Working Wood #2: Hand Tools...

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Blog entry by tomfidgen posted 03-01-2008 02:44 AM 1510 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: When East meets West Part 2 of Working Wood series no next part

I get asked a lot about what hand tools I use, where and why I choose a certain tool over another and who some of my favorite makers of hand tools are. If you’re thinking on buying, using or just simply enjoy reading about hand tools and the philosophy behind them, this blog may be of some interest to you.

“Tis only he that has no credit to lose that can afford to work in this style.”
~No. 6 Henry Hollister, from ‘The Shaker Legacy’

Let me start by saying that I try to use hand tools before power tools and as I get more experience using hand tools I hope to someday be able to walk into my shop and not have any need for power at all. Maybe a stretch, but certainly a goal that keeps me focused. Using hand tools is like any other skill set one can acquire, ‘practice makes perfect’. Experience on a day to day basis will reward you with a feeling of pride knowing that what you’re creating is from your hands alone. To be able to take a piece of rough lumber and dimension it, shape it and finish it all with only using hand tools is quite an amazing feeling. Keeping in mind this method is certainly not for everyone, I do believe that even if you only use power tools, developing some skills using simple hand tools will make you a better wood worker all around and help to develop perhaps some different or unique ways of appreciating wood.

“A tree is our most intimate contact with nature.” ~George Nakashima

I don’t try to use one species of wood exclusively like so many other wood workers may find the need to do. What I do try to accomplish however is to use the right piece of wood for the project at hand, a species that may compliment the form. In boat building it could be a Mahogany with Oak and perhaps an Eastern White Pine. In furniture making it can range from a highly figured Maple or Birch to Cherry, Walnut, Butternut, Hickory, Poplar or Ash, and whenever possible I try to use locally grown and milled lumber. The whole ‘Grow Your Own’ philosophy really appeals to me on a number of levels. I also try to support local business and purchase my lumber locally as well as bringing in rough stock in the 5 to 8 quarter size range.
While working wood it doesn’t matter if I’m building a traditional style sailing boat or a small intricate dovetailed box, the woods we all use must start its journey with the same basic treatments. What ever species you use or if you bought it ‘air’ dried, ‘kiln’ dried ‘solar Kiln’ dried, from a ‘green’ space or directly from some Black Market Lumber Yard, once the wood is in your shop, in your hands then now you must wait. We must wait for the wood to get to know its new surroundings. Let it lay-back, take a load off and relax a little bit. Then and only then, once it’s comfortable in it’s new surroundings will we be able to work ‘with’ it, together in some kind of harmony, tool steel and wood fiber, muscle and limb, we’ll transform it and perhaps transform a bit of ourselves with it in the Wood-Working processes.

“When we discover what wonderful things our eyes and hands are as they seek fine lines and use sharp tools, when we listen to wood and not just use it, then cabinetmaking can take on a new meaning.” ~James Krenov

-- tom fidgen,

3 comments so far

View Harold's profile


310 posts in 3870 days

#1 posted 03-01-2008 03:14 AM

i agree simple hand tools will make you a better all around woodworker, but even more importantly they will give your work freedom… design as well as construction.
take care,

-- If knowledge is not shared, it is forgotten.

View Tom Adamski's profile

Tom Adamski

306 posts in 3793 days

#2 posted 03-01-2008 03:38 AM

Thanks for this posting…
When I create something and I use hand tools, it is so much more special to me. My customers and friends may not know exactly how I made it, but I do and that’s what matters.

Also, the quote you used ““A tree is our most intimate contact with nature.” ~George Nakashima”, I disagree. What about the cotton that covers our backsides??? Just a thought.


-- Anybody can become a woodworker, but only a Craftsman can hide his mistakes.

View coolbreeze's profile


104 posts in 3758 days

#3 posted 03-07-2008 12:21 AM


I’d love to get some experience with hand tools. I enjoy getting close to the wood, and sometimes feel I’m neglecting that passion with the power tools. Kind of skipping to the end instead of enjoying the journey. Haven’t been doing this but about 2 years I’m starting to long for more than making furniture. I’d like to get more creative up close and personally, now that I’m starting to learn the basics of construction. Dovetailing with a router is one of the things I’d like to do away with. Any suggestions on some reading?

-- Jason, AL

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