I notice that as CNC routers and laser engravers are becoming more and more common in woodworking shops, they are getting used quite often, but I really can’t look at that as woodworking because it takes the human hand and human skill out of the equation. Sure, you have to program the computer to create what you want, but it isn’t the woodworker making the design, it’s a machine.
So should we consider this woodworking? I vote no.
There was a point in time that if you wanted to add an intricate design to your woodworking, you had to pull out your carving tools and do it all by hand. It was genuine artistry and it commanded a premium because of the skill of the woodworker. Today though, anyone can pull out a laptop and a CNC machine and download a design file and produce the same thing with no skill and virtually no time.
What’s worse, because almost anyone can do it, it really takes away from the artistry of people who still hand cut their own work. I’ve always admired those people. I don’t do it myself because none of the work I do is designed to be that complex, but for those who choose to do it, it’s impressive. Today though, you can never be sure if it’s real or automated. Some might compare it to Photoshop, but at least the people using Photoshop have to have some skill using Photoshop. Not so with CNC. There are thousands and thousands of designs already online, free for the taking, just plug them in and hit go. You get a perfect result every time. That’s great in a production setting, it sucks for people who value hand-crafted artistry.
That said, I really have no interest, at least for the moment, in my shop. I just don’t do any of the artsy-fartsy detailing work in my woodworking. I have personally touched every inch of every piece I work on, every cut is guided by hand, every design element is built personally, I drilled all the holes, I drove all the screws, I was present for every moment of the process. I didn’t just hit enter and leave while the machine did all the work. I don’t think I could, in good conscience, claim such work as my own.