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What is a Craftsman

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Forum topic by MrRon posted 04-22-2014 07:16 PM 1105 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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MrRon

3927 posts in 2710 days


04-22-2014 07:16 PM

When we see a fine piece of antique furniture, we picture someone who has served an apprenticeship for many years under the watchful eye of a master cabinetmaker, carefully planning a piece of wood, holding it up to the light from a candle and planning more. He repeats this until it is as near perfect as he can get it. The master will examine it and give or deny his approval.

Today, the use of hand tools has mostly given way to machines. Can we then say craftsmanship no longer exists, or can we accept the use of machines as part of today’s craftsmanship? Can a woodworker be a craftsman using power tools?

This brings up another point; are hand tools considered obsolete in the wake of machines that can do what our descendants, of hundreds of years ago did? I’m not knocking the use of hand tools or trying to minimize their use. Machines can now replace all but a few hand tools. I wonder what hand tools would be considered indispensable in today’s power tool world.

There are some hand tools that I would consider totally obsolete in that I would never use it because there are better ways available today. One tool that immediately comes to mind is the “Yankee spiral screwdriver”. I had one many years ago that I had inherited. I could never drive a screw with it without the bit slipping off the head of the screw and leaving a gouge in the wood. An ordinary screwdriver works better and the cordless impact drivers even better. Off course the use of Phillips or square drive screws has made this job much more efficient. Can you think of any other tool that you would relegate to the museum as an historical tool, and no longer of any practical use? Other tools I would consider obsolete or almost so, not because they don’t work well, but because there is a better way is the hand saw, plane and hand drill. I have all the afore mentioned tools and have used them in the past, but as newer and better tools came along, these were abandoned in favor of the newer tools. Because the new tools worked as good, or better than the old ones, there was no reason for me to go back to them. I still appreciate them as the fine quality tools they are, but are part of my past, not my present.

I am not a craftsman by any stretch of the imagination. I see many examples of craftsmanship on this LJ forum, admire it and wish I could do the same, but I know that will never be. I’m not a total klutz, but woodworking is not one of my strong points. I build train models. That is my hobby. I combine metalworking and woodworking to produce large scale models (1-1/2”=1’-0). They look ok, but are far from “museum” quality. If there was a craftsman scale, I would put myself at a 3 out of 10.


13 replies so far

View MalcolmLaurel's profile

MalcolmLaurel

269 posts in 1090 days


#1 posted 04-22-2014 11:27 PM

You can exhibit fine craftsmanship using power tools or hand tools, just as you can exhibit poor craftsmanship using either power or hand tools. Power tools allow a craftsman to work faster, and yes, they allow one to, for example, plane a board flat and square without the skill or patience it takes to do it with a hand plane… but poor craftsmanship will still show up elsewhere in the project.

I think craftsmanship is equal parts technical skill and attitude. The attitude is a matter of patience, and not being satisfied unless the work is up to your personal standards. By having that attitude, your skills have to improve. That attitude may drive one craftsman to use only a hand planes and saws, while another might use a power planer and table saw while taking pleasure in concentrating on other aspects of the work.

As for hand tools vs. machines, it’s a personal preference. We tend to put a higher value on “hand made”, which can mean hand tools vs. power tools, or it can mean “hand made” with power tools vs. automatic machinery. But even then it’s a matter of degree… one can still be a true craftsman while building something out of wood that was first processed with automatic machinery.

Regarding indispensable had tools, how about the hammer? Kind of hard to replace that. And as for the Yankee screwdriver, I too have several… rarely used, but nice to have when the batteries in the drill die… and enjoyable to use on occasion, “just because.”

-- Malcolm Laurel - http://MalcolmLaurel.com

View Ted's profile

Ted

2785 posts in 1678 days


#2 posted 04-23-2014 01:13 AM

“I wonder what hand tools would be considered indispensable in today’s power tool world.”

Chisels and gouges comes to mind. They perform many tasks which require a certain amount of flexibility that a machine does not provide.

-- The first cordless tool was a stick. The first power tool was a rock.

View Mark Davisson's profile

Mark Davisson

597 posts in 2784 days


#3 posted 04-23-2014 01:31 AM

I believe a person can be a craftsman using hand tools and/or (he can be a craftsman at just one or at both) a craftsman in the use of power tools. Both require a tremendous amount of skill, and the skill required for each is unique to that woodworking technique. A skilled hand tool user might stink when using power tools, and vicie versie.

-- I'm selfless because it feels so good!

View Shawn Masterson's profile

Shawn Masterson

1297 posts in 1415 days


#4 posted 04-23-2014 02:24 AM

Craftsman or not hand tools are still very important. On a scaffold job, I still carry a 15” 9 tpi hand saw everywhere on the sight. I have a leather case that hangs from my harness. At 200’+ in the air, you aren’t going to send a circular saw(corded,or cordless). No one wants to drag it around. Also I still carry a good block plane on a trim job. I still hand nail all the staircases I have ever put together. They hold tighter and draw up better than and gun nail will. No matter how much technology comes out there will always be a place for the “oldies but goodies” as long as the traditions are passed down.

View muleskinner's profile

muleskinner

881 posts in 1903 days


#5 posted 04-23-2014 04:45 AM

I judge (presumptuous as that may be) craftsmanship by the product not the process. Attention to detail, precision, and aesthetics are the mark of the man not the tool.

No tool is obsolete as long as it still performs its function. Some are just more efficient than others.

-- Visualize whirled peas

View TobiasZA's profile

TobiasZA

153 posts in 1005 days


#6 posted 04-23-2014 10:16 AM

Well said Muleskinner! I second that, although I try to use the old hand tools wherever possible and practical as they give me immense pleasure and don’t make loud noises! Not to mention the satisfaction of hand made joints, hand planed lumber and the result of a well tuned scraper.

Cheers
Tobias
PS : Yankee screwdrivers, how to ruin screws and wood in one go!

View HorizontalMike's profile

HorizontalMike

7158 posts in 2381 days


#7 posted 04-23-2014 11:14 AM

MrRon: ”...There are some hand tools that I would consider totally obsolete in that I would never use it because there are better ways available today. One tool that immediately comes to mind is the “Yankee spiral screwdriver”. ...”

Too bad for you IMO. I find my Yankee screwdrivers continue to get very high usage in my shop. Power drivers have a much greater propensity to strip either the screw hole or the head of the screw. Sure, some power drivers have an adjustable clutch, IF you know exactly where to set it for the particular wood/application/screw every time. And that even applies on the very same project when wood density changes.

What I truly like about the Yankee is that you have immediate tactile feedback to help you to NOT over-tighten and/or strip your project or screw.

And one last important point is that it is very important to have quality bits for your Yankee (see Lee Valley). If you are still using the ~+50yr old OEM bit, then no wonder that one would have issues using the tool. Same goes for quality power driver bits.

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

View MalcolmLaurel's profile

MalcolmLaurel

269 posts in 1090 days


#8 posted 04-23-2014 11:38 AM

Just to add to the Yankee screwdriver discussion, McFeelys sells adapters so you can use modern hex bits in your Yankee screwdriver.

-- Malcolm Laurel - http://MalcolmLaurel.com

View oldnovice's profile (online now)

oldnovice

5733 posts in 2834 days


#9 posted 04-23-2014 08:26 PM

I have to agree with muleskinner and I could not have said it any better!

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View LeTurbo's profile

LeTurbo

217 posts in 1052 days


#10 posted 04-23-2014 08:50 PM

A better way than the handsaw, hand plane and handdrill? Funnily enough, I was recently using all three when I finally noticed an eerie silence in the communal workshop. It turned out the power had been off for an hour or two, the other guys were wandering around looking lost, and I’d almost finished my job. No, those three are absolutely indispensable – I”ll have the part cut while you’re still setting your fence. Even my old plough plane is faster to set up than the router. The only place where a machine wins is on repeat cuts.

But apart from that … I recently read an article on an apprentice in Germany. He specialises in medieval joinery, and only that: restoring old buildings using the exact techniques and tools of the period. the skills he’s learned include weighing the wood accurately with his hand, and being able to chop a wedge with a single blow. Also, he’s chosen (like some other 500 young Germans) to return to the ancient Journeyman traditions. He wears his tradition shirt, hat and waistcoat. Also, he’ll “journey” – that is, leave his hometown for 3 years and 1 day, travel from town to town to earn his living, and never stay in one place for more than 3 months. At the end of that time, he may return home and finally hang out his “Master Craftsman” sign.

View summerfi's profile

summerfi

3322 posts in 1154 days


#11 posted 04-24-2014 12:08 AM

For anyone who may think hand tools are obsolete and no longer useful, I’ll gladly pay shipping if you want them out of your shop to make more room for power tools.

One important point with hand tools that no one has mentioned is the training of kids. You probably wouldn’t want to turn your 6 year old loose with a router or skil saw, but teaching them to use a hand drill, a small hand saw, and a hand plane is well within reason. At that age I was well on my way in the pursuit of craftsmanship, though a long journey lay ahead. Teach them young (with hand tools) and they’ll have a lifetime of enjoyment.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works http://www.rmsaws.com/p/about-us.html

View MrRon's profile

MrRon

3927 posts in 2710 days


#12 posted 04-24-2014 05:34 PM

summerfi, I may have overstated the use of the word “obsolete”. Of course I don’t believe hand tools are no longer needed. There will always be a need for them, but there are woodworking tools and there are mechanics tools. The latter will always be needed to fix the machines when they break down.

View matt5's profile

matt5

82 posts in 2158 days


#13 posted 04-24-2014 06:04 PM

One important point with hand tools that no one has mentioned is the training of kids. You probably wouldn’t want to turn your 6 year old loose with a router or skil saw, but teaching them to use a hand drill, a small hand saw, and a hand plane is well within reason. At that age I was well on my way in the pursuit of craftsmanship, though a long journey lay ahead. Teach them young (with hand tools) and they’ll have a lifetime of enjoyment

I havent thought of this. I have one on the way and I will do exactly that. ( in a few years )

-- I've cut it twice, but its still to short....

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