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Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman
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Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  502 Ratings  ·  75 Reviews
In this moving account, we follow Korn's search for meaning as an Ivy-educated child of the middle class who finds employ- ment as a novice carpenter on Nantucket, morphs into a self- employed designer/craftsman of fine furniture, takes a right turn into teaching woodworking and design at Colorado's Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and finally founds a school in Maine: The Cent ...more
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published October 31st 2013 by David R. Godine
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Rebecca Foster
This short, lucid book contains a pleasant combination of personal experience and philosophical musings on the millennia-old human drive to make things with our hands. Korn even includes black-and-white images and color plates of some of his signature pieces. Now that he is the director of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine, his job is more administrative than artistic, but he still sees his role as being to shepherd new works of art into life. Anyone who has a creative as ...more
Feb 05, 2014 Joe rated it really liked it
Shelves: craft
I'm a craftsman in two worlds, as a writer and as a construction worker. I don't write the kind of novels that win highfalutin awards, and I don't build the kind of houses that win architectural honors, but I'm pretty good at what I do. I craft. I make a living. So I'm always interested in how other people integrate their values, their families, their simple need to earn a living into their passion for craft. Peter Korn is a writer, an educator, a furniture maker. As a craftsman he discovered th ...more
bibliotekker Holman
Oct 09, 2013 bibliotekker Holman rated it liked it
Last year, I read Matthew Crawford's philosophical musing on the nature of manual work titled Shop Craft as Soulcraft and loved it. Crawford, a PhD. in philosophy who runs a motorcycle repair and restoration business, reflects on the nature and rewards of the many work worlds he has inhabited. At the same time, he laments the loss of basic mechanical and practical aptitude in our schools and society. His voice is a lone one in the wilderness that deserves follow up. I'm waiting for his next book ...more
David R. Godine
Jan 22, 2014 David R. Godine rated it it was amazing
In his beautiful book Why We Make Things and Why It Matters, Peter Korn invites us to understand craftsmanship as an activity that connects us to others, and affirms what is best in ourselves. --Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft

What is the point of craft in a completely mass-produced world? Peter Korn's life, as told here, holds an answer. This fascinating account offers insights into the significance of the handmade object for the maker as well as for society as a whole.
-- Mar
Dec 14, 2015 Mark rated it it was ok
Peter Korn may be a skilled craftsman or whatever, but this book didn't feel like it delivered on the title.

I'm an amateur woodworker - I've got a bunch of tools I'm learning to use, I've made a desk, a bookcase, an armoire, knife holders, a display case, etc... My wife's grandfather is a skilled woodworker and I've been learning a lot from him. I thought this might be a good philosophical look at the intrinsic value of making things vs purchasing them. Some deep journey through `maker culture`
Sep 24, 2016 Beatriz rated it it was amazing
Reactions to this book will probably vary a lot from reader to reader, according to their relationship with craft.

For me, it resonated a lot with my life and experiences. As a craftsperson/artist, I struggle with a lot of the same questions, about balancing creation, isolation and life; how to earn a living and creating my own expressive language. The author doesn't shy away from relating how his relationships foundered and how he needed to be bailed out by his father several time. At the same t

I liked this. The author in the 1970's decided to become a furniture craftsmen without a lot of outside help, clear marketing ideas or furniture craft role models. A very 70's things to do......

This speaks to his ideas about Craft that he's honed as a craftsman,author, teacher and promoter/administrator . A mix of thought some which was down to earth and some which was in the clouds.

I found it interesting that this was published in Jaffrey, NH, not far from me.

Feb 08, 2017 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2017
Nowadays people spend inordinate amounts of time in front of computers supposedly creating things and whilst some of these things can be satisfying, quite a lot of the time it isn’t. Peter Korn has had a lifetime of creating objects, when he began as a carpenter against his father's wishes. After a few years doing that, he suddenly had a desire to make a create furniture, to move from making things to creating things. These changes in career meant relocating to different parts of the States, tak ...more
Chris Kleinfelter
Feb 18, 2014 Chris Kleinfelter rated it really liked it
This was an interesting journey in the evolution of a craftsman. Mr. Korn has followed a path built on his passion and that has clearly given him a satisfaction with life. The decision to live a life as an individual crafting quality goods when so many markets have devolved to machine-made expediency is brave. This book is an exemplar of integrity and growth through being open to the evolutions of ones life.
Greg Davis
Jan 04, 2016 Greg Davis rated it really liked it
Some time ago I learned a very little bit about furniture building, even completed a serviceable cherry bed frame that we used for several years. Later I became smitten (still am) with handbuilt guitars, and against this strictly amateur backdrop, I thus loved this first person account of the process, philosophy, introspection, and spirituality of making things.
Dec 02, 2015 Thom rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This brief book is roughly one half autobiography, one third history of the craft movement, and one sixth philosophy. Each is interesting - the author was there at the beginning - and a little disjointed. His maker ideology feels like half of a conversation, though I cannot participate or even hear the other half. A solid 2 stars. ...more
Feb 14, 2014 Tara rated it it was amazing
What a pithy, beautiful book about one man’s quest to design furniture and himself. (“We may make things because we enjoy the process, but our underlying intent, inevitably, is self-transformation.”)
Richard Brand
Jan 11, 2017 Richard Brand rated it liked it
I put this book as a three because it was well done, but it was a bit out of my passion. I have two hobbies: wood working and book binding and I have to confess that none of the questions or concerns that Peter worried about have ever crossed my mind. I am not sure that I create to try to change myself. I have recently undertaken a woodworking project that called for procedures that I had never done before and thus challenged myself with a new project but I do not sell my work and I do not try t ...more
K.C. Davis
Mar 20, 2014 K.C. Davis rated it it was amazing
Korn writes with a bracing clarity about matters that should strike a chord with anyone who’s engaged with a creative pursuit: voice, craft, inspiration, the choices that individuals make trying to make a living as an artist.

Certainly resonated with me, as a writer, a guitar builder, and (now) as someone in video games. I particularly related to the struggle of balancing a ‘good life’ against being able to earn a living - that was pretty much the 1990s for me.

Fantastic book. I particularly like
"Why We Make Things" is autobiographical and similar to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values except that this book is not fictional (I think). It is a book of philosophy as viewed through creating crafts, and furniture. Only a hippy could do this and the author was raised within a hippy culture. Natch.

The author also has at least one Jewish parent. I'm not sure if he is, technically Jewish, but he certainly carries that culture (I am Jewish, BTW) of the post-Holocaus
Robert Shadel
Apr 27, 2014 Robert Shadel rated it it was amazing
Peter Korn has put a lot of thinking and reading of others into this book. It is partly a journey of his getting into some wonderful furniture; partly a discussion of the craftsman, the place of the craftsman in society.
He does not limit crafts to wood, but includes other crafts including writing, not usually thought of as a craft, but certainly understandable and well supported as such. The craftsman puts his/her thoughts, feelings, beliefs of how life should be lived into the crafted item. The
Nov 22, 2014 Robert rated it it was amazing
This book describes a life committed to craft. In the case of the author, Peter Korn, furniture making. Mr. Korn places his life story in the context of a world view based on creativity. Mr. Korn eloquently describes his creative process, the role of others in that process, including the viewer of the work, its purchaser and the entire commercial nexus that makes possible the work and life of a craftsperson. In the book's final pages, the author pokes the reader in the ribs and with a wink and n ...more
Brilliant if somewhat repetitive. Appreciated the distinction between happiness and fulfillment, particularly in terms of the choices about work.

Liked this quote, too:

What makes this life good, ultimately, is that I spend my days thinking a tiny bit of the world into being, primarily by building a school into a sustainable institution, empowering other people through teaching, and challenging my own preconceptions through writing and furniture making. It is unremitting, demanding, repititive w
Damien Ayers
Jun 02, 2015 Damien Ayers rated it liked it
Less than two weeks later and most of this book has slipped from my memory already. I found the autobiographical chapters by far the most interesting. They follow Korn as he escaped to the country as a young adult in the early 70s. Became a carpenter before teaching himself furniture making. Then struggled and struggled trying to make a successful life from it. His path through cancer, and the horrible path to recovery. Before finally becoming a successful writer, teacher, administrator and foun ...more
Apr 03, 2016 Lindsey rated it it was ok
Shelves: art-business
"Craft offers a holistic experience many contemporary Americans find lacking in their preoccupations and personal lives."

"Some of the most common ways in which a craft object attains meaning for a respondent are through information coded into the object by the maker; through the experience of discovering or acquiring the object; through a personal connection with the maker; and through the provence or projection...objects ultimately posses meaning to the extent that they affect or confirm the st
Ravi Warrier
Jan 19, 2016 Ravi Warrier rated it really liked it
I quite enjoyed this book. For a few reasons:
1. The language of the book wasn't self-glorifying as one might find in autobiographies.
2. There were some true nuggets about creativity and the process of creative thinking, design and development.
3. There was an earnest attempt to answer the titular question. And I think Korn answered it well.

While this book may be on creative woodwork, I believe the lessons that Korn is trying to pass on to his readers applies to creativity in general. And hence, i
Lukas Lovas
May 13, 2016 Lukas Lovas rated it it was amazing
I found this book to be illuminating, if a bit sad for me personally. As a craftsman (jeweller), I find the idea that if I want to be successful, I will probably have to sacrifice most of my personal life to my craft rather disturbing. Even more disturbing is the fact, that in the end, the author found success in administration, not in the creative, hands-on craft he so loved. Knowing other craftsmen, I know that most find it difficult in the extreme to both achieve success and have normal (mean ...more
Ben Vogel
Apr 19, 2016 Ben Vogel rated it it was ok
If you have a deep interest in this subject this book might appeal to you more than me. I am a very handy carpenter, builder, hobbyist, and tinkerer. More than most, perhaps. so I expected to highly identify with the author's work based on the title. Instead, despite moments, I was mostly bored by his personal story and his rather generic thoughts on craftsmanship, building an artisan woodworking school, and so forth. Blah, blah, blah. I was like the dog getting instructions from his owner in th ...more
Mar 12, 2014 Danielle rated it really liked it
Clearly and concisely written and outright philosophical in places. This is a great book for anyone who finds themselves dedicated to a craft. Korn's points are well-reasoned and well-researched. I found especially wonderful his observations about self-fulfillment, the craftsman's relationship to society, and the role of commerce in craftsmanship. He does lean on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi disproportionately, which makes me wonder where his blind spots lay. It can be hard to get through in the dens ...more
David Owens
Jan 02, 2017 David Owens rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this as preparation for a presentation I am writing about using ethical ideas about craft to frame software development. would have liked to hear more of the “why” that he touches on, but never seems to get into any real detail about. The sections where he talks about the focus of personal development being introverted vs extraverted would benefit from being fleshed out in more detail.

Despite this There are a number of view points in here that will be helpful for that. I have made a lot o
Dec 05, 2016 Carole rated it liked it
5 stars for the ideas, ~3 stars for the execution. The writing is best when Korn is talking about his own life. It's overly formal and academic for its own sake when he's discussing more abstract philosophies and ideas. The author seems very dismissive of "corporate" life, but I actually think a lot of his ideas apply to anybody seeking meaning and fulfillment in their work, even if they do happen to work in those dreaded offices. And finally, while I'm sure this wasn't his intention, in Korn's ...more
Ricky Irvine
Apr 21, 2014 Ricky Irvine rated it really liked it
Shelves: wood-and-craft, 2014
"Ancient materialism . . . is the belief that objects have mana: that the miraculous power to provide spiritual sustenance resides in the object itself, not in the achievement of ownership. We enshrine the original manuscript of the Declaration of Independence because it has mana; we revere hallowed paintings in museums because they have mana; we make pilgrimages to the Shroud of Turin because it has mana."
Christopher Mcaleese
Oct 12, 2015 Christopher Mcaleese rated it it was amazing
A very nice story well written about one man's life journey through the design world. I like that his life took time and he never seemed to feel rushed or pressured, as unrealistic a world view as this is these days. A nice argument for focusing on craft, design, learning a trade, working with one's hands. I've been reading this off and on for a few months, and for me that seems to be one should read it. You need to let things sink in some, and mellow then read a bit more.
Jacob Mclaws
Apr 01, 2015 Jacob Mclaws rated it really liked it
Shelves: design
More notes to come as I go back through my bookmarks, but this was an interesting quick read. Peter Korn is a studio furniture woodworker with some deep thoughts about why humans really love to make things as well as how this love of craft and making influences our lives and society. Some profound thoughts in here. It was a bit like a woodworkers version of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance...
Gary McCallister
Mar 30, 2016 Gary McCallister rated it liked it
Mostly a story about his personal journey, with some ruminations about life as an artisan, the philosophy of choosing such a life, and the difficulties in making a living as an artisan. Not terribly compelling, although it is always interesting to read about another's journey. I felt like some of the philosophical stuff was justification or a reach. It's not that there isn't great significance in making, he just didn't really capture it.
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“Every man-made thing, be it a chair, a text, or a school, is thought made substance. It is the expression of someone's, or some groups, ideas and beliefs. The two-hundred year old double hung, six light sash window in the wall opposite my desk, out of which I am looking at this moment embodies ideas about houses and how we should live in them, tools, technologies, standards of craftsmanship, nature and much else. It is a material manifestation of the collective consciousness of its time and place channeled through the individuals who commissioned and made it".” 1 likes
“there are three different contexts in which one can participate in a creative field. For shorthand, I call them the first-person, second-person, and third-person voices. You” 0 likes
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