Despite being a die hard hand tool user there’s nothing that irritates me more than hearing people try to class hand tool use as being superior. The reason I bring this up is because whilst taking a jimmy riddle at a recent show I heard “You’re the chap who hates power tools?”.
I’ve been told previously that I’m ‘That hand tool guy’ and I expect that my supposed hatred of power tools has come about in a kind of ‘Chinese Whispers’ fashion; ‘I love hand tools’ turns to ‘I hate power tools’??
I think it’s good to share an understanding of my mindset on this because to be honest I feel that putting power tool use down or creating some kind of elitist attitude towards hand tools can only really have a negative effect overall. Yes, we all have preferences and always will but there’s still a lot we can learn from each other to integrate in to our own work. I feel there’s more to be lost by encouraging a divide.
Hand tools suit me well. I enjoy my woodwork with them and they’re ideal for my approach. I find power tools confusing compared and so I treat them as roughing machines to speed up waste removal – I have a nice assortment of straight cutters for my router but if you gave me a fancy panel cutting set I probably wouldn’t know where to start! There’s definitely a lot of varied skills required to use power tools accurately and safely – no less than working by hand.
I certainly consider myself to be a hand tool man, but I’m very open to any benefits that power tools can bring.
I’m planning a little series on hand tools and the different ways which I feel they’re relevant for us today, so I wanted to make my Non-hatred of power tools nice and clear first! It’s obviously important for me to have my own views and opinions when writing but I find it just as necessary to stay open to learning from other peoples experiences as well. If I had an arrogance towards other methods then I should think you’d have a hard time listening to me; I know I would!
Are you an old dog or are you always looking for new tricks?
I have to admit, I think I’m the old dog stuck in my ways as it takes a lot for me to change to a new technique. Though I’m always interested by the variety of approaches out there.
I love trying something new with everything I make, if I can. It’s what keeps it fun for me, the learning and experimenting.
Right now I’m about 99% hand tools, as I work in the spare bedroom of my apartment, so noise and dust is a huge factor. I do use circular saw, jig saw, and router/router table at my parents’ place on occasion. Once I have my own garage/shop to make noise in, we’ll see how my power/hand tool hybrid matures…
I do get a lot of enjoyment out of hand tools. More relaxing for me.
Thanks Mosquito. Space, noise and dust are some pretty good incentives for using hand tools. It’ll be interesting to see what changes you make if you get moved in to a workshop.
Eddy Flynn says
i think its a good thing that you dont hate power tools its just a pity they think you do because they dont have the skill to use hand tools power tools take away a lot of skill which is a pity
As I am retired and not trying to earn a living from woodwork, I intend doing as much as possible with hand tools – though I do have bandsaw, planer/thicknesser, and router.
I have assumed that professional woodworkers use power tools because they are quicker and time is money – ie they are more efficient. You are obviously an exception – or proof that my assumption is wrong.
PS Will your international readers understand ‘jimmy riddle’?
Marty Backe says
I enjoy hearing Richard use various English phrases – can be very entertaining from an American perspective. When I read “jimmy riddle”, I had no idea what it meant, and couldn’t even imagine what it could mean, particularly in the context in which it was made. I still have no idea. Maybe I’ll Google it.
ha… it means taking a piddle!
Marty Backe says
Now I need to look up ‘piddle’ 😉
It means taking a leak Maty!
I think! 🙂 🙂
Over here on the west side of The Pond, it’s usually only small dogs that are referred to as “taking a piddle”.
Michael Forster says
Rhyming slang – developed in a particular area of London and bits of it have passed into general usage over here – like ‘taker a butcher’s’ for ‘take a look’ (butcher’s hook). It can get very wordy and convoluted as in ‘ I took a ball of chalk down the Frog and Toad and round the Johnny Horner’
Try a few rhymes and work it out! 🙂
Jim pape says
I love hand tools, both new and old (especially family hand-downs), but I also enjoy using some power tools – especially for bulk ripping when doing general carpentry, e.g., I love my Saw Stop for that (& yes, I have lost part of a finger before the Saw Stop). Also, I have and use a 75-year-old Black and Decker drill press that is still going strong (another hand-down from Grandpa), and I really would not be without a cordless drill/driver unless forced to. So, here’s to the open-minded; just have fun and do your best work!
Thanks Jim, I’m with you on the cordless drill. If I could have only one power tool then that would definately be it for me.
Kevin M says
I use both as needed. Usually my power tools are used for speed more than anything else. I use my table saw for long rip cuts, and a surface planer because I am not yet good enough to accurately thickness boards by hand…yet. That said, I am choosing hand tools more because I feel it challenges me more, and because I like the quieter work mode. Not long ago I had to do some dados using a router. The dust and noise totally put me off, to the point I did not enjoy working on the project at all. It actually became work. So, now I am using hand tools as much as I can. Does that make me better, or more skilled, than power tool users? Heck no! Either technique can turn out some really nice stuff. To me it’s all down to speed and personal preference. By the by, I still have my router, just in case!
Jim Hendricks says
I should hope you DO love power tools Richard…I mean…there can’t be too many bench makers who have a complete original Wadkin drive belt workshop!
I am with you on these “elitist” hand tool nuts who think that anyone else is not a true woodworker. There seems to be a huge snob value in only using hand tools even if there is a power tool that can do the job far more effectively, efficiently and consistently!
There has…since time immemorial, been a kind of rite of passage to “master craftsman” which involved learning only by hand simply because hand tools were the only ones available. Now there is a result-based definition where a true master craftsman is defined on results alone.
This is very sensible I feel.
Conversely, there are those who use only power tools who have an elitist view of hand tool users. To me, this group is equally guilty of snobbery and particularly so if the use of a power tool is not called for when a hand tool would do a much better job and faster.
Whatever the weapon of choice…a master craftsman will shine through with originality, accuracy, clean lines and beauty.
Your benches are a classic example of this true craftsmanship mate!
Yep, I certainly have a soft spot for old cast iron!
I think snobbery is a good word with this, and there are a lot of cases where you can get along much better by being open to both.
Power tools require hand tools in order to operate at their designed best. (hammers,screw drivers,allen wrenches, squares and various guages in order to be calibrated successfully).All woodworkers use hand tools. Power tools require specific hand tools to clean up and clarify or the “fit”of a project. (chisels,planes,files). Mastering the specific hand tools takes a project from mundane to outstanding. Just to remind us take a look at the pieces we admire the most, the furniture that inspires us, the furniture in museums we travel miles to see. The furniture sold at auctions for mega bucks, the majority was made by hand tools
The Schwarz has written about this extensively, but in simplest terms, maybe hand tools vs. power can be though of like driving stick vs. automatic.
A hand tool user gains a better sense of being “closer” to the wood; each hit with the chisel, and every pull of the saw has a clear and viewable result. If one understands how to join wood by hand, the concepts translate to power. In fact it can be argued that most power equipment is simply moving a hand tool blade very very quickly and precisely. The result of wood removed is the same.
If one only learns to operate with power tools, it can be hard to notice and fix a mistake, or modify a plan quickly based on some characteristic of the wood in front of you.
In much the same way that a driver who learns stick can also drive automatic, it seems that people who understand the operation of hand tools can learn how to use the power version more quickly than a power-only person can learn the skill and muscle memory to operate handtools.
Thanks Morgan, Nice comparison! I would agree that you can gain a better understanding by learning at least some hand tool skills first. It’s unlikely that you’d get to the end of a complex project without finding the need for them.
Stephen Melhuish says
Power tools are good if handled properly, i have some and use them where and when appropriate, however what i would say is that sometimes a power tool only can be overkill for a task….too much power can lead to silly oversight, for example running a drill through a piece of wood when all you meant to do was to slowly creep up to the point you intended…. a hand drill has that delivery of intension and delivery through the feel of the user far more than a power tool does, therefore the application of power tools should be applied with due caution…..like i say i have nothing against them, but they can be a little unforgiving if overused for simpler tasks…….hand tools can often be quicker, especially if working on site and the circumstances don’t allow for bulky electrical kit….Horses for courses i think. skills are equally shared but in quite different approaches….still love the hand tool approach though, just a personal thing really.
I’m fairly new to the world of hand tools, but have been using power tools for years. What I’ve found over the past year is that I’m drawn more and more to hand tools. I like the quiet and hand tools are providing a fun challenge. But, like anything else, they take some time to master. The power tools are helping me make the changeover by allowing me to continue to make things as my skills on hand tools grows. For example, I’m yet anything but proficient with using hand planes to surface my boards; therefore the Festool sander still gets a good deal of use. But I have gotten proficient with the hand tools required to make a dado, so the router is gathering more dust these days. Also, I make cutting boards with my grand kids. I would never dream of ripping up all the strips of. Walnut and maple required for those with anything but a table saw. Everything has it’s place. So while I’m really enjoying using hand tools, I would never dream of giving up my power tools.
Adam Maxwell says
Well said, Richard! I like power tools and recognize their benefits, but choose to do all of my work by hand (including grunt work), because I enjoy it as a different sort of challenge. People need to have a sense of humor about this, and keep in mind that not everyone’s cost/benefit calculation will swing the same way.
Graham Haydon says
Ahhhh, a balanced sensible article on woodworking. Keep it coming Richard.
Shannon Rogers says
Sigh…how is this still even a topic of discussion? Well said Richard, you said your peace now you never need to entertain this topic again.
Barry Lowis says
Hi Richard, I am at early stages of teaching myself the art of working wood. I have to say from what I have read and seen so far, there seems to be an awful lot of setting up, jigging etc. before you make a cut with a power tool. The rate of material removal is so rapid and requires a high degree of care to avoid accidents. I suppose when I am more confident with working wood as I am learning using hand tools, then I may be tempted to move to routers, circular saws etc. but at this stage I have treated myself to a band saw which I am delighted with it allows me to re-cut timber roughly to size before I start with the hand tools and works great for me. “Horses for courses” as they say!
Hi Barry, Knowing how to get the most out of jigs is a skill set on its own and like a whole other world to me! This is where power tools really gain their speed but of course it slows you down if you only have one or two parts to make.
I use both. Power tools to get it close, and hand tools to finish it. I even make dados and rabbits by hand now. My finish planing leaves a lot to desire though. I sand everything EWWWWGGGEEWWA…The good thing about that is, so does Paul Sellers. Nuff said. I also am a member of Shannon Rodgers Hand Tool School. Been enjoying watching him make a couple of lathes. That said (I’m 65 years old) There is no way I’m gonna stomp on a lever to turn a lathe project. The rest of the hand tool work is fun and the more of it I do the better I get. The two sides that think their way is the only way to do it need to keep that opinion to themselves. Thanks for what you do Richard, I really enjoy watching and reading your work.
Hi Richard, I can’t understand why some people feel the need to spout this sort of tripe. Whichever ‘camp’ they frequent, they are totally missing the point. It doesn’t matter! Whether you exclusively use hand tools (so called neanderthal) or have more power tools than Norm, as long as you work wood. I have come full circle myself. As a youngster I wasn’t allowed to use power tools because they were dangerous. As time went on, my need to try the latest thing meant a large collection of machines and power tools was amassed. Now, my needs have changed, I’m space constrained for one thing. My main reason for going back to hand tools though is peace and quiet. I enjoy my woodwrking more with out the noise and dust that comes with the machines. This doesn’t mean ‘I hate power tools’! I just don’t use them any more. (Anyone want some secondhand dust masks and ear muffs?) 🙂
I like change. I like new ideas and new things. This doesn’t mean I won’t go back. I am thoroughly enjoy your blog and videos and look forward to your future offerings. If I spot you using a router I’m not going to have a fit and refuse to watch. Likewise, if you never again use so much as a battery drill. I want to improve my woodworking skills, you are assisting me in that aim. I’m a big boy now, if I don’t like/agree with a particular point then I can substitute either my own or that of somebody else. Simples
Kind regards, Mark.
Tom Fidgen says
I don’t hate them either !
It’s funny but I see articles like this from time to time and maybe I’ve been lucky but, I can honestly say I’ve never met someone who thought his/her work was superior in any way because of the tools they used to make it.
I’m a hand tool guy but I don’t think any less of someone who uses power tools- it’s whatever works right?
Thanks Tom, I’m a big fan of your work and you do a great job of showing how design plays such an important role in creating great pieces – much more even than the tools used to make them. It also shows how efficient you can become if you design to suit your particular tools and methods of work.
OK, I’ll bite. What’s a jimmy riddle?
It’s rhyming slang for piddle.! 🙂
It’s rhyming slang for piddle.! 🙂
I do not like noise, and I do not like dust (in fact I HATE them)….but then I like wedges, axes, froes, drawknives, scrub planes…..I just discovered brace and bit screwdriving and proper turnscrews. I never knew a slotted steel screw ever to snap off at the head….I just stripped down my old drill press, keppt the motor and pulleys, dumped the rrest, maybe build up a low speed grinding/stropping wheel (BIG) I still have a table saw, but just dont use it. Ditto, router….Its not particlarly snobbery, just personal preference…
I used hand tools pretty much exclusivelky, up until 15 or so years ago. I discovered that certain machines helped me save time, of which I was running short. Now I have eben less years left, and for run of the mill jobs, a routed dovetail is much easier on my back, as well as saving time. It is also just as strong, as a hand tooled joint. it might not look quite the part, but then on a drawere it’s hidden away for most of its life anyway. Yet it’s still nice to ensconce myself in the shop, with some classical music in the background, and making something nice, small and useful by using hand tools. Am I alone in this?
Never had the money or space for a large shop full of power, but have had access at work. Generally, this has left me with mostly hand tools at home, and a mix at work.
Right now, slowly rebuilding my house, mostly with hand tools and a little battery powered help. Most of the work is tough to fit any other way, as the original construction (house circa 1910, but originally an older barn that was converted) used true size lumber and, and many of the details, like joist spacing and joint design, seem to be heavily influenced by the impressionists, or maybe the early surrealists. Makes for a nice clean, quiet house. Relaxing.
Really messes with the guys at work when they spend a couple days trying to figure out how to mortice nuts into beams, because we don’t have a machine for it and none of them thought of a hand chisel. Job done in a couple minutes per mortice by hand, without having to move the beams from the horses. If we had the machine, it would take almost as long for each, AND we’d have tied a couple guys up to move the beams, which alone would have taken more time than doing them by hand. That said, the beams for that job were cut and notched on a bandsaw and radial arm, with a little hatchet cleanup, and one of them even spent some time on the bridgeport (fun making the supports for that) for exposed end detail work to match the original.
I would like to say something about , – ‘hope you guys will understand that :
-two days ago I’ ve managed to get a #5 Juuma -and in that late sunny afternoon I cleaned the grease , honed the steel and tried the plane.
And I can remember – always will – the sounds : of planned wood , of silky -falling shavings ,and some birds.
I am definitely not a woodworker , but I retired from some noisy -dusty industrial environment , so I like (can afford to) the sound of silence.
I think that it’s not the power tools – with their noise & dust -the problem/issue , but the human thirst to get rich at any cost.
Now , I really have to go… Where’ s that place , Richard ? (-:)
Michael Forster says
I think I have a very similar approach to Richard’s here. I generally prefer hand tools because I like the comparative silence, being able to hear either birdsong or classical music while I work, the relative absence of dust and chippings (no need to do my woodworking while cocooned in protective clothing) and the positive presence of beautiful shavings peeling off the plane cutter. I also enjoy the satisfaction of cutting joints by hand – particularly dovetails. But I don’t enjoy timber preparation, hence the bandsaw and planer/thicnesser, and I find a router table handy for grooves. I also tend to use a sander for curves because I haven’t had time to practise with the spokeshave but I’m going to. I don’t possess a dovetailing jig although I do have three routers (including the one permanently inverted in the table). When we moved house I wanted a bigger workshop but ended up with one plus an adjacent garage. Turning that into a machine shop has given me the best of both worlds, and the fact that the spaces are completely separate means that the one can’t encroach on the other. Just one more point – I used to ‘hate’ machines (and I still don’t quite love them) but then I was using pretty down-market stuff on the whole and still am. However, upgrading my bandsaw to an industrial-grade model has been rather an eye-opener – there’s something about a machine cutting really sweetly and getting the donkey work out of the way efficiently that has a kind of satisfaction of its own.
In all my hobbies, I have found people who subscribe to this ideal;
“Don’t let a good hobby get in the way of personal politics and forming cliques”.
I started out with Steve Ramsey videos, which really heavily use power tools, and that’s the way I initially started gearing myself up. A very good friend of mine did a year-long, 5 day a week, 9-to-5 woodworking course, and has some away with the most amazing skills with hand tools, and power tools. So I’m bridging the gap myself, having just got my first two planes (A cheap block plane, and a modern Stanley #4).
As with power tools, cheap/bad hand tools are an exercise in frustration!