There is no place for CNC machines in Craft.

What did I mean when I made this statement recently on Instagram?
To begin I would like to clarify, I am not a Luddite opposed to digital technologies, yearning for the past, the old ways, we use and rely on these technologies ourselves in various ways.
I think the first thing is to define Craft, craft exists alongside, or stuck between, two other activities; art and manufacture/making.
It seems to me that the purpose of art is ultimately the self expression of the artist. The purpose of manufacture/making is simply to make, nothing more. The difference between art and craft is that craft is about making something of use, self expression is secondary. Clearly there is, and should be craft in art, also making in art. Likewise there can be craft in making, but not art in making.
Craft could be generally defined as the applied skill of the artist or craftsperson. The craft of singing, dancing, ceramics, painting, woodwork, the list goes on. David Pye referred to this as the Workmanship of Risk (WoR) In our work we mitigate this risk firstly by skill and knowledge, also by introducing elements of the Workmanship of Certainty (WoC) jigs, templates etc. Even the most basic shooting board eliminates a lot of WoR but still falls within WoR as it does rely on the hand skill of the maker. Also making of the jig in the first place, ensuring the shooting plane is sharp and set up properly, and last but not least, the knowledge of how to use it correctly.
As a person practising the old tradition of furniture making I am the recipient of the centuries of accumulated knowledge of the craft, most of which has been learned by other people’s mistakes. It is my duty in exchange for this knowledge to preserve it, add my little bit and then pass it on. So this is one general/overall definition of craft, the skilled and knowledgeable activity of whatever it is we are doing.
However I think it was George Nakashima who lamented the passing of Craft in favour of skilled technicians. There is an element of craft that goes beyond the application of the physical skill and knowledge of the craftsperson and it is this area where I think that cnc technology has no place. This very personal, direct and intimate relationship with the material and the working of it can have no intermediary. A cnc machine cannot feel or smell the material, anticipate what the material will do. Make subconscious corrections in the working. It’s just a machine, usually very expensive but just a machine, a tool and not always the best tool for the task in hand at that. Because of the expense cnc machines frequently are used when really they shouldn’t, or designs are changed to suit the machine…
CNC machines function in what David Pye defined as the Workmanship of Certainty (WoC) Although the programming, CAD drafting and general setting up of the machine do come under his heading of WoR. As he notes in regard to making of jigs etc.
It is this aspect of craft, the one on one relationship where a cnc machine has no place. A good design can be made with a cnc machine. Their speed, power and accuracy is amazing, having once owned one I can attest to this. However their use falls in the realm of making and manufacture. Whether it’s useful objects or art, it doesn’t matter, they make stuff and that is all. But this activity all falls in the realm of making, not Craft with a capital C.
Progress brings new methods and technologies, frequently surpassing and superceding those that went before. Digital technologies do this at a pace never seen before. Whilst operating and programming a CNC machine are new skills, frequently highly skilled for the operators. Likewise CAD and particularly 3D CAD. But this comes at a price, mostly laziness. Getting the machines to do things simply because it’s easier. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. My work frequently involves compound angles. Do I calculate these the old way? No, I make a 3d model and measure the angles. I get my patterns and jigs etc laser cut. I could do them by hand but I post rationalise to myself my laziness by sayings it’s quicker and more cost effective this way (which it is!)
I mitigate the WoR in the shaping of the components of my furniture by using templates etc made by WoC. Assuming that the setting up and drafting (WoR )are done correctly. But it’s still up to me to machine these parts successfully (WoR)
Can a craftsperson subcontract some of the making/manufacture side of their activity to another maker? Yes of course. Does it make a difference if this subcontractor is a machine? No. The great sculptors and painters in the past certainly had assistants who did the bulk of the tedious roughing out work. The great master only monitoring progress then adding the final refinement and touch of genius.
If I claim to be craftsperson and it transpires that I give very detailed instructions to someone else who actually does the work, am I still a craftsperson? Does it make any difference that other maker is a machine?
Clearly there is an aspect of craft generally that is highly concerned with manufacture/making and to a certain extent efficient working is part of this aspect of the craft. There are many aspects of furniture making that couldn’t really be described as pure craft. Thicknessing timber for example. We listen to the sound of the cutter block to monitor what’s going on but providing the machine has been set up properly (WoR) we really are almost totally in the realm of Workmanship of Certainty
WoC is about the removal as much as possible of human error and variation in what is going on and this, to me at least, removes whatever vital spark the WoR adds or leaves in the work. There is no freedom or diversification.
Craft with a capital C to me is all about the intimate relationship between the craftsperson and their medium. It is about the process and interaction more than the product, David Pye’s words are still very relevant and prescient but he was still primarily concerned with the product and not the process. You cannot get someone else to kiss your lover then claim to have kissed them yourself. Even though your lover has certainly been kissed.
This is why I think that there is no place for cnc machine in Craft, within the very specific definition of Craft, above.

Pop-up at 67 York Street from 20-26 May


Norfolk-based contemporary furniture brand par-avion co. are joining forces with Battersea-based luxury craft brand Dovedale Design Studio in the heart of London for one whole week of events, talks, demonstrations and a pop-up display at 67 York Street in Marylebone, London.

Be prepared for an exploration of materials, familiar and unfamiliar, through a specially curated selection of products demonstrating the utmost commitment to handcrafted quality. Both brands represent an ongoing dedication to preserving a sustainable design economy, while exhibiting stunning craftsmanship at the highest level.

par-avion co. is a furniture and lighting design partnership consisting of Simon and Monica Cass. Showcasing their original ‘pi stool’ alongside many new furniture and homewares launches, their work is evocative of a carefully crafted process that mixes traditional craft and modern styling.

Dovedale Design Studio is a luxury product design partnership consisting of Oliver Tebbutt and Charl Heynike. Their limited edition runs of Damascus steel and bog oak chef’s knives and Spanish cedar-lined humidors will be on display alongside new pieces evocative of their contemporary yet traditionally crafted style.

For further queries please contact:

Monica Cass, Partner at par-avion co., +44(0)7584228798,

Charl Heynike, Partner at Dovedale Design Studio, +44(0)7793822428,,

British Craft Pavilion at the London Design Fair from 21-24 September

We are excited to announce that we will be at the London Design Fair at the Old Truman Brewery next week, exhibiting as part of the British Craft Pavilion.  Stop by and see us from 21-24 September.  You can register for your pass here or contact us if you are press/trade for a complimentary pass.

We have two brand new launches being showcased this year: the pi-cubed bench, which is the third and largest size in our pi stool range (pictured above); and an oak slatted daybed featuring a delicately handwoven mat made from English rush harvested from Oulton Broad in Lowestoft.

Finally, we will be taking part in a panel discussion titled, “How We Make Things” on Sunday, 24 September at The Common Cafe situated in the British Craft Pavilion.  Along with Forest + Found, Stoff Studios and Julian Mayor we will be talking about where ideas come from, our conceptual approach and how we collaborate with others (and each other!).  The talk is free and open to the public. You can register for the talk here.

We look forward to seeing you all there.  If you make it down, be sure to say hello!

Simon & Monica

Summer Sale Continues at par-avion co.

We have had tremendous response to our Summer Sale and have decided to continue the savings all summer long. Through the end of August you can finally pick up an original or bog oak pi stool at special low prices on our webshop, but only while stocks last.*

We are also extending the discount code for our other items available online. Just enter ” pi-summer17 ” at checkout for 15% off off your entire order. This code may be applied to all orders worldwide – within the UK as well as orders shipping internationally.
Make the pleasures of summer even more memorable with an extra treat of a British-made piece from par-avion co.!

*Available only to customers in the UK and Europe. After stock runs out you can still order the pi stool in any wood, finish or seat, but the sale price will no longer apply. This promotion ends at midnight (GMT) on 31 August 2017.

par-avion co. SUMMER SALE

The summer is here and we have had a great 2017 so far!  The pi-squared stool was successfully launched at Clerkenwell Design Week in May and we have a pi-cubed and daybed already in the works for a debut launch at the London Design Festival in September.  With so many new products landing this year that can mean only one thing: STOCK CLEAR OUT!

For one week only you can finally pick up an original or bog oak pi stool at special low prices, but only while stocks last.*

We would also like to offer a discount code to all of our customers worldwide which will entitle you to 15% off at checkout.  As the pi stools are already discounted they are excluded from this promotion, but anything else is fair game!  

Just enter ” pi-summer17 ” at checkout and it will be automatically applied to your order.

We hope you enjoy the rest of your summer, particularly if it involves treating yourself (or someone else) to something exquisite from par-avion co.!

*Available only to customers in the UK and Europe.  After stock runs out you can still order the pi stool in any wood, finish or seat, but the sale price will no longer apply.

Launched at Clerkenwell Design Week 2017: the pi squared stool

The pi-squared stool is the second major release from our pi stool range. Like the iconic pi stool, the pi-squared stool draws on the signature shape borrowed from the mathematical symbol, while stretching the proportions to create a more delicate curve and provide a more versatile product than the original design. And as with all of our designs, the pi-squared stool uses ethically-sourced and environmentally-friendly materials.

Texture and colour are key to the intriguing aesthetic. The contrast between the rigidity of the oak frame and the soft give of the woven paper cord seat create a perfect balance between structure and comfort. The colour of the oak has been fumed with ammonia to create a deep, dark brown, similar to the 5000 year-old sediment-rich bog oak that we use with our original pi stool. This darkness starkly contrasts the lightness of the natural coloured seat providing a clear distinction between the two elements.

While the design of the stool remains functionally and formally simple, the manufacturing process behind it is much more complex. With subtle-yet-specific angles of leg-splay in both directions, several of the joints are made up of compound angles, the execution of which is accomplished through a design process informed by computer aided design.

A series of laser cut jigs were created from these digital files, allowing us to shape the parts with machine and hand tools to fit together seamlessly, like a well-formed 3D puzzle. While our stool is ultimately bonded together with solvent-free wood glues, this design feature is heavily influenced by the traditional complex construction joinery that still holds together many of the centuries-old buildings of Japan.

To accommodate the woven seat, the frame has shallow notches designed in the top rails to take the depth of the 3.5mm Danish cord so that the weave sits at the same level as the frame when finished.

Every element of the Pi Stool points towards simplicity of form, excellence of craftsmanship and quality of materials. Our environmental commitment combined with a sensible artisan design aesthetic pleases both the conscience and the eyes.

Stay tuned for a video in the next few weeks showing the design process that goes into making a pi squared stool from start to finish.

Visit us at Clerkenwell Design Week 2016

Next week, from the 24-26 May 2016, we will be exhibiting our latest pi collection at Clerkenwell Design Week in London. If you’re in town, please stop by and say hello. We will be in the Platform venue at the House of Detention on Sans Walk, Stand P8a, from 10am-9pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The 2016 pi collection features the original Danish Modern inspired pi and pi-squared stools made from European and bog oak, with traditional Danish cord or split cane woven seats.

par-avion co. is a furniture and lighting design partnership based in Norfolk, UK. Husband and wife team, Simon and Monica Cass, carefully curate a mix of modern styling with traditional crafts in the fields of furniture making, wood turning, basket making, seat weaving and pottery.

Supplementing the furniture is a range of homewares using local and natural materials. These pieces complement the pi stool range while using completely British-sourced materials such as bog oak, willow skein and clay.

“Our aim is to design and make good quality products at a reasonable price,” explains partner Simon Cass. “Our interests lie in design pieces that weave classic sensibilities with artisan techniques. We hope what we make is timeless and will be treasured for many years to come.”

New products to be launched at Norfolk-by-Design and Clerkenwell Design Week 2016


We are pleased to announce that we will be unveiling our full “pi collection” at Norfolk-by-Design and Clerkenwell Design Week 2016. The “pi collection” features the original Danish Modern inspired “pi stool” in both European and bog oak and the “pi2 stool” in reclaimed woods, all with traditional Danish cord or split cane woven seats.  

This product line is evocative of a carefully crafted process that mixes traditional craft and modern styling.  Utilising local craftsmen in the fields of carpentry, metalwork, basketmaking, seat weaving and pottery, the collection represents quality handmade pieces with a classic design style.

Supplementing these furniture designs is a range of homewares using local methods and natural materials.  These pieces mimic the “pi stool” range while using completely English-sourced materials; bog oak, willow skein and flint from Norfolk, as well as oak and clay from further across Britain.

Our aim is to design and make good quality products at a reasonable price.  Our interests lie in design pieces that weave classic sensibilities with artisan techniques.  We hope what we make is timeless and will be treasured for many years to come.

Back to the Bronze Age with par-avion co.

We are quite excited that our bog oak pi stools have finally started production. Bog oak is a very interesting timber and is actually oak trees that died and fell into peat bogs (marsh)around  5000 years ago. The peaty water and lack of oxygen preserves the timber and turns it a wonderful dark brown to black colour. It is also very hard and heavy.

The bog oak we use is extracted from fenland not far from here and is usually pulled out of the ground by farmers, frequently when they hit the hidden trees when ploughing. In years past it was generally burned but now there is a demand for this wonderful resource and the timberyard we work with is able to source some really good quality logs.

These trees were alive around the start of the bronze age when many people here in Britain were probably still using stone tools. We get a direct link back to these ancient times when we handle and work with the bog oak, a real sense of who we are and where we came from.

What’s in a name: par-avion co.

par-avion co. is not a retro company but the name does refer to a time when the luxuries we have were appreciated for what they still are. We do our best to reduce our carbon footprint by manufacturing and shipping locally where we can. We try to use renewable materials in a sustainable fashion. Our aim is to provide well designed, good quality items that are intended to last and transcend fashion trends.

Our lives in the developed countries are filled with luxuries, many of which we take for granted or even deride. Not so long ago air travel was seen as the miraculous luxury that it actually still is. A great many people take this so much for granted that air travel is now seen as something to be endured rather than marvelled at.

Tuna fish was once a delicacy, now it has become a default cheap protein source, with disastrous results for the tuna and many other marine creatures due to commercial over fishing.

Our lifestyle in the developed countries is a direct result of our education systems. Education is a legal obligation for parents and our governments alike.  For many people in developing countries education is a luxury not a right, especially for girls. We support the charity Room to Read in their efforts to redress this by donating a percentage of our profits.