Maintaining product quality

I was listening to an NPR program recently in which a woman who made ‘artisan’ jellies was asking about selling her products. The advice she was given was to remain small and not attempt to mass market her products.

The reason offered for this was that large-scale production and marketing requires major compromises to the product. This holds true for woodworking products as well.

I have been down this path. I was making chessboards, one a time mostly but also in runs of 10 to 20. As long as I did not try to exceed this volume, I was able to protect the high level of quality I had committed to. But beyond that, I had to start looking at ways to cut corners in order to produce enough product in a short enough timeframe and at a price point that worked for the resellers. At one point I even considered having the boards made in Costa Rica where labor and materials were much less costly than here.

My conclusion, like that of the radio advisor, was that the product loses its integrity when taken to a mass-market formula. I’m thinking that, for the most part, this is an axiom. Mass production and artisan product integrity are mutually exclusive at least using today’s big business model.



  • Jerry Finch says:

    David, You are perpetuating the myth that “it is only quality if it is handmade.” The answer to the dilemma is to “tool up” to meet the challenge. Higher technology multiplies the effect of each hour of labor. I am not referring just to CNC machines, but to making better use of the tools you have. I once was foreman in a small shop that built pipe organs Each of these contains 75-100,00 parts. We often needed several hundred small identical wood parts made to tight specifications. When I was hired they were laying out and making each part individually because ” it is only quality if it is hand made, like they did in the 15th century.” I taught them to think through the job and build jig or fixtures that would allow “mass production” of hundreds of parts easily. The quality IMPROVED and efficiency went up exponentially. You just have to be smarter than the wood!

  • Dan Brummitt says:

    Well, what about Thomas Moser? Not a BIG producer, perhaps, but certainly a lot bigger than most of your readers/subscribers …. and having been following him/them for, I’d guess, 30 + years, I’ve often found their quality as good or better than I could provide on my own or with one or two employees …

    It’s hard but it’s not impossible to mass produce at high quality … look at Apple Computers or BMW. And when it happens it’s a beautiful thing to see/experience… better, in my opinion, than many of the jewel like pieces that have been slaved over for hundreds of hours and provided their makers with little more than subsistence. It takes intelligence, fanatasism, energy and it probably doesn’t hurt if you’re German.

  • Chuck R says:

    Bravo, Jerry and Dan, Bravo!!!

  • Kevin S says:

    Jerry and Dan, I think you focused too much on the strict quality aspect of what David brought up. David also mentioned integrity and labor cost. You can produce a very high quality item (solid, durable, accurate, etc) that has also compromised the design to simplify production. Removing aesthetic details that take extra effort or simplifying joinery to speed up production are the compromises that I believe David was getting at. These are the important details that are lost in the pursuit of a lower price point.

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