Hand Tool Journey #1: Making the Hand Tool Commitment

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Blog entry by Airframer posted 01-31-2013 05:57 AM 2835 reads 2 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Hand Tool Journey series Part 2: Planes, Pains and Automobiles.. »

So as I plan out my first “Real” workbench I have read dozens of articles, forum threads and blogs here and around the internet about the different bench styles and the build process for them. One common theme stood out and that was they all were made using mostly if not only hand tools.

While I am still relatively young at 35 I am pretty old fashioned. I love the thought that even in this day and age of instant gratification and robot workers we still have craftsmen out there creating quality products with their hands. This is how I approach everything I do and have decided that is the direction I want to go in with wood working.

Now first let me just say that I am a bit of a hobby whore (can I say that here?) I have always (since childhood) found creating things myself out of raw materials to be far more gratifying than buying something at a store so I have a number of hobbies that cater to that drive of creation. Wood working is new to me mainly due to being a suburban apartment dweller for most of my adult life and not having the space for any equipment or dust making.

I now have a garage and live in a small Navy town in Washington State and can finally explore this new avenue with.

Initially I had written out a list of needed equipment for my garage shop. All of which were power tools most of which are large bench or floor units. This would lead to needing a dust collector plus air filtration unit. Explaining to my neighbors what all the noise is about and trying to fit myself in there once all this is in place. I have come to the realization that what i was planning is a factory and not a quiet stress releasing wood working shop that I really wanted. Then I realized that all of those large units could be replaced with the correct hand tools and I would take up MUCH less space in the garage, make less noise and would only need a broom/dustpan and yes an air filtration unit (that can be a box fan with a furnace filter strapped to it.. no biggie there).

Not only that but I would be learning a craft and not just learning to build stuff and that is what sold me.

SO.. now that that long winded prequel is done I have placed an order for my first “real” hand tool. I am considering this a beginner/learning tool and for $18 and some change I don’t mind if it shows up needing a lot of work. Re working planes is something I will need to know how to do so no better time than the present to start learning.

Here is the Stanley No. 4 Adjustable Bench Plane I ordered.

Yes, I do realize it is not the same Stanley as the old vintage ones but like I said for the price it is bound to be better than my Bucks Brothers 6” plane which is a whole ‘nother blog entry. I started re working it tonight and I’m not sure if it will be useful for anything but holding down papers when I am done but we shall see. It’s already a turd so if it stays that way no loss.

So now, I am building a new list of “must haves” which will include the basic tool kit of hand tools to build on. To start I am going to keep them mid grade while learning and upgrade the ones that need it once I really get the hang of this. I can’t even explain how excited I am to have come to this decision and can’t wait to cut my first mortise and tenon joint with a mallet and chisel!

This series will be updated with new tool acquisitions and such. Thanks LJ for being here and finally pointing me in the right direction!

-- Eric - "I'm getting proficient with these hand jobbers. - BigRedKnothead"

9 comments so far

View kenn's profile


810 posts in 3745 days

#1 posted 01-31-2013 10:56 AM

Read “The Anachrist’s Tool Chest”. It will give you a great list of tools that a hand tool woodworker needs and show you where to start. Watch out, the rabbit hole is deep!

-- Every cloud has a silver lining

View Arminius's profile


304 posts in 3829 days

#2 posted 01-31-2013 12:00 PM

That plane is likely to end up causing you little but frustration. The great thing about vintage Stanley is that you know there is a good plane in there somewhere. That modern one may simply not be able to tuned into a tool capable of doing a furniture project.

I would also recommend Anarchist’s Tool Chest as a good primer on what you really need.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15369 posts in 2644 days

#3 posted 01-31-2013 12:23 PM

Airframer – Congratulations on your chosen path, and welcome!. You are not alone in your thinking, either. The Anarchist’s Tool Chest (TATC) is a good read for handtool essentials, so is Handtool Essentials, also by C. Schwarz. I’m interested to hear how the #4 above works for you, and ask that you fill us in when it arrives!

What kind of bench is in the plan?

Excited for you, and don’t hesitate to shout out if we can help!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View Kreegan's profile


1452 posts in 2172 days

#4 posted 01-31-2013 02:11 PM

I would actually recommend a different Lost Art Press book, “The Essential Woodworker” by Robert Wearing.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3184 days

#5 posted 01-31-2013 02:57 PM

Cool. But I’m just wondering why you feel this has to be all or nothing in terms of using hand tools. The vast majority of LJs here, even those who build the big, sturdy workbenches you alluded to, are in fact equally proficient in both power tools and hand tools. In my opinion both are indispensible, and having power tools doesn’t make you any less of a craftsman.

I find one of the biggest pleasures of woodworking is indeed the use of chisels, hand saws, planes, rasps, etc. But I’m extrordinarily thankful for my table saw, planer, and thickness sander (I can do without my jointer) which lets me quickly get a project to the aspects of woodworking that ARE indeed pleasing. Most of us would find little pleasure in thicknessing EVERY board we need, and then manually cutting it to size. Some might, but that’s a very select minority of special guys and gals.

Scrollers, carvers, turners…they are all tactile, creative processes that tons of people enjoy. But I wouldn’t be so fast to exclude a few really good power tools, particularly, a really good table saw.

Good blog entry though. Looking forward to seeing how you progress.

-- jay,

View ratchet's profile


1391 posts in 3812 days

#6 posted 01-31-2013 04:15 PM

+1 on the cosmicsnipers advice.

View Airframer's profile


3043 posts in 1979 days

#7 posted 01-31-2013 05:43 PM

Thanks for all the great advice guy!

I should clarify that I do still plan to get a few power tools. I would say about 95% hand tool inventory and the other 5% being powered. I already have a scroll saw and drill press and plan on picking up a small band saw and probably (maybe.. haven’t fully commited yet) a small table saw when one is absolutely needed due to material size and what not.

I will be looking at those books you guys have mentioned.. keep ‘em coming!

-- Eric - "I'm getting proficient with these hand jobbers. - BigRedKnothead"

View eff's profile


16 posts in 1977 days

#8 posted 02-01-2013 05:28 PM

Greetings Airframer,

Welcome from another noob here on LJ. Sounds like we have a bunch in common on several fronts. I look forward to seeing what you have to post in the future.

View Tim's profile


3812 posts in 1987 days

#9 posted 02-10-2013 04:55 AM

Hey Airframer, I ended up deciding to go the hand tool route for pretty much the same reasons you did, plus the rest of my family are extremely light sleepers that go to sleep earlier than I do so I would get very little time to do anything if it weren’t for hand tools. If you want to make sure you have all the basics, check out Paul Sellers blog and google for his minimal hand tools list. He has lots of good advice on buying tools.

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