Applying the Ethos of the Craftsman to Our Everyday Lives

The ethos of the craftsman is as old as humanity. It’s one that we strive to emulate in our work, but often fail at because it requires time and dedication. In this article I will go over how “The Crafts Man” can be applied to everyday life, showing you how to use a simple yet powerful mindset for the betterment of yourself and those around you during any given situation

The “famous poems about art” is a poem written by William Butler Yeats that talks about the importance of appreciating and understanding the arts. It has been used as an example of how to live life in a way that is true to your values.

Painting of woodworkers craftsman working in workshop.

The archetype of the artisan has symbolized man’s capacity to create and has been a mark of mature masculinity throughout cultures and time. He is homo faber, which means “man the maker.” Rather of passively consuming and allowing things to happen to him, the artisan actively changes and modifies the environment to his liking. The artisan has been utilized by ancient thinkers in both the West and the East as a symbol of someone who contributes to his society and as a sign of humility, self-reliance, and quiet industry.

Images of a bearded guy with a leather apron and rolled-up sleeves toiling away in his workshop making beautiful and useful products spring to mind when we think of the ideal artisan. What’s remarkable is that the ancient Greeks had a far broader definition of an artisan than we have now. Aside from masons, potters, and carpenters, the ancient Greeks classified vocations currently known as “knowledge professions” as craftsmen, such as physicians, legislators, and administrators. Even a father’s labor was considered a trade in its own right, requiring the same level of care and attention to detail as a carpenter’s. Indeed, the ancient Greeks thought that everyone should strive to live by the principles and ethos of craftsmanship. A man may reach arete, or excellence, in this way, and thereby enjoy eudaimonia, or a happy existence.

Over time, the concept of craftsmanship became limited to the technical arts. Physicians and legislators no longer saw themselves as craftsmen, but rather as philosophers and natural scientists interested in the theoretical rather than the practical. It’s a pity, since the values of craftsmanship apply to all men, whether they build furniture or crunch statistics. We’ll look at how these broad concepts of the traditional artisan may be applied to all aspects of your life, regardless of your vocation, in the sections below.

Many of these themes have already been discussed on the Art of Manliness. To have a better understanding of the principles presented in this article, click on the links provided.

Doing things well for the sake of doing them well is a good thing to do.

“Make every product greater than anything you’ve ever seen before.” Make the bits you can’t see just as good as the ones you can. Even for the most basic goods, use only the finest materials. Pay as much attention to the tiniest of details as you do to the biggest. Build every thing you make to endure a lifetime.” – Shaker Furniture Making Philosophy

The desire to accomplish something well for its own sake is fundamental to the rule of craftsmanship. Sure, the artisan is compensated for his efforts, but it is not the amount of money that defines how effectively he performs. Even if it’s for nothing, a genuine craftsman will labor until the project is finished and done properly. In his book Shop Class as Soulcraft, philosopher and motorcycle repairman Matthew B. Crawford tells a narrative that highlights the craftsman’s obsessive adherence to this ethic.


Crawford had received an old Magna motorbike that required clutch repair from a customer. Crawford was able to fix the clutch issue without difficulty, although he did observe that the engine’s oil seal seemed to be “buggered.” He attempted to repair it but was unsuccessful. Because of the damage and the nature of the oil seal, it would take a lot of effort and time to replace it. He walked out of his business, frustrated, for a cigarette. While the smoke filled his lungs, he had the following thought:

“It would be great for business if I forgot I’d ever seen the ambiguously bugged oil seal.” The clutch functioned well with a newly repaired slave cylinder. So what if my wild guess about the leaking oil seal causing the slave cylinder seal failure was correct? The issue would take a long time to resurface, and who knows whether this individual would still possess the bike by then. I shouldn’t make it my concern if it’s not likely to be his.”

He couldn’t quit thinking about the faulty oil seal as he went back inside the shop:

“The urge was taking hold, and I was unable to stop it. My peripheral vision narrowed as I began probing at the seal. I pretended it was exploratory digging at first. But the seal was being damaged by my screwdriver, and I had to abandon the forensic pretense at some point. “I was going to throw that f***er out.”

Crawford goes on to describe how, because to his thoroughness or just simple interest about fiddling with things, he’d frequently charge his customers for less hours than he really spent on a bike:

“I feel obligated to satisfy, or at least seem to achieve, the efficiency requirements established by [an independent mechanic].” So I lie and say a work took 10 hours when it really took twenty. To make up for it, I tell them my shop rate is forty dollars per hour, although it’s generally closer to twenty. I still feel like an amateur, just as I did when I first began, but I hope that by using these technologies, I may look as someone who knows what he’s doing and bills accordingly.”

Crawford didn’t care about the money; what mattered to him was doing a good job for the purpose of doing a good one.

This crafting ethic may be applied to more than simply physical products. You can do things well just for the purpose of doing it well, even if you do more ethereal stuff. Although a monetary compensation may be given for completing an exceptionally thorough job, it is possible that it may go unrecognized by one’s client or supervisor. The sense of satisfaction that comes from knowing you gave a project your damnedest effort is the most satisfying reward of living by the craftsmanship ethic. It’s the indescribable joy of seeing one’s inner integrity reflected in the completeness and excellence of one’s exterior work.


Make a strategy (But Not Too Much)

Painting illustration of cobbler working on pair of shoes.

The artisan produces twice with each project: first conceptually, then physically. The artisan has already imagined his work before putting chisel to stone or hammer to wood. In other words, he devises a strategy for extracting the thing from the jumble of materials and equipment in front of him.

The artisan, on the other hand, recognizes the necessity of planning but isn’t too concerned about it. The great craftsman prefers a crude drawing over comprehensive plans because he understands that once he starts working, unanticipated issues (or opportunities) might surface. In his book The Craftsman, philosopher Richard Sennett claims that the rough drawing serves as a “working technique for resisting premature closure.” It provides framework while allowing for improvisation and alteration if necessary.

In the manner you arrange your life, follow the example of the artisan. Imagine what your perfect life (and even year, week, and day) would be like, and then draw down a basic plan for making it a reality. Some people make the mistake of attempting to plan out every little detail. When things don’t go according to their ideal design, their over-planning might lead to dissatisfaction. Worse, a man’s unwavering devotion to a meticulously structured life plan may lead him to lose out on more gratifying possibilities that he could not have anticipated. When it comes to planning, establish a rough plan on the trestle board of your life and make course corrections as you go about your daily tasks.

Once you’ve measured twice, you’ve cut once.

Although it’s not always easy to put into practice in daily life, this is one of the most straightforward and unforgettable maxims of craftspeople. To summarize, although you should allow space in your plans for improvisation, when it comes to making choices you won’t be able to reverse, be sure you’ve properly researched and considered your options before making your “cut.”

Use What You’ve Got

Vintage car auto mechanic working on engine under hood.

The master craftsman recognizes that he will seldom have the optimum materials, equipment, or working environment. Unexpected knots in wood are uncovered, and hidden flaws in stone are exposed. Rather of being annoyed by such setbacks, the great craftsman changes his ideas and incorporates these flaws into his masterpiece such that no one would ever notice. He may even turn the flaw into a source of strength for the piece on occasion.

When a craftsman lacks the precise tool he needs, he makes do with what he has and learns something new in the process. “Getting better at utilizing tools comes to us when the tools challenge us,” says Sennett, “and this challenge frequently arises simply because the tools are not fit-for-purpose.” They may not be good enough, or they could be difficult to figure out how to utilize… However, when we begin to utilize it, we discover that the tool’s inadequacy has taught us something.”


We cannot control every facet of our lives, just as the artisan cannot control precisely what he has to work with. To work with, we’re all given distinct resources and situations. Some of us have physical or mental disabilities. Divorce, accidents, and job layoffs are all examples of setbacks. Instead of fighting against it, embrace it like a master artist. Instead of perceiving these limitations and contingencies as roadblocks, consider them creative chances to integrate into your life as distinct and intriguing textures. Remember that some of history’s greatest individuals converted a potential flaw into a strength.

Patience is a virtue to cultivate.

A competent artisan has the patience to persevere through difficult tasks, even if they take longer than expected. He avoids irritation by following the rule: if anything takes longer than expected, stop fighting it and enjoy it.

Many of our modern-day problems might be avoided if we could only cultivate the craftsman’s zen-like patience. We moderns have an odd expectation that everything should happen right now. We want communications to be replied straight quickly, and we even anticipate results right away. Stop attempting to be like Mark Zuckerberg. He isn’t your typical success tale. The truth is that things nearly always take longer than intended, particularly good and noble ones. Rather of battling it, accept it like the calm artisan. When you acquire the virtue of patience, your life will become instantaneously more joyful and less stressful.

Allow Your Ego to Go

Vintage swordsmith working on curved blade.

Because it is the only way he can progress, the artisan freely accepts instruction, criticism, and judgment from his colleagues and customers. Because the artisan is more concerned with performing excellent job than with feeling good about his work, he does not take criticism personally. Nobody cares how a skilled craftsman feels about his job, he understands. Finally, he realizes that the only question that counts is “Does it Work?”

“The merchant must contend with the unerring judgment of reality,” according to Crawford, “where one’s errors or deficiencies cannot be reasoned away.” The craftsman’s work isn’t ambiguous in any way. As Crawford points out, the artisan must be able to point and say, “the building stands, the automobile now runs, the lights are on.” The artisan must encounter equipment that decide if his creation or repair is “true” – the level, the square, the compass, the plumb, and the ruler — in addition to being able to concretely illustrate whether his creation or repair genuinely works. With these instruments, there’s no room for error. A carpenter’s shelf is either level or it isn’t.

We’ve been taught by modern society to believe that feeling good about our job is more essential than really doing excellent work. We’re told in self-help and career books that we should go for job that feels “genuine.” Schoolchildren are taught that the only thing that matters is how hard they work, not whether or not their work is excellent or proper. Crawford refers to this focus on sentiments rather than achievements as a consumer ethic rather than a workmanship ethic.


The issue with the consumer ethic is that it produces people with bloated and fragile egos who are unable to resist the harsh critiques and judgements that come with life and work. Clients and managers don’t care whether you worked extremely hard on a project or felt “genuine” while drafting a note. The only thing that matters to them is the outcome. It is common in life to make errors in order to improve. You won’t be able to improve if no one ever brings out your flaws.

If you want to be the greatest man you can be, you must abandon the consumer ethic of emotions in favor of the artisan ethic of outcomes. Is your invention functional? Is it appealing? Does it make a difference in the world? If not, get some comments and utilize it to better your work.

Enhance your practical knowledge

The artisan acquires what Robert Greene refers to as a “masterly intuition” after years of practice. By just looking at or listening to an item, he may detect issues and solutions. It’s similar to how a guy may tell if anything is amiss with his automobile merely by feeling how it drives or hearing something faint that wasn’t there before. Crawford claims that a great craftsman’s ability to intuit and operate on “gut instincts” helps him to “know what to do when the rules run out or there are no rules at all.” It’s what permits a professional auto mechanic to detect a transmission issue even though electronic test equipment indicates the car’s gearbox is OK, or a carpenter to know what kind of joint to use on a job.

This kind of insight was known to Aristotle as phronesis, or practical knowledge. The ancient philosopher felt that phronesis was a virtue that all individuals, not only carpenters and masons, should cultivate. When faced with issues in which there is no obvious right or wrong solution, practical knowledge is what permits us to make smart decisions. It enables us to “do the right thing at the right moment and for the right purpose.” Practical knowledge for daily life, according to Aristotle, develops in the same way that artisans gain theirs – through experience and trial and error.

Mastery gives meaning to life.

Painting of woodworkers craftsman working in workshop.

The real craftsman’s objective is mastery. The would-be artisan spends years of his life as an apprentice, meekly submitting to silent observation. He keeps a close eye on his masterwork and listens intently to his directions. An apprentice starts experimenting with his profession after years of passive observation to establish his proficiency. He gradually sharpens his expertise over years of trial and error. Even after achieving mastery, a craftsman continues to commit his life to continuous development. He realizes that by improving his abilities, he is growing his worth. The craftsman who masters his profession is better equipped to live by the craftsmanship ethic, which helps him to experience higher personal pleasure, gain confidence, contribute to his society, and therefore find greater purpose and fulfillment in his job.


Daniel Pink’s book Drive cites studies that shows that, contrary to common opinion, it is not the sort of job we perform that leads to personal satisfaction. Rather, happiness comes from mastery of our task (together with autonomy and purpose). If you’re looking for significance in your profession or life, follow in the footsteps of the artisan and pursue mastery. Make it a mission to consistently enhance your programming skills if you’re a programmer; if you’re a manager, study the latest management research and apply it to your everyday job if you’re a manager. You’ll boost your self-efficacy and capacity to make a difference in the world if you pursue mastery.

Locate a Workshop

We typically image the stereotypical artisan working alone in his shop, yet the vocation of a craftsman has always been, and continues to be, a profoundly social one. When a master craftsman wanted to talk shop with his peers, he’d travel to the guildhall, where fresh ideas were exchanged and guild laws were considered. A craftsman’s workplace is now, as it was before, the center of his social life. He guides and educates an apprentice or journeyman here, as well as working alongside his colleagues and interacting with customers.

The workshop and guildhall provide a feeling of community, identity, and belonging to the worker. Crawford describes the sense of community that craftsmanship produces as follows:

“As a result, my employment places me in a certain neighborhood.” The limited technical items I’m interested in are part of a bigger circle of meaning; they’re used to support an activity that we identify as part of a well-lived existence. This unspoken understanding serves as the foundation for a relationship guided by concrete pictures of excellence.”

A craftsman’s workshop is, at its heart, an honor society. It’s home to a tiny, close-knit community of guys who follow a code of honor — in this instance, the workmanship ethic — that governs and influences their conduct. Traditional honor encourages and drives men to be the greatest, as we explored in our piece on resurrecting male honor. Honor’s close-knit group acts as a check on narcissism and reminds a guy that he isn’t the center of the world. More significantly, honor gives a man’s life significance.

Find your metaphorical workshop and imitate the artisan. Make it a point to build life-long brotherhoods. Find a platoon of guys who will hold you to an honor code that requires excellence and honesty in all you do.

Whether you spend your days knee-deep in sawdust, paperwork, or diapers, you’ll discover greater personal satisfaction and purpose, benefit your family and community, and hammer, shape, and sculpt an indelible legacy as a man by embracing and practicing the traditional principles of the artisan.

Whether you spend your days knee-deep in sawdust, paperwork, or diapers, you’ll discover greater personal satisfaction and purpose, benefit your family and community, and hammer, shape, and sculpt an indelible legacy as a man by embracing and practicing the traditional principles of the artisan.


Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman

Matthew B. Crawford’s Class as Soulcraft is available for purchase.

Robert Greene’s Mastery





Related Tags

  • what is ethos in literature
  • ethos pathos logos meaning
  • ethical appeal definition