A commentary on (hand) tools


When I began this re-creation, I already favored the use of hand tools. It has been my experience, however, that hand tools suffer a kind of discrimination in the modern world. To the at-large public they’re perceived as being slow, backward, or for the financially poor woodworker. In short, they’re second-class citizens. This is an unfortunate perception, which I hope to change.

The usual rationale you will hear about hand tool use is:
• hand tools produce less dust,
• there is less noise with hand tools, and
• hand tools are safe(r).

While these are true, for the most part, they’re not entirely truthful. My “shop” still has plenty of dust accumulation, and I do have to vacuum the floor. However, many times I can get away with simply sweeping up the shavings rather than having a dust collection hose connected to the tool. I wear ear plugs when performing some operations, especially anything involving mallet work. More often though, I listen to the birds singing outside, or carry on a conversation with passers-by. I’ve met plenty of woodworkers who reluctantly admit that they should have been more careful with their hearing earlier on in their careers…
Also for the most part, all of my tools have “flesh-sensing technology”…

Hand tools are really for production. Yes, you read that right! Most hobbyists seldom make more than one piece at a time. So, it takes longer to set up a power tool, use it, and put it away then it does a hand tool. And let’s not even mention the time (and materials) required for jig building!

Graham Blackburn once said (paraphrasing) that the point of power tools was to decrease the cost of the finished piece. Instead it cheapened the piece! In other words, power tools compromise the design. Jim Tolpin put it another way…power tools users design pieces to the capabilities of their tools. Hand tool users design first, then figure out how to build it. With hand tools, the skilled woodworker can cut any joint produced by a machine. However, the opposite is not the case!

Hand tools require skills development. Anyone can use power tools – set a fence, or guide to a measurement, and pull the trigger…
However, this mode of operating can be limiting. People are afraid of doing things free-hand since it might not come out “perfect”.

Understanding the principles upon which hand work is based gives a woodworker a better knowledge of machine operation. To paraphrase Matthew Quigley… It’s not that I don’t know how to use power tools. I just don’t have much use for them.

In the end, most woodworkers truly aspire to employ hand tools. After all, a common marketing phrase used by power tool manufacturers is that their tool will produce results just like it was hand made!

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