Hand Tools #1: Thanks Tommy Mac!

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Blog entry by MikeGCNY posted 03-22-2011 11:01 PM 4725 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Hand Tools series Part 2: Wow, hand planes are addictive! »

My great grandfather was a furniture maker who immigrated to the US from Italy in the 1920’s. I have a piece of his that was made in the early 50’s, was painted in the 60’s and then stripped and “weathered” in the 80’s. Its in terrible shape, but it have given me an idea—the re-craft the exact piece of furniture. Something occurred to me though: the techniques that I currently use have almost nothing in common with those of my great grandfather.

So I am going to be getting more into hand tools over the next year or so. Watching Tommy Mac for the past few weeks has really gotten me thinking about a healthy balance between hand and power tools; something that Norm never really did well+. My current shop looks more like a production shop than an artists studio. Whenever I am presented with a particular challenge, I often choose to utilize the quickest and easiest solution possible with little regard for the artisanal merits of the approach.

So I am going to start with a hand plane. I Picked up an old Bailey #5 for 12 bucks.


+ Don’t get me wrong, I love Norm. Without him, I would have never developed an affinity for woodworking. And yes, he did occasionally use hand tools, though I never did see him flatten a board with a hand plane—he used his Timesavers sander for that :)

10 comments so far

View Dan's profile


3630 posts in 2908 days

#1 posted 03-22-2011 11:31 PM

Mike, If you stick with it I think you will really enjoy using the hand tools, especially the hand plane. I have a story that is a bit different then yours. My dad was really into woodworking and had a nice shop set up at home so I grew up around it. However my dad almost never used hand tools and he didn’t have any planes. When I got serious about woodworking myself a couple years ago I got most of my advice on how to do stuff from my dad. The only difference is I had an old plane that I tried out and had very bad results. This made me want to learn it even more so I went on to learn all I could.. I am still learning and loving it. No power tool can replace a hand plane that is fine tuned and sharp..

Hope you enjoy it and if you get bad first results like most guys do, don’t quit. Just keep learning.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View Grandpa's profile


3259 posts in 2703 days

#2 posted 03-23-2011 03:20 AM

I learned wood working back in the days when it was taught in the school system. We started on hand tools like the planes and hand drills etc. I went on to get a degree in Industial Arts and learned more about all the tools. I prefer the power tools in most cases but there is certainly nothing wrong with learning about and using hand tools. I am even looking at an old plane that has been stored in my shop for years. Dan has inspired me to restoring it. I do use a block plane I bought at a garage sale. It was in a metal 5 gallon bucket and I asked the man how much for this stuff. He said pull it out and I will price it. I pulled out the Stanley
9 1/2 block plane and he said $1. I just paid him and ran. It has a nick in the blade or iron as I was taught but it honed out. I do use it in general carpentary. I suppose it just come down to what do you want to do. Do you want to build the furniture just like your grandfather built it and use the same tools like he used of do you want a modern reproduction. Make one of each. As Dan said it does take some practice. We “squared a board” in my first class. I will say that the better the lumber used the easier it is to work with hand tools. Knots are more difficult to deal with in my opinion….whatever that is worth. Good luck on your project. Kepp us posted and show us the pics as it progresses.

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3143 days

#3 posted 03-23-2011 08:26 AM

you will love to go the slippery slope of the handtool lane :-)
and before you know it you will want to work like a gentleman all day long …... in silent …. lol

good luck with the journey


View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 2916 days

#4 posted 03-23-2011 08:40 AM

Don’t forget to tune that plane up really well. Take good care of it and it’ll take good care of you.

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View Dan's profile


3630 posts in 2908 days

#5 posted 03-23-2011 06:09 PM

I forgot I wanted to comment about Norm Abraham and hand tools…

A while back one of the woodworking magazines had a several page article/interview with Norm. In the interview he actually said that on his own time he would use a lot more hand tools in his work and preferred them over power tools in many cases. He went on to say that the producers of the show were focused on targeting the mass audience so they wanted the power tools.. Not to mention Delta/Porter Cable was a huge sponsor of the show so you can bet they wanted to make sure their tools were well featured. If I remember correctly Norm had a Delta Unisaw, Delta drill press and Delta radial arm saw…

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View Bertha's profile


13529 posts in 2721 days

#6 posted 03-23-2011 06:18 PM

^I always suspected that about old Norm. With a team of craftsmen making the jigs for your upcoming show, you’re kind of obligated to use power tools!

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View bigike's profile


4052 posts in 3316 days

#7 posted 03-23-2011 06:25 PM

Theres nothing like a very sharp well tuned hand plane running across a nice piece of wood, swoosh.
Plus it will take your woodworking to another level, and give you that much more respect for the art. I always find myself taking a scrap piece of wood and a sharp tuned plane and just start making shavings to hear the sound and feel the feel of the plane running across the wood the surface it leaves behind is saweeeeeet.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop,

View MikeGCNY's profile


44 posts in 3523 days

#8 posted 03-23-2011 06:46 PM

Thanks for the comments! Dan—you are right about Norm. When the guys paying the bills want to see their products in your shop and more importantly, being put to use, you really don’t have much of a choice. Still, there were some “shark-jumpers” for Norm: The Timesavers sander and the Hitachi Re-Saw.

Check out this site: It contains a listing of every tool that norm ever used.

Now, someone needs to start the site

View ShannonRogers's profile


540 posts in 3816 days

#9 posted 03-23-2011 10:20 PM

Good luck on the step towards more hand work. I think you will enjoy the craft much more that way. What’s interesting is you mention choosing the most efficient way to work and notthinki g a out the artsy side of things. When you start working by hand I think you will find the hand tool is often the most efficient method after all.

-- The Hand Tool School is Open for Business! Check out my blog and podcast "The Renaissance Woodworker" at

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 2682 days

#10 posted 04-04-2011 03:15 PM

Balance is important. I think you will find that as you go down this road that their are very few things hand tools can’t do. provided to take some time to develop the skills necessary to use them. On the flip side of the coin the power tools can add efficiency and repeatability to certain tasks.

Most likely you will find just like Shannon said that you will find that hand tools will often be the most efficient method, first example of that is finish planing…faster and better. Hand scraping, faster, cheaper, and better.

Just keep in mind that if something is not working right it’s probably not the tool, it’s you or the way you have prepped it. They worked for a few hundred years and nothing has changed since then. Oh and save yourself some headache, do not buy a chisel from a big-box store.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

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