Hand Made Versus Well Made, Hype or Quality

People talk at length about the term hand made, but I prefer well made.

I have seen hand made items which were excellent quality and looked great cosmetically.  And I’ve also seen hand made items which were just junk.  So, calling something hand made does not automatically make an item worth having.  Hand made means NOTHING if the product made isn’t better than it would be some other way.

If you want to sell me something ‘handmade’, give me a reason to buy yours instead of something else.  I don’t mean tell me it’s better. I mean I can see it’s better.

The only way to know which goods are worth buying is to compare the items.  Then you can know you’re getting better quality.  The value of ‘hand made’ is either:

  • It’s something I can’t get elsewhere, or
  • It’s a BETTER version of what is available elsewhere.

“Better” could be better materials or better workmanship.  Beyond these is just hype.  A story from a few years ago may put this ‘hype’ in plain words.

On a long drive, I stopped in a convenience store to fuel and stand up for a bit.  While in line at the counter, I took a bite out of the donut I was getting.  When I was next in line, I joked with the girl at the counter; “How much for these damaged donuts?”  She looked at the bite taken out and said ‘Damaged ones are free. But that one’s not damaged, that’s custom – and it costs extra”.  We both laughed, I paid and left.

But what if I put that donut back in the display case?  You come for a donut; see one with a bite out of it.  Would you want that one?  How will that girl sell you that one?

  • The girl might tell you a funny story about that guy who came in a while ago.
  • Maybe play your favorite song and tell you that donut is “unique” among the others in the case?
  • What if she reminds you the donut maker has worked hard since 4:00 a.m?

These are clearly ridiculous ideas; you wouldn’t actually think about buying that (you may never buy from that store again).  You looked at a case full of donuts, saw the one with a ‘unique’ defect, and ruled it out.  You disregarded the stories and compared the items.

Compare the material.

Firm leather with consistent texture and thickness are required.  It should be free of any significant defects or discoloration on both sides.  This is true whether hand made or not.

  • One guy orders leather from the tannery and has it delivered.  There’s a shipping charge.
  • Another person drives to the tannery and picks it up. He adds the cost of the trip plus an hourly wage for his time into his “cost”.
  • Another person buys it through a retailer. There is a mark-up by the retailer, and a shipping charge.

These methods can change the amount of time and/or money spent on the leather, but it’s the SAME leather.  Compare the material – not the story wrapped around it.

  • Flaws in the leather do not “add charm” to a project.  There’s a reason defects are called defects and the reason tanneries sell those skins for less money.
  • The methods of delivery or time spent on that do not affect leather quality.

Compare the workmanship.

In this is the value of ‘hand made’.  I have seen many comments that an item “can’t be hand made” because there weren’t any flaws or errors.  The work was done professionally, and if there were errors they were corrected.  The hand made item should be better than the mass produced.  If it’s not better, then it’s not smart to choose it.

As with materials, flaws and mistakes in workmanship do not improve the item.  Do you pay more for a house which is painted badly?  How about stained clothing or car dents?

Factories usually have “quality control” departments where occasionally a product is checked by a person to see that size, shape, color, etc. are “within specs” for that item.  But the hand made article can and should be checked every time.  It’s right in front of you – it is “at hand”.

Consistent color, consistently spaced and consistently tight stitching, and neatly finished edges are mandatory.  Tooling, if any, should be done well.  These are a starting point, not the end.

If an error can’t be corrected in the project, the project should be scrapped and replaced.  End result, if the “bad” are removed, then what is left is the good quality work.