Ponderings #22: The End Result Versus The Process

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Blog entry by Tomcat1066 posted 12-02-2008 12:29 PM 1091 reads 0 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 21: Grand Plans and Harsh Reality Part 22 of Ponderings series Part 23: Table Saw Versus Bandsaw »

My hand tools have been a bit frustrating, and I think I know why. Partially because they need some more sharpening, but that’s not all. There’s a good bit more sitting beneath the surface, waiting to be exposed, and more and more work with wood has started exposing that to me. I think I’ve finally realized the issue, and now it’s time to deal with the long, expensive journey to fix that.

Working outside like I’m forced to do, weather becomes a major factor in anything I do. This past weekend’s rain made it difficult for me to work on my stocking/coat hanger. Finally I said “screw it” and sharpened my hand saw and went to work on the screened in back porch. It was still damp in there, so I was concerned about firing up any kind of power saw. I couldn’t get the cuts I wanted with my saws. My hand saw cut wandered a bit, but my coping saw cuts were just awful. Finally I just said screw it with that piece, carefully inspected my circular saw for any king of moisture and the outlet outside as well. Both being dry, I fired it up and cut another piece of pine. This time I just chamfered the edges with my block plane. That worked out OK, but was a bit plane (no pun intended).

Yes, I probably need a lot more work with my hand tools. Yes, it’s a process to learn them correctly. Yes, I’ve been out of it for a while now and things aren’t going to go as smoothly as I may like. However, the whole process made me evaluate what I want out of woodworking. I love old tools, and I love restoring them, but is that enough? Is that, in and of itself, woodworking? Personally, I think that’s a hobby unto itself, and therefore it’s not actually woodworking…but close.

What I’m interested in is the art of woodworking. I want to create works that I can look at and wonder “I made that?” That question should be echoed by every one of my friends who see that…for a while. After a time, I could show them some amazing piece by Sam Maloof or David Marks and their reaction would be “Of course you made that” because they no longer think anything is impossible for me to build. I’m interested in creating strong, sturdy pieces of furniture that last for the rest of my life, my son’s life and his great-great grand children’s life if at all possible. I love seeing a project come together before my eyes and I love being able to solve a technical difficulty in my mind, only to see it come to fruition afterwards.

So, it’s time to build up my arsenal of power tools. I won’t be turning my back completely on hand tools though, so no worries there, but it’s time to round out my equipment. I once wrote a blog about boundaries, and how I needed to get past those, and yet all this time I had been living with a self imposed boundary of hand tools. I’m making good money now, and have enough disposable income to pick up some decent power tools, so now it’s time to knock down that boundary. It’s time to kick in the door and let the piece dictate the technique to me, and no one else, but not the other way around. It’s time to be available to as much opportunity as humanly possible.

After my stocking/coat hanger project, I need to build a bookcase for my mother. She probably broke her foot putting together one of those cheap-o things that she got a Big Lots this past weekend (she goes to an orthopedic doctor tomorrow to find out if she did), and to keep her from trying the other one, I had to promise to build her one out of real wood. Frankly, I need to build two because the one she managed to put together looks far to flimsy to be trusted with anything actually on it for a prolonged period of time. As such, I figure a router is where I need to concentrate my effort first, but after that I’m drawing a blank.

I have a few ideas though, but I’ll share them another time.

-- "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!

11 comments so far

View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 3964 days

#1 posted 12-02-2008 12:49 PM

A very interesting “Ah Ha” moment. Restrictions are good if they are in the form of discipline, but they can be a real hinderance to growth if they are arbitrary. Your journey has been worth following.

As for tools, if you haven’t got a good jig saw, and you’re limited to portability, that’s where I’d go next after the router.

-- Working at Woodworking

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3821 days

#2 posted 12-02-2008 12:54 PM

Agreed. I’m looking at those as well. After that though, it starts to get a lot murkier ;)

Edited to add that I have a jigsaw, but it sucks…so I might as well not have one ;)

-- "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 3847 days

#3 posted 12-02-2008 01:50 PM

It does take time to develop hand tool techniques that is why, in a bygone era, apprenticeships lasted 7 years and work had to be juried by master craftsmen. Most of us, as hobbyists, simply do not have this amount of time to devote to the development of these type of skills. Power tools do help ameliorate the steep learning curve associated with woodworking but present a unique learning curve in and of themselves.

Any chance you could find an enclosed area to work in? I am going on memory, and that often gets me in trouble, but I thought you had contemplated a shop building of some sort. How about simply enclosing the back porch? Given your climate a small space heater should make this comfortable enough to work in.

But I agree your first priority should be acquiring some quality tools, if this is the route that you want to pursue. I firmly believe that it is “better to cry once when you buy a tool rather than the 1000 times you use it”.

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

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3987 days

#4 posted 12-02-2008 03:05 PM

There is a saying that is used a lot in our church, “Line upon line, precept upon precept.” It means that we learn in small segments and add to our learning only when we are ready to receive more knowledge. I think this applies to all learning, even woodworking. If you learn a new technique, then perfect it and then move on to something new, in time you will have an arsenal of knowledge which will help you build those artifacts you desire. As Frank Klaus says, “Learn to saw straight.”

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View mmh's profile


3677 posts in 3747 days

#5 posted 12-02-2008 03:45 PM

Bravo on your enlightenment. I like your thinking about creating works of art that can be passed down for generations. Why clutter the world with cheap stuff that isn’t worth it’s volume when you can make something you can be proud of and truly enjoy? (Grant you cost and time are a factor, but we are craftspeople, not machines.)

Another note on the bookshelf that hurt your Mom’s foot, it was probably not made in the USA. We need to help ourselves by buying local. It may cost more out of your pocket at first, but look what we’ve done to ourselves by buying cheap. The furniture manufacturers in NC & SC have all closed up and our people are out of jobs.

I’ve been looking at the Grizzly machinery. I hear a lot of good comments on their quality. Their prices seem to be more reasonable. Although these are imports (China & Taiwan, so are many other brands), at least you seem to be getting your money’s worth. The Delta band saw we purchased from Home Depot is not one I would recommend. The old Craftsman we gave away was much better but was having issues so it went to a good home of charity.

Please keep us posted on your progress.

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4030 days

#6 posted 12-02-2008 03:50 PM

Theres a lot to be said for the knowledge gained by NOT always having the best tools for the job. Improvisation is a skill lost to the man who starts out with every tool imaginable.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3821 days

#7 posted 12-02-2008 04:12 PM

Scott: That’s the approach I’m taking. I can afford some pretty decent hand held power tools easily (Bosch, Dewalt, etc…no Festool just yet though) and with a little bit of savings can manage some of the largish machines like a contractor saw and/or band saw. All of good quality. They might not be top of the line, but they should all be solid performers.

As for enclosing the back, perhaps in time I will. I’m also looking at possibly getting one of those wooden out buildings they sell at the BORG and setting it up. Run something for electrical service out there, and be good to go. Unfortunately, they’re not inexpensive, so I’ll also be running some numbers of my own to see how much building it myself will be. Trust me…I prefer walls. But…in the mean time… ;)

Thos.: I agree. And please don’t anyone think I’m turning completely away from hand tools. They serve great functions and I’ll still work with them and practice with them. However, completing projects is something I need to do for me, with practice worked in to make a good job of it. In time, I’m sure I’ll be plenty competent with hand tools alone…but for now, I’ll get some tailed apprentices to help out a bit ;)

mmh: I agree completely on pretty much everything you’ve said. I have no doubts that this thing was made overseas, and for a song even by that country’s standards. Seriously, this thing just screams “cheap”.

miles: I agree with you as well. In fact, some time ago I posted a blog about the most important tool, the brain. I have no intentions of throwing tools at the problem. Instead, I simply intend to get the “basic” tools that will do the job I want and learn their capabilities so that I can use them to their fullest and make my visions become reality.

I’m not sure if that makes any sense or not, but I hope it does.

Thank you everyone for your support ;). It sucks realizing that you’ve been doing what you said you wouldn’t do, but that’s what I have been.

-- "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 dsb1829's profile


367 posts in 3652 days

#8 posted 12-02-2008 06:27 PM

Interesting read. I kind of came from the other side of the fence. I have a father who actually built the house I grew up in. I grew up around a circular saw as the main form of wood sizing. With a straight edge, sawhorse, and a couple of clamps you can do quite a bit with that tool. Now that I have my own shop I am catering to furniture and not rough carpentry. I have found that I like the combination of power and hand tools. Guess that makes me a hybrid woodworker.

The power tools get boards and joinery roughed out like nobody’s business. But the precision comes from my hand tools. Planes and chisels can sneak up on final dimensions .001” at a time. Much more forgiving than 1/16ths.

My planes and chisels have required a fair investment of time and money. I do split my time between restorations and woodworking. I am okay with that, kind of figure learning how the tools work is part of my growth and learning. I find that I can spend an hour here or there tuning and sharpening. This short period of time is not really enough to do much woodworking, but perfect for a quick tool tune-up. I do most of this tuning and restoring during weekday evenings. Woodworking is a weekend treat where I get to pull out the shop and get down to business with my sharp and tuned tools.

I hear you on the crummy jigsaw. I have a Skill brand that is ridiculous, barely fit to rough out plywood. I just ordered up a nice Bosch. I think with a properly functioning jigsaw there are a lot of possibilities and less frustration.

My hand power tool list would be this:
Circular saw
1/2” HD Drill
edge guide to use with circular and router

-- Doug, woodworking in Alabama

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3821 days

#9 posted 12-02-2008 07:41 PM


I’m moving toward a more hybrid style of woodworking myself. There are some things that hand tools just do very, very well. However, there’s plenty that power tools do well also, as you know. I think the important thing that one must do is figure out how far in either direction you’re willing to go, and why you want to go there.

Like you, I still enjoy rehabbing old tools, and sharpening them is something I’m still working on mastering (but who isn’t?). There’s no way I’m going to give that one up ;)

Your list of power tools is very solid. The only reason why the router gets the nod first is because of me needing it before I’ll need the jigsaw on the next project.

-- "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 dsb1829's profile


367 posts in 3652 days

#10 posted 12-02-2008 10:40 PM

I came across this today in my lunchtime browsing. Hybrid is not a bad way to be.

I am not suggesting any particular order in power tool purchasing. I think the router was one of my first power tools. I started with a ryobi combo kit for $100 that was fixed base and a benchtop table. It served me well and in the end I sold it for $60 and bought a nicer Bosch variable speed combo kit.

Yes, I have a solid list of tools but I still find myself scratching my head as much as the next guy. A fair amount of my tools were donated to me by my father and grandad. I purchased a few tools along the way. But this past year I have set up shop and trust me the wife has noticed that for the price of the tools I now have she could have got some disposable furniture from Crate&Barrel. That’s another story, sorry for the detour into my life :)

-- Doug, woodworking in Alabama

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3821 days

#11 posted 12-02-2008 11:53 PM


Thanks for sharing that. Great examples of how hand tools and power tools work well together.

As for the wife noticing the expense, I can completely relate. Luckily, my wife has particular ideas of what she wants and she can’t really find it in disposable furnishings…thankfully :)

-- "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!

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