Monday, 25 April 2011

is that "the old way" of doing it?

 How often do folk who choose to use hand tools hear this? The implication of course is that there is now a newer, better, faster way and that I am doing it "the old way" just to show how it was done.

There is a common misconception about technologies in the Western world, we think that new technologies replace older ones because they are somehow better. This sometimes happens but it is rarely that clean cut. New technologies are often introduced because they are cheaper to make, demand less skills on the part of the user or create more profit for the manufacturer. Older technologies often run alongside newer technologies because they offer considerable benefits in many circumstances, particularly for the folk that have the skills to use them.

Ewan Clayton made this point very well in his speach at the launch of the Heritage Crafts Association
"As a calligrapher you only have to walk into a bank and you pass stone carved lettering or bronze cast lettering on the outside. You go inside and you see inkpads and stamps being used, fountain pens and ballpoints. You see carbon paper, fax machines, computers, handwriting – it’s all there at the same time."

What brought this all to mind today was a passer by at my workshop this afternoon who asked "is that the old way of doing it?" My answer was, well yes this was how it was done in the past but it is also the way it is done today, it still works well. My workshop is passed by a busy footpath, I thought afterwards that perhaps I should have asked the lady walking by if she was "doing it the old way" as a conscious decision not to drive, or use some other modern transport technology. Some things like walking, using a hammer and nail, carving with a knife or using a hand plane have been with us a long time but still work. In fact walking it seems is more common in the most advanced cities in the world like London, Tokyo and New York since driving is just not practical. There are many reasons to use simple technologies; they are cheap, tend to have a low carbon footprint and be eco friendly, they tend to be safe and offer a sense of fulfillment in the work, the products of hand tools tend to have a different feel which I like "showing how it was done in the old times" whilst valid is fairly low down on my personal list.


  1. Well said! I myself love needlebinding, which unfortunately most modern people haven't even heard of. The simple way to explain it is that well, needlebinding was done before knitting or crochet... But that unfortunately gives people the idea of needlebinding as old, outdated and impractical compared to more modern techniques. But needlebinding is just as practical and easy, it is just DIFFERENT. So no, needlebinding is not the old way of doing it. It is old, yes! Older than crochet and knitting. But that doesn't mean that the latter are improvements! =)

  2. I asked our local arts officer about possible funding for some lithography equipment. The response was "Does it have to be lithography? Digital printing is so impressive these days". Nothing is as impressive as drawing on a real stone.