Some folks ask me why I call my instruments handmade, when I “cheat” by using CNC technology in my process. To me, the explanation is simple. What people mean when they ask if something is hand made is not “Was it made directly by human hands”? If that were the case, only ceramics artists could claim to make things which are truly “handmade”.
Woodworkers “cheat” in a lot of ways. If you use a bandsaw, that is simply a way of automating the process of moving a blade through a piece of wood. A hand plane, which is one of the quintessential symbols of crafstmanship, is actually a way of jigging (or automating) the angle of a chisel. And again, a chisel is merely a specialized knife.
My instruments are handmade because:
Every instrument is different. I put significant creative thought into the structural design and aesthetic elements of each instrument. I have a short attention span, so I always change things around based on what I have learned from previous instruments. It takes longer, but it’s essential to making instruments of consistently good quality.
I use CNC machining to produce a unique kit of parts quickly, but I never run the same CNC program twice. I would love to be able to do that, but since I am always looking for areas to improve my work, I see each run as an opportunity for the instruments to be refined, improved, and incrementally evolved. Every instrument is thoroughly unique.
I built my CNC machine from scratch. I program it off of CAD data I built myself. Everything about my instruments, with the exception of the tuning machines, is built in my shop and designed from the ground up to fit with the rest of the instrument.
I designed the structure and aesthetics of the instruments I build from scratch. There are traditional elements, but the overall process is unique to me. That’s because it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be, and nobody else would be dumb enough to use it. That’s true.
Out of the 20-30 hours it takes me to build each instrument, over 2/3 of that time is spent doing purely manual operations. Voicing the soundboard and backboard, fitting braces using a scraper, sanding, planing, checking glue joints and alignment, endless fit and finish work, etc.
I work out of a small shop in a residential area. It’s an old house in Smyrna, GA. It never had a proper bathroom, and it’s not worth enough to renovate, so it’s my shop. It has lots of space, lots of windows, and… two circuit breakers that I run all my tools off of. I need to fix that one of these days. It doesn’t have heating or cooling. But it has mojo!