“My Journey Towards Proficiency.” That’s a lofty statement, isn’t it? Let’s just say it’s a goal I have the intention of reaching at some level, some day.
There seems to be a lot of chatter about hand tools in the world of woodworking lately and I am glad it is occurring. As most of you probably know, this can be a decidedly partisan discussion. I don’t want to get into that type of discussion because a person’s tool choice really comes down to what makes them happy and gets them from Start to Finish in the manner that suits their needs. I’m not a zealot. This is just where I’m at right now.
I recently became inspired to start this seires by Tomcat1066’s Ponderings blog (a good discussion). It reinforced my ideas about working with hand tools as an intentionally therapeutic experience that could also improve craftsmanship.
Flashback to about 2 years ago. I researched and purchased older hand tools almost as much as I researched power tools. However, when I actually started putting tool to wood, I became enamored with the immediacy, the power, the jigs you can make (which I still get excited about), and other things inherently associated with “power” tools. What woodworker new to the craft wouldn’t? My 30-something generation typically doesn’t have access to muscle cars to fiddle with (I have long since parted with my 1966 GTO; one of the more foolish things I’ve done in my life.) I couldn’t care less about a “hot rod” gaming system. You can have them. What’s left? There is not much for us to put our hands on that allows us to tinker, refine, modify and just generally “make our own” that also has a power or speed factor associated with it. Except for our tools and the castles in which we do said tinkering that is.
Fortunately for me, I think I’m coming full-circle on my need for speed and power. It’s more about finesse. I want to truly get to the point of being able to accomplish complex projects without needing power tools. The ultimate goal though is to combine the two schools of thought and make smart decisions on tool usage. For now, the focus is on building the basic hand skills needed to effectively use both skill sets. My ‘tinkering’ is going to be tuning my tools. My ‘refining’ is going to be about sharpening (with and without jigs) as well as developing the muscle control and muscle memory to use the hand tools with a beneficial outcome. As far as making it my own, I will be able to take the skills wherever my tool bag and I go. You can’t beat that!
At a philosophical level, my own selfish hope is that hand tools continue to make inroads back into the everyday woodworker’s tool chests and strategies for solving woodworking problems. I feel the craft as a whole would benefit. After all, we have the perfect place – LumberJocks.com – to share the information.
Selfishness and personal opinion aside, I think our own Thos. Angle sums it up nicely when he says, “The worm forgives the plow and doesn’t care what pulls it. The wood doesn’t care how it was shaped, only the quality counts.”
Next: Milling stock for a simple box design by Gary Rogowski
-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN