I often feel like I’m fighting the corner for Hand Tools and yet within my day to day work I have a number of machines that I have to rely upon. The machines are there because the work I do is big and the amount of timber I process is large – hand preparing every board for every workbench would be impractical. When I talk about having a passion for hand tool woodworking it doesn’t mean that I want to abolish machinery altogether, I really do appreciate them. But I know if my job was solely to build furniture then I would be more than happy to live without them.
I have a confession; I’ve always been a hand tool chap since I was very little watching my Granddad work but there was a time when I loved to watch Norm on the TV. As far as influences go I think Norm must have had a huge impact at getting many people interested in woodwork which is brilliant. But the trouble was I was still learning and felt that if I could have a set up like Norm’s then everything would go like clockwork. I desired for machines for a while and spent most of that time feeling deflated that I had no money to even scratch the surface and I certainly didn’t have enough space. It wasn’t until I struggled on without the ‘perfect’ set up that something clicked, I didn’t enjoy the noise or dust created by the cheap machines that I’d acquired and most of my time was being spent either setting up a machine or scratching my head trying to work out what had broken now. By contrast every bit of work I did by hand brought satisfaction, a sense of achievement. My love of woodwork was rekindled and very quickly I was stripping things right back to basics, studying age old techniques and creating my own through trial and error.
I’ve been a hand tool fanatic ever since but would never dispute that machines are necessary. A great majority of woodworkers are keen hobbyists rather than professional and in the UK especially this means space can be tight. With any hobby we do it for enjoyment, it may be for relaxation or an ambition to keep learning but one thing we don’t need is unnecessary frustration.
With a small garage you may have the space for a couple of small machines and I feel the right ones can make good companions to the hand tool woodworker. I know I’d stick to being hand tool only but a small bandsaw and planer-thicknesser would cut out a lot of the graft and repetition. The bandsaw comes in to quickly makes rips and is useful for awkward curves and the planer is obvious. When time is scarce and you have a big project on the go you may have more fun if you can move on to the more varied activities. I’d definitely encourage practicing your hand techniques on small projects but on something large like a wardrobe then you might want to hog the crap away!
I tend to see machines as roughing tools within the hand tool workshop so they’re there to get rid of the bulk of waste. To use machines for finer work and joinery takes a different approach so I would rarely see any need for something like a table saw with the way that I like to work.
I find the efficiency with hand tools comes with the right approach and so that’ll be a follow up post for next week.