Top 5 things I wish I knew about hand tool woodworking before I started

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Forum topic by Dallas posted 11-19-2011 04:11 AM 1545 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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64 posts in 2232 days

11-19-2011 04:11 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question shaping sharpening beginner

I want to see if others have had the same experience discovering basic truths about hand tool woodworking. Here’s the list of things that I discovered about the hobby that I never thought about before:

1) There is a difference between sharp and DIFFERENCE-MAKING sharp.

I knew I’d have to sharpen and sharpen well, but I never expected there to be a performance difference between a marginally sharp chisel and a wicked mirrored-edge sharp chisel. The more you practice, the more sorta sharp is easy to achieve. It’s DIFFERENCE-MAKING sharp that takes effort and precision.

2) You shape wood much more than you cut or chop it.

Getting things to length and boring/chiseling holes are just part of the equation. A surprisingly small part. I expect the better you cut and chop, the less shaping involved.

3) That ain’t square. This is square.

Until you pull out a try square and winding sticks, you really have no idea why your pieces are not mating properly. If it looks flat, it’s probably “sorta flat.” How much time do you spend finessing pieces to get them to play nice with one another?

4) It’s as much about hiding the flaws properly as perfection.

I discovered this the first time I plugged sawdust in a dovetail that didn’t fit so hot. I wonder how many “non-planned” mouldings cover dings and misplaced nail marks?

5) You don’t really discover the tools you need from catalogs or forums. Projects beget tools.

I always found shoulder planes neat but marginally necessary until I had to make a mortise and tenon that would be scrutinized. Also, paring work with the chisel can be critical. I had thought chisels were simply for making noise.

What did you discover along the way that turned out to be important?


-- If a tree falls in the neighbor's woods, and no one is there to hear it...can you take it home, mill it and turn it into a coffee table without your neighbor making a sound?

9 replies so far

View ShaneA's profile (online now)


6139 posts in 1866 days

#1 posted 11-19-2011 04:16 AM

That its addicting, gets expensive quick, and restoring them is more fun than you might expect.

View ChuckV's profile


2840 posts in 2794 days

#2 posted 11-19-2011 04:38 AM

  • Cutting accurately with a hand saw is not easy. But, the difficulties can be overcome with practice.
  • The “learning opportunities” never end.
  • If you have the chance to watch and work with a more experienced woodworker, do so.

-- β€œIt was they who were wrong, and for them here's a song.” ― I. Anderson

View PurpLev's profile


8523 posts in 2916 days

#3 posted 11-19-2011 04:43 AM

a 2” board does not equate 2×1” boards if cut down center

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View TechRedneck's profile


756 posts in 2124 days

#4 posted 11-19-2011 05:02 AM

Achieveing a flat crisp glass smooth fnish on a project is actually MORE work using sanders than it is using a sharp and well tuned hand plane and a scraper.

-- Mike.... West Virginia. "Man is a tool using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.". T Carlyle

View newplane's profile


159 posts in 3345 days

#5 posted 11-19-2011 09:59 AM

That when I stopped “Playing” woodworking and took the time to learn my hand tools my craftsmanship changed. I had finally reached a fine level of work. Instead of aimlessly jumping into project after project with marginal results I put “Projects” on the back-burner. I purchased a lot of pine and practiced over and over and over and over and over…I practiced surfacing, cutting to line, smoothing, boring, chiseling. Not to complete something. Just to learn it. I always find it very interesting that people in our craft jump right into things without realizing that we have to practice and learn. Sometimes I just go out to the shop and shoot sprung joints and the like. When its time to make the critical cut my soul glides the plane because my mind no longer fights for what it feels is right. Just a couple of my thoughts…...

-- Dont just dream it, get up and live it!

View shopdog's profile


575 posts in 2753 days

#6 posted 11-19-2011 01:56 PM

Perfection is the enemy of good enough.
Part of being a craftsman is being able to turn a mistake into a feature.

You don’t need the most expensive tools,
but it’s important to know how to tune up the tools that you have,
and dedicate some time for that.

-- Steve--

View Dallas's profile


64 posts in 2232 days

#7 posted 11-19-2011 07:42 PM

All great words of wisdom.

Very interesting “newplane.” I was going to go at an oak bookshelf for my brother, but now I will be making myself a pine prototype first. I will practice sawing quite often, but I eventually get the itch to finish something too.

Ditto on learning from the experienced, ChuckV. I learned more from 8 hours with Frank Klausz than countless hours on the net.

Keep em comin’!

-- If a tree falls in the neighbor's woods, and no one is there to hear it...can you take it home, mill it and turn it into a coffee table without your neighbor making a sound?

View StumpyNubs's profile


6717 posts in 2068 days

#8 posted 11-19-2011 07:59 PM

You can replace all hand tools with power tools ONLY if you’re Norm Abram. In the real world, hand saws, chisels, planes and scrapers make life in a shop easier, and quicker more often that you’d expect.

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' premiere online publications:

View greenco's profile


12 posts in 1653 days

#9 posted 11-20-2011 02:18 AM

Sharpening is the first step towards good work.

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