Craftsmen, Their Craft & Materials They Use

tools1 There’s a paradigm of thinking today that merits the value of a product based solely upon the cost of the materials used to build that product. More than once, a customer or potential customer, has expressed to me that the cost of one of my whips is higher than it should be, simply because the whip is built of synthetic materials. In their eyes, because a certain whip is constructed of nylon or polyester paracord, it’s not necessarily worth the price tag, no matter the time or attention given to construct that whip. This same line of thought is evident in view of many handcrafted items, whether they’re clothing items, custom made knives, guns, custom woodwork products, leather work, braided reins, gold & silver jewelry, etc. I can’t say how long that type of thinking has existed, but it’s only been fairly recently that I’ve given it much thought.

Of course, the material used in a product’s construction, certainly has a bearing on the overall value of that item, but it’s not the only variable in determining an item’s worth or value. Some time ago, a person well known in the knife industry, contacted me about building him a certain model whip, built for a specific application he had in mind. When I gave him the cost of the whip, his response was the same as I stated previously; he didn’t feel it was worth that price because it would be a nylon whip. I thought it strange coming from him, as he also designs & makes his own products & charges what he feels his wares are worth. He also had been given a whip by some friends that I built, which he raved about in an email to me, speaking highly of its construction. When I asked him if he felt that his products were worth their respective prices, comprised of the skill & time he’s spent in producing them, he of course said yes. At that point, he understood & respected my position. I built him the whip & he loved it, agreeing that it was well worth the price.

Several people have asked me, when they first start offering their whips for sale, how to price their whips. Ultimately, it’s something that each of us needs to come to grips with; an equation with no single right answer, a formula with no proofs or givens. I look at it this way:  it’s a mixture of a few things…time, cost of materials, value to the end user & market demand. Of course the cost of materials is figured into the price, but it’s not just the materials that are being purchased by a customer. The customer is paying the craftsman for his/her time, their skill level & attention to detail. Also, the value that a product gives the customer, the benefits & enjoyment, is a huge consideration in its price. A product’s overall worth isn’t measured by its price alone; value is measured by how much a person is benefited by a particular item. I believe the least influential aspect in determining a product’s monetary value is the market demand.

Please understand, this isn’t me venting; I’m not complaining about things people have said to me. I’m not being defensive over anything, just simply expressing my views & opinions on some things. I know many don’t agree with me on this subject, but I also feel that most who craft & build things for a living do. This post may seem to shoot off in many directions. These thoughts sort of came to a head while in the middle of building a whip. Specifically, I was binding the first belly on a 6 ft bullwhip with a 12 inch handle thinking about how the pattern & design of a whip is related to everyday life. Call it waxing philosophical or something like that smile_wink. Following are some more thoughts on the subject of being a craftsmen.

Tools don’t make the craftsman, the craftsman makes the tools. I remember hearing a statement when I was a boy:  “A craftsman is only as good as the tools he uses.” Any of you remember hearing that? I’ve said it myself many times, yet no longer believe it to be as true as I once did. One of the jobs or skills my mom possessed was that of being a seamstress. She had a simple sewing machine, yet frequently hemmed pants & garments with just a simple needle & thread. She knew what to do, how to do it & did it proficiently. My dad worked as groundskeeper for the local schools for many years, after having worked repairing & removing trees & trimming shrubs. Often I remember watching him edge the walkway with a pocket knife, even though an edging tool was hanging in the garage. The lines were as straight as if an edging machine was used. He probably could’ve used a steak knife just as well. It’s true that specific tools help make a job go a bit easier, or perhaps quicker. Tools are designed to achieve specific results, those results being what the craftsman envisions. The tool is simply a way to realize that vision or goal. Many tools that are widely produced today were at one time fashioned by hand by craftsmen. They knew what they wanted to achieve, so they made tools to help them achieve those results. Pretty basic stuff. 

Materials don’t warrant more or less skill or attention to detail based on that material’s value. Nor does the type of material used in a product’s construction necessarily affect the amount of time needed in constructing that product. Many synthetic whips that I build take roughly the same amount of time that it takes a leather whipmaker to build a leather whip. I don’t look to cut corners or skimp on the quality of the whips. Regardless of the material being used, a craftsmen will work his skill to his utmost best.

A craftsman takes pride in his work, not the tools or materials he’s using. Some tools or materials offer some advantages over others; this is certainly true. Some tools speed up certain processes, saving time. Some tools are easy to love. Some materials are more finicky to work with than others. Yet someone who takes pride in his/her work will take the time needed to please the craftsman within. However much time it takes, that’s how much time it will take. No matter how much work is in the book, or how many customers are waiting on me, I try not to rush through anything. My aim is to build each whip with the same amount of pride that I would if that whip was my own. Each whip is a representation of my skill & craftsmanship, & may be the only whip of mine that someone has ever seen. I want it to be a fair & consistent picture of what I do.

Thanks for taking the time to read over my rantings. It’s not my intention to sound preachy or overbearing in my opinions. These are just some thoughts that may or may not help you in some way. If they do, please let me know, I’d love to hear it. If something I’ve said has offended anyone, whether in this post or in others, let me know that as well & explain your views. We all see things through our own eyes & experience life differently. It helps to hear others views on things. Hope you enjoy your weekend!

~Steve Huntress,

Noreast Whips.

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7 Responses to Craftsmen, Their Craft & Materials They Use

  1. Rhett Kelley says:

    Excellent article Steve. I’m with you 100% on this.

  2. Very well written article Steve. Ironically the very same people who often complain that prices do not reflect teh physical cost of materials, are most often in “service based” occupations such as doctors or lawyers who seem to feel justified in their rates because of the cost of their educations.

  3. Sandy says:

    I SO agree with you, Steve. It’s only recently that I’ve learned to stand by my prices, unapologetically. When folks ask me to make or alter something for them, they’re drawing on years worth of experience, problem solving and self-education; not just the time they’re paying for right now. All the years that I’ve put in to learning my craft is how I can look at the project and know what needs to be done (or not done) and understand just how to go about doing it.

    One thing that Gary has observed in his work, is that it always seems to be the “professionals” (often with plenty of money of their own) who have little regard for the value of his work. The regular guys understand.

  4. Pingback: “Your handles are High Priced!” | Synthetic and Supersonic

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