The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

CNC Machines vs. Craftsmanship

Can parts made on a computer controlled machine legitimately be said to exhibit “craftsmanship?” We all know that good craftsmen work with the tools they have available. Now ask yourself, If a craftsman has more or better tools, does that make him any less of a craftsman? We think not because each additional tool requires additional skills to make it useful. Clen Tomlinson's Deltic engine project is a case in point where the beautiful results of a very challenging project would have been almost impossible to complete without the use of CNC. Below are Clen's thoughts on the subject. While this may not resolve the debate, it certainly adds some interesting definitions to make us think further about the roll of man and machines in the process of producing craftsmanlike results.

Clen Tomlinson is seen with his partially completed Napier Deltic engine at a model engineering show in Oregon. The 18-cylinder, 36-piston, 3-crankshaft engine is an extremely complicated and difficult project no matter how it is made. But is it "craftsmanship" if computer controlled machines are used in the process? See Clen's page in the museum for more photos of the engine and decide for yourself. Clen lays out some of his thoughts on the subject below. (Click on photo above to view a larger image.)

The Debate over CNC Craftsmanship

by Clen Tomlinson

The debate regarding Craft and Craftsmanship has prompted me to examine my understanding of these words. I offer the following ramblings for you to “toss into the ring.”

A Dictionary definition is historically predictable:

            CRAFT:  “an activity involving skill in making things by hand”

            CRAFTSMAN:  “a worker skilled in a particular craft”

Taken literally and applied to the process of modelling including model engineering, would suggest we should be restricted to hand basic hand tools such as a hammer, chisel, hacksaw and files or even a whittler’s knife! At the other end of the spectrum few would allow the Craftsman the use of the latest computer driven Rapid Prototyping equipment.

I am sure most observers would allow us to employ the occasional drill press, lathe, mill and grinder as a substitute for our lack of craftsmanship to produce acceptable degrees of accuracy. It also seems OK to use the DRO to overcome the inadequacies of our overused machines and to simplify the process of compensating for wear and tear. I use a computer to control my machine to make the process a practical possibility. Due to the intricacy and minute dimensions limiting the speed of metal removal I do not regard it as acceptable to stand and wind the handles to achieve the results that take the CNC process over two days to complete some operations unaided.

My time is better spent pursuing my skilled and creative craft of creating a design, method and process which will allow me to “get what I want.” I do not regard the swarfe (chip) making process as intellectually stimulating.

It is clearly acceptable to use CAD to produce the drawings from which we manufacture our models. The technology exists to allow the computers to carry on unfettered by us humans to make our models for us. I would suggest that would be a “step to far.

I found two definitions of A Craft which appeal to me:

“To describe something as a craft is to describe it as lying somewhere between an Art (which relies on Talent) and a Science (which relies on knowledge).”

“It is an intellectual and physical activity where the maker explores the infinite possibilities and processes to produce unique objects.

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