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What Is Workmanship?

Daniel Liden
By Daniel Liden
Updated May 17, 2024
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Workmanship generally refers to the quality of work evident in a particular object or crafting project made by a craftsman. There are many dimensions, depending on an object's purpose, that contribute to the general notion of the "quality of work" of an object. In many cases, the practical utility of an object is of the foremost importance, and workmanship is judged almost entirely based on how well the object serves its intended function. In other cases, artistry is at least as important as, if not more important than, practical utility. "Workmanship," then, cannot be considered a completely objective measure, as it depends heavily on the needs of the individual who is to use the crafted object.

A high level of workmanship is not always the goal of an assembly process, as high-quality work tends to cost more money than work that is merely usable. In many cases, quality and price are directly correlated, and less expensive work costs less. It also tends to be much easier to maintain high levels of production if quality standards are not extremely high. Various automated industrial processes can be used to mass-produce works of reasonable quality, but the highest standards of workmanship are generally produced by hand over longer periods of time.

Classically, the term "workmanship" is applied to objects produced by craftsmen, such as furniture and glass products. It can, however, be applied to other products, even those mass-produced through industrial assembly processes. This includes consumer electronics, such as cell phones, music players, and computers. Many companies set minimum standards that all of their products must meet in order to be placed on the market.

Sometimes, individual craftsmen may become well known and respected because of their skill and because of the workmanship evident in the objects that they produce. This is common in crafts such as woodworking, metal working, glassblowing, and other fields that allow the craftsman a great deal of personal creativity. Just as in art forms such as painting or sculpting, a craftsman may develop a personal style that those familiar with the field can readily recognize. Developing such a personal reputation can greatly enhance the craftsman's ability to sell his work and may even earn him lasting artistic acclaim. Generally speaking, however, a craftsman will not be able to attain such high levels of acclaim without being able to demonstrate a very high level of workmanship.

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Discussion Comments

By RocketLanch8 — On Apr 02, 2014

@Cageybird- I think there are still some craftsmen out there who remember what workmanship means. I ordered some cabinets for my new kitchen last year and they didn't arrive for a while. I thought the cabinet maker lost the order or something. As it turned out, he took that extra time to hand carve some details and do some custom scroll work on the handles. He didn't want to put his company's name on a nondescript set of cabinets.

By Cageybird — On Apr 01, 2014

I remember when I was young, my dad would take us to an actual shoe shop downtown. An older Italian man made leather dress shoes by hand, and that was the only place my dad would buy his shoes. He told me that the shoe maker came from a time when quality workmanship was an important thing. The man had stacks of leather all over the place, I remember, and he had a son who repaired shoes next door.

I haven't seen a shoe store like that in decades. People now just run into the nearest department store and grab a pair of shoes that fit. Once that pair wears out, they run in and get a new pair. Workmanship just doesn't seem to matter as much anymore.

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