Norm vs Roy: a midlife decision

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Forum topic by Bob Downing posted 08-31-2010 06:05 AM 2455 views 0 times favorited 37 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Bob Downing

43 posts in 2824 days

08-31-2010 06:05 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question

Hi everyone. This is my first post. I’ve been reading L J for a couple of weeks and decided to sign up. I consider myself an intermediate level woodworker. Maybe I’m going through a midlife crisis, but I am seriously considering retiring all of my power tools over the coming year and replacing them with hand tools.

I have a few reasons for this:

1) Homebuilders (and my wife) work under the mistaken idea that a garage is for vehicles. It seems that they never considered I would have a table saw, router table, jointer, planer, vacuum system, etc. Consequently, I only have one outlet to work with. I’m stuck using extension cords and power strips. I could add a subpanel to add circuits but that costs money that I would rather spend on tools. I have my priorities in line :)

2) Not to sound like a snob, but I think using hand tools will make me a craftsman. Using power tools makes me feel more like a machine operator. In many cases it seems like I could do a task faster and easier with hand tools.

3) Using hand tools seems safer than using a table saw, routers, and other digit removing equipment. Yes, I have stabbed my thumb with a very sharp chisel, but my wife distracted me.

4) I am not a tree hugger – being a woodworker, maybe I am – but I think eliminating the use of electrons is a responsible thing to do.

Is there anyone that has eliminated all power tools from their woodworking? Am I being stupid to consider this. I understand that the quality of my work may suffer some until I become proficient. It seems that some very nice pieces were built in the 18th century.

Any input would be appreciated.

-- BobD Chandler, AZ

37 replies so far

View a1Jim's profile


117091 posts in 3575 days

#1 posted 08-31-2010 06:22 AM

I think starting with hand tools is great, If you find later you want to make some things quicker use both power and hand tools.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View knotscott's profile


8013 posts in 3373 days

#2 posted 08-31-2010 07:38 AM

Hand tools are great, but I sure wouldn’t avoid power tools for the sake of doing it by hand when it’s just plain easier and more efficient to do with a power tool you already have.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

5859 posts in 3192 days

#3 posted 08-31-2010 07:54 AM

Greetings Bob, I could never see myself giving up my power tools over hand tools. I have never been much of a hand tool guy, and having a bad back makes it even harder for me… Don’t get me wrong, I think hand tools have their
place, but so do power tools…I find I can get sooo much more done faster with a tablesaw,planer, jointer, etc. I think really it’s all in what a person wants to learn and be good at…... It’s a personal thing, actually. If you feel the need to give up the power tools, then by all means do so…..I kinda like having both around myself.. I’ve been doing this many years, and have found the need for power tools over hand tools, but that’s just me…...I also think you can learn to be a good craftsman having the knowledge of both….and using both…..

-- " At my age, happy hour is a crap and a nap".....

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3066 days

#4 posted 08-31-2010 03:09 PM

Everyone has to make this decision for themselves and there isn’t a right or wrong answer. Do whatever works best for you.

Personally, I’ve never bought into the theory that using hand tools somehow makes someone more of a “craftsman”. Most of those old timers were trying to make a living and I’m sure that they embraced whatever technology was available at the time which would lessen their work load and improve their productivity.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View Bob Downing's profile

Bob Downing

43 posts in 2824 days

#5 posted 08-31-2010 04:28 PM

So far I’m hearing ” You can have my cordless drill when you pry it from my cold dead hand”. I can understand the point of mixing power with hand tools. And yes, power tools are faster in some cases even with setup time. But speed isn’t really a concern of mine. I don’t do this for a living, I do it for my own relaxation. Hard to relax wearing ear protection because that router is screaming so loud. So maybe I won’t outright retire my power tools yet. I’ll make the move to hand tools but keep my jointer and planer just in case. I’m definitely buiding a treadle lathe in the next few months.

But I guess what I’m looking for is is it possible to build nice pieces using hand tools only and have them look as good as something built with power tools.

Can’t wait to get back in the shop. The temperature is almost cool enough to get back out there without sweating all over my work.

-- BobD Chandler, AZ

View Wolffarmer's profile


407 posts in 3236 days

#6 posted 08-31-2010 04:30 PM

Hand planing saved my shoulder. At least it seemed to have helped it a lot.
Last Nov I had my right rotator cuff fixed and I am probably one of the slow healers after that surgery. Had pain in the shoulder far longer than many others. It was painful to get things off a cupboard. Then last june i figured out how to sharpen my blades and even with the shoulder still hurting I attacked a hunk of rough maple I had for about an hour. Figured that the next day I would really be hurting. Next morning i got up and reached in the cupboard and no pain for the first since I had torn the rotator cuff almost a year earlier. I have made a bunch of curls since then ( well for me anyway ) I will just plane a board just for practice and therapy. I like having my table saw, and other power tools but also like the hand tools.


-- That was not wormy wood when I started working on it.

View swirt's profile


2737 posts in 2970 days

#7 posted 08-31-2010 04:32 PM

Hand tools offer a quieter, gentler form of woodworking. It can be done. It is certainly more challenging some times. Part also depends on how much you want to produce. If your goal is to knock out 15 pieces of furniture a year as a hobby-ist, then you’ll probably want to embrace electric tools more. If you are happy making only a few, then handtools only can be a real nice approach. A little time spent learning to saw to a line is a valuable skill that can save you a lot of trips to the miter saw. I used to swear by my compound miter saw. I don’t think it has been used now in 2 years. Last time I used it was to cut laminate flooring when renovating my son’s room when he was born. Same is true with my circular saw. Choose what feels right to you and the way you want to work. Just don’t ask me to give up my band saw LOL I’m kind of on the fence about my table saw. Mine is old (1950’s) and needs a complete overhaul as it no longer holds a setting and has no safeties on it at all. I toy with the idea of getting rid of it, but then every once in a while I need to rip a lot of strips for something (like slats on a chaise lounge) and I haven’t found a good way to rip lots of thin slats by hand.

-- Galootish log blog,

View swirt's profile


2737 posts in 2970 days

#8 posted 08-31-2010 04:35 PM

added: Most people that go the way of hand tools describe it as a slippery slope because you start with one, and that opens up the idea of doing just “one more” thing by hand, and then another and another. It really is a different mindset.

-- Galootish log blog,

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4003 days

#9 posted 08-31-2010 04:47 PM

Well to be a real purist shouldn’t you use only hand tools made… hand?

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

View HorizontalMike's profile


7757 posts in 2912 days

#10 posted 08-31-2010 04:49 PM

#1. True, garages are under-wired for serious electrical use. This does NOT mean, however, that a well wired garage is an electrical vampire. Well wired 240v service can actually draw less amps than 120v (more efficient).

#2. ”Not to sound like a snob, but I think using hand tools will make me a craftsman.” Along these thoughts, why not use ONLY stone tools (no new technology metals like copper, brass, bronze, and oh yeah steel) and become EVEN MORE of a craftsman? 8-) Human evolution involves the evolving use of tools. That is what makes us human in the first place. Each technology had their OWN ”craftsmen”, and modern day electrical power tool users have there ”craftsmen” as well. No matter what level of technology YOU CHOOSE to become proficient in, as you acknowledge above, there will still be a significant learning curve and mistakes will be made along the way. In our hobbies, each of us is in charge of our own level of enslavement and that will not change. I think using your head through dedication to the hobby and learning from your mistakes will make you the craftsman you desire to become, NOT the tools you choose.

#3. True, as long as you leave some of those super-sharp Japanese pull saws alone. ;-)

#4. True, saving electrons is a good thing. Maybe you could also keep a horse in the backyard, instead of mowing, and then ride it to work as well. LOL!

BOTTOM LINE: The remark about level of equipment = craftsman probably got a lot of people’s attention. It sure got mine. I have seen this in many hobbies.

Not to beat a dead horse, awh… alright let beat the horse for awhile 8^) :

A.) Garage Queen Harley Riders—Buys the Harley and never rides but spends EVERY weekend in the garage waxing it, drinking beer, and talking ”Harley”. I actually bought a Harley from a guy who had purchased it NEW, owned it for over a year and had ridden less than 650 miles on it! I have since ridden this bike hard, personally rebuilt it 3 1/2 times and put just under 100,000 miles on it. Am I a better biker? Maybe. Did I enjoy this bike more than the other guy? Probably NOT.

B.) Astronomy—I have 10s of thousands wrapped up in telescopes, dedicated astronomy cameras, and my own domed observatory. I know others who have added an ”extra zero” (hundreds of thousand$) to their investment in the hobby in order to ”be a better” amateur astronomer. I also know several folks who own just a single portable telescope who do only visual astronomy at public star parties. Which one is the better astronomer?

Check the horse’s pulse, check the horse…

C.) Hang Glider Pilots—And then there were many of my HG buddies who needed the best/newest/most expensive equipment but couldn’t fly worth a crap… but I digress…

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3072 days

#11 posted 08-31-2010 04:56 PM

I have definitely put more emphasis on hand tools lately, but I still do 90% of my work with power tools. I think about becoming more of a hand tool user a lot. There are some skills to be mastered to really do good work with hand tools and I agree that they are safer. I also like the idea that they are quieter.

I think if I were ever to really jump to hand tools this tool would be on my priority


Check the video.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Bob Downing's profile

Bob Downing

43 posts in 2824 days

#12 posted 08-31-2010 05:36 PM

Point taken guys. I don’t mean to suggest that people from the NormA school (a power tool for every task) are inferior craftsman or lazy. Maybe because I’m getting older – 51 – I just want to slow things down a little.

Yes Miles, I do plan to make my own planes. I think that would be part of the satisfaction of using hand tools. Besides, how many of us can afford those L-N planes.

HorizontalMike – Horse is on order :). One thing though about converting to 240V. I have run across this alot. Your statement is true as far as it goes. Converting to 240V from 120V will draw half the amps. But that does not mean that your power usage is cut in half. Power(Watts)= Amps x Volts, therefore a motor that draws 7 amps run at 120 Volts produces 840 watts of power. That same motor at 240V will draw 3.5 Amps and produce 840 Watts of power. Your electric bill will be the same. The advantage is that at 240V your motors will run cooler resulting in longer motor life. Converting to 240V will not allow you to cut that 8/4 piece of maple any easier.

Your point about evolution is well taken. While I do like to challenge myself, I don’t think I want to try stone tools.

All the comments so far have really made me think over why I want to switch to hand tools.

-- BobD Chandler, AZ

View helluvawreck's profile


31071 posts in 2864 days

#13 posted 08-31-2010 05:50 PM

I love hand tools – I always have. However, because of a demanding career in the woodworking industry and generally being a work-a-holic all of my life along with all sorts of other time constraints I have had far more experience with power tools rather than hand tools. However, now that I have my weekends, at least clear, I am working on my hand tool skills more and more and am determined to push my skills with them as far as I can.

Having said that, I will not give up my power tools either. It just means that I will hand cut dovetails instead of using a dovetail jig because I think that if they are done right then they enhance the piece of furniture, or box, or whatever. Also a wedged thru tenon is great looking in the right place. Never the less I would still cut the tenon on the table saw and the mortice by hand. I would certainly not surface lumber by hand as long as I have access to joiners and planers. I’m not going to grab my bow saw to saw a curve just to say that I did it by hand when my band saw is sitting there right in my shop. I don’t have a spindle sander but if I did that is the way I would sand a curve instead of by hand.

So I guess what I am saying is that I will try to pick my projects so that they allow me the pleasure of using hand tool skills as much as I can and in an intelligent way and in a way that will enhance my work as much as possible. And, on occasion, even try to make a piece completely by hand just to learn and to keep my skills up.
So I will generally use both and would never give up either.

Of course, I am pursuing woodworking as a hobby in my home shop and not for a living so it is from this perspective that is the context of what I am saying here.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View helluvawreck's profile


31071 posts in 2864 days

#14 posted 08-31-2010 06:13 PM

Rich, I’m so glad that you posted this. When I was at the Atlanta show last week I saw this saw demonstrated and it was one of the most impressive things that I saw at the whole show. Unfortunately I could not remember the name of the company; I new it was bridge-something-or-other but couldn’t remember exactly.

The video that you just mentioned is true to life – I just watched it. The cuts are very smooth and accurate. It would be an ideal tool for box makers – especially for making dividers. They used all sorts of gage blocks and stops and of course all sorts of jigs can be mounted on the sliding plate.

On the bottom side I would say that this tool is probable deceptively dangerous. Deceptively, because there are no motors and rotating blades. Once you see how unbelievably sharp that blade is you will probably then understand how openly dangerous it really is. The carriage rides on ball bearing linear slides and so as quick as a wink you can push whatever is on the table through the blade. You can instantly make a cut as deep as an average dovetail in one pass, in one stroke. If you were to carelessly push that table with your finger exposed to the path of the blade it would take a finger or two off instantaneously before you were able to break the momentum of the table. I would call the blade ‘scary sharp’. I would still like very much to have one, however.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Timberwerks's profile


360 posts in 3159 days

#15 posted 08-31-2010 06:31 PM

I’m primarily a hand tool worker. The only power tool that I really keep in the studio is a band saw. I don’t miss my cabinet saw, jointer, planer etc one bit. A drill press however is something that will always come in handy.


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