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Posted on Paul Sellers push for a return to traditional woodworking skills

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424 posts in 2588 days

#1 posted 10-04-2016 10:38 PM

At the risk of stepping into someone else’s fight, I think I’ll take a stab at interpreting what Paul Sellar’s means when he says “real woodworking”.

Before the onset of power woodworking, people had been working wood for thousands of years. Back then, you had to have basic, fundamental hand tool skills (sharpening, setting a plane, hand sawing, reading the grain, etc etc) in order to make stuff out of wood. And people used those skills to make, well, ALL the furniture, houses, toys, etc etc, quite well. They weren’t fools, or idiots, struggling away with primative tools in a futile attempt to make something. They worked wood, one piece at a time, and got results. Enter power tools. They allow someone with relatively little skill to achieve a very precise and excellent results in a relatively short period of time. They allow someone to skip learning fundamentals to get a woodworking project done quickly. But as any power tool woodworker will tell you (and have in this thread), they can’t complete a project without returning to hand tools for at least some step in the process. Power tools are production tools, great at batching out lots of interchangeable parts with precision. But, what if you’re just making one table. And then a chair, and then a wall cabinet? With power tools, you’re chasing after factory quality with production tools, when all you ever needed were a few simple hand tools. And those fundamental skills.

Sellar’s emphasis on “real woodworking” is a call to urge people to learn the fundamentals, not to skip learning them. He’s suggesting that by learning how to woodwork with simple, basic hand tools, that a woodworker would better understand that those methods work, work well, and are efficient when learned. Add to that the fact that working wood in that way just might be pretty damn pleasurable.

I think he’s trying to reach that new woodworker who is contemplating cutting a dovetail joint. Intimidated by the thought of picking up a saw and cutting them, that new woodworker sees ads for the dovetail jig! So they go out and but the jig, the router & router bits, and after many test cuts and setup fiddling, they have made those dovetail joints! They are now convinced that they could never have done so without buying into the power tools & jigs, and so they have skipped learning the fundamental of using a hand saw to cut to line. And when the next woodworking task they want to achieve comes along, they’re looking for a machine, or commercial product (or a robot) to do it for them. So, power router + expensive machined jig + router bit vs a hand saw. I think he’d rather see woodworkers who say “I can do that with just a plane and a chisel, or with my table saw” than those who’d say “I could never do that without a router, jointer, bandsaw and table saw, no way”.

I think Sellars feels that the voice of consumerism and disempowerment (you’ll never learn! It’s too hard! There’s no time!) is so loud that the voice of empowerment (you can learn fundamental skills) and traditional skills is being drown out.

Sellar’s tone may rub you the wrong way, but I think that’s where he’s coming from. He wants people to really feel that they can do anything with just a few simple tools. That’s a positive, empowering message. I like his work (teaching others) too, Jon, but don’t agree with him on everything. But I’m glad he’s out there, trying to stand up his beliefs.

And Dude, I have made a few things, but don’t beat up Jon for not posting his. Woodworking is not a competition.

-- Douglas in Chicago -

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