Over the past five years, I have generally focused on simplifying things at the component level, with relatively few projects resulting in a standalone device. At this point, I believe that work is complete. From here on, I intend to focus on craftsmanship, and on putting my simplified components together to make useful technology. But what is craftsmanship? Is it the ad-hoc accumulation of skill, or can it be developed systematically? More importantly, can craftsmanship be simplified?
As I have come to understand it, craftsmanship is the mastery of materials: a carpenter masters wood, a machinist masters metal, and so on. But if any material can be mastered, craftsmanship as a whole is infinite and unassailable. This mindset leads individuals to focus on one skill at the expense of all others, to avoid becoming a "jack of all trades". In reality though, skills and materials overlap and are interlinked, so focusing exclusively on one discipline is a crippling mistake. Furthermore, only a small handful of materials provide the structural foundation for the vast majority of projects, and their associated skills are easily learned. But what are these materials?
The above materials are inherently simple. They are time-tested, with all five being known since antiquity. Their associated skills are well-documented and contain significant overlap. They are reusable and environmentally benign, being derived directly from natural substances. Their strengths and weaknesses complement each other, and all are mutually compatible. In combination they provide a unified aesthetic, yet are versatile enough to support a wide variety of decorative styles. They are widely available in all parts of the world, and do not rely on complicated or proprietary manufacturing processes. In general, they are suitable for all that I intend to do. There are exceptions, however, which I find fall into three categories: surface treatments, natural resources, and specialty materials.
Surface treatments consist primarily of coatings, adhesives, and lubricants, which I have investigated thoroughly over the past two years. In general, they consist of various combinations of natural oils, resins, waxes, starches, and proteins, along with mineral ingredients where pigments or fillers are necessary. Their exact composition, however, depends on the task at hand and the relative availability of their components.
Natural resources are materials that are minimally processed, but fit more-or-less into one of the major categories. Common examples are stone, leather, and bone, which map roughly to (fired) clay, fiber (cloth), and wood, respectively.
Specialty materials are highly engineered for a particular task, and are capable of displacing simpler options by virtue of their performance; the most common example of this being vulcanized rubber. In general, I intend to minimize the use of these materials due to their inherent complexity, but under some circumstances it may be necessary to utilize them.
The above list of materials, now well-defined, will serve as a design guideline for upcoming projects, which in turn will test the validity of the concept. Furthermore, these projects will provide experience in working with these materials, and if I am successful in using them, I intend to write far more extensively about their associated skills and techniques in the future. For the moment though, I consider this list a reasonable starting point for myself or anyone else interested in developing a complete understanding of craftsmanship as a whole.