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!