Chris Schwarz's Blog

Why Do This Crap By Hand?

QUESTION: Although I am not in the woodworking trades, my son is. And last year I offered to pay his tuition at Peter Follansbee’s workshop in North Carolina on riven-oak wood boxes. I showed him all the purty pictures on Peter’s blog chattering all the while about “how cool is this? Boards are split, not sawn, the wood is green, blah blah blah.”

He looked at me like I had a third eye in the middle of my head and said, “Are you F!@#$%^ crazy? Why would anyone do all that with hand tools when power tools are available?” I muttered something lame about how learning traditional woodworking could help one in the power tool area, but he wasn’t buying it at all.

So the question is: Why is traditional woodworking important?

ANSWER: Wow. This is going to require both a Scottish ale and a separate blog entry.

It’s a valid question, inasmuch as I work in a shop with an embarrassing array of power tools and machinery. The stuff we have is expensive, accurate, well-made and all that. Yet I still find myself doing more and more by hand every year. Why?

Senior Editor Glen D. Huey and I have talked about this a lot. He considers himself a power-tool woodworker and posits that most power-tool woodworkers are interested in results (completed projects) whereas the hand-tool people are more interested in process (cutting everything by hand).

I don’t disagree. Working by hand is a far more enjoyable process for me. I like every stage of building when it involves my hand tools.

But that doesn’t capture it entirely for me. For me, I think the difference between machine and hand woodworking is the hunger for pure skill. Let me explain.

In the summers I drive a 1968 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. Yes, it looks like a sports car, but underneath its steel skin is a flat-four 53-horsepower air-cooled pokey thing. I think that some grocery carts could outrun me on a track.

Yet, while driving that car I am difficult to pass on the interstate, and I regularly smoke Mustangs, Camaros and even a few Porsches (take that, Ferdinand). When driving in congested areas, it’s not so much your engine, but understanding the road ahead. You must know your vehicle as intimately as your spouse. And you must look far ahead to see trouble and opportunity in the traffic patterns.

It took me years to become that sort of driver.

Same goes with hand tools. When building one-off projects, I’m not particularly slow compared to the power-tool people I work with. Hand tools let me take short cuts (no jigs or test cuts) that give me an edge (like a manual transmission, really). And hand work is different than power tool work. There is no “sanding stage” where you drop everything and spend a day refining all your surfaces.

With hand tools, if you’ve done things in the correct order, you’re ready to finish as soon as you assemble. And that is very cool.

Most of all, I am proud of the skills I’ve had to develop to do this. And I’m amazed at how easy they come. The first few skills are a bear to acquire (sharpening, flattening a board, sawing to a line). But after that, the skills tend to feed on each other and you find that nothing , really, nothing , is outside your grasp.

And you don’t need to buy a jig to do it. And you don’t need to spend a week working up the courage to try making banding or grounding a carving. The next skill is just one little step away.

So are traditional skills important? Yes, to those who understand traditional skill. Because it competes with modern skills, it’s a bit hard to demonstrate or explain to the unwashed public. Both traditionalists and modernists can build nice stuff that (to the public) looks about the same.

So for me it just comes down to my favorite quote of all time:

“The things I make may be for others, but how I make them is for me.”

, Tony Konovaloff

– Christopher Schwarz

35 thoughts on “Why Do This Crap By Hand?

  1. Greg Nehls

    Having been without a shop the last six months and soon to be getting my own shop here at the house. Has given me the time to re-evaluate my woodworking skills and methods of work. The use of hand tools has taken a fore front in this thought process. While I have a mix of tools both hand and power. I find that many times I incorporate the two because of the tools I have on hand for the task. Since my new shop will be half of what I’m accustom to, buying more machines will be limited. I have decided it is time to upgrade my hand tools and to slow down in my craft and learn new methods of work. I also start kids out with hand tools so that they know how to use these tools when the time comes that they aren’t able to use a machine to get the job done. For instance if your tenon is to tight using a plane or chisel to pare down the tenon for a good fit. In this case the hand tool becomes the tool of choice because of the quickness to do the job, as opposed to re-setting the machine to pare down the tenon. For me woodworking is a lifetime of learning different aspects of woodworking, and learning to use all of my tools as proficiently as possible. Your only as good as knowing how to use the tool your using.


    i too find the enjoyment and sense of accomplishment when working with hand tools instead of power tools. and like Mr. Schwarz was saying, i think by doing and learning to do by way of hand tools, also teaches you things/steps of the process of completing a project that you would never learn or even notice when using strictly power tools. another way to look at it is, if you are not at least knowledgeable in the individual steps that need to be accomplished during a project, what are you gonna do if your half way through a project and one of your tools "poop the bed" and you have a deadline to meet, and no money to repair/replace your tool. (and lets say your a hermit and dont have a friend that can loan you the tool or $…lol)…
    i am 32 but i am one of those who seem to have been born in the wrong time in history…and it is so nice to hear when someone else (especially one as talented and gifted, and also has a prominent voice in the woodworking community) has the attraction to the more traditional ways of woodworking. i am not saying that items made with power tools are "inferior" in any way, but there is just something comforting about knowing an item has been crafted by hand. there is definitely still something to say for the craftsmanship and love for your work and love for the actual materials that go into a "hand made" piece. power tool lovers please dont fret, i still am astonished, impressed, and have an incredible amount of respect for your years of dedication, hard work and shear skill..look at it as a good thing that we have these differences in the way we do things…otherwise we might as well stand on an assembly line and slap a mass producer label on our work…
    thank you all for your posts

  3. Shannon Brown

    I’ve tried to give this time so I could properly write my views down, add something of note, not sound like a jerk in the process. I’ll be surprised if I do any of the above, but here goes.

    One of the benefits of having multiple interests is the ability to compare and contrast various trends and attitudes that take place within those interest. the hand tool v. power tool debate in woodworking reminds me of the free weight v machine weight debate from the late 70’s in the body building/ power lifting circles and the acoustic drum v electronic drum debate in drumming circles.

    Mostly the debates broke along generational lines (as most do). With the lifting debate many of the old guard saw the new machines as being for wimps, posers, and women (it was a tad sexist back then. Was too young to witness it first hand, but some of the books and articles wrote during that time defiantly raised my eyebrows.); while the younger guys saw free weights as dangerous and inefficient. With drums, the old guard said electronic drums were for people who couldn’t play while the younger guys saw acoustic drums as primitive and limiting.

    So what does this have to do with hand tool v power tools? Well, once again there is a generational divide. But here it get’s a little interesting. Most of the hand tool enthusiast, as I can tell, tend to be ageing baby boomers and young, neo hippies. In both cases there is a strong does of psychology going on here. With the baby boomers, these tend to be older men, many who came from working class backgrounds, and who went to college and got white collar jobs. These might be men (and they are mostly men) who either rejected all tools together or at least hand tools in specific. And by embracing hand tools, they are, by proxy, embracing fathers they might have spent the whole of their early adulthood trying to rebel against or escape from. For the neo hippies, they see hand tool work as a carbon neutral, environmentally friendly way of working.

    So, what am I saying? Well what was the question? “Why should someone work wood with hand tools when power tools are available?” Well the true answer, the real answer, the only answer is, there isn’t. Plain and simple. But there’s no reason not to. In fact if one think this has anything to do with woodworking (or drumming or weightlifting) is missing the point. The real question is, “What is the psychological and emotional benefit of using this product, engaging in this activity, and doing so in this way?” Wood doesn’t care if it’s ripped with a 100 year old Disston saw or a brand new Grizzly table. Those only matter to the person doing the ripping and only the individual can answer that. We can say why WE work wood that way, but that’s it.

    When I started working wood, I was a power tool only guy. Then after I couple years, I sold all my power tools and machines and went hand tool only. Five years and several thousand dollars later, I’ve just about replaced everything I sold off. What I found is I didn’t like using one approach over the other, I liked both equally. I like having both the ability and freedom to pursue both. But that’s me and only me.

  4. Steve Branam

    I’ve just completed building my Roubo. After running my stock through a benchtop planer, I did all the rest by hand. I documented the whole process on a blog, with a video at the end demonstrating the features of the bench. Click on my name to see it.

    Sure, it was a lot of work, taking over four months of a few hours here and there. But the satisfaction of knowing it was me doing all the work, and not my machines, is immense. I feel like I really accomplished something. It grew my skill set tremendously and gives me the confidence to do more ambitious projects. No more fears about awkward setups. Just do it.

    Why do it by hand? For the pure joy of it.

    Certainly that’s the hobbyist’s viewpoint, where I can afford to spend any amount of time, but that joy is the reason it’s a hobby.

  5. james

    Wow, alot of comments. I think thats right, its results VS process and fact is, most folks are only willing to pay for results.

  6. Rob @ Evenfall Studios

    You are right Chris,

    The difference, mostly, is between our ears. It’s kind of a "do what you love and the rest will come" philosophy. Eventually a statement like that will come to matter.

    Sign me, Enjoying the Journey,

    Bests, Rob

  7. tms

    Hey Chris,

    My wife accompanied me to a wood working show one day, and while walking by the ShopBot booth, I commented that there seemed to be more of that type of woodworking presented than in the past. She replied,
    "That’s not woodworking, that’s wood machining."

    I gave her a big hug, and told her I love her.

  8. Ray

    RE: "…hmmm, I drive a Morgan…probably should be using hand tools exclusively…"

    I drive a 1931 Model A Ford truck almost exclusively, with a home-made bumper sticker on it that says "What would the Woodwright do?" I guess that plants me squarely in the handtools-only camp as well (though I do have an early-50’s Shopsmith hidden away in the back of my barn for use on those days when my joints are hurtin’…).


  9. Bruce Jackson

    Curiously, I’m reminded of the Ballad of John Henry – gonna die with my Disston in my hand, Lord, Lord, gonna die with my Disston in my hand. Or gonna die with my chisel in my hand, Lord, Lord, gonna die with my chisel in my hand (if the context was cutting mortises).

  10. Chris C

    This philosophical thread has been pulled a number of times on
    these blogs. It’s always an interesting conversation. I think
    a lot of the choice has to do with why you are in the shop.

    If you are getting paid to make furniture you likely work for speed. I would guess, especially if you are making multiples, that
    means mostly power tool work. There are likely some operations
    that are faster with hand tools, and it probably would not take
    a pro long to figure out which ones. Thus, Glenn Huey’s opinion.

    But if you are in the shop for pleasure most woodworkers are likely to pontificate over the following:

    1. Loving the time spent in the shop, they try to strike a
    balance between doing the woodwork and actually turning out
    something useful.

    2. Being inherently curious and resourceful, they slowly take
    to hand tools which are harder to master but also more
    satisfying in a lot of ways. This is true of almost anything: the
    harder it is to do and learn, the more you are likely to appreciate it.

    3. Realizing that some operations are quite fast with hand tools,
    but others painful, they compromise with #1 above and blend

    For me, I almost never flatten or square any appreciable amount
    of stock by hand. It is a slow and tedious process, even for those that are good at it. On the other hand, if it is just one
    or two nice wide boards…

    Let’s face it, we can get all Marshall McLuhan here and suggest
    that the general use of machines to replace human labor dehumanizes and eventually atrophies the individuals original
    faculties. Who can argue this is not the case?


  11. Sean

    The resulting piece is different when made by hand. The touch and focused attention of the maker comes through in a way that tends to give peices more soul – more expressiveness and individuality.

    Raffan has a book with a turned chess set in it. His caption notes that the hand turned set has a life that is unmistakable – where a machine turned set would be cold and dead and a less proficiently turned set (i.e., too much variation) would be amateurish and unpleasing. Handtool woodwork is like that to me – a way to produce things that have that life in them.

  12. Adrian

    A professional is going to be concerned about how much time something takes. Power tools are usually faster than hand tools at actually cutting the wood, which might give someone the impression that they are always faster at getting the job done.

    As noted above, this may not be the case when you take everything into account. I got an inkling about this when I did a task that took about 1 minute of cutting with the router. But I spent 45 minutes setting up to make that cut and probably another hour building a special router baseplate. That particular task could have been done with hand planes in probably 15 minutes. Fifteen times slower than the power tool…except for that darn setup time.

    So when you see the chips flying there can be an illusion that power tools are faster when they aren’t really because you forget about the time spent on setup, test cuts and so on. But if you’re a professional then the situation gets more complicated, because if you do production work where you make many of the same part, the time to build the jig and your setup may be insignificant. And even if you don’t do production work as such, if you build fairly generally useful jigs then you may be able to reuse them on the next project.

    Working as a hobbyist where you make just a few pieces you’re less likely to make the same (or a similar) one again. Certainly my outlook is not to make another one just like that but rather, now for something completely different. So I’d be less likely to be able to reuse jigs. (I have never used the special router baseplate again.)

    One of my other conclusions from the experience above is that I personally find making jigs and devising ways to guide and control power tools kind of boring. I didn’t enjoy the 45 minutes I spent setting up to make the cut. There’s something pleasing to me about being able to just mark the wood and then go straight to work. I like how direct that process is. (Of course, this is a hobbyist perspective.)

    I disagree that you need to use hand tools to be able to tell if the job is done right. I think it’s possible to evaluate the job without being able to cut it on either hand or power tools. Does it fit together? Are there gaps?

  13. Bob Rozaieski

    "He looked at me like I had a third eye in the middle of my head and said, "Are you F!@#$%^ crazy? Why would anyone do all that with hand tools when power tools are available?" I muttered something lame about how learning traditional woodworking could help one in the power tool area, but he wasn’t buying it at all."

    Obviously, he has never tried to build anything his power tools are not capable of doing. Ask him to make a tombstone rasied panel door or a ball and claw cabriole leg and let’s see him come up with a way to do that with only power tools ;). There are plenty of things that simply cannot be done completely with power tools, but I’ve yet to see a piece that cannot be built completely with hand tools (though I admit, that certain things one would not want to do with hand tools).

    I think part of his son’s response might have to do with the fact that woodworking is his profession. His reasons for doing it are not the same as those of us who work wood as a hobby. Sure, he may like his job, plenty of people do, but it’s still his job. So when he is woodworking, he has a job to do, he’s not doing it for the pure enjoyment of woodworking. His goal is to get the job done, so his mentality is that power tools are less effort and hand tools are more work.

    I work in a position that has me sitting at a desk and using a computer all day. Sure, I could hand write all of my memos and do all of the statistics and calculations I need to do with a calculator, but I certainly wouldn’t want to. I like my job ok, but I don’t want to take a class on technical writing or advanced statistical modeling on the weekends. To me, it’s a job, and I leave that life at work at 4:00.

    Interpreters (e.g. Cherubini, Follansbee, etc.) and magazine writers aside, I don’t know any woodworking trades persons (carpenter, finish carpenter, furniture maker, etc.) who would ever consider doing everything by hand. I think most of us who are more interested in the traditional aspect of the craft are hobbiests who choose to work this way because it allows us to step out of our everyday, CNN, dot com lives. When I go into my shop, it’s not just about the woodworking; it’s the simplicity, the quiet, the contemplation, the relaxation. I did not get this kind of satisfaction when I worked with machines. Hand tools give me that.

    But at the same time, it’s not an occupation for me. I don’t have to do it; I don’t get paid to do it. There are no expectations that I deliver X by Y. It’s my choice and I do it for me. If I had to do it to put food on the table and a roof over my family’s head, I’m not so sure I would feel the same way.

  14. Ethan


    If you can’t get Schlafly’s Scotch Ale in your area, let me know. I’ll set a 6-pack aside. Then, we just need to get you to teach a class at the St. Louis Woodcraft and you can enjoy one of the finest Scotch Ales in the land!

  15. Joe Barry

    I was trained as an Industrial Arts teacher and spent several years teaching followed by several more as a commercial cabinetmaker doing high end corporate and residential work. This was machine woodworking at its pinnacle. At one job the foreman looked at my toolbox on the first day and told me to take it home. "If you can’t do it with a router and a belt sander then you shouldn’t be doing it!" I was fortunate to also do an internship at The Apprenticeshop in which I was taught to use hand tools. I have always done "blended" work but I find myself doing more and more hand work. I used to rely on machinery for the precision but found that I was also designing around the limitations of what the machine does well. I have found that hand tools are sometimes faster and more precise. Rather than spending hours designing, building and fine tuning a jig I can cut a tenon and fine tune the fit much faster with a handsaw and plane. I can listen to the boom box as I work rather than encased in a facesheild, mickey mouse ears and dust mask and my shop isn’t covered in dust. The experience is much more pleasant and the work is better for it. I have not seen a sanded surface that is the equal to a planed surface.
    I’m still not giving up my table saw and planer though. I’d rather do the rough milling with power than to rip maple and cherry by hand.

  16. Barry

    I’m a blended type of guy… even in the way I see the comments above. I think the question that has to be asked first is "What are we making"?

    I usually prefer hand tools for non-production type of work, like fitting, smoothing as I assemble, etc… on one-off furniture.

    However, when I’m building a kitchen, or something else with lots of identical parts, I’ll take the table saw, mortiser, pocket hole jig and power drill, thicknesser, etc… and be very, very happy! I still might cut hinge mortises by hand, or I might jig a trim router.

    As for comments like "if you can’t do it by hand, you can’t do it right by machine…", I’ll respectfully disagree.

    I have seen lots of fantastic work done by folks who had gained knowledge of what the highest quality results needed to be, and who had taken the time to fully understand the machine and materials The best results require a full understanding of what a beautifully made item needs to look and feel like, regardless of what tool is used to make it. Once we have this understanding, we will usually reach the conclusion that hand skills are necessary or better for specific operations.

    My experience is that folks who may have started out by four squaring board after board by hand were simply taught differently. This is especially true for students in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, who weren’t being trained to create, but to work in a factory. There are currently lots of schools that can teach a woodworker to create a fantastically fine finished product using machines for the repetition, and hand tools when they’re best.

    This is a great discussion with lots of excellent comments!

  17. Scott

    The Japanese have an aesthetic appreciation for made objects that is summed up in the phrase ‘born, not made’.
    A highly valued object has a uniqueness and character all it’s own. It comes out of the artisan. You can feel and see the maker in it. Machines are wonderful. They are effectively duplicators and serve as that-reducing time eaten up by redundant processes. But few machines can effect the laying on of hands to a work.
    I am in the midst of the birthing of what must now be the 10,000th roubo a la schwarz. I cannot even begin to tell you the number of errors in this project. But the hand-made dowels for the drawbore, handplaned surfacing and some carved details (to come) and a really sore back from throwing it around are all mine and in it. Every stiff step I take I think of the making of the bench and love my effort.

  18. Gye Greene

    Coming from a slightly different perspective: I feel that using mostly (or all) hand tools means that **you** are doing the crafting, not the machine.

    It’s kinda like telling a quilter "Why are you bothering to make that quilt? You can buy one at K-Mart for fifty bucks…" Or telling someone who paints landscapes, "You know — they have this invention called a ‘camera’…"

    It’s about the crafting and handling and **do**-ing.


  19. Chuck Bender


    Here at the school I teach blended woodworking. I was taught that, as a professional, you do it by machine until the only way to do it better is by hand. For me this means I plane or scrape all my surfaces and I hand cut all my dovetails but I’m not chopping all my mortises by hand. It just isn’t an efficient use of my time.

    Learning the hand tool method of doing any process gives the woodworker a complete understanding of what the machine is doing. When I teach students to flatten a rough sawn board with a hand plane, they actually understand a power jointer and planer better. Consequently, they use them more efficiently and effectively.

    When I demonstrate a technique by hand, invariably one of the students says "ok, now how can I do that on a machine?" That’s the person who isn’t sure they have the hand tool skills to pull off the operation. A little encouragement and some personal observation of their technique and they usually come to realize their biggest obstacle wasn’t the skill it was their fear.

    Taking what I was taught about hand work versus power tool work in a slightly different direction, the hand tool work is the skill driven part of the project. I don’t know anyone who uses a dovetail jig who opens a drawer and says “Look at those dovetails. I have a great router jig, don’t I?” but every single person I’ve taught to cut dovetails by hand proudly shows off their dovetails (and like typical woodworkers they then proceed to point out every minute error on the entire piece…bit I digress). It’s the artistic nature that’s fed by the use of hand tools.

    Glen’s right (just don’t tell him I said so). There are two types of people out there, those that are project driven and those that are process driven. They don’t necessarily have to fall into the hand tool versus the power tool categories. I don’t think Peter Follansbee is more about process than he is about product when he makes a piece completely by hand. He’s not agonizing of the details so much that it takes him months to make a box. He’s very productive. Likewise, Glen rolls through his projects very productively using his power tools. In either case the woodworker could easily become bogged down in the details and the fear of proceeding which would easily affect their productivity as well as their product. For Peter and Glen, it’s more about their artistic intent and how they use their tools to achieve that goal.

    So, is there a place for traditional skills out there? I certainly think so. It’s how I’ve made a living for the last thirty years or so. Much like the pins versus tails debate, it’s irrelevant as long as you get out there and do it.


    I neglected to add one more thing… the whole damn reason for that first year "Machine and Mechanics" school (in Norway… for the record) was simply that as an agricultural mechanic (which is what I went on to become) there would be times when you would be sent to the middle of nowhere, and there would not be any parts available to repair whatever machine you were working on, and yet, time was money with the poor farmer having precious little of it (money) and yet needs to get the harvest done before whatever calamity was just about to occur. For the mechanic to say "I can’t get parts and I don’t have a machine shop available" was just NOT an option. If I could access a machine shop then great, if not… perhaps I could find a blacksmiths shop or even fashion a forge out of scraps to get me going but the bottom line was getting the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible….

    Someone who works only with machines is lost when things break… a skilled hand tool wielder will shrug his or her shoulders, grab a hand tool suitable and carry on as if nothing were wrong. THAT is the difference….. For amateurs, it’s not that big a deal (honey, I have to fix the saw but I’ll have the cupboard ready the week after I get the new parts), but if you are a pro, one who makes his/her living with woodworking…… being able to carry on, without missing a beat, when the time crunch hits, is the difference between a PRO and an AMATEUR.


    If you can’t do it right, by hand…. how the h*ll could you tell if it was done right by machine?

    The assumption is that machines are incapable of inaccuracies….. which they are not. Only when you can produce premium accuracy by hand can you truly judge if the machine is meeting the standards YOU set for quality work…. And so, if you can’t produce quality work by hand, you can’t judge the work done by a machine.

    And just because it’s easier to work, using a machine, it does not make the result you get, better but rather you can produce crappy work faster!

    In a previous life…. far far away, in a foreign land, I went to what was called a "Machine and Mechanics" school, first year. We were given a vice, bench space, a tool roll with a hammer, chisel, hacksaw and 5 files. We were then told if we needed anything else, we would have to make it from raw steel. I sweated for 6 months in the sun, filing steel of all kinds, making clamps, hammer heads, hacksaw frames, machinist squares and the like…… and THEN, but only then, did we get to use the machine shop…. It was only after all that handwork that we could judge and appreciate what the machines were capable of doing….. And even, after all that…. when something came out of the mill or the lathe…. hand filing, sanding or some other sort of hand work would be applied to the machine work to meet our (at that point) high standards.

    So if I need to rip a 3 foot piece of oak, I’ll grab my frame saw and do it in my basement workshop… But if I need to rip 30′ of oak for a project……. I’ll head out to my other shop where the General 10" table saw sits…. It can rip 30′ of oak faster than I can…. not better, just faster.



  22. John Cashman

    I agree in part about the results vs process argument. When I was younger I needed to build furniture, because I had none. I really don’t have that need any longer, and I do things simply because I like doing things. I recently needed a canvas roll for a growing number of carving tools, so I spent a couple of days learning to use a sewing machine and made some. It’s a new skill, and I like that a lot.

    I like fresh challenges, and learning new skills. I no longer see much skill or challenge in using a random orbit sander, though if I was doing this for a living, I’m sure I would look at it differently. But I also have an eventual result in mind. One day I would like to build one or two pieces of Goddard-Townsend furniture. To me, that style is the epitome of American furniture, and possessing the skills to produce such a piece is something I would be immensely proud of. It’s a challenge, and a whole host of skills.

    To take Chris’ car analogy a step further, I can never see the value that some people place in outrageously expensive automobiles. Some folks come by large sums of money through no particular skill or talent of their own. But someone who can design, build, restore, etc., has every right, in my value system, to be proud of their vehicle.

    Of course, your mileage may vary.

  23. Ryan S

    I’ll reserve my opinions about hand tool versus power tool woodworking (okay, I’m firmly a knuckle-dragging galoot), but I have to make a hearty recommendation for Three Floyds Robert the Bruce Scottish Ale – you can buy it Party Source right now, for the first time in several years.

    And if you’re into stouts, their Black Sun stout is well worth the extra bucks.

  24. Alan

    You’re only passing Porsche’s with your Ghia in your dreams my friend! And that’s only if your unipan ain’t rusting out! lol

  25. Bill Harris

    Thank you answering the question I wanted to ask… How do you build a bench with handtools. I have your article about the LVL bench and now your workbenches book, yet I was trubled because I didn’t have a planer and a table saw, which is what I saw you use in the PopWood article.

    My experience level is very low and I my only powertools are a circular saw, a never used benchtop (ironic – no bench – perhaps benchtopless?) planer and small drill press. But, since November I have collected a nice Mark Harrell Back Saw, a Harrell tuned Disston #12, a few excellent A2 chisels (3/8, 1/2, 3/4), a mallet, a TiteMark gauge, a Drake WW Dovetail Saw, garage sale smoother, a Hock wooden plane, a brace, an egg beater, a straightedge and a couple of squares.

    ‘And the desire. ‘Just need some direction. So, thanks Chris for helping me get serious with your latest blogfest. Oh, and I can sharpen. BTW, I went to High School in Ark and my family was originally from Hoxie! Woo Pig Sooee. New Mexico now.

  26. david brown

    I agree that it’s not simply a matter of power-tools-for-results vs hand-tools-for-feel. I think part of the problem is the misconception that newer is better and power must be faster. Also, novice woodworkers tend to assume that new power tools and jigs will buy you satisfying results. In actuality, the only way to become proficient in anything is repetition.

    We see these misconceptions challenged in real life and lampooned through art-imitating-life. In real life, there’s Chris in the air-cooled-antique driving more efficiently and fluidly than more "advanced" machines driven by disengaged drivers. In art, witness fast but arrogant Lightning McQueen humbled by the Hudson Hornet and a dirt-track. What about Mr. Miyagi vs the Cobra Kai sensei? Exaggerated examples, but you get the point.

    It’s not the well-engineered tool and $$$ that builds an heirloom from a stack of lumber. It is the artisan’s esprit de corps with his tools and familiarity that crafts the masterpiece.

  27. Ryan Prochaska

    When I started out in carpentry & cabinetmaking, I remember having to cut mortises for doors by hand. I cut hundreds of mortises that way. Either I didn’t have the power tools, or they were being used by someone else with seniority. As I stood over countless doors, with chisel in hand, I would contemplate the day I could afford my own router, jigs, and everything else I "needed" to get the job done faster and better. There came the day, years later, when I was doing a new construction finish job, and a custom front door needed to be mortised.

    I set the door up in a fancy jig. I pulled out the router and chucked the bit. I set the depth. I installed the routing jig on the door. I unrolled the extension cord, and plugged in the router. I ran the other end to the only outlet set up in the house. I donned my earmuffs. I put on the safety glasses. I pulled up the dust mask. I turned on the router and did the hinges, then flipped it around to finish the latch plate.

    When the dust had cleared, and I had removed the jig, earmuffs, safety glasses, and dust mask, I came to a realization. All those years dreaming of this day, and I had found that it would have been faster by hand.

  28. David B.

    I don’t agree with Glen’s assertion that power tool woodworkers are more interested in results and hand tool woodworkers are more interested in the process. Like most I am part of the Norm generation. Every week you would find me watching Norm and muttering, "If I had all those tools I could build all that stuff too." Years later I had all those tools and yet felt that somewhere along the way I had missed something. Overall, it just felt everything was overly complicated.

    With hand tools I feel I can give the furniture more of my attention. When designing my furniture I no longer have to figure out how to construct jigs to pull off my design. Now I find designs more creative and have more complicated joinery. When I’m making a cut I don’t worry about cutting off a finger or blowing out the back side of the cut. Now I can focus on the work. I no longer dread the hours of trying to sand away planer/joiner/router marks.

    I find that people who use only power tools are afraid they don’t have skill set to use hand tools. For years I was afraid to even try to cut a dovetail. I thought I needed $400 jigs to cut a joint that has been cut by hand for thousands of years. Once I got over my fear I found that it takes more skill to set up the complicated jigs and routers than it did to just cut the joint by hand.

  29. Darnell Hagen

    I was just thinking about this today. My shop is blended, for me it’s less about speed, tradition, or romantic notion and more about choosing the correct method of work for the task at hand. Precision and efficiency are born of skill and knowledge, and traditional techniques are a large part of that.

    Sweet vehicle. I love a car that’s symmetrical both left to right and front to back.

  30. David Chidester

    Great explanation! I’ve worked in a modern cabinet shop for over a decade, but have become more interested in traditional woodworking these past few years. For work, I’ll do it with power tools. But for myself, I’m learning to use hand tools and traditional methods. It’s so much more enjoyable!

Comments are closed.