Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Suddenly, I See

Believe it or not, this blog was never meant to be exclusive to hand tools. Power tools were included in the orginal plan (albeit, only a little bit), but feedback from readers, and an ever-growing attraction to hand tool blogs and forums, steered me toward my ultimate woodworking destiny.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not about to sell my table saw. And my band saw? Forget it. That guy's going to be buried with me. But after two and half years of blogging, I'm all up in the hand tool grill.

So much so, that I've started seeing everything through hand tool-colored lenses. I showed up early to our club meeting last night at the Woodcraft Store to peruse the inventory, and spied a metal table saw jig with hold downs that helps a person trim waney edges from a board. I remembered seeing something like this early on in my power tool days and thinking, "so that's how it's done."

But I looked at it last night and thought how edges like that can easily be corrected with hand tools.

As a variety-seeker, I'll often choose different techniques, on separate occasions, for the same operation—like jointing a waney edge. If I'm in a hurry, I'll use my bandsaw and power jointer. If I'm not (which is the norm), I might trim the bulk of it with a handsaw and then smooth it with a handplane. Or I might use a drawknife and plane. Or I'll use my favorite technique: trim some of the excess with an axe—but not too much—because then I get to use my scrub plane to get closer to the line, and then finish the edge with a finely-set bench plane.

I realized last night that I see almost everything from a hand tool perspective, and power tool jigs are no longer in the periphery.

More often than not, hand tool procedures are not as fast as power tools, but for me it's all about personal preference and what makes you happy. Also important to some of us, is that working wood by hand burns more calories. You've heard of the Freshman Fifteen? Yeah, well every winter I suffer from the Holiday Hundred. So I'd better stick with hand tools.


John Cashman said...

I couldn't agree more. My thickness planer, bandsaw, and tablesaw are indispensable, in that order. But I don't own a powered jointer, and have never missed it. I have always done things the way you show here. and after all, most boards are only a few feet long, and it's just not that hard getting straight pieces by hand. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and part of the fun for me is exploring those other ways.

Speaking of which, was there a time when cats were skinned often enough to require a colloquialism of its own?

Larry Marshall said...

Funny how slipping down the hand tool slope takes on a life of its own. I still burn electrons on occasion but it's quickly becoming a rare event. You've captured that slide so very well.

Cheers --- Larry (aka woodnbits) Marshall

Doug Berch said...

Great post Kari,

I like how you describe seeing things through hand tool-colored lenses. I would not want to give up my bandsaw but so many things can be done, in my opinion, with more heart and subtlety when using hand tools.

I also like to use different techniques as getting there is at least half the fun!

All the best,


Anonymous said...

I wonder if this is some kind of phase all woodworkers go through? I to am doing more and more with handtools, I find it relaxing and extremely rewarding to build as my GrandDad did. Good luck Kari
Rob -Joebazooka-
Portland Maine

Gary Roberts said...

MUAHAHAHA!!!! At last we have seduced Kari to the Dark Side (at least, according to power tool types). Soon, very soon, we will see you with flashlight in hand, scouring flea market tables at 5 AM, looking for that perfect tool at a rock-bottom price.


will said...

What you say is relevant and true but I would add a caveat. I assume you are referring to hobby applications and not daily work for pay. While there are certain careers which necessitate handtool usage (restoration work, violin and guitar makers for example), relying on handtools for a major of applications in an all-purpose shop just isn't economically feasible.

When Krenov's books first burst upon the scene there was a surge of people attempting to apply his pholosophies to work-a-day shops. Alas, the failure rate was quite high with those woodworkers.

Jeremy Kriewaldt said...


I know what you mean about the perspective moving to that of a hand tool user, even if power tools still inhabit your shop and are used. A lot of my wood is obtained cheap from mills - I have huge amounts of tongue & groove flooring and before I use it I have to rip off the edges and plane at least one side - that's a job for the tailed apprentices.

But I never want to think of using a power tool to do something like a tapered leg. Why fuss with all those jigs and double stick tape (and get the tape gunk off afterwards!)? Just pull out your drawknife and planes and have at it! I now have two scrub planes - one with a cambered blade for rough work on boards, one with a square blade for tapering, or putting long bevels on etc. Too easy.

BTW I suppose we could say that you and I share a hand tool "peerspective" 'cause we all got it from each other....

Kari Hultman said...

John, since many of us are working with relatively short boards, as you point out, I've found that it's often quicker to use a hand tool rather than fiddle with fussy power tool set ups. Of course, if you're doing a production run, that's a different story. Regarding your last question: doggone if I know! haha

Larry, I'm glad to have so many friends, like you, on the slippery slope slide with me. ; )

Doug, nice to have a kindred spirit. :o)

Rob, it does seem like there are more and more hand tools users popping up. Not sure when the renaissance started, but it's great to be part of it.

Gary--been there already! I went to the PATINA auction last year. My buddy and I left at 4:00 in the morning to get there in time to freeze our butts off and shop for tools in pitch black darkness. *sigh* I'm a goner.

Bill, yeah, I was thinking hobbyists when I wrote this, not production shops. They don't have the luxury to take their time the way we do. It's one reason I'll never hang out my woodworker for hire sign. That, and I'm fond of being able to pay my bills. And eat.

Jeremy, I'm with you. Certain operations are still done with my power tools, but any shaping is done with hand tools (and my bandsaw). "Peerspective"--nice one!

Follansbee said...

"I'm not about to sell my table saw."


I told you, it doesn't count if you sell it or give it have to dis-assemble it and render it useless...that way no one else is tempted to work with it...otherwise, how will we change the world? I stole the idea from Wendell Berry's take on televisions...
(got the photos, thanks. more later, PF)

Anonymous said...


Burried with your bandsaw? I carried it into you shop, Im not carrying it out again.....well unless you really go over to the "dark side" then Ill help carry it over to my house...:)

I am still an infant in the handtool movement but can appreciate it more and more every day. Now that I figured out which part of the handplane that actually needs an edge!! :) The rocker is finally done...Whew, I think I can build anything with a rasp and a bandsaw now...LOL.

What was it you told me once....It's not the destination, but the road traveled. Something like that. I like the slower road of using more handtools, learning to appreciate the time I have in the shop rather than being focused on pumping out projects and forgetting why I am out there in the first place.

Dave B.
The Dark Side Apprentice :)

msiemsen said...

It is so fun to swing a hatchet indoors, it is like running with scissors.
I had a similar hand tool epiphany at a Woodworkers Guild meeting, The machinery and jigs just don't interest me any more. I see a lot of that stuff as a way to avoid developing skills. "Buy this jig and router and cut dovetails like a pro". I make my living at woodworking and I use plenty of machines to get the jobs done but when I am making something for fun I prefer the hand tools. I like vintage tools because I enjoy the link to earlier pairs of hands, but it has more to do with the immediacy of working the wood and the relationship of materials, to tools to craftsman. I feel more connected to the product and more satisfied with the end result.
going out to grind up the wood

George Beck said...

I think you are onto the heart of the matter here Kari. I think using hand tools makes you better with power tools, For example, most of my friends are always looking for bigger motors and 5 HP 22 volt stuff, whereas I will assume the blade is not sharp enough. Instead of desiring a 5 HP router and big hog bits, I will take light passes with a sharp and clean bit. This is the perspective that hand tools and sharpening brings to the work. A 3/8" band saw blade will cut 1/8" x 10" veneer if sharp and nicely balanced. In addition, hand tools are often the best choice. Taking a little off an edge of a board with a router still runs the risk of burning woods like cherry, whereas a plane will take a shaving in seconds and no sanding! I have never understood the hand vs power tool debate. I think it is about sensitive intuitive methods of working that yield the results and the joy one desires.

Shannon said...


Great post. I like how you wax philosophic in the text and tell the hand tool story in pictures. This conversation inevitably ends up with it's faster with power and that's the only way to make money. I think any time I have to use a jig or think about "how am I going to do this safely" hand tools become faster and more "cost effective". I know a few professional woodworkers that do almost everything sans electrons. It all comes down to the best tool/technique for the job.

Texas Lawyer said...

It's funny you mention that, Kari. I'm a real novice, and though I was attracted to hand tools, ripping was the task most intimidating that lead me to invest in a table saw. (Cheaper than a decent band saw, at least at my sub $300 price range).
I hope I can learn to be accurate, square, and straight with hand tools soon - will put the TS out to pasture, perhaps.

Badger said...

I've been looking through that lens more and more as well. I get exactly what you're saying.

I find that reaching for some tools is a little harder now. I love the lack of noise, and the lack of dust! Having to wear a respirator or dust mask to work wood cuts into the passion for it. I find them uncomfortable, but if I don't wear them it gets into my lungs and that's not a great thing.

My one except is my lathe. I have this old beast of a lathe that was my gateway into woodworking as serious hobby, and I still prefer it. I made a "spring pole" lathe, but I never could get the hang of it. The other one is my cordless drill, at least for something it's just easier. I do have a bit and brace and I'm learning to use it fairly quickly. But some small stuff is just easier with the electric drill.

I think I'll be doing a blend of hand tool and power tool for a while. You can take my Bandsaw though, that stupid thing has never been my friend. I just can't get even close to a straight cut with it, and I've adjusted everything I can find. It has it's uses though, limited as they are.


Gregg said...

I agree completely. I was a power tol junkie but after getting into handtools, especially handsaws and planes, I find more pleasure in the work and an intimacy with the wood and project that you simply can't have with power tools. However, I could never complete a project quickly enough with hand tools to make a living doint it.

Kari Hultman said...

Peter, you make it sound like a Terminator (I've just been watching the Sarah Connor Chronicles).

Hey Dave, I just bought an old, cast iron Shaper table. Probably weighs about 1,000 pounds. Are you free on Saturday?

Mike, I share your appreciation for vintage tools. They have personality that new tools don't have...yet. ; )

George, that's one of the best things (in my opinion) about working with handplanes--no burn marks and no sanding. :o)

Shannon, that's a good point about safety. There are certain operations that make me cringe with power tools, and hand tools are less likely to make you soil your drawers.

Texas Lawyer, ripping boards by hand can be intimidating for sure, but it's an awful lot of fun practicing. Granted, I wouldn't want to do it all day long....

Badger, I don't get nice cuts with my bandsaw either, but it's not meant to make finished cuts. Mine's a little out of wack, actually, but I know I have to finish the cut with handplanes anyhow. I hope someday to develop a love of the lathe like you have.

Gregg, that's exactly how I feel, too. :o)

Ivan said...

As you said "...but for me it's all about personal preference and what makes you happy."

I see that many people here are lovers in a hand tool but I am always looking to a final product what I've created. Is it nice and useful or not.

I have the hand tools from my father and I am using it every single day but also I am using many power tools as well.

It is just different perspectives from different points of view on work with wood.

Unknown said...

another great post and some interesting discussion followed. I too wear those lenses why?- because like you said-'it makes me happy'. that should be enough for anyone. Why does it seem that hand tool users are always having to defend this point?
From one blog to the next I see the constant arguements of people (hand tool users) trying to explain and justify their own reasons-
I think you just said it best here-
thank you! ;)

Extremely Average said...

I just found your blog. I love it!!! I can't wait to read all the other articles you have here. You have a wonderful writing style. And your photographs are really well done.

Robin Wood said...

Nice post Kari,

I always find it interesting how when we are trying to produce something hard work is viewed as a bad thing yet when we are in the gym being utterly unproductive it is suddenly good. Folk walk past my workshop and tell me how hard work it looks and how much easier it could be and they are about to walk up a 1000 ft hill for fun, I will burn no more calories in the afternoon I will also have fun and I will have been productive too.

Woodbloke said...

Kari - an interesting view which I can empathize with, but having worked as a professional cabinet maker for a couple of years, the reliance on hand tools comes a long, long way behind being able to make a machine dance on it's head!
However, as a hobbyiest...what does it matter? If working with hand tools 'floats your boat' then more power to your elbow...literally.
Personally, I love my hand tools, but I can also see the value in being able to use machinery to take all the sheer hard work out of stock preparation, so I reckon I'm sorta 50/50 if you get my drift...c'est la guerre, n'est pas? - Rob

Stephen Kirk said...

I have actually been trying to remove the hand tool vs power distinction from my mind. I love both types as they are all woodworking tools. I don't consider myself one or another. I have a growing supply of power tools, my new 8" helical head jointer being my favorite right now. However, the chisels over my bench and the planes under it are also constantly in my hands.

I like to think that we should all do great work regardless of how we do the work. Tune your plane or tune your tablesaw, just tune well.

Extremely Average said...

Stephen Kirk,

I liked your comment. I thought you were going to end with, "Tune your plane or tune your tablesaw, just..." "...don't tuna fish."

Oh well, your version was good too.

Kari Hultman said...

Ivan, I couldn't agree more. :o)

Tom, I've seen the debates between hand and power tool users and have never understood it. Why does one have to be better than the other? It doesn't. It's all woodworking and it's all good.

Thanks, Brian!

Robin, that was brilliant. It reminds me of what my neighbor (who has a pontoon boat, a cabin, 2 snow mobiles, and a 25 foot camper) said when we built my shop: "That's a lot of money to spend on a hobby."

Rob, I'm about a 60/40 (hand/power) at this point. I still rely on my power planer and table saw to do the grunt work and probably always will.

Stephen, amen brother!

Brian, that's funny--I thought the same thing. hee hee