I was planning a post about my tap and die project. Or more accurately, my tap and die case project. The focus was going to be “how” I made a wooden case to replace the plastic case that came with the new tap and die set. But - then I thought, hmm, it might be more interesting to talk about "why" I would spend shop time replacing a new, functional plastic case...
With a new, functional wooden case.
This is really a discussion of aesthetics. The plastic case was useful to me – that is, by any objective measure, it did all that I needed it to do. It closed tightly, held each tap and die separately and securely, and was tough and durable. In fact, I think I could argue that measured only objectively, it would surpass the utility of the wooden case, being more durable and accepting of physical abuse. However, subjectively, in terms of being aesthetically pleasing to me, it failed miserably.
There is a school of thought (championed by architect Louis Sullivan) that “form ever follows function.” I interpret this to mean that the function of an object is of primary importance, and its appearance or form is of secondary importance, and driven by the function. Objective trumps subjective. The plastic case fits this ideal – the way it looked was determined by what it was being asked to do namely, protect the contents. However, what if I expand the notion of function, of what I am asking it to do; to include being aesthetically pleasing to look at, touch or smell? I mean, come on, I am going to be spending precious shop time with this thing - what if I want more than mere utility? What if the job of the case is to both protect the contents and do so with some degree of beauty? I guess this would change the statement to “form is function” or at least “function is at least partially composed of form” or maybe “Form’N’Function BFF” or something like that.
In The Nature and Aesthetics of Design, architect (and wood worker) David Pye wrote: “It seems to be difficult for people in our day to accept the fact that the subjective results of design are ultimately as important as any objective ones can usually be and that they are indeed necessary to anything worth calling life.” I think what he is getting at here, is that we humans are not robots. We have, and should nurture, a soul. And the soul craves art and beauty as much as the mind craves function and utility.
So, I guess this is how I would explain it: Why did I make a new, wooden case for the tap and die set? Because it made my soul happy – that’s why.
Now, why did I do it with hand tools only? Ahhh… well… same answer actually.