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No More Paint
The craftsman begins with raw material.
The craftsman does not begin with nothingness, with void. Maybe the Great Creator does, but not the little creator. Man merely transforms.
The craftsman is not at odds with his material - he is a partner with it. It has unique properties, which the skilled craftsman knows how to best use. He knows that concrete is too brittle for a hammer, and wood too soft - only metal will do. Only steel will do. Only 1045 or better steel, will do.
I notice a trend.
Most really good craftsmen hate paint. There are two reasons. The first, of course, is that paint is annoying to apply - it’s messy, it needs prep work, it’s hard to get consistent, it smells… the issues go on. But the other point is a philosophical one and very key.
Paint hides the material reality of a thing.
It’s fake, like so much of our culture. We have plastic that’s been shaped and colored to look like wood and wood that’s been ground up to be turned into plastic. Imitation marble slabs. Fake shingles. Textured sheetmetal. I think our culture today hates materials (or at least it came to a head in the 80’s and we’re still living in the repercussions). We are deeply dissatisfied with what they can do and their limitations, or at least with the costs.
Wood is a gloriously strong material.
One of my favorite things about the floor in my home is that it is wooden. Not linoleum, but wood. Does it have notches where things get caught? Sure. Is it perfectly flat? No. Is it infinitely durable? Also no! But on the whole, it is a beautiful thing, and it comes out of respecting the dignity inherent in the raw material - respecting the dignity of a tree.
Medium-Density Fiberboard is an engineered wood product made by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibres, often in a defibrator, combining it with wax and a resin binder, and forming it into panels by applying high temperature and pressure.
If a nice 8x8 beam is a steak, then a 2x4 stud is a hamburger… and MDF is the impossible burger. It doesn’t really matter that the fibers came out of a tree or just some dandruff. This is a completely manmade product. And that’s… fine. The great thing that MDF has going for it is consistency. It’s flat. It doesn’t have any of the twisting or warping problems that solid wood or even plywood will have.
But you wouldn’t showcase that face. It’s ugly. Tom Sachs can write a love letter to plywood (even though paint is involved), but nobody is asking MDF out to the prom. You put a paper bag over that ugly head.
MDF has to be painted.
Or veneered. It has to be hidden.
We have based so much of our furniture on this model of putting lipstick on a pig; of hating the raw material (trees) so much we grind it up, put a bunch of chemicals in it, and put it in a giant industrial mold to make sheets out of it.
Maybe I can take things too far. There are salient use cases for paint, I’ll admit. But our culture is a culture of far too much paint; I will not be complacent in its overproliferation.
Be a good craftsman - use good materials, and love them well.