The rookie use of hand tools (Incoherent ramblings of a new wood worker)

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Blog entry by Wagon173 posted 04-04-2014 06:25 PM 1275 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

So as I venture into the unknown, trying new joints, finishing/sanding techniques, and all around wood stuff as well as brushing up on what I had learned in highschool shop class, I’m beginning to see the beauty of doing things by hand. Initially most of my use of hand tools has been lack of funding for this new hobby. I’ve recently started building a coffee table with two redwood slabs I found out back at my grandpas house. They used to be backboards for the horse shoe pit. I’ve also got a 10”x10” 7+’ redwood straight grain beam that I’ve been hanging onto even before I started woodworking for whatever strikes me. I’ve stumbled onto the wedged mortise and tenon joint and I think I’m going to use that for the joinery. It’s such a nice looking joint and the possibilities of accenting the wedge are endless. Anyhow, doing a few practice runs with 2×4 scrap, just to get a feel for it, I’ve really started liking the hand tools since I can’t very well run to the lumber yard and pick up another 2000 year old chunk of wood that big. My point, I guess, is that with the power tools I seem to get myself into trouble really quick and realize I’ve done something very wrong, but with hand tools I can see my self making the mistake as I’m making it (usually) and stop to correct it. I think, also, that it has a lot to do with the extra care that seems to have to go into laying things out for hand tools vs. laying things out for power tools. That’s my two cents after being back in the shop for a couple of months, anyway. Take it or leave it. I’m still going to use some power tools as I’m not patient enough to notch out a 10 inch through hole entirely by hand, but I think this one will be mostly an elbow grease project.

5 comments so far

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4152 days

#1 posted 04-04-2014 08:04 PM

I have a full complement of power tools but prefer hand tools for most tasks. Nice not to have the noise and dust.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Wagon173's profile


50 posts in 1587 days

#2 posted 04-05-2014 03:45 PM

Yea, I didn’t really even think about the dust. But now that you mention it, my garage has been a lot more cozy the last couple days. I fear I have bitten off more than I can chew, however. The two slabs I’ve dug out have a lot of rot in them that I’m not sure how to completely get out without destroying the slabs. I think I’m going to park them until I find another use for them and go to the redwood mill and see what I can’t dig up. Maybe I’ll make a butcher-block style table top with the saw scraps? Oh well, I kinda figured I’d have to adjust fire. The tenons are going great though. Redwood cuts so nice!

View BerBer5985's profile


445 posts in 2475 days

#3 posted 04-07-2014 02:53 AM

I’m almost a full neander convert anymore. I’ve taken the table saw out of the shop, haven’t missed it yet. I still keep the jointer and planer around although they rarely get used at all anymore. The bandsaw gets used once in a blue moon. Sometimes when I need something done with a time constraint, I find those tools are quick and easy but I don’t particularly enjoy the whole putting safety goggles and earplugs on. I like being able to work in my shop and listen to music with headphones on. I also feel like hand tools have opened up my possibilities. I used to look at a piece of furniture and think “I wonder how to ‘machine’ that”. Now I can look at it abd I know how to “craft” it. It gives you a freedom that power tools limit you in. Processes that would require precise set up measurements and long winded jig building can done by simply marking and cutting. I know there’s more to it than that, but gaining the confidence that once the layout is correct on the project I can use pretty much a chisel and mallet, a couple hand saws, and a few hand planes and know the project will usually come out great is pretty empowering. Its a fun journey and enjoying it more and more I get more confident and more likely to take risks working by hand. Enjoy the ride! It’s a fun way to go.

-- Greg, Owner, Quality Carpet One,

View Wagon173's profile


50 posts in 1587 days

#4 posted 04-09-2014 03:55 PM

Don’t get me wrong, there is still something to be said for watching the sawdust glistening in front of the window as it’s suspended in the air. Whether it is construction, auto, or machining, I’ve always started with the basics and worked up from there. The only hobby I’ve ever let my skills outgrow my equipment in, is scuba diving. I guess when your equipment is full blown life support, simplicity is golden. None the less, I’m still having a blast learning the feel of my planes and learning the characteristics of the different species of wood. In the past pretty much every project I’ve done has either been from white oak or from Pine/doug fir. The redwood definitely seems to be very easy to work with the long grain, but the end grain wants to tear out something fierce! I haven’t abandoned the tenons but I think I’m throwing in the towel on the keys until I’m using materials less prone to tearing out. I think that the powertools and the handtools, just like in any other shop, have their rightful place. As I begin to get more tools and better tools, I imagine I’ll use the hand tools less and less, but at the same time, your right. I do enjoy actually hearing my stereo and not constantly wiping off my foggy glasses. It’s double awesome in that my dog loves to hang out with me in the shop now that those scary saws and milling machines aren’t running all the time. But alas it comes to a halt for the night and as we walk inside and past the gun cabinet he shoots me a look as if to say, “Okay genius, now what are we going to do about hunting?” I swear my dog is smarter than he lets on sometimes. Maybe in honor of my rediscovered appreciation of simplicity in the shop, we’ll try bow hunting next season. I aught to have pictures of the table up here in the next few days though. I don’t mean to jump around too much but I have to say this website is amazing and thank you to everyone on it.

View Wagon173's profile


50 posts in 1587 days

#5 posted 04-10-2014 05:57 PM

Update: The redwood slabs are much more rotten in the core than I had originally thought and still absolutely soaking wet. I’m going to begin finishing and doing detail work on the base while I brainstorm on how to beat this. I think it may come to me going out to the yard with a chain saw and cutting a piece of root off of one of my old growth stumps. It kills me to think that though as I’ve had at least one tree fort in each of them over the years. Yes, I now live in my grandparents house. After my grandma passed my grandpa hung around a couple years and then remarried and moved to his new wife’s house. Once I was out of the army I was given the opportunity to take over payments on the house I more or less grew up in. To which I said, “hell ya!” It’s been a trip cleaning out some of the overgrowth and finding old contraptions and forts and such that I built as a young man. I suppose I aught to change the title to incoherent ramblings of a new wood worker…

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