What is Craft Production?

Jeremy Laukkonen

Craft production is a method of creating goods by hand, often with simple tools. This type of one-off production was widely used prior to the industrial revolution, and is still practiced around the world. Unlike mass production, craft production results in items that are each unique in small ways, since they are made by hand one at a time. Craft produced goods can vary in quality, though they are often thought to have higher production values than mass produced versions. It is often possible for a craftsman to achieve certain effects or levels of detail using techniques that are not viable in mass production.

Before the days of mass production, only simple tools were used.
Before the days of mass production, only simple tools were used.

Before the days of mass production, all manufactured goods were created one by one using the process of handicraft. New workers in a field would typically be apprenticed to a master, from whom they would learn the craft. Goods were produced by hand using relatively simple tools and no automated processes, so the knowledge and skill of the worker was instrumental to the quality of the final product. Much of the craft production performed today is the work of hobbyists, though some craftsmen still earn their living by it.

In craft production, goods are made by hand.
In craft production, goods are made by hand.

One major defining factor of craft produced goods is that each final product is somewhat unique. Though a master craftsman will typically produce finished products that meet general specifications, aesthetics and function are often considered more important than perfect uniformity. This can often be desirable from the standpoint of a consumer that is interested in unique items, though it can have drawbacks if the product ever needs to be repaired. Goods that are composed of identical, replaceable parts are easier and cheaper to fix, and this is something that craft production can not easily offer.

Homemade soaps is a popular handicraft that people sell.
Homemade soaps is a popular handicraft that people sell.

The automotive industry is one example that began with craft production but moved to mass production. When each automobile was a craft built product, new replacement parts needed to be created specific to each vehicle. This made owning and maintaining an automobile very expensive and led to the industry-wide adoption of mass production techniques. Once each and every part that made up a vehicle was identical to the parts from any other vehicle of the same make, the cost of repairs and maintenance became dramatically lower.

Artisan jewelry is popular at craft fairs.
Artisan jewelry is popular at craft fairs.

In cases where the absolute uniformity of a product is not necessary, craft production has some benefits over mass produced goods. Furniture, cabinetry, and other woodworking is often craft produced due to the level of detail and quality that the method allows for. Handicraft is also practiced around the world in areas where industrialization has been limited.

Woodworking is one aspect of craft production.
Woodworking is one aspect of craft production.

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Discussion Comments


@pastanaga - The problem with that is that 3D printers are becoming more and more popular now and they are capable of making something different every time you use them.

Does that count as homemade craft production? I don't know. But it's not quite the same as a craftsman making something with his own hands.


@irontoenail - I think all things being equal that might be true. I'd rather buy something that had a story, especially if I got to talk to the craftsperson before I bought it.

But I also just don't think that machines are going to be able to do everything that we can do. Especially when it comes to unique items. You might be able to make a machine that can craft a perfect basket every time, but it won't be able to craft a different pattern into every basket. That doesn't really apply to coffee, or to things that are more utilitarian, but people tend to like handmade because it means the object is unique and therefore special.


I read an interesting article the other day where the author was talking about how we are getting better and better at making mass produced, yet quality items that people can't really tell from well crafted handmade items.

The example the author used was coffee, which a lot of connoisseurs would agree should be made by an expert barista to get the best flavor. But when they tried a blind test with experts, giving them a barista made coffee and the best pod coffee available, they all thought the pod coffee was better.

The author then speculated that eventually we might start wanting to buy craft products not just because of expertise, but because they have a story that is connected with other people. The flaws are what make it interesting.

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