For many of today’s woodworkers setting up a shop means buying a bunch of often expensive machines and power tools, figuring out how to plug everything in, making sure you have enough outlets and electricity, and all this before you even begin to think about dust control and noise issues.
Even apart from the health and safety issues, and ignoring the expense, there is still a learning curve involved in becoming familiar with table saws, jointers, planers, router tables, and a variety of other powertools, stationary or otherwise. All this can seem overwhelming for the beginner, and while ultimately the rewards of woodworking are typically well worth the effort, it can be a lot to deal with in one gulp.
There is an alternative — much less expensive, simpler, safer, healthier, and for many, even more rewarding. For hundreds of years there were no power tools, and yet the craft produced amazing woodwork, and more importantly for the hobbyist, an enormous amount of satisfaction and pleasure.
The secret is to start with woodworking hand tools by setting up a shop that relies exclusively on relatively inexpensive items. As you progress you may well have the urge and opportunity to add in some basic power tools to make certain jobs such as stock preparation easier — which, incidentally, is what power tools were invented for — but in the meantime you will have learned a lot of skills and techniques that cannot be easily duplicated with power tools alone (try making a cabriole leg on a router table or a Bombay chest on a jointer — it can be done but only with a complicated array of extra jigs and fixtures, which seems to defeat the purpose of being efficient).
The heart of a hand tool workshop is its bench. Thereafter you need a certain number of basic sawing, planing, and cutting tools. You will need to understand how to prepare and sharpen them, how to use them and the jigs and devices that go along with making their use easy, secure, and accurate. And you will need to understand the best way to organize your workflow and storage. It’s a lot of information, but it can provide the foundation for an almost limitless array of techniques that will equip you to produce virtually anything. A hand tool workshop is by no means an inferior substitute for the more typical power shop, but rather can be the foundation for much more sophisticated woodworking.
Watch Graham’s live webinar on February 25, Setting Up Shop with Traditional Hand Tools. You’ll learn about the workbench, essential tools for the beginning woodworker, as well as tips and techniques for woodworking hand tools.