Ponderings #18: Being to Hasty

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Blog entry by Tomcat1066 posted 02-20-2008 12:06 AM 1337 reads 0 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 17: Staying the Course? Part 18 of Ponderings series Part 19: Where to start back »

I’ve always been a bit of an extremist I guess. No, I don’t strap bombs to my chest and blow up stuff that I’m ideologically against. I just tend to go toward some extreme subculture of any hobby I get into. My other passion is backpacking. There, I’m what they call an ultralight backpacker. Minimal equipment, minimal weight, and admittedly minimal comfort. However, I have a blast with that extreme.

When I first looked into woodworking, I was leaning toward being a Normite. Table saw, planer, jointer, band saw, router table, the works. I wanted it all. However, my grandmother passing away threw that into a tizzy. You see, my current home has an 16×20 building in back that would work well for a shop. In fact, that’s really what it’s supposed to be since it has a garage door, but no way to get a car back there. However, the neighborhood isn’t that great. When my grandmother passed away, it left her half of the duplex she owned empty, my mother living on the other side. Mom confessed she doesn’t want to be a landlord, and asked if we would move in there. Considering the longer we live in this neighborhood, the higher the likelihood I’ll end up shooting someone, it was a no-brainer.

Because I was looking at a 6’x6’ shop, power tools didn’t look feasible to me. Someone suggested hand tools, and they are a wonderful idea. I started leaning more and more toward the fringes…the Neanderthal extreme. I accumulated vintage tools like there was no tomorrow! I got some great tools, and some so-so tools and a couple of pieces that work only marginally better than the pile that comes out of a dog’s sphincter. Each has been a lesson for me, one that I’m thankful for, truth be told.

However, after working on the bench a bit, I’m left pondering if I went toward hand tools to quickly. Granted, I used mostly hand held power tools, but they weren’t ideal. They were decent tools that did what I asked, but with the exception of planing, my hand tools have been less than ideal this time out. My chisels apparently dulled to quickly. My Japanese saw was the least pleasant thing I’ve done on this project, up to and including the large gouge on my thumb. Basically, some of this just hasn’t been that much fun.

My block plane performed extremely well. My spokeshave eventually stepped up and did well also. The shaping of those legs is a point of pride for me. However, I’m now left wondering if I was to hasty about other things. A table saw and a band saw would have performed much better than my circular saw and jig saw.

I’ve got some soul searching to do when this project is finished. I have to decide how best to set up. Chris Schwarz and many other hand tool folks are fans of blended woodworking, and I see their point now as well. There are some things that may be hard to beat as far as power tools go, and I have to decide if I want to try and beat them.

Also, I have to be sure this isn’t just a reaction to a setback. I need to ensure that this is for a good reason, rather than a “I got hurt so hand tools suck” sort of thing (extreme example, I assure you, but you get the point). Balance needs to be important. Working with wood needs to be enjoyable, and if I’m going to get frustrated with the tools, then I need to figure something else out, don’t you agree?

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!

12 comments so far

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4126 days

#1 posted 02-20-2008 12:23 AM

only you know the answer.
You say that ultralight backpacking isn’t comfortable and yet you love that.
your hand tools weren’t comfortable… but do the benefits outweigh the “uncomfortableness” for you?

What IS your goal for woodworking?
Ah the joys of choices!! :)

I hope you sleep well tonight and wake up with your answers :)

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3761 days

#2 posted 02-20-2008 12:29 AM

Ultralight backpacking isn’t uncomfortable, only not as comfortable as what heavyweight backpackers do. A thinner mattress has that effect on me ;)

Some of the hand tool usage was unpleasant to an extreme. I have to decide where to draw the lines I guess.

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3787 days

#3 posted 02-20-2008 12:37 AM

TC, I think that frustration is part of the process. Without the “agony of defeat” the “thrill of victory” would be diminished. If you enjoy woodworking (or any activity for that matter) then you will find a way to pursue it that is consistent with the means that you have available.

Personally I think that your approach, via hand tools, is a great way to start out. I have all the major power tools but I have severely neglected my hand skills. Now I am having a change of heart with regards to their usage and am on the upside of a steep learning curve. In my opinion learning to use hand tool techniques is more difficult than learning to use power tools but once you have mastered this then it makes learning to use power tools that much easier.

Sure you could do the job much easier with a table saw or a band saw but mastering a hand plane, spokeshave, chisel and hand saw gives you a set of skills that will stay with you. I once happened to catch a tv program of a guy in Alaska who had nothing but a canoe, an axe, hammer, chisel, hand saw and spokeshave for tools. He was in a remote area of the state and built himself a cabin with no help using only these tools.
At the time, while I admired the effort, privately I thought he was nuts. But later I after reflecting on the accomplishment I realized that were I in a similar situation I would not have survived because of my lack of hand skills.

You are doing a good job with the tools that your have so keep on working with the tools that you have available and add more as time/budget/space allow.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View bearriverbodger's profile


15 posts in 3726 days

#4 posted 02-20-2008 01:33 AM

I enjoy using hand tools although they can be hard work at times. I think that you should try a differrent type of Japenese saw(than the one in your pictures) as I find the ones I use amazingly accurate and efficient. Unfortunately small injuries are are a part of working with very sharp hand tools but the consequences of contacting any power tool are far worse plus power tool noise and protective equipment detract from the woodworking experience ( and the music on the Radio!).
I do have power tools in my shop and the favorite has to be the bandsaw for its versatility and freindly nature where as the table saw has to be my least favorite for all it’s noise and danger.
A nice frame saw can cut complex shapes very accurately and quick enough to be a pleasure to use. I have some plans somewhere on how to make one from a length of bandsaw blade.
I also use brace and bit type drills but it has been quite a learning curve on how to sharpen them, for all of my there is sharp and there is * sharp!
So my suggestion would be to look at each tool carefully, try it on piece of wood , does it do its job effectivlely
and if not why? Then try the sharpen, change the cutting angle or finally replace with a different kind.
I too have camped with next to nowt and smiled from ear to ear.

-- John, Nova Scotia,

View Schwigs's profile


7 posts in 3831 days

#5 posted 02-20-2008 02:01 AM

I think one of the main differences is that backpacking can be “uncomfortable”, but its a choice you make. Whereas working with hand tools that don’t work is just downright frustrating. I’ve been getting more and more into hand tools, but can’t ever see getting rid of my table saw or router. Its a balance that I’ve been trying to perfect on every project. Each have their place and I’m sure you’ll find that balance more and more with each project.


View mjlauro's profile


244 posts in 3726 days

#6 posted 02-20-2008 02:12 AM

When I first started woodworking all I wanted was to fill my shop space with power tools. That was just over a year ago. I find myself more drawn to hand tools as of late. There quieter, safer, and time tested. I would not trade them for anything and I plan to aquire more still. I think you do need to find a balance though. Boring a hole by hand is not much fun, therefore I choose to use my drill press. Ripping is easier on the table saw. And cutting curves is done quickly with a band saw. That is the reason they will always have a home in my shop. But there is no greater satisfaction(In my humble opinion) then cutting a tenon with a beautifully crafted hand saw. I love to make shavings, not sawdust. That is why I enjoy hand jointing a board, or flattening a table top, or timming or making something flush whatever it is. I have a lathe and enjoy turning, but what a mess it can make. You know what is fun? Shaping a spindle with a spokeshave or drawknife. OK I’m done, this is turning into my own blog. Hang in there tom, oh and by the way don’t worry about slipping and cutting your hands, it goes with the territory, you should see mine.

View Zuki's profile


1404 posts in 4042 days

#7 posted 02-20-2008 02:54 AM

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 3749 days

#8 posted 02-20-2008 03:01 AM

What I would suggest is not to think too much yet about what you WANT to have but how to do what you can with what you DO have. Because that’s all you can control at this point. As you progress in your journey, you’ll see whether or not your frustration with a particular saw or method was only for that one project or if it’s something that creeps up and gives you a wet willie with every single thing you do. That’s when you’ll know what you’ll really need in the future.

I don’t think anyone out there (whether a neanderthal or normite, or somewhere in between) will ever say, “Man, I wish I hadn’t bought a bandsaw.” The question is, how many people out there take great pride in the things they can do without power tools, and are glad they didn’t give in to the power tool urge?

I’m not anti-power tools. I’m just saying do what you can with what you have, and then you’ll know what kind of power tools you really do need.

-- Eric at

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3761 days

#9 posted 02-20-2008 12:32 PM

Thanks folks.

I really don’t think now that the thumb thing had that much to do with my “crisis of faith” really. I think much of it was the utter frustration and getting things done quickly and efficiently. The shaping of the legs? I wouldn’t do them any other way than how I did them (with hand tools). Ripping that stretcher? That just sucked.

Really, I’m just trying to determine if I made a sound decision or made a “cheap” decision. I can be a cheapskate, and buying rust like I have been is cheaper than power tools. Buying rust and fixing them up is very enjoyable for me, don’t get me wrong, but is it the right way for me to woodwork.

Honestly, I have to figure that out. There will ALWAYS be a place for hand tools though. I could never go completely power. Shaping those legs was pure joy, and that was with a less than optimal spokeshave! But with the hand tool operations that are a joy, there are some that just blow.

What I plan to do is figure out why they blow, then adjust accordingly. If it was the tool, then that tool needs to be replaced. If it was just that doing X by hand blows, then I need to try something else. I’m not rushing into any decision or anything. But making a sound decision takes time and introspection. Maybe I’ll decide not to change a thing. Who knows.

I do know that I damn sure don’t want my tools to be frustrating me! I get enough frustration in day to day life ;)

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4139 days

#10 posted 02-20-2008 05:15 PM

In my experience, “cheap” often costs me more in the long run.

-- Ethan,

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3761 days

#11 posted 02-20-2008 05:38 PM

I should have said “inexpensive” instead. These hand tools are all quality tools, so “cheap” is a bad choice of words.

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!

View Jon3's profile


497 posts in 4070 days

#12 posted 02-22-2008 08:19 PM

Take what you like from each.

I too, am an ultralight hiker, but only to a degree. I carry a home made backpack and tarptent. I use a solid fuel stove, and make most of my meals in one pot. I tend to athletic shoes rather than huge boots. But I choose to carry a nice thick inflatable matress and a light, but full size down bag.

You can do the same in woodworking. Use your jointer/planer/tablesaw when you feel thats the way to attack a project, and switch to chisels and planes when you feel more comfortable there. No reason you can’t have the best of both worlds at your fingertips, and just let your whim carry you to the tool you want to use that day.

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