Turning Creativity into Process

A general truth in the engineering world is if you’re making one then just make it. If you’re making two then it’s dealers choice. But, if you’re making three or more it’s time to start building templates and jigs. Woodworkers might be a bit more lenient in the numbers but the sentiment is the same. Production work depends more upon refining the steps of mass production (process) than artistic expression. It’s the left/right brain shift of creativity focus from artistic to analytic. There are woodworkers whose production work efficiency comes from the study and refinement of their movement. I’m referencing the likes of Glenn Lucas the bowl turner. Most of us depend upon making templates and jigs. So after the original prototype the creativity game changes from artistic expression to process refinement.

The fun is discovering how to reduce the number of steps and decrease the time spent on each using your skill, knowledge and owned tools. You have to plan your material to take into account steps other than the next. Then in idea execution you balance the interaction of patterns, jigs, machines, leverage, speed, pressure and horsepower. It’s a kinetic battle between plans, action and fine motor skills.

All this planning, action, and excitement is to make a final product that a customer can’t differentiate from the original artistic prototype.

For the longest time I was weary of production work because of the belief that it turned all creativity into process. With that attitude, I anticipated production work to be drudgery. In actually getting into small production run work opens up so many new strategies, techniques and tools it’s like a whole new rabbit hole of the craft that ramps up creativity.

While production runs do bring more power tools into my work than normal it amazes me how often I turn to hand tools. They might be slower at a specific step but incorporated into an overall strategy the time savings of not setting up a module reduces the overall time of the 3, 4 or 5 step combinations. I constantly find myself saying in the middle of a step, “Hey wait, if I… then that...”

Production work does not eliminate the creativity of work, it just transfers it to another aspect of the work.