what is "quality"?

For all those other associated crafts.

Moderators: jrccaim, Bob_Fleet, gavin, Robin Fawcett, HughSpencer

what is "quality"?

Postby robin wood » Thu Apr 23, 2009 10:31 am

Following Bertie's comments on the outrageous spoons thread I thought it was time to move the discussion on. So what do we think quality is? Can we define quality? Is it simply a quantitative thing, that is you have high quality and low quality, just something you have more or less of, or are there different qualities that can't be judged against each other? How does it relate to David Pye's ideas about workmanship of risk?

How about the difference in surface texture between a green turned chair leg finished off the tool and one turned on a power lathe and sanded to a fine finish?

So what is quality?
http://www.robin-wood.co.uk bowls, books and courses
User avatar
robin wood
Regular
 
Posts: 1670
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2006 10:21 am
Location: derbyshire

Re: what is "quality"?

Postby Follansbee » Thu Apr 23, 2009 12:07 pm

Robin

I read the thread you mentioned; you have more patience than me.

Re: quality...tough nut to crack. for different folks, different things. I'm thinking about two parts to woodworking, the process and the product. I want my time woodworking to be challenging, rewarding and enjoyable; and to me that means no machinery. I would rather do something else for a living than run a board through a thickness planer, tablesaw, etc. - fine for anyone else who wants to spend their time that way, but not my bag. so sharp tools and good quality wood, i.e. the straightest grained log I can find. I have 2 concessions to the hand-tool selection; I do use a chainsaw about once a month to cut the logs to length, and a Tormek grinder replaced an antique stone that was cracked beyond salvation.

Regarding quality in the object. One thing I have thought about lately is how the piece looks the day it's finished in the shop and how it looks 10 years down the road...to me, simple handmade things improve with time. When I made ladderback chairs, sometimes customers wanted Shaker tape for the seats, cotton webbing dyed in various colors. Looked great when new, but aged poorly, whereas hickory bark gets better & better with use & time.

just two quick thoughts.
PF
Follansbee
Regular
 
Posts: 156
Joined: Sat May 03, 2008 7:26 pm
Location: Kingston, Massachusetts USA

Re: what is "quality"?

Postby paul atkin » Thu Apr 23, 2009 1:39 pm

interesting thread, a comment i have had many times over the years, is that my work has character and soul, something that is lacking in modern lifeless stuff, just a thought.
http://paulatkin.co.uk/




{the one with the pole of glee} morrigan 2008
User avatar
paul atkin
Regular
 
Posts: 587
Joined: Tue Sep 11, 2007 12:17 pm
Location: York

Re: what is "quality"?

Postby gavin » Thu Apr 23, 2009 4:43 pm

robin wood wrote:So what is quality?

I just googled "what is quality" and found the results interesting. I think quality in craft or art is a partly subjective thing because beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Quality also refers to how long it lasts in use. That's an easy comparison with 2 pieces of industrial machinery doing comparable processes, but much harder with greenwood work. I take Peter Follansbee's comment about time showing the difference of tape vs bark for seating - time sometimes uncovers quality.

robin wood wrote: So what do we think quality is? Can we define quality? Is it simply a quantitative thing, that is you have high quality and low quality, just something you have more orifferent qualities that can't be judged against each other?
I don't think you can define quality. But if you look at your first chair/ spoon/ bowl and compare that with your 200th, you'll see a lot of quality differences. Other eyes will see some of them too, and be aware of some of the quality differences. The customer buys cos s/he likes the item, & the quality is appealing. The customer may not be aware of WHY they like it, they just do. So I spose you could refer to 'conscious' quality and 'unconscious' quality.

robin wood wrote: How does it relate to David Pye's ideas about workmanship of risk?

If there is no risk of failure, the work is sterile. It lacks appeal and is not desirable and so lacks quality.
robin wood wrote:How about the difference in surface texture between a green turned chair leg finished off the tool and one turned on a power lathe and sanded to a fine finish?

The pursuit of smoothness using technology has sold a lot of kit over many years. It obliterates the history of an item's creation. A smooth surface makes can make the item not communicate at all, but that non-communicating item reflects light so well it then draws attention. (I would say a loud non-communicator is a contradiction we'd be better off not having.) On the other hand, a rough-carved spoon is not pleasant to use and may not be healthy if it is harder to wash, so there is a case for abrasives. The difference in surface preparation tells you a lot about the person who did the work, e.g their access to technology, and their skill in using that technology.

Enough of this navel gazing for me for now - I think I'll go and bash hot metal. :D
Gavin Phillips


- teacher, demonstrator & supporter of greenwoodworking & human-powered turning
- Supplier of Fun & Confidence

info@shed-therapy.com
http://www.shed-therapy.com
User avatar
gavin
Regular
 
Posts: 1595
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 4:17 pm
Location: Dalbeattie, near Dumfries, Scotland

Re: what is "quality"?

Postby Ian S » Thu Apr 23, 2009 7:55 pm

robin wood wrote:So what do we think quality is?


Hmmm this is a very difficult question to answer, but I will try (stone cold sober as well.... :roll: )

To me quality, in a craft context, is a measure of how well something is made, taking into account the way it is made. I think that two items can be very different, and high quality, but they cannot necessarily be compared equally. How can I meaningfully compare my (high quality) fountain pen against my (high quality) Cuban cigar?

If I buy a piece of china, let's say Royal Doulton for the sake of argument (first make I could think of), I want it to be perfect. Regular in shape, crisp clear edges, well printed/coloured painted. I think this is high quality.

Now let's say I buy a piece of hand thrown china. I want it to sing it's creation. I want a degree of wheel marks, of potting marks, of perhaps less than regular glaze. I want it to be unique. I think this is also high quality.

This does not mean, however, that I would be prepared to accept sloppy workmanship. Sloppy workmanship can either be poorly machine made items, or poorly hand made items.

I have seen some gorgeous power-turned bowls at the Edinburgh Treefest. They are high quality. I have also seen (and eaten off) some of Robin's bowls and plates. They are also high quality.
How sharp is sharp enough?
Ian S
Regular
 
Posts: 370
Joined: Mon Feb 23, 2009 8:33 pm
Location: Edinburgh

Re: what is "quality"?

Postby SeanHellman » Thu Apr 23, 2009 9:50 pm

All things are equal, we will never attain any sort of enlightenment if you think in these dualistic terms. Who are we to judge and compare. Make the most of here and now and value everything.

I know what quality is, but not being writer I can find it hard to express. Quality comes from a period of study and learning a craft or process, and making or designing something that full fills its function, and has good form (shape). There are other things I include like how durable is it, I like anything I own to last as long as possible.
Quality I think comes from practise and doing the activity for many times so the creator is working in flow. It also seem to me that a quality item has a life, it is alive and speaks to me in some way, an artefact without quality is dead and lifeless.
Quality is also a cultural dictated idea, I have met many people who think that an artefact has quality when the wood is sanded to a 600 grit finish and french polished 25 times, or sprayed with a high gloss finish.

Is quality any old crap, but very very expensive?

In our society now it seems that quality equals a lot of time to make and cheep artefacts can be of any quality, this I can easily find exceptions to. I look forward to more posts on this one, is something of quality inherently beautiful?
"Scarcely anything is original- it`s very hard to be totally inventive, so I am not terribly interested in originality. Vitality is all I care about" Clive James
Green wood courses, tools, demonstrations.
http://www.seanhellman.com/woodwork/
User avatar
SeanHellman
Regular
 
Posts: 928
Joined: Tue Sep 30, 2008 9:13 pm
Location: South Devon

Re: what is "quality"?

Postby Robin Fawcett » Fri Apr 24, 2009 12:14 am

SeanHellman wrote:Is quality any old crap, but very very expensive?


No - it's cheap apparently. A lady at a show said about a milking stool made from Hawthorn and Laburnum with Oak wedges...
"That's nice but why's it so expensive ?? (£95) You can get TWO in IKEA for £15!!"
I said buy that if you want but it'll probably be in a skip in 4-5 years. I hope mine last for generations and when else would you get a combination of those wooods ?

I learnt to use a 2" screw when an inch nail would have done . . .
http://www.facebook.com/GreenWoodwork?ref=tn_tnmn[url=http://www.treewright.co.uk/]
Green woodwork courses, treen, demonstrations & talks http://www.treewright.co.uk[/url]
User avatar
Robin Fawcett
Site Admin
 
Posts: 974
Joined: Tue Mar 01, 2005 8:47 pm
Location: Essex/Herts/London

Re: what is "quality"?

Postby Rob. N » Sat Apr 25, 2009 3:59 pm

So what do we think quality is? Can we define quality? Is it simply a quantitative thing


When looking at quality we should think of its oppsisite quantity. if something is mass produced it can be seen as low quality due to its apparent ease of construction e.g. toys you get in mcdonalds happy meals. Which affects how we treat these items.

If had a low quality spoon that I made and a high quality spoon I would be more likely to treat the low quality spoon badly because I wouldn't care about it. however I would use the high quality spoon more carefuly beacause I would want it to last longer. this means that i would have the drive to make all my spoons high quality so that I would take care of them. so is quality an illusion that is created to affect how we treat or purchase items?

look at gransfors bruks and B&Q and how they produce their axes.

B&Q mass produce their axes as a product for large quantities of consumers. these axes are products and are therfore treated as such. each one is the same weight, material, and style with no room for individuallity.

Gransfors on the other hand mass produce axes to a style that best suits the individual consumer. each axe is slighty different in ways that makes each one individual and work better for the individual consumer.

This i think is what breaks the idea of the illusion as it is not how long a product has lasted or whether it has been made by the right person but whether it works or not for the individual.

hook knives show this especially. Some people can get frosts hook knives to work really well while others can't. so those who can't, can sometimes change them slightly like Robin has, where he has made his indvidual to his needs by changing the blade some how. this could make it into a more quality tool because it works better therefore it will be looked after.
http://robswoodwork.blogspot.com/

People love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately see's the results. (Albert Einstein)
User avatar
Rob. N
Regular
 
Posts: 71
Joined: Fri Oct 31, 2008 1:11 am
Location: Hull

Re: what is "quality"?

Postby Jeff Cupp » Sun May 03, 2009 1:33 am

This is my first post, so I thought I might as well jump into the middle of the fray.

Here is my relativistic definition of quality: "Doing the best you can with what you have been given."
This definition solves a couple of logical problems, especially that between hand work and manufactured objects.

Manufactured objects are made with a philosophy of "Doing the least you can with the most that you have."
Manufactured objects are made by factories designed to produce the lowest quality objects at the (subsidized) smallest expense to the consumer, but at the highest societal cost: energy, pollution, labor, etc.

Hand work objects are the polar opposite: "Doing the most you can with the least you have." I own a beautiful traditional southern USA tulip poplar dough bowl made by an elderly man who claimed to use nothing as tools but an ax, a homemade adz, and sandpaper. The bowl has done its duty through innumerable loaves of bread and southern breakfast biscuits. Twenty years on, and it is still going strong.

And therefore we enter into the definition of hand work quality: Hand work quality is equally aesthetic and functional, a fifty-fifty combination of form and function. That is why the greenwood work object appeals so highly to not just us greenwood workers, but also to the casual observer. Even yahoos can tall the difference between a hand carved spoon and a factory produced wooden spoon . Either will serve the proper function, but the carved spoon fulfills an undefined emotional need.

There's lot's more involved in this philosophical discussion, but I think I will stop now.
Jeff Cupp
Regular
 
Posts: 15
Joined: Fri May 01, 2009 2:39 pm
Location: Garden City, Alabama, Southern Appalachia, USA

Re: what is "quality"?

Postby gavin » Sun May 03, 2009 11:51 am

Jeff Cupp wrote:This is my first post...

Welcome!
Jeff Cupp wrote:Here is my relativistic definition of quality: "Doing the best you can with what you have been given."

Good starting point! How do you define 'best'? I imagine that 'best' makes sense only within some particular context. Take hand-forged tools: should they be mirror-polished all over, or should you leave some of the forge-blackness? The market seems to prefer the all-over shiny look, despite the energy cost in polishing brightly parts of the tool that will never be sharpened.

Jeff Cupp wrote:Manufactured objects are made with a philosophy of "Doing the least you can with the most that you have."

I disagree. As I see it, the manufacturer that does the least AND uses the most resources will be the first to go out of business - and be the least profitable. Some manufacturers do offer bare minimum quality at the lowest possible price e.g. IKEA, but I would not say they start off with any intention of being so inefficient as to be 'doing the least with the most'. Indeed IKEA's 50+ years of expansion could imply they ARE efficient.
Jeff Cupp wrote:Manufactured objects are made by factories designed to produce the lowest quality objects at the (subsidized) smallest expense to the consumer, but at the highest societal cost: energy, pollution, labor, etc.

I agree with the idea that smallest expense is usually the primary goal. But you also seem to be saying that low quality is also a primary goal of the designer - pls comment.
I say low quality and high societal costs may be concomitants of smallest expense, but not an intention.
Gavin Phillips


- teacher, demonstrator & supporter of greenwoodworking & human-powered turning
- Supplier of Fun & Confidence

info@shed-therapy.com
http://www.shed-therapy.com
User avatar
gavin
Regular
 
Posts: 1595
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 4:17 pm
Location: Dalbeattie, near Dumfries, Scotland

Re: what is "quality"?

Postby Jeff Cupp » Sun May 03, 2009 12:59 pm

Sorry about the brevity of the previous post. We were dodging some bad weather--tornadoes, in fact, and I thought it best to be finished before the lights went out.

"Best" is left vague because that is the nature of short definitions. And because this is a relative term it can mean different things to different people. Maybe you like your chisels polished, maybe I like mine smith made. At this point it is a personal choice, as long as the chisel is sharp and performs well.

Take the idealist definition: "Quality is doing the absolute best you can with what you have been given." While this seems to solve the problem it leads to many more questions than it answers. In example, two thousand years of arguing about platonist philosophy. Is there really a perfect spoon out there in the wild blue somewhere from which all other spoons are copied? Perhaps a Granfors Bruks of spoons? I doubt it. (Yes, I do own a Gransfors ax. Guilty as charged.)

And modern manufacturers may appear to be profitable and stable, but we are all beginning to realize the extent to which they are in fact subsidized by both society and the environment. If a manufacturer were to bear the true cost of production, beginning with infrastructure and ending with pollution and labor, they would be broke in twenty minutes. I agree with Lord Byron that the only King is King Lud, but I also see the utility of some manufactured objects, for example this Macintosh computer that I am busily pecking away on. However I also know that this computer is also the product of a social contract made long before I was born. I live in the western world, and I will work forty hours a week and have food, a house, and a Macintosh computer. Manufacturers are profitable to the extent that they exploit the economic system to their advantage. Could current manufacturing bear the total social and environmental cost of their production? I doubt that as well.

I may begin to be appearing as something of a doubter and a skeptic, and that may in fact be true. For anyone wishing to get sucked down any further into this whirlpool of abstraction, I recommend a non-fiction book from the USA written in the 1970s, called "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," by Robert Pirsig. Pirsig was pursuing a PhD in philosophy at the University of Chicago when he lapsed into a psychotic state. The book is the story of his recovery. The cause of his psychosis? Trying to reason out the answer to "What is Quality?"
Jeff Cupp
Regular
 
Posts: 15
Joined: Fri May 01, 2009 2:39 pm
Location: Garden City, Alabama, Southern Appalachia, USA

Re: what is "quality"?

Postby jrccaim » Sun May 10, 2009 5:22 am

Jeff Cupp said:

For anyone wishing to get sucked down any further into this whirlpool of abstraction, I recommend a non-fiction book from the USA written in the 1970s, called "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," by Robert Pirsig. Pirsig was pursuing a PhD in philosophy at the University of Chicago when he lapsed into a psychotic state. The book is the story of his recovery. The cause of his psychosis? Trying to reason out the answer to "What is Quality?"


Absolutely. I read it, and I recall that Pirsig used beer can metal as shims in his old BMW motorcycle, which (as I remember) is used as a model or a symbol or something for quality. So it isn't so much the material as what you do with it. Or is it? No wonder Pirsig went where he did.

Value over time has something to do with it. There are many Rolls-Royce cars, made over a hundred years ago, still running. Worth more today than they were when built, even inflation-adjusted.

Handwork has something to do with it. But the handwork has to be skilled. To paraphrase Robert A. Heinlein, if labor were the only criterion, mud pies would be worth as much as diamonds. On a UK Myford metal-cutting lathe, the bearings are (still) scraped by hand. That is one reason it costs upwards of UKP 10,000. An asiatic lathe of the same dimensions will set you back a tenth of that. But the Myford will start turning accurately the moment you turn it on for the first time.

Utility has something to do with it. You can eat your porridge out of a mideval bowl. It's good for more than hanging on a wall and showing off to the neighbors.

Economics has not so much to do with it. Nowadays houses, for example, are built to last perhaps 50 years. But they cost an enormous amount of money to buy. There are, in England, houses that were built in midaeval times. Lasted a millenium, eh? Will the modern development creatures last that long?

Design has something to do with it. I don't mean CAD-drawn plans. But design is as complex as "quality". What's a good design? I know a bad one when I see it. But I can't define it any more than I can "quality".

And that is quite enough for that.
User avatar
jrccaim
Regular
 
Posts: 1082
Joined: Sun Nov 02, 2008 3:53 am
Location: Willow, Alaska USA

Re: what is "quality"?

Postby Jeff Cupp » Mon May 11, 2009 8:13 pm

That's my favorite part of the book! I think Pirsig's point is that you can do quality work with anything, such as a beer can, and on anything, including a mass produced object like a motorcycle. It all comes down to the skill of the worker.
Jeff Cupp
Regular
 
Posts: 15
Joined: Fri May 01, 2009 2:39 pm
Location: Garden City, Alabama, Southern Appalachia, USA

Re: what is "quality"?

Postby simon » Mon May 11, 2009 10:09 pm

Time to chip in my pennys worth, but I think this will run and run.

In 'Key Concepts in Marketing' (Riveting bedtime reading, a real page turner). Jim Blythe says

''Quality is the overall relationship between a product's expected performance and its actual performance, as judged by its consumers.''

If expectations are low and the product performs better than expected then quality is perceived as high and visa versa.
The expectations are influenced by price,advertising, word of mouth, etc.

Spend a lot of money on an axe and find it won't hold an edge...poor quality. Pick one up cheap secondhand, not perfect but a great little axe for the money.....good quality.

That leaves the consumer to decide on the quality of a product. Where does that leave the maker? I agree with what was said above (haven't worked out how to do quotes yet) do the best you can with what you've got, that's zen, but don't expect to get any thanks for doing so.
Maintaining your motorcycle is ''good quality''. Running it till it beaks down is not.

that's enough for now.
Make it, mend it, wear it out,
Make it do or do without.
FB Simon Lamb Green woodwork
User avatar
simon
Regular
 
Posts: 246
Joined: Sun Mar 11, 2007 10:42 am
Location: Norfolk

Re: what is "quality"?

Postby Mark Allery » Wed May 13, 2009 12:04 pm

Hmmm, I've been thinking about this problem ever since I started my new life as a greenwood worker. I expect my views have evolved and will continue to do so, but its an important debate to keep discussing I feel.

I wrote a long and involved reply, that in hindsight added nothing to the debate. Luckily my massproduced laptop decided to do something strange and I lost it. I'm not sure whether to blame it on a lack of quality in the laptop, the software or the operater - anyway it was for the best.

So here is an equally long and tedious contribution to the debate. My apologies in advance.

Some points were made about quality and quantity being opposites. I'm not sure that works entirely. Certainly in my previous life the search for 'Total Quality' was equated with 'Zero Failures' at a given performance. In this case quality was entirely reduced to a quantitative measurement and my laptop is the result of such a system where high quality is sought in high quantities. Some manufacturers have excelled at this form of quality and built it into their brands - the Germans in particular, Zanussi, Audi and BMW for example, where there is a common perception that these brands have more quality. Although the Japanese probably led the world in this form of quality. The scale of production is entirely lost in this version of quality, and in some ways a larger scale of production can make it 'easier' (for easier read more cost effective)to reach zero failure levels. But that is essentially where the industrial revolution and Arkwright (let alone Jethro Tull and the agricultural revolution before him) entered the fray. So I don't think this industrial 'standards' led version of quality is the one that we seek to apply in greenwood working.

That's a problem in my mind for defining quality. Because measurements are the way that the human race has evolved to enable exact comparisons. So if we don't want to submit to measuring quality then exact comparisons will become very difficult, ie its subjective, and based upon the viewpoint of the observer (although Einstein managed to point out that even exact measurements can depend upon the position of the observer - and thats not intended to be an entirely irrelevent aside). At the entirely subjective or qualitative end of quality all we can do is endorse the viewpoint of particular observers - most often of course ourselves. After all I know what I like. But all I actually do is to make comparisons based upon my own experiences. And perhaps celebrate differences a little bit more than identical reproductions.

Before I get any more immersed in the pit of my own complexity - I am fairly sure of what our meaning of quality is not, ie an entirely measurement based version of quality. I'm not at all sure of what a common definition of quality would be for greenwood working.
i commissions where possible as I have found that the commissioner invariably has a different or higher level of expectation than I can supply for a given price and time.

I am scared stiff of getting a customer that comes back and complains about an item. So far it has not happened, but I do have repeat customers. It seems very likely that disappointed customers just don't come back to me and I lose that feedback. That is quite different from high street shopping where complaining seems a very British occupation. It may be because many of the purchases are really souvenir or lifestyle choices and I often wonder whether items will be used at all, let alone for the purpose they were made. I did have feedback from a beekeeper last week that the honey drizzler was great and they use it every day. Clearly a high quality item for them at £3, but I doubt that many are used and that £3 is a reasonable price for an unused chunk of nice looking, feeling and smelling wood - provided that it's effective for me to produce them at £3 a time, which it is, just about.

I need to stop blathering on at this point, but it seems that my own impression of quality in greenwood working is very subjective and as well as my own impressions of my performance includes the feedback from my customers to some extent. I recognise that my customers perception of my quality is almost entirely subjective and that my ability to earn a living (or the part of the living for the time I am engaged in turning) from this is entirely subject to my customers perception of quality rather than mine.

Now I really need to go and get on with turning my balls,

cheers

Mark (Author of The art of Zen and Landrover Maintenance :D )
Polelathe Turner, Woodsman & Green Woodworker. Demonstrations and Coppice Products
http://woodlandantics.wordpress.com
woodland.antics@virgin.net
User avatar
Mark Allery
Regular
 
Posts: 314
Joined: Mon Oct 23, 2006 5:50 pm
Location: Lynchmere, Western Weald

Next

Return to Greenwood crafts

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests

cron