In Shop Blog, Techniques

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“But lo! Men have become the tools of their tools.”
– Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), “Walden”

When I started building furniture on my back porch after college, I was sure of only one thing: I didn’t want to use a radial-arm saw.

My aversion to the machine had nothing to do with safety, accuracy, philosophy or shop space. Instead, I despised the radial-arm saw because I spent one long hot summer as a slave to that machine at the Therma-Tru door factory in Arkansas.

I worked on the assembly line that built the fire doors. It was my job to crosscut the internal rails and stiles that were then skinned with the exterior metal (in a pleasing Colonial look!). The radial-arm saw was right next to the furnace that baked on some sort of coating (you know, I never asked what that stuff was).

No matter how fast I cut, I could never keep up. And the workers on the line were always reaching for the stile I had just put down. After a few weeks of this, the radial-arm saw and I became enemies and we remain so to this day.

For me, woodworking is about balancing the role of the hand and the machine. But there is more than one balancing point. And that’s the theme of Issue 9 of Woodworking Magazine, which we are beginning to work on. The cover project is an adaptation of the Gustav Stickley No. 603 tabouret shown in Robert W. Lang’s “Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture.”

I picked an Arts & Crafts project for the issue because the best examples of this furniture style incorporate both machine- and hand-work. Right now I’m building two of these tables. One table is being built with machines carrying most of the load, including joinery. With the other table, hand tools will have the upper hand.

This isn’t just about substituting a tenon saw for a 40-tooth flat-tooth rip blade. There are differences in the way you lay out your work and move through the construction process. The resulting tables should look identical, though you can be the judge of that (assuming you purchase the issue).

I have other aversions in addition to the radial-arm saw, including broasted chicken, glazed doughnuts and bagging ice. All those aversions were the result of a hot summer working in a gas station. But those stories are for another kind of blog.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 6 comments
  • Steve

    I look forward to the article as well – maybe reading it will inspire me to build the white oak tabouret that I’ve been "getting around to" for a couple of years now! I really do look forward your choice of techniques and tweaks to the original.

    As an aside, if anyone is interested, I have the original 1905 Craftsman Magazine drawings for both the round top and "dog eared square" top versions on my website. Look for March 1905 Article on this page:

  • Christopher Schwarz


    All good points. I like to cut my joinery by hand. However, I don’t like to surface stock from the rough that way. I really think there is a balance. Each person’s balancing point is different.

    Thanks for your comments.

    And by the way, you can easily cut those dados with a dado plane or a saw and router plane.


  • andrew

    Sounds like an awesome article ! I took a week-long class at
    recently and we used only hand-tools. I am born-again. My table-saw and router repulse me. I get so much satisfaction from doing the operations by hand. I’m no longer scared of a piece of wood flying from t-saw and puncturing my lung. I don’t need a dust-mask; i’m not worried about my router tearing a gash in less than a second in my $5-per-board-foot quartersawn oak. i actually go into my garage-based shop at night and work DURING THE WEEK because i no longer have to back out the car, adjust the table-saw, hook-up the dust collector, etc. It’s like i’m seeing w/ a whole new pair of eyes. FYI, I’m building the three-shelved arts&crafts bookshelf you had on your Issue5 ? cover… and i was "stuck" at point where i "needed" to build the jig to use the router to cut the dados… and various other things. now, i just went into shop and did it all by hand… and had a heck of a lot more fun. I think magazines REALLY create a bias towards allegedly "needing" power-tools in order to build something by describing the build-process as "cut tenons w/ tenon-jig on table-saw", etc. i think this power-tool-perspective gets ingrained, and people’s imagination re: solving how to do an operation BY HAND is not fostered.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    I am told that it will be mid-October. As soon as it’s available, I’ll announce it — along with some links for places that will be selling a deluxe version with a companion CD.


  • Will OB

    Speaking of things becoming available…almost October, any word on the long awaited workbench book?

  • Chris K.

    That will be a very interesting article. I hope that you keep a log of hours for each project too!

    When will the issue be available?

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