Feb 28, 2018

Looking for a Bit of Process Inspiration? Watch These Historic Pathé Craftsman Videos

If you’re committed to greatness in your craft, there’s no better way to improve than to mimic the masters. But if you need general inspiration to help you keep going in your pursuit of excellence, it’s helpful to watch any kind of expert at work.

In 2014, the newsreel archive British Pathé released 85,000 high resolution historic films to YouTube. Among these are a fantastic collection of newsreel footage from postwar factories all around Great Britain. It’s mesmerizing and, if you’re a maker, a bit humbling to watch these skilled men and women exercise their trade with such aplomb. (Not to mention, the peppy English narrators, using that classic clipped 1950’s news reporting style, are really funny.)

Thanks to the wizardry that is the Internet, there are hundreds of them available at your fingertips today.


One specific thing to note for each of these makers is their economy of movement. Sure, they’re working quickly, but more important is their pinpoint accuracy. This is a perfect example of the maxim I stole from Tim Ferriss, who stole it from the Special Forces, and which I constantly use in my work as a speed check: “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.” The fact that there's no wasted movement, no stutters or hiccups or guesswork, makes plain that these skilled workers learned, in their apprenticeships, how to slowly apply their craft correctly. Only after thousands of hours of repetition were they able to make hundreds of things of impeccable quality at such a relentless pace.

The craftsmanship videos aren’t in a specific collection, but a quick search of “British Pathé making” will bring them up. Here’s a small selection of my favorites (with corresponding quote highlights):


Globe makers:

"A fraction of an inch out will put the world miles out of joint."

Guitar makers:
"All this, to make a bedlam of adolescent noise."


Wallpaper makers:

"But behind Pa's painstaking plans for patching up the parlor is a complex and colorful world."
Cricket bat makers:
(No funny quotes on this one. Just classic woodworking!)


"Rock toffee" candy makers:
"The final product is, in fact practically a work of art, it seems a pity to eat. Ah well, who cares about art, anyway?"


Kilt makers:

"The chalk marks are for the contours of some braw Highland hips."

Clog makers:
"They're also good for people with flat feet, which hasn't yet inspired us long-suffering Britons to toe the continental line."


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