Power tools & hand tools


Chet
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I know that there are a number of you out there that use both hand tools and power tools and I am interested as to why.   I have all power tools and never really thought of adding hand tools to the mix.  I admire those that work with hand tools but didn't think I would want to do it myself.  And in thinking about it, one of the things that makes me shy away from it is having to keep hand tools sharp.  And even that isn't a case of not being able to do it, I sharpened my knives as a meat cutter for 32 years.  I can sharpen a knife that you could shave with.  Its just that I feel I would rather be working with wood then sharpening my tools.  So again I am curious as to why you chose to use both.  Does you end product have something that I won't get just using power tools?  Or is more of a satisfying feeling that you personally get doing both types tools?  Or is it something else entirely.

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There are times when the hand tool is just flat the "right tool for the job".  I'm primarily a power guy myself but, I could not have done the rocking chair with just power tools.  The rasp was such a huge part of that project that I just don't see it being done any other way.  Maybe take a look at Marc's book and see if it makes sense to you.

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In the end, it depends on what you're building and your work flow but, I've run into a few occasions where the hand tool was just the right tool for the job.  Yes, having to sharpen them is a PITA and an added expense to your shop.  However, you don't have to do it all at once.  Pick up a couple stones and then pick up a few planes.  It's a great way to expand your abilities and lets you think outside the power tool box. 

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Woodworking is a lot like fishing! There are purists that think fly fishing and catch and release is the only way you should fish. But somebody else prefers to sit in a boat and drop a worm over the edge. Which is better? They both catch fish, they both are fun! So who is right? Wood working is the same thing. Whatever floats your boat is right!

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Chet, I am learning to use hand tools as part of my journey.  It's a whole different perspective, but as Tiods said, sometimes it's the right tool for the job.  Probably use my block plane on almost every project.  Anyway, I recommend Marc's book "Hybrid Woodworking."  It's a great approach.  As for sharpening, it's not my strength but that's because I haven't done it as much as I need to.  If you know how to keep a sharp edge on a knife, you'll have no problem figuring out how to keep woodworking tools sharp.

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It’s about the right tool for the job -- which is heavily influenced by the type of projects you intend to build... For years, I built rectilinear pieces – loved Shaker, Mission, etc. These styles lend themselves to mechanization... I rarely used hand tools in those days...

When I moved beyond the 90d dogma, I had two choices – build lots and lots of disposable one-off jigs and keep using power tools or introduce hand tools into my workflow...

I’m still not a hand tool guy – whenever possible, I use power tools... Even with all the time in the world, I’d never mill rough stock by hand – as much as I admire those who do... Nowadays, I mill everything with stationary kit, run it through the big sander, then start-in with the hand tools to cut joinery and shape components – unless I use a Domino... :)  

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Sharpening gets way easier and faster with practice. And my sharpening setup is much simpler than it was in the beginning. It's also not as time consuming as it sounds, unless you have a chipped blade or really let the tool get dull. There is a lot of joy and satisfaction in using hand tools. Don't let sharpening scare you off. 

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I use power tools for the grunt work and hand tools for the finesse work.  You can build most projects start to finish with only power tools, and you could certainly build any project start to finish with only hand tools...but neither scenario is ideal to me.

Milling a board six-square, or plowing a groove, or cutting tenons, or any number of miscellaneous steps in a given project - with hand tools - is just torture and a total waste of time IMO.  But finessing a joint, or fitting a drawer, or shaping a curve or small part, or any number of miscellaneous steps in a given project - with hand tools - is often the fastest, easiest, most precise and most rewarding way to do it.

Using hand tools also gives your project that hand crafted look that machined pieces simply don't have.  Fully machined pieces can look too perfect.  Lifeless.  Cutting exposed joinery by hand, or breaking sharp edges with a block plane, or shaping a little pull with a rasp will give your piece a richness and character that a table saw, dovetail jig and random orbit sander simply won't.

So I use hand tools for three reasons: they're often the best tool for the job, they're fun and rewarding to use, and they actually make your end product a finer looking piece.

And as for sharpening, once you set up a station and get some practice under your belt, it's a quick and painless process.  It certainly doesn't take any longer than boxing up your blades and sending them off to be sharpened.  Just part of the craft.

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I also think you're overstating how often a tool really needs to be sharpened, as opposed to just "touched up".  Especially for a typical hobby woodworker.  Obviously if you're cranking out pieces for a living your tools probably need to be sharpened much more often.  Yes, depending on the initial quality of the tool, you might have to spend some initial time getting it sharp (flattening backs, etc.)  But once that initial work is done you rarely need to spend that much time with a tool unless you drop it or nick it on metal or something.  Touching up a tool takes a minute or two, tops, probably less if you have a dedicated sharpening station that's always ready to go (I don't).  

I agree with Eric on the aesthetic nature too, and I think that's often overlooked - a piece that's obviously been worked by hand is a more attractive piece, IMO.  I have a hallway bench with ball and claw feet that I got at a yard sale where you can see subtle tool marks and very subtle differences among the four feet if you look closely.  By far my favorite piece of furniture in my house (at least among the ones I didn't build :)). To each his own, of course, but I get pleasure out of seeing evidence that something wasn't just cranked out by a CNC (not that there's anything wrong with that...) 

Edited by bgreenb
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If you've never taken a really sharp plane to wood, it's a feeling that can't quite be described. Bliss? Sometimes, a good stress release is taking that pine or fir 2x4 you have stashed over in the corner and letting your #5 or #7 get some work in. You'll come to an hour later with wispy shavings up to your knees and forget about all your troubles.

But yeah. That last millimeter or so that needs to be finessed, I don't want to take a power tool to it. More likely to do more harm than good. Last thing you want to do when you're massaging something for a perfect fit is to accidentally take too much and ruin it. I'd wager most everyone has done it, and it's an awful feeling.

I'm not one to look at tooling marks as much as someone else, but rather I look at a task and ask myself what's the best tool for the job. Sometimes it's a power tool, sometimes it's a hand tool. Sometimes it's the trash can.

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I do have to say that I own a decent set of chisels for that little touch up here and there and I am going to enjoy reading Marc's book on the subject.  In reading through the responses here I feel as though I may be losing my footing at the edge of the rabbit hole:P

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This might sound funny, but I don't get off on the process of woodworking as much as other guys.  Hand planing boards, even with a razor sharp blade and straight grained woods, is just not fun for me.   I like the design stage and the results.   For that reason I am mostly power tool, I use what will get me from point A to point B fastest and safest.  Certainly for milling, dimensioning, rough cutting and even roughing out joinery I use machines.   I use hand tools for refining joinery (particulary M&T joints), shaping curves and edge work.   I don't see hand tools as a purer or more godly form of woodworking, like many of the hand tool hippies do.

I guess it also depends on what you build.  Building full scale furniture with hand tools only would be torture.  Notice most of the internet woodworkers who are hand tool only generally build things like decorative boxes and shaker side tables.  You don't see many guys building dining tables, side boards, or chests of drawers with hand tools only.   

If you want to get into hand work, get a couple nice rasps for your curves or a shoulder and block plane to help with your M&T joinery.  From there see if you like the process and if you want to expand it to hand sawing, hand milling and hand smoothing.

It sounds cliche, but what David Marks did on woodworks is probably the closest to where I see my mix of hand/power tools going.  He pretty much only used hand tools for shaping edges and curves.  Maybe he used a block plane a few times but I don't think he used many bench planes at all.  

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I'm not sure why I do Chet but I did reflect on this. I think it's the contrast I like. Outside of woodworking I'm fascinated by vertical integration, ephemeralization, the basic removal of toil to provide. That will not be through the production of hand tools and making a few pieces of furniture. The whole woodworking scene whether we choose to agree or not is totally selfish indulgence (that I love). My view is I want to rely on remarkable technology to free everyone from want and suffering.

I like to use hand tools (but I don't use them all the time) because it's what I want to do. I have no primary motivation in preserving any craft, I want to do it because it makes me feel good. If I don't enjoy the process I will have poor results, that'll kill any craft stone dead before it got started. Although we are at a low level of art there is expression and art in what we do. You'd never go to an artist and force them to work in a different medium, they'd choose how to do it themselves. If you fancy trying hand tools you will. Hand tools are not a more pure way they are just a way, they may or may not be the best way for you. 

 

 

Edited by G S Haydon
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I used to be all power all the time. No need to break an edge with a plane, use a ROS, no need to shape things with a rasp, use a die grinder or spindle sander.... I quickly learned as I over did it on the majority of pieces I touched that needed a tiny little adjustment. That's where hand tools come in, you're not spinning a cutter or abrasive at 5000 rpm to remove 1/32"  you're taking strokes with a rasp or hand sander, or paring a bit of material with a chisel. If your technique is good and your tools are sharp it's amazing what you can do with a hand tool. When I added in more hand stuff I started seeing huge differences in my work.

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To be honest I have a hard time imagining that any shop has no hand tools at all.  Is that even possible?  After all hammers, squares, rulers, planes, spoke shaves, files, rasps, chisels, screwdrivers, cabinet scrapers, paint brushes, and sanding blocks are all hand tools.

Well broadly defined everyone uses hand tools.  But I know plenty of cabinet shops where you won't see a hand plane other than for decoration.  

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To be honest I have a hard time imagining that any shop has no hand tools at all.  Is that even possible?  After all hammers, squares, rulers, planes, spoke shaves, files, rasps, chisels, screwdrivers, cabinet scrapers, paint brushes, and sanding blocks are all hand tools.

My original post was meant to reference tools such as Planes, Chisels, Rasps and things of this nature that are used in the shaping of the wood.  I was interested in the reasons people have chosen to use these types of tools along with power tools in the manipulation of the wood. Otherwise in the form of Hammers, Screw Drivers. and Rulers yes we all have hand tools.  

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I just find hand tools very "zen".  I love the sound and feel of a sharp hand plane over a board.

Also, some hand tools are incrediy accurate and easy to get things " just right", like using a router plane to get a perfect dado or hinge mortise (after a router or TS does the bulk of removal).

Edited by franklin pug
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