Hand Tools vs Power Tools and Other Things
Maybe I’m old-fashioned or new-fashioned, I’m not sure, but I really don’t like to use an old (or new for that matter) outhouse to do my ‘business’ in. The comfortable, clean, odorless bathroom is my preference, even one at the gas station. We knew a young couple once, (way out in the country!) that used drywall buckets for toilets and used their waste to fertilize the garden, said it was the best way.
I never ate with them.
On the same vein of thought, I prefer to travel in an airplane, automobile, motorcycle or any other modern transportation device – vehicle. When it comes to local travel I prefer to get into the car and drive the 15 minutes to town than to ride a horse for an hour and a half maybe longer. When I return I just get out of the car and go into the house, without feeding, watering, brushing anyone or thing and all the other needs for the saddle care and mucking out the barn.
Of course, many people LOVE all this and the pleasure of riding in the open air and they find true freedom and pleasure within their lifestyle. My hat’s off to them, and I do understand their viewpoint; I live & have my shop built on my 88 acres within the Hoosier National Forest in hilly Southern Indiana. It’s a great walk to work, no traffic. I never take that walk for granted, my love for the fresh air and 50-year-old forest surrounding me never lessens.
Another pleasure for many and angst for me is sitting outside for hours in very cold weather waiting for the odd deer to wonder into my shooting zone. My mind tends to wander into my shop and to my lists of jobs sold, various chores I’ve put off, changing the oil in Mary’s car and on and on. In my thoughtful state a deer could tap me on the shoulder and I would jump up and run to the shop to work. But dear friends and thousands of others love the challenge and all the elements of hunting.
Some of you might know where I’m going with this blog, but bear with me.
Electricity in my home and shop is another preference I have. Flip a switch, and you get light, power, and a hot shower instantly, it’s great. There might be some who prefer to light their homes with kerosene, lanterns or candles, but I don’t personally know any outside my Amish neighbors.
That life before electricity and back in the pre-civil war days was when the furniture in America was made exclusively with hand tools. Mostly it was also made with loving care and pride of craftsmanship and honor of their name. When they added their name to the finished piece it was with great pride because of the quality of workmanship.
If the craftsmen of old were alive today, they would probably understand why many hobbyists, hand tool makers and advertisers, magazine writers, hand tool class teachers, etc. would promote the new fashion in woodworking of exclusive hand tool construction. It has a feeling of more control and personal touch and is deeply satisfying.
But, also speculating here, these craftsmen from the past would probably enjoy the electric lights, saws, jointers, planers, sanders and on and on. No doubt the porcelain chair in the closet with running water and toilet paper would win their approval after a couple uses too.
Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying here, I still use my hand tools, when it makes sense and there is available time. A couple classes back I was teaching two first time students. It was their first time in any woodworking class and their first project. Guess what? The electricity went off during a storm and there we were … two first time woodworking students and me. It was genuinely perfect for the occasion, we finished with hand tools only and they got more training than they expected. You see, it’s really about time.
We all know in business time is money. Few of us can hand build furniture for just the sweet reward of doing it. Most are in the woodworking business to do what we love and also pay the bills. That’s true now just as much as it was in the 1800 or 1700’s, really since the beginning of time. When you build custom kitchens, furniture, or anything out of wood for a living, at least when it’s your career, the method you support your family, put your kids through college, especially in fluctuating economies it’s best to be able to do an excellent job as fast as you can. But when time is not a factor you can do anything your heart desires, that is, if you have the money!
The craft of woodworking has room for everyone. Some craftsmen only use Japanese methods, some hand tools only, some major in modern with the most fantastic machine available today and then there are those of us in the middle. The first time students in my class were happy that I was experienced enough to finish the class with hand tools only. But also happy that they took a class for a weekend and took home a completed piece of furniture. We could not have done that without electricity. It would have taken much longer than a weekend to finish the project without electricity and cost the student quite a bit more for the time involved.
So don’t be intimidated if your friend or neighbor only works with machines to make his furniture. That’s their preference, you can master true craftsmanship with or without electricity. My personal preference is using electricity, as well as hand tools where needed so that I accomplish more in a short amount of time and bring in more revenue (to buy more wood!).
The main rule for me is high quality either way.
The total fulfillment in woodworking or any craft is that you can do it your way. I’m so thankful I was trained on hand tools and machines. If the electricity fails I can still make projects from wood, but maybe not enough to support myself! Once I retire and have time (I really cannot imagine that) but if I do I’ll probably still use both hand tools and machines.
As new woodworkers, do not be intimidated by either method. Try both and more, try it all and enjoy the most fulfilling craft I have found and take it to any level you want and you can. Just make sure you are enjoying yourself and having fun.
That is truly what this is about, self-fulfillment and sharing the projects you make with others.
What are your thoughts?