Chris Schwarz's Blog

How Hand Tools Made Me a Better Power-tool Woodworker

This weekend I built a contemporary lamp for the August 2011 issue of the magazine that was all-electrons, all the time.

It has been a while since I have worked this way – usually my mode is to use machines for the heavy lifting and hand tools for the details. And I was surprised by how I approached the power tools differently after a long walk on the so-called “dark side” (meaning no electricity).

1. Don’t Jig It. Do It.
For this lamp I had to make several small discs of plywood of different diameters. My first inclination was to build a circle-cutting jig that I could use on the band saw and the disc sander.

But after laying out the circles, I decided to try making a couple just freehand. I cut them right against the line on the band saw – no jig – then cleaned off the sawblade marks on the disc sander. Again, no jig.

If they aren’t perfectly circular, I sure as heck can’t tell.

2. Geometry is Your Friend.
For the base of the lamp, I had to array three holes around a circular surface angled at 22.5°. Instead of using arithmetic (or SketchUp) to pinpoint my holes, I merely struck an equilateral triangle on the face of the disc and erected perpendiculars off each vertex on the 22.5° edge. Then I used dividers to find the midpoint. No numbers.

Best of all, it was almost impossible to make an error in locating the holes this way.

3. Routers Love Traditional Workholding.
There was a lot of pattern routing and routing of tiny parts for this lamp. My wagon vise and an improvised planing board secured in my wagon vise made short work of things. No router mats.

In the end, my hand-tool approaches made the power-tool operations even faster and easier for me. And I wasn’t having to rely on trial-and-error to set up jigs, which is a task I dislike.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not about to take the fence off my table saw. And I’m not trading in my smoothing plane for a random-orbit sander. But it is nice that my traditional skills are helping my modern ones.

— Christopher Schwarz

2 thoughts on “How Hand Tools Made Me a Better Power-tool Woodworker

  1. B.Ross

    Amen to that brother. I have long ago figured out that in order to move forward in wood working, some times you have to move backwards (in time). Hand tools allow you to do more woodWORKING, rather than setting up a jig for an hour to do two minutes of actual woodwork.

  2. BLZeebub

    Yours is exactly the notion I peruse. If I can do it by hand within a given time frame then there I go. I only make a jig if: 1) if there are safety concerns, 2) if there are going to be multiples, 3) if I really need to “machine” the part exactimundo to save time. Otherwise, I’d rather do it by hand while “Kind of Blue” wafts through the rafters of my shop.

    As always,
    BL

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