is: semantics matter. If we want to push back against these effects, I think it's important to realize we're actually pushing ourselves away from capitalism and more towards a mixed market economy, which is a good thing in my judgement. But we shouldn't see a mixed market economy and call it capitalism, because they're not the same thing--mixed market economies attempt to mitigate capitalism's negative effects.

That's capitalism. To be more specific, those are inevitable effects of capitalism.

I'm always wary whenever anyone says "That's the effect of capitalism", since Karl Marx thought that global socialism was the inevitable effects of capitalism. So which is it? Global socialism or expoiltative labour?

"functionally equivalent objects produced in an efficient fashion"

I haven't actually used this guy's knives. But I've used cheap knives and I've cut myself on cheap, dull knives that don't hold their edge. And I've used moderately expensive knives. It's night and day. Cheap knives just aren't functionally equivalent.

The same can be said about coffee, chocolate and other fair trade stuff. Ground Maxwell coffee that comes in a can might be functionally equivalent to Intelligentsia beans at the task of "deliver caffeine in a hot liquid form", but that doesn't mean the Intelligentsia is more expensive just because rich people want to feel superior to people who drink Maxwell. It's in part because the Intelligentsia is less efficiently produced that it tastes better. And as far as I understand it, the Maxwell coffee is being produced in such a way that the true cost (to the workers, to the land) is not actually incorporated.

Most of the "best" knives are in fact mass-produced. In fact, the knives this guy is talking about, made by "a couple of robots in Germany" aren't "cheap knives"; they're the super expensive heavy full-tang forged Wusthof and Henckel's knives that are themselves kitchen status symbols.

But even allowing for that: there are extremely good mass-produced stamped "cheap" knives. Cooks Illustrated's favorite knife is a stamped Victorinox you can get for like $35.

Let's not pretend that there is really a crisis of mass-produced crappy knives that requires a hand-crafted antidote. There is real value to what this guy does --- I'm drooling over the idea of having a 10" chef's knife done to spec --- but really the western world pretty much has the problem of "how to make a good cost-effective chef's knife" licked.

You're totally right. I posted this before I went and found out that this guy's knives are in a different realm than what I've ever used. Looks like they run in the region of $300-500, not $50-80 which is what I was referring to. There's a few posts elsewhere in this thread that point to other mass produced but quality knives. The nice knife I like and use every day is definitely mass produced. I learned about knives today!

That being said, I still think patio11's characterization is a bit unfair, and I stand by what I was saying about coffee.

There really is a wide gulf between the best series of Wusthof, and a handmade Murray Carter (or I presume Cut Brooklyn) kitchen knife. But the latter are not for everyone... like, stop paying attention for a moment and goodbye fingertips. The best knives are so thin and sharp, that you can dice an onion without tears because you've not mushed the thing up.

I have a set of good German knives too, and I reach for them when a softer, less brittle edge is needed, such as when dealing with bones or partially frozen stuff. They're still very, very good, but it would be easy to tell blindfolded which is which.

I really don't know how much of this I believe. Maybe for sushi. But pro chefs in fine dining kitchens with zero tolerance for variation in an onion brunoise do not as a general rule use $400 custom knives. Some surely do, but they're not a job requirement.

My butcher uses a "crappy" mass produced stamped knife.

To a large extent I think these are fetish objects. Don't get me wrong: they are freaking cool and I want one.

Pro cooks often have other concerns--an inexpensive, adequately sharp knife that one can toss into the dishwasher and sanitize might win out.

You might consider picking up something like this <http://www.watanabeblade.com/english/standard/kuronakkiri.ht...; to see the difference without breaking the bank.

Yes, that's true, but pro chefs also have unusual requirements for precision and speed, which is basically the whole value proposition for "super sharp knife".

Home cooks don't need to be able to produce a perfect dice. Line cooks do. Line cooks don't tend to use $400 knives. That's telling.

The best knives I've ever used are these: http://www.harborfreight.com/catalogsearch/result?q=ceramic+...

They are incredibly sharp - you can cut a loaf of very soft bread without squishing it at all - and no crumbs either.

You cut bread with a non-serrated knife? :)

Ceramic knives have a bunch of downsides; they're even more high-maintenance than $500 custom steel knives.

> You cut bread with a non-serrated knife? :)

I never did before - but now I do. It really does cut better than a serrated. It also gives the bread an interesting very smooth texture on the cut.

Ceramic knives don't need maintenance. I don't do anything at all to them, except you have to be very careful not to bang them on anything - a good cutting board is essential. And never drop them or pry with them - they are brittle. (So I wouldn't use them to separate frozen items, or on bones.)

Mine have some knick on the edge - it doesn't hurt the cutting ability, but I figure once I have too many of those I'd either have to resharpen, or just buy them again. A $15 knife every year or two is not that expensive.

If you haven't tried them you should.

Ceramic knives are cool, but I need something that can cut through bones several times a week and not be permanently out of sharp if I miss a joint or nick the knife wiggling between bones to find it.

Indeed. "Functionally equivalent" all too often misses the point.

Endless arguments have been had over Apple computers vs. "functionally equivalent" computers for far lower costs ... funny thing is, it's Apple that has achieved "most valuable company worldwide period" status, showing customers see something superior in addition to the standard simplistic comparison charts.

Ditto cars. For years I wondered "what is it about BMWs and other German cars? ok, they're built nice, but really - why?" Then I drove a Mercedes on the Autobahn. Sometimes you just can't quantify in simple charts the difference between "can do" vs. "excellent" - but customers demand and pay for it.

Coffee? Snob here. Haven't gone so far as roasting my own, but have gone thru endless varieties, roasts, and makers to settle on palatable superiority.

Beer? No, it's NOT an acquired taste. Bavarian brews bought & imbibed in Bavaria are 100x better than the canned swill here.

But of course, the cheap & premium stuff are considered "functionally equivalent" by the rabble. Let them be content in their ignorance.

I agree with your core point, in some areas even a small variation in quality is worth paying a premium for.

But, Apple made most of their recent profit and revenue from sales of gadgets like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, so Apple as a "computer company" does not really support your point. (See http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2011/10/despite-record-mac... )

[fixed grammar]

Their computers are still extremely popular and premium priced - and Apple sells a lot of them. Even just in its computer range, Apple commands mindshare among the public like no other company. The difference is palpable I think; at my university it almost seems like there is a class gap between those who have new Macbooks (~65%) and those who have Windows machines.

> Beer? No, it's NOT an acquired taste. Bavarian brews bought & imbibed in Bavaria are 100x better than the canned swill here.

While German friends are proud of their beer, they love American microbrews and practically survive on the stuff whenever they visit the US.

Budweiser and Millers are canned swill. Microbrews are not :-)

Budweiser is extremely close to a couple of the popular pilsners served in the czech republic. People who pretend otherwise are just pretentious.

They use 30% rice in the Czech Republic?

I know Alton Brown thinks Bud is excellent with sushi

Yes, says Daniel Davies: (http://crookedtimber.org/2007/05/10/in-praise-of-budweiser-c...)

Budweiser has rice in it. So what? So do Asahi and Kirin of Japan, Bintang of Indonesia and Efes of Turkey, and nobody has such a hate on about them. Lots of the people who claim to hate Budweiser will out of the same mouth discourse long and pretentious about the merits of sake. Rice is a perfectly sensible bulk grain to make beer out of if you want a light lager, particularly in countries like America which grow a protein-rich strain of barley. Plenty of real ale types will maintain that Anheuser-Busch uses rice in its brewing in order to save money, which shows a worrying lack of curiosity, as anyone making this argument can’t possibly have looked at the price of rice and the price of barley. Adolphus Busch in 1876 was a German master brewer of exactly the sort that beer nuts go gooey over, he was trying to make a high quality beer (as proved by Budweiser’s use of expensive Saaz hops), and he decided that the best way to brew a lager was to use rice.

That doesn't say Germans use rice. Busch was already in America by 1857.

I'm not saying it makes the beer worse. I'm saying I can't imagine rice being used in 1800's Germany in beer.

It has been my experience that American craft breweries make the best beer in the world, period. German beers (in Germany) are very good to be sure. However, I feel like you're just spewing the company line. Everyone "knows" the Germans make great beer. Whatever. American craft breweries use better ingredients, have better process and infinitely more imagination. 20 years ago the Germans and Belgians made better beer than us. No longer.

There is a difference between a premium brand, and a premium brand that promotes fair trade. As a friend used to work in a supermarket used to say, when the oranges got a little old we would relabel them as organic and increase the price.

Note: I buy organic food, but I try and verify it's a bettor product before it's a habit. Otherwise it's vary easy to spend more money on something you like less.

> There is a difference between a premium brand, and a premium brand that promotes fair trade.

That's true, but when it comes to coffee, in my experience the two overlap a lot.

Sure, I am not a coffee drinker, but I can see where they might overlap a lot. I am just suggesting that the kind of things you do to get great coffee might enable you to call it free trade coffee, but that does not mean simply buying free trade coffee means it's great coffee.

Or more generally beware of the hype cycle. It starts with people that believe in the product and add quality in areas that are important but less noticeable. Then get's taken over by people that find out they can increase their markup by ticking off some check boxes. Until, all those hidden values are lost and all your left with is the minimum required to pass the test.

> cheap ... dull knives that don't hold their edge

Well with knives the trade off is sharpness vs how often you have to sharpen. Harder steel will "hold the edge" and require sharpening less often. But to get a truly sharp edge you have to use softer steel and be willing to hone and strop frequently.

The good soft steel in high quality knives is also not stainless. You get black and orange rust streaks. I'm sure this presents a marketing problem.

One of those emotions projects on the guy, the other projects on the reasons why people buy his stuff.

I suppose the easy way to buy from him and not feel like an asshole is to appreciate the passion and love that goes into the work he does.

Especially the way it's portrayed by the video, and especially with knives, there's this "this is a Hattori Hanzo sword" feeling attached to it.

If you're in the business of fighting other people with swords, a Hattori Hanzo is likely a good thing to have.

If you are a professional chef or butcher, or a passionate hobby cook, owning one of these knives may provide you with more value than a regular knife. Which side of your opposite judgements someone falls on, to me depends very much on what they use the knife for.

> This really discomfits some people, so they get very creative at inventing reasons

Nah, I think you're extrapolating to far. It's just a connoisseur mentality -- the same as for wine, scotch, guns, etc. It can be annoying, it's often untrue, but it taps into the same desire to be self-righteous that's buried in your post, and many of our day-to-day actions.

Please don't interpret the previous sentence / paragraph to mean "you're self righteous!" in the usual insulting conversational sense. I think it's a widespread human desire. I.e. I often bristle at someone's behaviour and am about to school them before I thoroughly understand the situation.

Actually guns are an outlier -- many arms manufacturers use the language of authenticity, but then mass-produce their products.

There may be a little touch of unconscious racism re: China, but that's a society-wide thing, not some defect / choice of these craftspeople. I.e. there was a time when goods manufactured in China were crap. Now they're not, but the bias remains.

Actually, there are custom gun makers. There is somewhat less room for "handmade" when it comes to firearms, but they still get pretty creative where possible.

I don't know any makers personally, but I do belong to the same blacksmithing club as a guy who deals in authentically custom guns and knives: http://www.hallowellco.com/

I'm not a collector, but I love to go look at the pictures.

You might take Ed Brown, Les Baer, and Wilson Combat as examples of semi-custom handguns; there's a lot of hand-fitting involved to make sure everything snicks together just so, and the smiths who worked on a piece are often named on your order sheet and/or sign it...

Long guns are all over the map, with all manner of fancy inlaid double shotguns appealing to the Anglophiles, and a thriving cottage industry of long-range precision rifle smiths.

There are also lots of semi to totally custom accessory manufacturers, like Milt Sparks (great leather holsters). The mass-produced alternatives (stuff like Blackhawk SERPA, Safariland, etc.) are functionally similar, but different.

And then the whole cottage or even at-home industry of custom loaded ammunition for extreme range shooting. Using factory components (although sometimes custom turned bullets made out of solid alloys), but selected and assembled to spec.

There are all sorts of cottage industries in the firearms business. My midwestern and southern relatives are extremely enthused about such things. Mostly it amounts to "customizing a stock weapon with aftermarket accessories" as far as I can tell - personalizing it and suiting it to your tastes and build. I'm not much of a gun guy - I can tell that this one has a better scope or a more comfortable grip, but the rest of it's kind of lost on me.

I think it's much the same sort of mindset as the folks who who like to customize their vehicles. In some cases, it's the same people, but if my relatives are any indication the overlap between those two circles isn't that high.

I don't know chef's knives from Adam, but I'll counter that with some stuff I do know about, which is hand tool woodworking.

TL;DR: I buy handmade saws because they are demonstrably superior.

Time was you could not buy a quality Western saw new for love or money[1]. And by "time was" I mean "as recently as six to ten years ago". Independence Tools were the first people since the 40s, probably earlier, to make a dovetail saw worth using and that was in 1996 or so; if you wanted a full sized hand saw pretty much only the Lynx/Pax brands existed and as an owner of three of those let me tell you they do not come ready to use (think re-setting, resharpening, and making the handle comfortable to use).

Most people working in the western tradition used their grandfather's factory made saws, which despite being factory made required extensive hand work to e.g. get the taper grind right. Relatively recently it has become possible to buy a very good mass produced dovetail/small carcasse saw from Lee Valley. But those saws aren't very old, and nearly everyone else in the industry (and it is an industry now, albeit a small one; I can't even remember all the small-factory superb saws made now. At least a dozen different marques) does it basically the way Disston and its competitors used to; skilled artisans.

It would not surprise me in the least to learn that cheap factory made knives have bad handles, bad balance, bad steel and a bad grind, and any one of those things can screw up a knife you are using all day every day.

Actually, mass-produced chef's knives seem to be underrated; the stamped knife you can buy from Victorinox is, if you aren't way more fussy than the typical cook, likely to outperform a handcrafted aggressively-sharpened 440 high-carbon blade. Finer materials and carefully sharpened edges require a higher amount of care.

There's a legitimate joy to take in using competently hand-crafted chef's knife, particularly if you can have it made to a specification.

But a lot of the "best" knives sold really are status symbols (like the "best" of everything sold). Real pro kitchens don't always reach for the "best" stuff, since pro kitchens abuse their kit. Bourdain's sous talked about treating his Global knives as disposable.

And that's actually perfectly normal even back in period when things were handmade; "gents'" tools tended to be flashy and functional but not really intended to be used, per se. Your ivory handled plow plane (think the guy in the upper right on http://antiquesandthearts.com/Antiques/AuctionWatch/2008-04-...) was not intended to be used. I can testify from personal experience that most people using chef's knives today should not be using fantastic hand crafted things, because they respond very poorly to abuse.

Also the definition of "sharp" relevant in a kitchen is very different from the definition of "sharp" used in, say, a woodworking context; using a woodworking chisel on a tomato will actually squash it because the edge isn't serrated enough to tear the skin. But for certain applications precision and balance really matter and professionals will, in my experience, gravitate toward "good but replaceable" tools for that application and use them to death. As an example I know a butcher's daughter who waxes rhapsodic on her father's insistence on keeping his (carbon steel and meticulously prepared and put away) knives razor sharp at all times but especially right before he was about to make even the simplest cut. Said knives looked like bananas by the end of their lifespan, having been sharpened to the maximal extent.

How anybody downvotes a comment like this is beyond me. Fixed it for you though. Thanks for writing this.

Fascinating. Have you tried any of the Japanese pull saws? How do those compare to a good handmade western saw? I've only dabbled in woodworking, but I found those pull saws to be much more manageable than the other saws I had available to me.

On the knife front, I use some cheap carbon steel French knives called Opinel. They're excellent, except for their penchant for rusting (not a huge issue, it wipes away, they just don't stay shiny). I would assume that they're factory made, given that they're less than $10. I think they use the same design they've been using for 100 years.

For reasons I don't understand entirely, Japanese pull saws never experienced the massive decline in quality all Stanley products (and those of their competitors) experienced after WWII. As a result even inexpensive pull saws tend to be at least mediocre and sometimes quite good. The best are (as far as I can tell) still reckoned to be the hand made variety, which coexist peacefully with their modern, stamped, cousins. For this reason they nearly displaced the western saw in North America.

The definitive history of the decline and rise in tool manufacturing has yet to be written, but I certainly think the widespread adoption of modern stick framing practices in conjunction with portable power tools has led directly to a sharp decline in the skill of a modern carpenter. The looks I get when I sharpen a chisel acceptably are really surprising to me, and my grandfather worked as a finish carpenter after WWII and considered these skills important. For some reason hand skills in professional carpenters never seems to have experienced this sharp decline in Japan.

It might just be that a pull saw is simpler to mass produce well, since it lends itself well to stamping - it mainly needs tensile strength, which I think is much easier than compressive rigidity.

That is true, but the teeth in a Japanese crosscut saw are very delicate and fiddly and there's lots of room to screw them up if you don't care about the product. And yet (with some exceptions) they actually seem to come sharp from the factory, something that is still a novelty in Western tools. They're not all good--I have a modern pruning saw that is particularly crudely made--but they're startlingly high quality in an era that has seen near total collapse of, say, chisel manufacturing[1]. I suspect the tendency toward impulse hardening the teeth made it vitally important that the teeth actually be ready to use, because it would take a diamond file and some real patience to sharpen them after hardening, but I really don't know.

[1] A chisel is a bar of metal with a wedge at the tip and a handle. You'd think it would be pretty hard to screw up, but you underestimate the ingenuity of idiots. From using the wrong steel, to forging it wrong, to hardening it wrong, to grinding it wrong, to putting the handle on crooked, any and sometimes all of these have been spotted in the wild. I would no more use a department store chisel for woodworking than I would use a screwdriver as a drill.

That is pretty shocking that you could mess up a chisel... that seems like something people could figure out a single good design for and repeat for eternity.

I like positively middle class factory produced Global knives. That said, to me, this movement is just an extension of the "Home Depot"/DIY effect --nothing more. It's not egotistical whites or egotistical Japanese who make hand-crafted goods only because they can afford to. It's people who enjoy craft for the sake of craft, rather than a show of superiority.

Yea, I identify with the guy, and as best I can tell he just enjoys his newfound craft. For someone like that, selling your work provides you two things- validation when other people like your work, and money to keep doing what you love doing.

>selling your work provides you two things- validation when other people like your work, and money //

The knife maker in the video actually stated that one reason he targeted the professional kitchen workers was that he wanted his products to be used and not just stuffed in a show case some where. You could add this in to "validation" but I think it misses the point here, given that he was equally encouraged that people loved his knives even if they bought them to be show pieces.

Making something that helps someone else to be productive is a great thing.

If you want to go beyond (upper-middle) class with Global, you can go to Japan to buy the only-in-Japan Global-Pro line. It's hardened more (and thus more prone to chipping or breaking if abused), but even better than the regular Global series for most kitchen tasks.

That's good to know, thanks! They really do hold their sharpness.

You bring up Marxism, and it's interestingly relevant.

Happiness and liberty, for Marx, are about deliberately creating our material world. That is, every man is equally free to shape the conditions in which he lives (so far, presumably, as he is physically able). Capitalism, for Marx, undermines this by alienating the labourer from his product (the product is owned not by him, but by his employer) and through the continual growth of capital. To gloss over some important details to get to the point, this means: labourers are really and truly enslaved to their labour, which precludes the free use of that labour to shape their world, while the capitalists are enslaved to profit and so can only shape the world (or cause it to be shaped by their labourers) in so far as it grows their capital.

As a complementary result, Marx's ideal of communism has this desirable peculiarity about the relationship of labourer and labour: the product of labour becomes the true, free expression of the labourer's self.

I'd say Mr. Bukiewicz is doing his best, under the capitalist mode of production, to make his work an expression of himself: he even calls his knives art.

Read the about section of Made by Hand (http://thisismadebyhand.com/about/) and you'll see that they aim precisely to expose instances of production where the relationship between producer and product, and consumer and product, is personal and social—just like Marx always wanted.

(Attentive readers may note that the existence of purely creative work as a legitimate means of subsistence today, and the fact that Joel is able to make overpriced knives for a living, may seem to obviate this impetus for communism. I've heard it suggested that this change in society may be the very reason worldwide communism hasn't yet developed. Look elsewhere for that commentary, I haven't researched it yet. Interesting though, right?)

Typical utilitarian bullshit, and with a shade of bigotry at that. Who are you to deem this activity wasteful? The man produces something that other people want, and you want to go ahead and condemn all parties because mass production is more efficient?

Rest assured, your stance is by no means Marxist (it might be Veblenian, though). Marx valued the ethos of the small artisan and was deeply concerned about worker "alienation" resulting from mass methods of production.

Don't be torn: there's a place for both. The affordable mass-produced stuff is great for obvious reasons, while the wasteful, pretentious hippster-alternative is cool for whomever happens to get off on this stuff. The latter is such a small niche, it hardly makes a difference economically, but people still value this stuff.

Not liking it doesn't make you a Marxist but just somebody who happens not to like this kind of stuff.

This is an honest question, and I promise, I'm not trolling but have you actually experienced where someone is really uncomfortable because I can go buy something that is of equal quality and it is related to social status? Is there data on this?

Sure there are trends clothing, knife brands, and almost every other good comes in and out fashion, but isn't that the nature of competition and capitalism? Is this because the wealthy don't want to be seen as using the same thing as the unwashed masses?

In some ways I want to believe you, but I find it unfathomable.

It's not at all controversial--standard social signaling theory. GMU Econ professor Robin Hanson's blog, http://overcomingbias.com, has stuff about it all the time. Here's some more classic citations: http://octavia.zoology.washington.edu/handicap/honest_econom...

I've read through a lot of that it still doesn't make sense to me that someone would be uncomfortable with the unwashed masses getting access to previously unattainable goods.

We both agree that certain goods produce a signaling effect. Where I am curious is do the wealthy not like it when the masses get access to good because:

A) They don't deserve them. B) We have to find new signaling goods. C) They drive the price of goods higher or lower depending on the supply/demand curve thus manipulating the market for THEIR goods.

I think "B" might be closest, though I don't know if I would have phrased it that way. If a certain good becomes accessible to more people, it no longer has the same signalling effect, so a replacement good must be found. I don't know if most wealthy people are terribly upset by this, though it might be upsetting to people who spent more than they could afford on a "signaling good" that subsequently became much cheaper.

I tend to think this is an example of an idea I heard someone else present (probably William Gibson) which, roughly paraphrased, goes: in a world without scarcity, the only value is in authenticity.

That is, when mass produced items are cheap and ubiquitous, unique, authentic, custom, hand-made, etc items, even though they may not be objectively better, will still be more valuable. Their narrative is what imparts the value, since the actual object will have none above the mass-produced version.

Why is the handmade movement extravagantly wasteful? The main resource added in handmade prodcuts is time, and unlike helium, crude oil and heavy metals, time is not a scarce resource we risk using up.

I think it is also worth pointing out that more durable, reliable products do not have to be replaced as often. Not to mention, cheap low-quality goods are in theory functionally equivalent, but in practice it often turns out differently.

I think they mean it's wasteful in the way having a chauffer is wasteful. (I don't agree with that contention). "Look, I have the time and money to learn a dying, inefficient art whilst you order yours thru Amazon --like everyone else. This makes me a little special."

If you go by price signals, human time is one of the scarcest resources on the planet.

Time can be used up. We all have a finite number of hours. Everyone dies.

Time must be used up.

You don't get to just stop using your time until you have something in particular you want to use it for. If making something by hand is rewarding to you, and someone else will pay you for it then it's probably a good use of your time.

It wastes energy - a lot of it. In the manufacturing, in transportation, and tied up in capital equipment.

Don't think of it as a wasteful alternative to a factory in China. Think of it as the high-end-anchor portion of the marketing engine for high-quality knives, most of which will inevitably be made by that factory in China.

The first rule of selling knives is: You have to convince people not to make do with the knives they already have. This person is performing that service not just for himself, and not just for his own customers, but indirectly for all knifemakers in the world and their customers.

There are always going to be a handful of folks whose tastes are so particular, or whose fashion is so keen, or who are sufficiently friendly with the owner of the local forge, that they insist on buying knives that are hand-made by local artisans that they've actually met. But all of those customers will show their knives to other people, and praise their awesome qualities. (Some of them will buy the knives to show them to other people.) Even more people, like me, will read about the knives in the media. And most of the people who hear about the awesome-quality knives won't be able to afford the local artisan. So they'll go shopping for not-quite-so-artisinal but still-kinda-awesome knives, and they'll find some at the local upscale kitchen store, perhaps with tasteful German names and a nearly invisible "made in China" sticker on the back. ;)

(Others of us will go to the restaurant supply store because we are "knowledgeable insiders" who hunt for "bargains", and will find somewhat cheaper high-quality knives with the "made in China" sticker on the front. And yet those probably have a decent profit margin, too. My lesson from briefly traveling in China and listening to my Chinese friends laugh at my hilarious bargaining skills is: I have no idea how big the margins are on the stuff I buy in the US.)

Sad as it is to recognize that so much of a Chinese factory's business – not to mention my own tastes – is driven by the convection caused by the movement of rich people who are rushing upscale to demonstrate their distinctive taste, that is the engine by which a lot of consumer marketing works, and I suspect that the Chinese manufacturers themselves know the nature of that game better than anyone.

Yeah, I read "The Theory of the Leisure Class" recently and have been rethinking the meaning of a lot of cultural values/activities so understand very well your dilemma.

In this case however, I think buying expensive hand-made knives is a pretty clear case of conspicuous consumption. They're not markedly better in any way over mass-manufactured knives that anyone can afford.

The essence of capitalism is that consumers buy what goods or services they think are worth for them, otherwise they don't. If a handmade knife is worth more to a chef then a china created one, then the chef benefits. Remember, knives are their tools of trade, just like for many of us computers are the tools of trade - who doesn't want the very best tools?

Even if the knife is not better than a mass produced one, as long as the consumer believes they are better off then the consumer gains from the transaction. Perhaps you, as a non-chef, are ignorant of the subtleties of knifes. I use a macbook, and there are sure to be people that wonder why I spend a big premium in price for computer with similar hardware. Why? well, I like quality tools.

It strikes me as attacking the very heart of capitalism by saying that its "an extravagantly wasteful alternative" to a mass produced knife - who are you to decide that? For one thing, this is competition, if mass produced knives are worse than hard crafted, let the market decide that and punish this (awesome) fella for his short production lines and 'inefficient' capital to knives ratio. The price for his knives will reflect how much better (or worse!) they are compared to the 'efficient' mass produced ones, and if he can't work fast enough to make a living, then he moves onto something else. It's sad, but life is about risks.

However, apologies if I have mistaken your point, though you claim that you're in Marxist mode so I'll counter it by being positively capitalistic.

As a serious computer guy I always bought the cheapest mass-produce computer I could get for the specs.

(Not really contradicting you, just thought it was interesting on the "who doesn't want the very best tools?" side)

If you're interested in inexpensive but very good knives without some of the social superiority complexes attached, see the Atlantic's article "Never a Dull Moment": http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/04/never-a-... . The sidebar is also useful.

I'm torn between dearly loving spending my time on crafts such as this, and being unable to give a strong rebuttal to your criticisms of the handmade movement.

If a hobby makes you happy, then you don't need any further justification for it.

I think as Hilaire Belloc pointed out (in "The Servile State"), the Industrial Revolution (and Capitalism) happened because private landlords were kicking peasants off their land, and thus creating a class of people who couldn't afford goods and were desperate for the work that the factories could offer.

I love handcrafted goods. I purchase them when I can. I know smiths who make things by hand.

The problem with factories in China is that if China loans our economy money and then becomes the low-cost supplier, all we end up doing is eventually destroying both economies.

I will never be a Marxist. It seems to me that trying to solve the issues which come from corporations being too powerful by concentrating that power still further in the state is a bad idea. The only way it can work is if workers individually are in control of the means of production, not through the national government. A few quasi-Marxists got this point (Wilhelm Reich, for example), but usually it's the domain of third way folks like Belloc who favor free markets and small businesses.

I'd point out also that if we weren't so productive, maybe the government wouldn't eat up 30% of our GDP.....

Aren't the members of the handmade movement part of the capitalist system? If no one purchases their goods, preferring instead a factory made product, they will go out of business. Or maybe just continue to produce as a hobby or for friends and family as gifts.

It depends on how you define Capitalist.

If you mean free market, yes.

If you mean a system aimed at dividing those who own and run businesses from those who are merely employees, then no.

In other words, it fits some definitions of Capitalist, but it does not include the Capital/Labor divide which is usually a hallmark of Capitalism.

At some level, anything that's not a perfect use of the resources consumed in producing it is "wasteful" to some extent.

Don't be too down on him: there are many niches where mass production dares not tread (you know this well enough) or the mass produced products are clearly inferior to the handmade ones. Cottage industries have always existed, all that seems to have changed is that they're getting more positive press these days and are now a "Movement."

There will always be somebody ready to take money from the moneyed, with goods of real or imagined superior quality. Just look at what having the right label on the rags you wear, does to the price.

Like it or not, I think this is the future of human labor. As robots take over manufacturing (we're well on our way in the US) and other processes continue to be automated, we're left with the dilemma of finding productive work for displaced individuals. I've seen it suggested a few times on HN that the future of human labor is in creating one-of-a-kind, artful items that cannot be produced by machine. This is one example of that.

It's obviously not purely a function of utility. When I watch a professional artist at work, be it a musician or a painter or even a knife maker, it's an inspiring thing. I can't help but support them in whatever it is they're doing. For a brief moment, I remember that I could make literally anything of my life, and I'm inspired. It makes my work more meaningful, that I can use the fruits of my labor to support this other person's passion. The artifacts of that support, be it CDs, chalk drawings, or knives are memories of that inspiration. They are interesting stories.

The appeal for some will be the ability to signal to others that they are wealthy and powerful enough to convince another human to spend hours creating something for them. Perhaps you see this as a demonstration of "social superiority". When this transaction occurs in a voluntary, equal-information context, however, the result is purely virtuous capitalism. Bob can get fulfillment and riches by owning the machinery that mass-produces a good which makes the lives of the general population better. And then he can get additional good feelings by paying Alice 50x more than the cost of his goods for her to spend 20 hours of her time making that same good by hand. No one loses here. The world is 51 knives richer and society continues marching on.

It's easy to get tunnel vision and focus on things from our own world view. You've done amazing things with optimization and I appreciate everything you've given back to the community in the process. But the general goal of humanity is not to maximize efficiency. It is not an injustice when something is less efficient than it could be, in spite of everything our programming career has taught us. The truth is that there is no general goal. Kurt Vonnegut said it best when he said, ‎"We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different." I'll end this post with his thoughts:

[When Vonnegut tells his wife he's going out to buy an envelope] Oh, she says, well, you're not a poor man. You know, why don't you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I'm going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don't know. The moral of the story is, is we're here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don't realize, or they don't care, is we're dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we're not supposed to dance at all anymore.

>There was a time when only wealthy folks could afford goods. Capitalism happened and now everyone can afford goods.

Okay this may sound abstract.....when you buy an object which has been crafted to perfection by another artist....you dont just buy the object ....it feels like you almost bought some of that perfection...it feels like maybe it can breathe some perfection into your work!

On a cynical note maybe it makes it easier for you to justify the amount of hard work that you put in perfecting every infinitely minute detail in your work.

It is also comforting to know that there are people out there who value perfection and attention to detail like you.....and when you show them your work they'll see all the hard work you have put into it.

Marketing works. This is an example of marketing based on authenticity.

Regarding perfection: machines are much more capable of perfection re: manufacturing than humans. Where I think we get confused is that in the past only corporations had the capital to mass-produce, and they have an incentive to "race to the bottom" in terms of production cost. Although it's not the goal, usually quality suffers as a result. So, we associate mass production with poor quality.

I've been spending a lot of time studying historical armour manufacturing and also rocketry. It's clear to me that the goods manufactured by passionate, talented, (and largely under-capitalized) craftspeople are inferior to what could be made by automation. It's just that they're often superior to what is actually made by cost-cutting automation.

Note: I'm all for people "geeking out" about their interests. As we automate more work, people will need more hobbies.

This raises the very interesting question, in my mind:

What is to be the proper center of the economy, the individual human or social equivalent (say, household unit)? Or the machine or social equivalent (corporation, institution, government)?

Personally, I'd rather live in a place where humans and social equivalents were the center rather than where we were at best pieces of a social machine. So maybe there is something to the social superiority of supporting small businesses as much as we humanly can.

> It's clear to me that the goods manufactured by passionate, talented, (and largely under-capitalized) craftspeople are inferior to what could be made by automation.

That is not true for all goods....I cannot forsee a computer making a better painting than a good human artist in the near future....In fact I cant even forsee a computer understanding what a good painting actually is in the near future...This holds true for music too....In general works of art are (and will be in the near future) better crafted by humans.

But can you please point to me some good books on this subject.I find this topic very interesting.

No, computers aren't very good at creating unique things without explicit instruction on how to do so. But they are very good at replicating things to an exacting standard. In the case of a painting, a computer could probably make an exact replica of an already existing painting far better than any human artist could.

In the case of knives, a computer could make a copy so exacting that it would be indiscernible from any of the knives this guy produced if given the instruction and materials to do so. The only thing that would give the computer made knives away would be that they would be too perfect (if perfect is measured by how close it falls to the original), while the knives produced by hand will all have inconsistencies because they were made by something that isn't precise to a micrometer.

Speaking of which, that's part of what I think drives the hand-made movement: you're buying something unique. Even if that particular artist made a hundred of them, there are no two exactly alike.

>No, computers aren't very good at creating unique things without explicit instruction on how to do so. But they are very good at replicating things to an exacting standard.

Well there are heuristic approaches...so if a computer could actually determine what a good painting is.....it can keep rearranging the pixels (in a divide and conquer sort of way) to get to a good painting in a finite amount of time.

So I think the problem of making a good painting can be reduced to the problem of determining what a good painting actually is.Now I have read somewhere (dont exactly remeber how) that this is related to the halting problem.

I can foresee software being able to discern good paintings from bad based purely on supervised learning from examples, with today's technology. I.e. humans label paintings as good or not good and the machine learns to extrapolate from this. Is there a consensus among humans about what makes a painting good, though? Perhaps we could settle on well-made. I.e. I may not like an artifact but I can agree that it's well made.

Creating good paintings seems like it should be doable, but take a couple/few decades.

Music should be a lot easier, as music is a much simpler signal than images. I'll probably start with music.

Making maille: http://www.mailleartisans.org/articles/articledisplay.cgi?ke...

Rolling plate armour edges: http://www.ageofarmour.com/education/armour_rolled_edges1.ht...

Armour reading list: http://www.ageofarmour.com/instock/books.html

Machine Learning: http://www.ml-class.org/

AI Composer: http://singularityhub.com/2009/10/09/music-created-by-learni...

I can foresee software being able to discern good paintings from bad based purely on supervised learning from examples, with today's technology.

Unless we manage strong AI, I expect this effort to get stuck in arguments over feature selection.

Is this so different from the human experience? :P

That's not art! Yes it is! ...

Noisy data labeling presents an additional problem, yes, but I was under the impression that there existed techniques for mitigating that problem.

This makes sense. The vast majority of things I buy, I buy to use, I couldn't care less how they were made (within reason, I would switch brands if I found out making that particular type of toothbrush involved the slow torture of puppies).

But I understand the appeal of seeing certain items as works of art in their own right, even if the item also has a functional value. Once it is a piece of art first and its function is secondary, I care very much how it was made and by whom.

This series really got me thinking about the programmer as a craftsman or an artist. I know pg has written about this before, but I felt the connection for the first time as I watched these videos. I really empathized with these guys: the obsession, the passion to perfect some skill, wanting to create utility for others, the risk of failing or looking crazy, the excitement of using something you've built, chasing perfection. It all clicked for me. I think we've all caught the same bug, in some way.

Check out the other video in this series about a distiller: http://thisismadebyhand.com/film/the_distiller

All in all, this series is really beautiful and really well done. I'm looking forward to what's to come.

Last year I went to a Software Craftsmanship gathering in Chicago. It was a great experience.


I didn't like The Distiller as compared to the Knife Maker.

The guy in the Distiller doesn't seem to have the same passion as the knife maker. I got the impression that he wanted to do something and thought he could make money as a gin distiller because they didn't exist anymore in his area.

The knife maker, on the other hand, obviously enjoys his craft. I think he will be making knives forever, even if they don't sell as well as they do now.

Great site. Even the HTML looks like it was made by hand, except the weird obfusticated javascript at the bottom.

Edit: it looks like he is using expression engine for the site.

i noticed that too. it builds the contact link, so the obfuscation is to hide the email address from spammers.

I don't totally get the thought that handmade is always better.

Specifically, reminds me of a skit from Portlandia (IFC) about hand made light bulbs - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P85vZpYF3Yg .

> I don't totally get the thought that handmade is always better.

This. I live in a 3rd world country (Brazil) and see a lot of truth in what you say. This film talks about art, not about consistent production of quality.

Take a man with passion, resources, intelligence and immense dedication and he will produce a work of high quality; doesn't matter if it is shoes, painting, engineering, suits or knives.

But it just doesn't scale. You won't find many more people with the same skills. You won't be able to produce as much as 15 robots in Germany. And you also need an extremely up-scale market for your product (NY food scene, in this case). And you also need very efficient marketing (in this case a photographer to introduce him to the chefs community).

Bottom line: this guy is like a panda living in a extremely rare and delicate niche environment. Once the NY food scene vanishes he is toast. Find someone in India or China willing to do the same for 1/10 th of the price and he is toast. Have smarter knife making robots in Germany and he is toast. Any tiny little perturbation can get him out of the market.

There's a reason why industrial revolution succeeded. There's a reason why families of hundreds of years of pottery makers in India are going extinct (lighter, cheaper and uglier plastic bowls). There's a reason why my wife's father gave up on beautiful handmade carpentry. The reason is that ugly but cheap and good enough is what almost everyone wants.

* cheap and good enough is what almost everyone wants.*

The key word was almost.

Some people are willing to pay much more for something that is hand-made by a craftsman, even when there is something that is as good (or even better!) made by a factory. Their willingness to pay goes up dramatically if the craftsman is well known and signs or stamps his work, and can also go up if the craftsman in some engages directly with the buyers and the buyers can get to know the craftsman. Many value the authenticity and the connection to the craftsman. Some, in the right context, value being able to show the object and say "This was hand-crafted by xxx".

That is why, even though swords hardly ever see practical use anymore and you could get a machine to manufacture a sword to high standards you still have a few skilled craftsmen making a living hand-forging swords. Similarly, you can get software to play Go for free, a cardboard Go-board that works well enough for $25, and a decent bamboo machine-made set for under $100. But there are still plenty of people paying substantially (sometimes very substantially) over $1000 for a hand-carved Goban made of kaya wood.

I do not think this trend will change any time soon.

It's not that handmade is always, better. It's that handmade is often better when it comes to specific uses. It's similar to the choice you make when you write code when you could have taken something off the shelf to use. Sometimes you need the edge that built to purpose gives.

This is definitely the case for high performance knives. The choice of steel and the geometry of the edge, bevels and belly can be easily customized to fit the specific purpose of the knife. The first couple of knives I have made don't look that great, but since I nailed the heat treat and grind they are the best cutting implements I've ever owned.

Making and selling handmade products does not guarantee happiness or success (see http://nyti.ms/srgRtu). I think in the vast majority of cases, 'doing it by hand' is probably not the answer.

What's inspiring about this guy is that he's succeeding by serving a vibrant professional market. The chefs who drop a grand on a couple of his knives are using them in the kitchen to make money. They want the best tools for the job, and everyone wins. It's product/market fit.

So kudos to him.

But don't get so inspired you drop everything to build the most beautiful product in the world believing people will buy it _because_ of how hard you worked on it or how awesome it is.

Handmade is not better as a rule, but I think we have arrived at a place in society where 'handmade' has a connotation of great effort invested for quality. In other words, the fact that it is not made on an assembly line suggests that cost savings were not an important part of production, hopefully leading to a superior product.

Handmade doesn't automatically means better. I wear mechanical watches. Some of them are handmade and you can see the imperfections due to a slightly unsteady hand in the polishing and decorations. This, in my book, adds character and just make my watch so much more special.

Yes a mass produced watch (Rolex/Omega/etc) are "better" in the sense that there's no imperfections. And more expensive watches (PP/Lange/etc) than I can afford are also handmade but have no imperfections. At all. They are also massively expensive.

I love handmade stuff and the fact that it's not perfect. You know that there's a human being that with hard work and a lot of talent has produced a work of art.

Now s/watches/knives/ but I don't collect knives.

These are nice knives, but is this not also a really slick piece of lifestyle marketing?

Also, these knives are quite expensive. I'm not so sure if they are really up there with the handmade japanese knives[1], seems like theres a bit more to it than just sharpening a piece of hardened stainless?[2] Please correct me if I'm wrong.



He's doing stock removal rather than forging (buys steel stock, cuts, shapes, and sharpens it).

The only interesting part of these knives, IMO, are the pins (which he sources from someone else). In addition to merely being stock removal, it's pretty lame steel.

I far prefer Global (http://www.global-knife.com/) for mass-produced knives, and Kramer (http://kramerknives.com/) for custom kitchen knives.

Global knives are good, I've got some, but apparently they reduced the proportion of molybdenum in thier alloy a few years ago making the cutting edge more brittle and therefore requiring more frequent and intensive sharpening.

Yes, that's what I guessed from watching the video. I understood that you need at least 3 layers forged together to make a high quality knife; two relatively soft and ductile stainless alloys sandwiching a fairly brittle but hard stainless alloy. From memory, my understanding was that the japanese knife makers fold together multiple layers like this because it's a traditional technique which hardens the alloy in the centre of the sandwich, the layers towards the centre get progressively harder, more brittle and thinner and therefore easier to keep sharp. The more layers, the better the knife, up to a point. Also, the more layers you have the more beautiful the swirly patterns look :-)

This is the most inspirational/life-changing video I've seen all year. I really think that there is a huge amount of stuff that we could start building or making locally, individually with skill, craft and dedication.

I would love to be able to work with my hands in a workshop, learning to make unique and masterful things from a master craftsmanship instead of sitting for 8 hours a day in the office dealing with things so abstract that they disappear when you switch off the electricity.

I really think that there is a huge amount of stuff that we could start building or making locally, individually with skill, craft and dedication.

Yes that used to be the dominant form of production & employment up until ~ 200 years ago. You could bring it back. You might not get enough stuff though.

So do it.

I imagine that he can't afford to lose income for the time it would take to train.

And worse,there is a good chance his income would be much lower than currently even after he finished his training.

With that said, I used to go to some of the SCA meetings while I was in college. I met more than one excellent craftsmen that did their crafting on the weekend while maintaining a "normal" job during the week. Some made a decent second income off it.

You can do both.

Here's a shameless plug for a friend of mine. Of course he is more interested in art than functionality, but I am commissioning at least one piece from him:


Also, I live in Eastern Europe. I don't know anyone who currently does anything like this and would accept trainees.

I do have a long-term plan of starting a small workshop of some kind though.

You investigate if there are any hackerspaces near you. They are a modern incarnation of the teaching each other & learning things. Probably a bit more electronic & technical aimed, and less traditional crafts, but they would be interested in traditional crafts. My local space has a woodwork room.

I would love to be able to become a master craftsman and then program a computer to augment and replicate my craftsmanship.

So merely battering a piece of metal (that other cleverer people have spent 200 years designing the alloys of) into shape is craftsmanship.

While creating a piece of software - a functional machine out of pure thought - is somehow just grunt work?

I didn't say that creating software is grunt work, I just said that my back hurts from sitting on a chair. I'd rather be a complete human being who uses his brain, body and soul, not just a brain plugged into the internet.

That's one of the reasons that I have two very physical and mentally engaging hobbies - Brazilian jiu-jitsu and lifting.

Just watched both available videos in the series and can't help but be inspired. The point that the "art is in the details" of a hand made item really resonates with me with respect to handmade guitars. Factory made guitars, from the big manufacturers such as Fender, Gibson, Martin, etc. are excellent guitars, but there's something about the attention to detail in a hand made guitar that makes it special, makes it art. I really hope they plan a film focusing on an small, independent luthier.

I found this fascinating. I love seeing people develop and demonstrate their craft in a authentic, passionate way. There is a physical component to his work where you use all your senses, such as when he feels the edge of the sharpened knife with his thumb, that you just don't have with programming. To produce a physical artifact that has the right balance, heft, lines, and finish requires the integration of a lot of different skills that when done properly, is deeply satisfying.

I have rarely gone wrong in being a consumer of someone passionate about what they are doing or in doing something I feel passionate about.

A small part of me wishes that I didn't enjoy coding so much, or that I wasn't good at it, or that it didn't pay so much better than woodworking, which I find just as enjoyable.

Reminded me of this post http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2646501 about a guy who created a knife from scratch, starting with the construction of this own smelter.

The part that struck me was when he said something along the lines of: It takes 10,000 (or 15,000) hours just to get the necessary knowledge. Then, you are at step one. You may or may not be good, but don't know until you've put in the required time.

Also, the immediate authenticity I felt by this man and this story is something amazing. Great way to start my day.

"10,000 hours of training, according to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. Gladwell based this assertion on the work of Anders Ericsson, who studied classical violinists and found that, in every case, it had taken a regimen of 2-3 hours a day for 10 years to develop their abilities. Later research by Ericsson and others confirmed similar results in other fields."


I don't think it is as straightforward as that. Imagine you're learning chess and you have a chess master as your teacher, you are going to annihilate someone who has putted the same amount of time, even more, but who doesn't have such a good teacher.

Yeah, the original states that the practice must be deliberate. Of course, generally better practice would prevail.

And that little side-note unravels the whole argument: how much better can practice be? Can it be so focused that one reaches mastery in 5k hours? 1k? To what degree is being a fast learner in a field a talent?


If anyone finds this interesting, I recommend trying a blacksmithing/bladesmithing course in your area. I took a weekend course in knife-making and, while nowhere near the quality in these videos, it was a lot of fun to create a knife to my specs from a thin scrap of steel. In the US, take a look at ABANA.org.

Shameless plug: I've tried to start a new stack exchange on blacksmithing here: http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/36172/blacksmithin...

I'm a hobby blacksmith, as well as a professional programmer, and I love making physical things, too. This film strikes me in a very personal way. I see a lot of intellectual discussion on this which, while interesting, I think misses the point. This guy found a trade that he really loves, and is making sacrifices for. He's making a living, but he's certainly not getting rich off of it.

I do a lot of different things with blacksmithing, but I've been really getting into kitchen knives, as well as spoons, ladle, forks, cleavers, etc... I like combining copper work with blacksmithing.

I can't tell you how much I enjoy it. Mostly because I like making functional and unique things. There is a great sense of satisfaction that I just don't get from writing code. Also, blacksmithing uses a wonderful combination of technical ability and visual/artistic skills. Also, it's hard to find good friends and a good community that you feel comfortable in.

That film did a good job of expressing the emotional side of making stuff. It really is just a huge amount of fun. Thanks for posting that.

This video reminds me of why I loved living in New York. And, it epitomizes what is great about that city -- many people who believe that great art is worth the sacrifice.

Beautiful knives.

I hope the handmade movement really takes off. Maybe people could consume less but unique artifacts that have a real story behind them rather than accumulating mountains of mass produced, generic stuff that ends up in a trash heap a couple of years later.

There is a happy medium with mass production - the main issue is that many people (in my observation) no longer value quality equally to price, e.g. the cheapest pot from WalMart will do, and when it chips or warps next year we'll just spend $15 on another one instead of buying a single $50 version that will last. One of the greatest lessons that I've ever learned in business is that you shouldn't spend extravagantly, but you shouldn't be afraid to spend a little more for quality where it matters.

you shouldn't be afraid to spend a little more for quality where it matters

It's more likely that they don't see any reason to spend more than $15. Someone knows they can get a pot that looks OK for $15, whereas the $50 doesn't have any immediately obvious benefit.

I love tools, but I'm far from a tool snob. I have lots of cheap tools because I'm never going to wear out, e.g., a screwdriver. It's worth more to me to have five $3 screwdrivers than a single $15 one. But I just spent $200 on a wire crimping tool because I know that the $15 ones won't do the job right. But if they did, then there is no way I'd buy the more expensive one. Most people are just like that: they won't spend more than they have to unless there is a clear benefit.

> I know that the $15 ones won't do the job right. But if they did, then there is no way I'd buy the more expensive one

That's a matter of perspective. If you cook often and have had an opportunity to use the two, you'll notice a stark contrast; just like you notice the difference with crimpers. The guy spending a weekend to redo his home theater wiring is probably going to opt for the $15 option.

How many people research purchases like pans and wire crimpers in order to gain a proper perspective of where the price vs. quality lines cross, and how many just go to the store and get the one with the prettier package? I think that's where you start to see the trend I mentioned.

In many cases the $15 pot from WalMart is better than the $50 pot. It's thinner than the $50 pot, so it reacts to adjustments in temperature a lot faster. The coating is simple thin Teflon, so it wears out a lot faster than the $50 pot, but it actually has better non-stick properties than the $50 pot.

I've got expensive pots, but the skillets that I use the most are a $5 teflon/aluminum skillet I got from Loblaws that I replace every 6 months, and a $15 cast iron skillet I got from a flea market that I properly seasoned and I expect to last 100 years.

(A bit off-topic, but...) I've supported myself on the side over the years as a cook, and I can tell you there are some misconceptions there. The difference in heating time is marginal, but thicker bottoms disperse heat _far_ more evenly, preventing hotspots that can ruin whatever you're cooking. Thin pans also have a tendency to warp, but you've solved this by replacing it every six months.

As far as nonstick properties go, a hard anodized pan will be every bit as nonstick as a cheap Teflon pan, but with the added benefit of not leaching chemicals into your food when it gets scratched. Aluminum pans are also great, provided that you know what you're doing - be sure to get them up to proper heat before adding your oil and/or ingredients, and clean them properly.

The cast iron is a great choice.

That's not my experience. Aluminum is a great heat conductor and I've got a fairly nice stove, so I don't experience much in the way of hot spots. The outer ring of my pan is much cooler than the inside, but that's a good thing, IMO.

On the other hand, cast iron is not a good heat conductor, so I experience much greater heat variation with it unless I let it warm up for quite a while first. The aluminum I can use the instant I put it on the stove. I love it for that.

Teflon is pretty much the ultimate in inert. There is no way you are leaching any chemicals into your food. You could scrape the coating off and eat it and it would do nothing.

I think it is not mass production that is the issue, but the short lifespan of the things we use. If every tool, every building, every mechanism - electronic or otherwise - lasted forever, or even just ten times as long, our economy and society would undergo radical changes as have never been seen before. (Sorry for what is both an obvious observation and a complete departure from the OP, but I have had this thought stuck in my mind for a while)

You're right - I wasn't referring to all mass produced things. But I do like it when someone buys (or makes) a gift that's unique, but cheap, rather than something generic but expensive.

For example, take toys. There's this store that sells hand made toys around the block from me: http://playing-mantis.com/wooden.htm. Does it make sense for a kid to have 3 plastic toys they'll use for a couple of months and throw away or to buy a handcrafted toy they could keep for life (and even pass on)?

When I talked to the store clerk at Playing Mantis, she said most of their toys don't come from the US but from Germany, Austria and Japan because the craftsmanship is good there.

It's not a pipe dream that this could change - companies like kickstarter and etsy are enabling this move towards story-driven, experiential consumption.

I take it you don't have kids. It doesn't matter how long the toy could last, they'll still only play with it until they get bored then it gets lost or ignored.

It's the same with most things that are continuously being improved: another poster made the point about cars. Most people don't want a daily driver that's a 30 year-old gas guzzler even if it still runs fine. New cars are more comfortable, cheaper and have lower operating costs.

It's not going to change: people want stuff. The cheaper it is, the more stuff they can have or the less they have to pay for the same amount of stuff.

Lego are mass produced and they just don’t break. They are basically forever. I played with Lego through all my childhood and I broke maybe a handful of blocks.

“Mass produced” is just a bad heuristic for quality.

I don't know; plenty of people I know throw away (read: recycle) functional stuff, just because it's functionally obsolete. Even I, who never bought a cellphone, have a working Nokia 3310 on some drawer. But who'd want it? You can get a better, newer phone for the same price as the shipping fees for a package.

Besides, do we really want unsafe, gas wasting cars to last forever? Electricity wasting fridges or TVs? Isn't it better to recycle them?

Handmade / custom knives are quite popular among collectors and enthusiasts. They're expensive, you can't chuck them in the kitchen sink until the next morning or the carbon steel will start to rust, but they are just awesome to use, and I expect they'll be appreciated for generations to come.

Just for a reality check, let's say a top-quality, handmade, 8" chef's knife runs about $500. Most people consider an $80 mass-produced piece from Henckel or Wusthof to be rather extravagant...

Did anybody else get absolutely electrified when he described working in that warehouse of shops with other creators and how the creative energy was amplifying itself?

That sounds intoxicating. I would love a dev environment like that with a small team. I have experienced this one time professionally in its truest rawest sense... A small team hacking on fun problems. It was phenomenal, literally hopping out of bed in the morning just to get to the office.

Anyone else experience this before? (not necessarily with dev if you have a good story)

In the same vein, but I found http://devour.com/video/moroccan-woodturner/ a lot more satisfying to watch.

The thing that struck me about this film, is that he's not wearing safety goggles. Stupid move.

Making something from nothing has always given me the greatest high. This video reminded me that it is that high that got me into software development.

When I was young (and had no money):

  - Made origami
  - Learned sailors knots
  - 3d sculptures of science fiction aircraft from index cards
  - Bow and arrows from q-tips and underwear rubber
  - Sailboats from 2x4's, coat hangers, plastic garbage bags, and fishing line
  - Skateboard ramps (usually bigger than I was capable of using and with
      none of the right tools)
  - A workbench
  - Peg board (hand drilled from scrap wood)
  - Dozens of hand drawn replicas of video game/anime art
  - Repaired the broken fin of a surfboard purchased at a garage sale (never used)
In high school I exploited my auto shop classes:

  - Replaced the rear differential on a 80's Mustang
  - Removed a motor from an early 90's Camaro
  - Built and installed a roll cage in an early 90's Camaro
  - Taped and sprayed flames on a fiberglass replica 32 Ford hood 
      as a demonstration of a new paint line for local body shops 
  - Completely dismantled the engine of 87 honda civic
  - Resurrected an 80's Volvo with 300k miles on it
  - Made a functioning 6" cowl induction hood for my 89 SR5 Toyota Corolla
From there I got a job at a hot-rod shop:

  - Teardown of a 52 Chevy Bel Air
  - Teardown, body work, and assembly of a split-window Corvette 
  - And countless others
In college majoring in Mechanical Engineering (what a joke):

  - Built a marshmallow launcher
  - Convinced a big angry muscle man with a knife to my throat not
      to hurt me, and steal a keg from a party instead
Once admitted to college, I was given a computer:

  - Pirated software
  - Converted drawings to vector graphics
  - Made techno songs
  - Made 3d models
  - Designed album covers
  - Frankenstein'd countless scrap computers
After I dropped out of college I became a restaurant server:

  - Documented everything I could about HTML/CSS
  - Created custom MySpace themes (and never made a dollar for it)
  - Built my profile in Flash to overcome MySpace's limitations
  - Hid all of the generated MySpace content (minus comments) 
      and built my profile from scratch
From there I became a developer. Software has been an incredible way for me to create and learn. Sadly, the projects my employers provide aren't always challenging enough. Additionally, the complimentary benefits of working with my hands versus sitting at a computer have drawn me to other projects:

  - Built an engine lift
  - Restored a 1987 19' Galaxy boat that I bought 
      for $200 on CL (engine had collapsed into the floor)
  - Bootstrapped a prototype analytics app for the last year (not launched)
  - Insulated, ran electrical, and drywalled my garage
  - Built a workshop (bench, storage, etc) in the garage of my new house
  - Buy/restore/sell furniture on CL
Currently I'm restoring a pool table I bought for $100 on CL:

  - Built strong/true cabinet from cheap construction grade lumber
  - Carved, antiqued, and stained the cabinet to make it not
      look like cheap construction grade lumber
  - Built a slate sled for moving the 1" thick slate pieces up to the 3rd floor

Exactly. This is the sentiment I expected to see on HN, where there is always praise for the hacker "building" and sticking it to the man because he/she can make something on their own.

After reading books like "The Servile State" by Hilaire Belloc and "Birth as an American Rite of Passage" by Robbie Davis-Floyd, I think there should always be praise for this sort of thing.

Our culture has become extremely centered on mechanics, whether social mechanics and processes of businesses or automation of manufacturing, and to make humans again the center of society will take a lot of effort, but I believe it is a worthy task.

The parallels between Joel Bukiewicz's passion and many startups are striking. Some people understand that extreme amounts of money isn't what makes them happy, rather being able to completely explore their own medium in the ways they choose is where the love is.

Amazing film, very well done.

Reminds me of the Irish TV series Hands, http://www.irelandstraditionalcrafts.com/ . These programs were shot during the seventies and eighties and record traditional craftsmen at work. It was perfect timing because they were probably the last generation who lived off their trade.

Hope you didn't have anything to do today:


There's a lot of similar material on http://www.coolhunting.com/video

There's actually one about this same guy from 2008: http://www.coolhunting.com/tech/cut-brooklyn-kn.php

There's another great interview with Joel as part of the Chow.com Obsessives series (all of which are worth a look for themselves):


Aside: What is with the proliferation of vimeo usage? I've found it more likely to crash my laptop, making me reluctant to click. Never had a crash from youtube.

That's easy. Better video quality. More attractive controls/player. A community that enjoys this type of thing.

Note: Youtube has been improving with respect to the first two.

Also, does it really lock up your whole system?

Not the whole system, just crashes firefox. I also don't like that I can't reduce the resolution as finely as I can with youtube.

The other video is here: http://vimeo.com/28408829

I can't view it through their website in IE8.

These comments are so fascinating because they illustrate with a fair degree of uniformity, the personality profile of the HN crowd.

Two kinds of people we're all aware of: logical/rational vs. emotional/creative. That whole left vs. right brain stuff.

Remember, you need to think with both points of view to tackle the big consumer tech problems (where a looooot of the $$$ is) in the coming years... so

It's important to remember that he's not entirely making these tools by hand. He's use mass produced drill presses, sand paper, lumber, and metal alloys. I think what he's doing is nice and pretty, but let's not wrap it too much of a handmade ethos.

Most crafts require tools. Where do you draw the line?

Even with bushcraft you start with a knife and axe which are likely manufactured, not handmade.

I'm reminded of Dick Proenneke http://bit.ly/s2VFdu.

Here's a start to "Alone In the Wilderness": http://bit.ly/uAcBsD , documenting his work and time spent building a life in Alaska, very much "handmade".

Where can I see the price and/or link to buy a set?

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact