MAKE IT BEAUTIFUL, MAKE IT LAST, OR DON’T MAKE IT AT ALL.
By Saul Griffith
JUST BEFORE THE NEW YEAR, AN EDITOR
at MAKE asked contributors for their New Year’s
resolutions (see makezine.com/go/resolutions).
I glibly responded, “to only make things worthy of
lasting 100 years.” A few months into 2007, I’ve
already broken my resolution, but I’ve thought
more about the reasons behind it, and why I’m
still aiming at it.
I was recently in London and visited the British
Museum. While standing there in front of a magnificent carved stone piece of the Acropolis, I had
to reflect that what we makers are creating isn’t
particularly impressive. We might be making things,
but we are not always being craftsmen — stewards
of the materials that have so radically been torn
from the earth.
It made me think that the readers of CRAFT magazine ( craftzine.com) have the right approach. The
average maker is perennially in a state of prototyping. The crafter is making a finished item, lovingly
created, designed to last a lifetime or more. It is
the difference between spoiled technophile children
and Shakers, who built such beautiful furniture
that collectors now pay exorbitant prices for simple
chairs and tables made 150 years ago.
Why should we care about this distinction? I care
because the more prototypes that go to landfill,
the worse off the world is. I care because with the
loss of craftsmanship, we accept an Ikea world.
My father made a teak dinner table for my mother
before I was born. More than 30 years later, it’s only
more beautiful than it was originally. Years of oiling,
wine spilling, small hands pawing at it, and countless projects being hammered out on top of it have
left it with a loved patina of memory. It would take
54 Make: Volume 10
a dozen Ikea dining tables to last the same abuse,
and that would be a dozen dining tables going to
landfill. My father’s table will last at least another
70 years with a little love, and a little repair.
So I set myself the task, for this article, to write
about something I would make designed specifically
to last longer than my own lifetime. I settled on
creating for myself a table and benches as functional
and beautiful as the table my father built.
The process made me think a lot about electronics, because I couldn’t really imagine building
anything with a circuit board that could last 100
years, let alone that I’d want to last 100 years. It
was a troubling conclusion, and I’m still unresolved
regarding the dilemma of making electronic things
that will be fun for a month, then fragile and broken
for a lifetime.
I had recently built all my office furniture out of
bamboo ply, leaving a dozen or so scraps 12"× 96"
and ¾" thick, so these scraps served as my inspiration and raw materials. At the Squid Labs workshop, with various people looking curiously over
my shoulder, I labored over the CAD design for 4– 6
hours until the “cartoon” — my colleague Robert
“Danny” Daniels’ description of CAD — appeared
as I wanted it. This was something I didn’t want to
revise, for to make the “improved version” was to
defeat the purpose. Also, to make it in CAD was to
leave a digital path that could be followed by others,
improved upon, a design I could give away to see
perfected by other, brighter minds.
I took my CAD files to the water jet cutter. I could
have used more traditional craft techniques, such
as pull-saw and chisel artisanry, but my first test
attempts showed me that I had neither the patience