I’m Sorry For Using Power…

by | Jan 26, 2016 | 32 comments


Can’t Be Bothered To Read, Click Play:

We’ve come to the end of the workbenches so today I’m grouping my machines in to a corner of the workshop as tightly as they’ll allow. And then I’m boxing them in. The day that I completed the last bench these no longer had a need within my work.

I came in to woodworking with hand tools. Learnt, practiced and developed with them so they were all that I knew. I also learnt to write with a pencil and as a result still do.
When I started building workbenches I had no sense of supply and demand (no sense of much really) but ultimately I couldn’t keep up with it. I introduced machines to keep up with the pace but it was something I never fully came to terms with, and it never solved the demand problem; I just expected myself to do more.
I work wood by hand; it’s who I am. These machines are getting packed away and I couldn’t be happier. (Bar maybe one but more on that later).

We get a lot of emails and comments that have an underlying sense of power tool guilt. Among the questions and the thanks and the odd rollocking, are apologies when someone shares with me something they’ve built and despite it being truly beautiful, they’re sorry they used power tools. There isn’t any need for guilt or apology, and I feel terrible that I clearly make people feel this way.

I don’t write about hand tools to make you feel guilty, and I’m certainly not being elitist. I write about what I know; the one thing that I understand like the back of my hand and have something worth sharing. I don’t know much about anything else.
If I were to talk about using machines in any depth then I would exhaust my knowledge in a couple of sentences. Turn on, poke wood in and watch it come out. And don’t forget your PPE.
Of course I could watch someone else do it, read a book and then regurgitate the info back to you. But then I’d feel guilty. We don’t need any more novices turned expert.

I introduced machines and the odd power tool to my work on the benches, but I couldn’t shake my hand tool approach. I am a poor machinist. Jigs don’t fit in to the flow of my work and I can’t begin to get my head around making fancy cuts at the bandsaw.
I started with hand tools and it isn’t easy for me to change.
Many woodworkers learn first of all with power tools and if they decide later down the line that they’d like to use to hand tools a bit more, then they’d still be approaching their work with a founded knowledge of using machines. Replicating components precisely, using fences etc.
The approaches are different and I’ve learnt to stick with what I’m good at. We can all learn new methods and ways when we want to though, just take it gradual so you don’t get put off. And never feel judged for the way that you do your work whatever tools you use, if you’re building and enjoying it then you’re doing it right. I always thought the most admirable thing was to be yourself.

On a side note, the workshop is coming together so there’ll be loads of meaty woodworking content and videos very soon. Thanks for bearing with us.


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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Steve Tripp

    There are as many ways to be a woodworker as there are woodworkers.

    I “primarily” use hand tools, but my bandsaw is an important part of my work and it’s something I’m comfortable incorporating into my projects. There is no guilt or pride of using or not using a specific tool, but only the pride and joy of doing the work and in making something pretty.

  2. Joe

    I quite agree. I’m used to hand tools and therefore find them quicker and easier to use than powered ones MOST of the time.

    Power tools have their place but often it’s quicker to do something by hand than set one up, do the job with it, put it away and clean-up the mess that it’s made.

  3. Peter

    Tried the audio file. Thoroughly enjoyed. Your voice is like music to my Swedish ears.

    • Óscar Vázquez Ramió

      Oh, Peter. I say the same for my Catalan ears.

      One of the most honest rants I’ve ever heard on the use of hand tools vs machines.

      Best regards from Catalonia.

  4. Doug

    I greatly enjoyed the workbench series and was wondering whether they will stay up indefinitely for viewing or do I need to store them on my computer?

  5. douglas coates

    I hope that Wadkin sliding saw is nice n safe Richard.

  6. Todd

    It is so refreshing to have someone who teaches hand tool woodworking not to look down on those that use machines. I too, started with hand tools but I moved onto machines. Slowly, I’m move back to the hand tools because of the noise and dust. Thank you for your inspiration.

  7. Sean Griffin

    I have some young boys and a limited experience of wood working what would you suggest as a resource or start to get them going on the right path young.

  8. Len A

    I enjoyed listening to that and people should certainly not feel guilty if they use some power tools to make the task easier. The important thing is to feel comfortable in yourself.

    Years ago I bought an attachment for my universal machine – I still have it and keep it oiled but never ever used it as I didn’t feel comfortable about it not sure why – I just didn’t so there it is still today looking all pristine. However I do use frequently my bandsaw attachment and my lathe and occasionally use it as a pillar drill. All these operations I feel comfortable with and I couldn’t do woodturning unless I use the machine as I don’t have the space or the inclination to make a pole lathe.

    I have orbital sanders and the like but rarely use them on woodworking tasks. I do use an electric drill for making holes in masonry and I also use a portable battery powered screwdriver frequently. It is about choosing what tasks are best suited. Most of all however since my semi-retirement I find myself wanting to do more and more with my hands.
    It is often quicker than setting up jigs etc.

    In short do what you feel most comfortable with and good luck. It is the end product that is important not the route to get there.

  9. David Cockey

    Any updates on the future of the line shaft equipment?

  10. Simon Hillier

    At the moment I am hand tools only but that is more down to being in s tiny space with limited funds.

    I’m learning plenty working by hand and how I can save myself time not agonising over the details that will neither be seen or contribute to the final piece.

    You weren’t wrong that stock prep is 70% of a hand tool woodworkers time. The benefit to me is its s good workout and gives me plenty of time to build the piece in my head.

    When I do get a larger space I will add a few machines so that my limited time can be more productive but I will be very selective.

    I’ve really enjoyed the workbench series and have learnt a truck load from the weekly videos.

    Keep it up, it’s all good from where I’m stood.

  11. Andrew

    I’d struggle without my cordless drill. The circular saw and jigsaw come in handy sometimes too, but I use purely hand tools as much as possible.

  12. Kees

    This might be a good place to ask, just as good as any place I guess. I remember a coouple of years ago you bought a whole lot of belt driven machinery. Did you ever get further with those?

  13. Henry

    I’m one of those that started with power tools and worked with them for about 25-30 years. Strangely enough, over the past 2-3 years, I’ve been unloading my power tools and shifting over to hand tools…..and I’m not looking back. Sure there are times when I think, “This would be so quick on a table saw” or “A jointer would be handy here.” But then I look up and realize I can hear myself think, and there isn’t a blade spinning at an ungodly RPM waiting to separate me from my fingers.

    In all seriousness, I find that doing it by hand does not take considerably longer than using power tools, and I’m enjoying the sense of mindfulness that comes with handwork. And yes, I do use a battery operated cordless drill (as opposed to a hand operated cordless drill). Hmmmm…..seems like a pretty long winded way for me to say that apologies are not necessary…..if it works for you, then that’s what counts.

  14. Peter Littlejohn

    When I started my Joinery apprenticeship in 1970 traditional construction & hand tool methods were common. Over the years this has been replaced with machinery, with hand tools rarely, if ever being used in a commercial workshop today. Even in my home workshop the table saw, buzzer, router, belt sander etc. were the “go to” machines when ever I made something.

    In the past year I have rediscovered using hand tools after seeing a Paul Sellers video which reignited my passion for woodwork again. I’ve sharpened and tuned my #4 plane, chisels and saws and have brought several other hand tools on the internet. My muscle memory and skills of the past is developing each time I use a hand tool again.

    No this does not mean I will be packing up my machines and power tools, they have just as much use now as before. But now I find I’m reaching for hand tools more & more for that one cut or trim that I would have reset a machine to do a year ago. I guess this makes me a “hybrid” woodworker, or as I call myself a “Fusion” (Confusion?) woodworker.

    I appreciate working without the need for earmuffs, goggles, push-sticks, jigs and enjoy the easier clean up afterward. Both hand and power tools require the same level of skill & experience to use, it’s just a different type of skill and experience for each. At the end of the day it is WHAT is being made from wood that is important.

    • Len A

      Well articulated Peter.

  15. Kermit

    I seldom use the two machines I’ve kept. There’s a lathe because a treadle or springpole is no quieter, and a bandsaw that only gets used for ripping and occasional resawing. Besides, I already have them and they’re paid for. All stock prep and joint cutting is by hand–or should I say body, legs, and arms.

  16. Erik Hinkston

    Well said, they are all tools and can be used and enjoyed. I like the pace of using hand tools and the quiet. When the plane is properly tuned and singing there is nothing like it. Other times getting the wood ready to work is a joy when I use a table or band saw. I say use the tool that will make you grin. Every time I get into a different hobby or interest there are these unnecessary divisions about what I should or should not use. In photography it was digital vs film, or Canon vs Nikon, or full frame sensor vs Micro 4/3. Thank you for teaching me some of my lessons, I am grateful.

  17. Salko Safic

    Hand tools one of mans greatest inventions that’s been around since the dawn of mankind something we have come to rely upon everyday in our lives but since the revival of hand tool woodworking it’s become hand tools vs power tools. With purists emerging from every corner judging what is hand made and what isn’t has become a new issue for those trying to make a living from their craft. A truly hand made product is what the name suggests a product that is crafted and fashioned by your own two hands. A scrollsaw, bandsaw or a lathe that has current running through it cannot fall under the category of machine work even though it is technically machinery and not just because it is motorised. A scrollsaw cannot internally cut wood into works of art on it’s own only a cnc can do that and poorly I might add, it takes a great deal of skill and know how to scroll a piece of timber with patterns that have tight radius’s that come to a sharp corner point. A scrollsaw on it’s own without the aid of it’s user can do nothing more than push the blade up and down. A powered lathe does nothing for the woodworker other than spin the timber, how does this current turn a truly handmade item that can only be fashioned by your own hands into a machine made one. How can one lay blame and declassify a hand made item by the use of anyone of those machines I made mention but approve of a foot powered tablesaw or a foot powered mortiser and have it still fall under the category of hand tools and handmade. How can these purists believe that if someone manually stands there hand turning a very large wheel to spin the stock for you in your lathe be considered truly handmade as opposed to a current going through your motorised lathe and be considered machine made. Ludicrous! Both perform the same function, both require the users hands to mold and shape that stock into a work of art.

    I think the whole purist approach is wrong, I think common sense must start to prevail and for novices to begin to learn the difference between what’s truly handmade and what’s machine made.

    Richard I am not referring any of this to you but it is something that I have watching over the years grow out of hand by those you made mention of the novices turned experts and by those teachers who are using this as a marketing strategy to gain more business.

  18. BC O'Brien

    I enjoy and appreciate hand craftsmanship, and I enjoy and appreciate the convenience of power tools and craftsmanship. I don’t see a problem. I’m a painter (pictures, not houses), and it’s the same. I practice the centuries-old, traditional methods of painting, and I also use a digital camera to collect imagery while out painting, and I use my Mac computer to play with my photos to compose for paintings.

  19. Maryellen Burdwood

    I started with power tools, and am slowly converting to hand tools. They feel so much better, and more.. how to describe… ‘right’ for me. I will still keep the bandsaw and drill press, for some things, but, I am beginning the slow migration to non-power. Feels good.

  20. John

    The less publicised fact about writing in pencil, is that it will never fade, and will outlive the paper on which it’s written. Short of burning, and deliberate erasing, pencil is superior to ink for longevity. Ergo the number of letters surviving fromWW1; most written in pencil. Why using pencil is considered bad-manners I don’t know, and for sure I write more neatly and legibly in pencil. So don’t apologise Richard!

    • Salko Safic

      I didn’t know that about pencils and I’m glad you’ve made mention of it. I’m keeping a journal for my future grandkids of every project I have done but the paper I was hoping to use a quill pen on cannot hold the ink without it seeping through the other side. So now I shall write in pencil.

  21. Jasper

    IMHO many so called purists do not understand the difference between hard labour and skilled craft. I learned to work with machines alongside hand tools and that’s ok for me.

    Richard, you call yourself a poor machinist; others may get angry at their chisels because they do not know how to handle them. My (left-handed) handwriting is very poor – no reason to blame my pencil but I tossed the fountain pens a long time ago.

    Ultimately, the question for me is: Who is in charge? E.g. I do not feel at ease when forced to swiftly feed a howling table saw its breakfast. So I decided to buy a “slow” model. Now I am the boss. As a consequence, the work is done quicker.

  22. Darin

    I completely understand, and moving out the power tools seems like the best thing for you at this time. The only thing that I will miss is hearing about your experiences with the set of lineshaft powered tools you talked about a couple of years ago here on the blog. I am not sure if you ever got them set up and running, or if life and the move to a new location caused that project to not happen.

    Myself I am moving from construction/carpenter style woodworking, building walls etc., to building furniture and I am transitioning to hand tools at the same time. I don’t want to deal with dust collection, ear protection, etc.

  23. james

    So what is that machine in the photo?looks more for metal working than wood.

    • Jasper

      It looks like a morticer, and that’s what the filename says. But perhaps it’s one of Richard’s recent inventions he was going to share with the world.

  24. Jeremy

    Good stuff as always. Want to say I enjoy the readings. I “read” many of my blogs via Siri reading them to me on my iPhone (a really useful feature) so I was hesitant to use your audio, but man I love this. Your voice and the lovely little theme music add considerable richness to the content. I hope you can keep it up.

  25. mike murray

    Good post Richard.
    I personally don’t feel guilty using power tools. I have several and enjoy the use of all of them. Since I have been visiting this blog however, I have discovered that in a lot of situations hand tool woodworking is faster, quieter, and someone less work to clean up after. I have a nice table saw but when I need to cut small pieces, I reach under the bench and grab a bench hook or one of the mitre boxes and a saw and cut it in less time than it would take if I had to set up the table saw and get a cord hooked up and then set the saw for the cut an all that.
    It is surprising how nice it is to cut small pieces using the mitre box and saw.
    I have been trying to learn how to properly use and take care of hand tools since I have been reading this blog. I’m much better at it now than I was but I still have a ways to go and learning the finesse and proper techniques will take more time.
    The tough discipline involved in hand tool woodworking is learning to suppress your want to just plug in a tool instead. I’m guilty of that though. I blame it on my age. : )

  26. Len A


    I was going to leave a comment on Chapter 8 of the Workbench Series but there doesn’t appear to be, as yet, an opportunity to do so. I will do that as and when it is possible other than to say what a superb series of videos it has been. Extremely good value for money.



    • Richard Maguire

      Many thanks Len for pointing out the missing comments box – it should now be sorted (hopefully!).
      Cheers, it’s much appreciated.

  27. Duncan

    It might be useful to take a step back from the question of tools and ask the question why? Why am I working with wood?

    For many of us, this question isn’t as trivial as it might seem. Quoting Steve Tripp at the beginning of this post, there are as many answers as there are woodworkers. And most of us change our minds as our circumstances change.

    But thinking about the ‘why’ question will maybe go some way towards answering the ‘how’ question without guilt.

    Richard, I think you are doing great job. Thanks.


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