Old School V. New School

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Blog entry by HighRockWoodworking posted 04-02-2010 08:50 PM 1839 reads 0 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch

As a third generation woodworker and being a builder by trade, woodworking and creating has always been a passion. Growing up in the mountains of western North Carolina, I looked at my father and grandfather being master craftsmen and could not imagine ever having the knowledge they had, but my father said to me that someday I should become a better woodworker than he or my grandfather. He said the reason was that he had learned all that his father had taught him as well as what he had learned on his own and that I should take their knowledge and add I learned along the way.

My grandfather died when I was still a teenager and like many young boys I did not ask the questions I should have while he was still alive. What I do remember about him was that he worked hard and built many great homes and beautiful cabinets, on a few occasions he even built wooden boats that local neighbors used to get across the river to their homes. He did not have a lot of the fancy tools we are accustomed to and think we can’t live without today. Mainly he relied on simple tools which for the most part were hand tools. Many of the tools were often handmade such as a chisel made from an old piece of steel or an axe handle made from a small tree cut down from behind the barn.

Most of what I learned growing up about woodworking came from my father. He was a successful builder and often included custom built cabinets and even custom pieces of furniture that he designed and built. Growing up we went from a small shop in our garage to a 40’ by 100’ woodworking shop equipped with industrial planers, jointer, table saws, and most any other tool needed. I was taught to work with all of these tools but the most valuable lesson I was taught was to be accurate. My father would mark a board with a line that was barely visible and tell me to cut it but to leave half the line. I would like to believe that I have become a good woodworker because of what he taught me but know that I still have a lot to learn.

With time and opportunities I have moved away from the mountains where I grew up and now live just out side of Atlanta, Ga. I still love woodworking but with only half of a two car garage to use as a shop I have little space for more than a few basic power tools. I always thought that I had to have all of the tools my fathers shop offered in order to build and limited my woodworking to weekend trips back to the mountains. Then, I started thinking of my grandfather and how he built beautifully crafted pieces and homes with few tools.

I realized that maybe I needed to rethink some of the basic techniques that I used. I started reading more about the use of hand tools such has smoothing planes, shoulder planes, and hand scrapers. I soon learned that I enjoyed the tranquility and feeling of nostalgia I get from cutting dove tails by hand or smoothing a board with my hand plane and hand scraper with result as good or better than I was getting before. What I also learned is that I don’t have to be a purest and only use hand tool or only use machine tools. I use what works best for me and the space I have.

Then it hit me, suddenly I found that what my father told me all those years ago is right. Although I have a lot to learn, I have finally taken not only what my father taught me but also the knowledge my grandfather used and put them together. In combining the two styles I have discovered that I am now acquiring skills that have made me a better woodworker. In continuing to improve upon my these skills I feel I am a part of many generations of learning and that I am creating pieces that I hope will be enjoyed for many more generations

Christopher Adkins

-- Chris Adkins,

20 comments so far

View DaddyZ's profile


2475 posts in 3064 days

#1 posted 04-02-2010 08:59 PM

The best carpenter in history had NO power Tools, but a lot of Power.

-- Pat - Worker of Wood, Collector of Tools, Father of one

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4151 days

#2 posted 04-02-2010 09:08 PM

Norm Abrams had NO power tools?

-- 温故知新

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


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#3 posted 04-02-2010 09:10 PM

Thats a great story.

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329 posts in 3511 days

#4 posted 04-02-2010 09:47 PM

First off, welcome Chris, good to have you aboard.
I enjoyed your story, and agree with your conclusions. I think both power and hand tools have a place in every shop, and learning from others is a great way to broaden your skills. This is what makes LJ’s so wonderful.

-- Rich in Richmond -- Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.

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10880 posts in 3139 days

#5 posted 04-02-2010 10:51 PM

a very fine blog on this isue about (handtools Vs. powertools) oldscool Vs. newscool
I will take this history with me in my mind
even thow I don´t have any fammely there is or have been in anyjind of woodworking
and for me it´s only a hobby

thank´s for sharing your history


View HighRockWoodworking's profile


182 posts in 3003 days

#6 posted 04-02-2010 11:31 PM

Thanks for all of the great comments. It is great to be apart of this community.

Originally I wrote this article and submitted it to Popular Woodworking but they had a few others similar and did not publish it. I am working on another to submit to them now and hope it gets accepted.

I post pretty much everything that I post on my regular blog on here, but am just getting started there so please stop by and join….I can use all the support I can get.

Chris Adkins

-- Chris Adkins,

View woody57's profile


650 posts in 3451 days

#7 posted 04-03-2010 01:22 AM

welcome Chris
Great story

-- Emmett, from Georgia

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13606 posts in 3365 days

#8 posted 04-03-2010 02:03 AM

well said , chris .

and welcome to LJ’s .

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

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13495 posts in 3798 days

#9 posted 04-03-2010 04:59 AM

Great story! Thanks for sharing.

God Bless

-- Mc Bridge Cabinets, Iowa

View BTKS's profile


1986 posts in 3488 days

#10 posted 04-03-2010 05:09 AM

The best story I’ve read in some time. Memories of my grandfather came rushing back. My mother’s father and my father have formed the kind of framework you describe. Fortunately my father is still alive and creating. He works in metal where I work in wood and sometimes in metal. Grandpa worked in both. I will take a renewed interest and seek out more of Dad’s advice thanks to this post. Thank you very much, BTKS

-- "Man's ingenuity has outrun his intelligence" (Joseph Wood Krutch)

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9708 posts in 3057 days

#11 posted 04-03-2010 05:51 AM

Welcome Chris.

That is a great story and you’re right. It will only work to the better for you. I’ll be watching for your Projects.

Puts me in mind of an old line most of us have probably heard before. “When I was a Young Guy, I was amazed at how Dumb my Father was. I was even more amazed at the fact that the Older I got the Smarter my Father became.”

NOT intended to reflect your experiences Chris. In fact it sounds like you had/have a wonderful Life with your Dad & Grandfather. That’s a GOOD THING!!


-- LIFE is what happens when you're planning on doing Other Things!

View bunkie's profile


412 posts in 3171 days

#12 posted 04-03-2010 06:39 AM


Very nicely said. What you said about not having learned as much as you could have from your grandfather really resonated with me. First because I missed the opportunity to learn as much from both my parents about cooking (they were both professionals) before I lost them, but second because what I did manage to learn was to respect the process of learning and have the right attitude which is what you seem to have gotten from both your father and grandfather. We owe a great debt to those who, by example, show us how to become better than we are. Thanks for reminding me of that.

-- Altruism is, ultimately, self-serving

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#13 posted 04-03-2010 07:10 AM

Welcome Chris

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

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661 posts in 3224 days

#14 posted 04-03-2010 03:33 PM

Welcome Chris, reading your story brought back fond memories of my grand father. Bib overalls, reversed railroad cap and a cigar firmly clamped in his teeth. I tried to listen and learn, but I to was too young and pensive to really pay attention. I wish I knew then what I know now and had the sense to try and learn. He was my mothers father. I guess I got his gene for woodworking.

-- Methods are many,Principles are few.Methods change often,Principles never do.

View Wintersedge's profile


83 posts in 2998 days

#15 posted 04-05-2010 09:49 AM


What a great post. It reminds me of a good friend I met while sandblasting glass. He was a glass blower who started in his late 30s. He decided to go overseas to study in the Czech republic. When he got to the factory he was introduced to one of the master glass blowers. Jeff thought for a moment that this master could be no older than late 20s… How could this master younger than himself teach him more than he already knew. They spent the day talking, touring, and using stations within the factory. Towards the end of the day Jeff finally got the courage to ask how old are you. The master replied: 27! It might have been the look on Jeff’s face, that caused the master to ‘explain’. He talked about how he had been around the glory hole since the age of 3. His father had taught him. As a matter of fact, his father worked in the factory and was one of the master molder(guys who made the wooden mold that glass blowers wet and then blow their shapes into). His father had learned from his grandfather who also worked in the factory and was a master designer. All told, the boy had 24 years of exp, learned from someone who had 40+ years of experience, who in turn was taught by someone with 70+ years of experience.

Talk about a legacy! Needless to say, Jeff learned and became a good glass blower. His work was even presented to the Queen of England…

I look forward to reading more of your stories..

If you ever get around Flowery Branch, drop me a line, would love to grab a few beers and talk tools.


-- Motivation alone is not enough. If you have an idiot and you motivate him, now you have a motivated idiot.

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