Tools are a Burden

three_chests_IMG_5907

Sometime in the late 1990s I had three full sets of chisels – Marples Blue Chips, Ashley Iles and some fine blue-steel Japanese chisels. But instead of enjoying the fact that I had more chisels than my father, grandfather or uncle, I was grumpy.

I was pissed (with myself) that I had three sets of chisels to maintain. Three sets to store. Three sets that would set me back in my efforts to master one set of chisels. All this was made worse by the fact that we had a water-cooled grinder in the shop. So every time I had a chip in a Blue Chip, I had to cool my jets for a half hour with the water-cooled hummer.

But it wasn’t just chisels.

No one needs five smoothing planes, two jointer planes, three jack planes and six shoulder planes to build ordinary furniture. That’s not a working set of tools, that’s a never-ending obligation to sharpen, tune and learn an overly large set of tools.

As one of my female friends put it: “Why are men always fantasizing about sleeping with two or three women? They can barely handle one.”

The same is true with tools. For the last several years I’ve been selling or giving away all of the excess tools that accumulated on my shelves as editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine. I had bought those tools with my own money, and so I felt responsible for them. They had to be protected from rust and dust. They had to be lubricated occasionally. They had to be used, or I would feel guilt.

At first it was easy to sell the tools that I didn’t want to review in the magazine in the first place. Then came the tools I used on occasion. Then the tools that were made by people I really liked. And the tools that I was inexplicably attached to. Every time I thought I had gotten to the bare bones set of tools, I found I was wrong. I could get rid of more.

What proved me wrong? My tool chest.

When I defined my working set of tools as only the tools in my chest, I found myself becoming less of a zookeeper and more of a woodworker. I now know exactly how much backlash is in every metallic plane I own. When I pick up each of my planes, I can tell if someone else has been using them – I don’t know how. Because I have one jointer, one jack and two smoothing planes, I spend less time sharpening and cleaning and lubricating, and I spend more time building.

Some of this drivel above might sound like a rehash of themes from “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” – and perhaps it is. But I can tell you that after two years of working with a small set of tools, these ideas have become even more entrenched in my day-to-day life.

And here’s the important part: As I have become more skilled with the basic set of tools, I see no need (for me) to buy specialty tools.

It’s the specialty tools that can get you. The Stanley 98/99 planes sure look handy to widen dados. But instead I just make the mating shelf thinner with my jack. A bullnose plane looks good for cleaning up stopped rabbets, but chisels are just as fast. Dado planes look like a quick way to knock a carcase together. A sash saw and chisel, however, are almost as fast and are already sharp and set up.

I could go on like this for pages and pages when it comes to specialty tools.

I’m not saying that specialty tools shouldn’t exist – if you do repair work most of the day, you probably are going to need a chisel plane. But if your work isn’t specialized (note that I didn’t say “special”), I think that specialty tools should be way low on your list of things to acquire, down next to “gut punch” and “recreational colonoscopy.”

Caveat: OK, if you like to collect tools and that makes you happy, then by all means collect tools. Collect thousands of them. Take care of them, preserve them for future generations and learn all you can about them. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that you need all of them if you really just want to build chests, cabinets, tables and chairs.

If construction (not collecting) is your goal, find some way to limit yourself – a tool chest is one way – so you can be a better builder than you are a consumer.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Chris Schwarz

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in Books in Print, The Anarchist's Tool Chest. Bookmark the permalink.

78 Responses to Tools are a Burden

  1. David Barbee says:

    Chris,

    Just let me know when and I’ll lighten the load for you. Heck, I’ll even pay shipping. Just go ahead and get everything boxed up. From the picture I thought you were going to “need” another tool chest.

    I’m always the guy standing outside the antique mall getting lectured by his wife. I get the phrase, “We are just going in here to look. We don’t have tool money today.” Reminds me of going shopping with my mom to Wal-Mart when I was a kid.

    David B.

  2. Dean in Des Moines says:

    Love this line of thinking. Declutter, simplify!

    Too I love the less-tool way of accomplishing basic tasks. I wish I knew more of this. Like how would one make a small rabbet which is stopped at both ends? I’ve done this twice with just a lousy set of chisels I can’t get a good edge on and hate the results. Is there a better way? Where can I find such information? (The answer to the second question is worth more than the first.)

  3. sablebadger says:

    Ever since I absorbed the information in the Anarchists Tool Chest, I’ve been approaching tool purchases in that manner. Minimizing the bulk and going for utility and broad use over specialization. It allows me to focus my efforts and money on a few good tools instead of buying every tool under the sun.

    I can build pretty much anything I have the skill for with the tools I have. Now I needed to build the skills…

  4. ScottV says:

    Now if you could only replace all those hollows and rounds with a few basic tools, your tool chest would be much smaller.

  5. David Gendron says:

    Good for you… I wish you had wrote the Anarchist tool chest 10 years ago…. I would have way less tools. Now I’m stuck with a bunch of tools that I thought I needed, and no where to sale them( I hate eBay…)!!
    Great post!
    Cheers
    David

  6. Niels says:

    The hinges on those chests are boss!
    Yes, tools are a disease and I am one sick puppy.

  7. bsrlee says:

    I tend to collect tools like I collect hobbies – too many & not enough room for them.

    Interestingly, the handle fitting on the middle chest of the three in the head photo is almost identical to the one found on many of the chests in the Mary Rose, sunk in 1545.

    • Rusty Boats says:

      Well the cleat may be an age- old design but the becket is pretty sorry! Even a simple grommet would be more authentic!
      As for too many tools, what I find is the signal symptom is when I have so many I forget I have something… Well Ok that’s just senility Hee Hee!

      But I love collecting tools at flea markets but the truth is I only use a handful 95% of the time. Building stuff and collecting are very different and I am happy to do both. The real problem is of course space… and money (well OK two problems) and time (OK so three real problems) and space… or did I say that already?

  8. Leo says:

    I always thought that time spent in sharpening depends on the amount of wood that you cut, not from the numbers of blade you have.
    Thinking in your way, why have a beer when you can drink water?
    Regards.

  9. The same concept holds in the kitchen and at the laboratory bench (I learned the latter over many years of experimental work as a molecular biologist).

  10. Steve Tomlin says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this and have been going through the same process. I’m always most impressed by the folk who can make with the minimum of tools.

  11. Jonas Jensen says:

    It sounds a little like Feng Shuei (not sure of the spelling). You have to look at it in this way: You are not throwing anything away, you are passing stuff over to a new life.
    I must say though, that I like having multiple sets of some things.
    Having an extra old joiner allowed me to make a scrub plane to flatten my workbench top. A set of crappy chisels are useful when removing glass from old windows etc.
    So I guess the number of tools depends o if you solely do woodworking, or if you also do DIY on your house.

    • billlattpa says:

      I have a set of “cheap” Craftsman chisels that I used to use for electrical work and still use for general carpentry around the house. They actually hold a decent edge, they just have terrible handles.

  12. Jack Palmer says:

    Are all three sizes of the Lie Nielsen shoulder plane necessary??? Guilty

  13. Eric Erb says:

    As one of my female friends put it: “Why are men always fantasizing about sleeping with two or three women? They can barely handle one.”

    Tell her it’s “sleep with” not “relationship with”

  14. billlattpa says:

    I have to agree with you Captain. I get precious little time in the shop as it is. What time I do have I want to spend it woodworking and not tool working. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t even feel like maintaining the 8 or so chisels I have, among other things, but it’s a necessary evil. I’ve been trying to follow this philosophy, especially with clothes, and found my closets a lot more organized.

  15. Sam I Am says:

    I think I enjoy sharpening almost as much as building.

  16. Justin says:

    I am about 2/3 through ATC and I gotta say, my idea of what tools I need are changing daily. I don’t have a lot of tools, so I don’t really need to purge any (well, maybe the crappy ones.). But my mental list is getting much shorter. Or is it my brain that is getting smaller?

  17. Kerry says:

    “…they had to be used, or I would feel guilt.”

    Guilt is over rated. Rejoice in your acquisitions! Just think of those extraneous pieces of hardware as shop decorations. Your shop being that BIG piece of furniture you love so much. I walk into the shop and I get lifted and inspired by the mood setting bling and all my anal retentive organization. How about moldings and design element details on your work… are they “really” necessary? Of course not. But you choose them because they make you feel good on some level. Creating the work is just a shift in your organizational skills. Its the same thing focused to a smaller area. How much bling and where?

    Thats my circular logic and I’m sticking to it… guilt free! :-)

  18. Bob Demers says:

    OMG you mean I don’t need 49 chisels, 68 handsaws and 132 hand planes? :-)
    I know this because I photograph and catalogue every tools coming in the door, only way I can keep track. And yes its a full time sharpening job!!!! And yes i’m good at it, lots of practice LOL.
    Seriously, I long had this nagging suspicion that I have a tool problem ?? you think!!
    Reading your blogs didn’t help at first, curse you Chris, but after reading your ATC, I am on my way to redemption. Is there a twelve steps program somewhere :-)

    On the plus side, I’m pretty good at sharpening, every single tools I own has been sharpen at least once, some obviously more than one. :-) Yes, I can put off sharpening for a while, but then I have to go into a marathon sharpening session.
    Now if I can just finalized my tool kit, perhaps I can get own with my own compact tool storage system…

    HI, my name is Bob and I have a tool problem. Well not really I like them all ….:-)

  19. David Pickett says:

    Quality …. not quantity.

  20. adrian says:

    I just bought a bullnose plane because I couldn’t think of any other way to solve a problem: My drawer was running crookedly in its opening—the left side of the opening needed to be planed down, and the shoulder plane was unable to make the cut because of its long toe. I suppose the solution of “build it right to begin with” would have kept me from needing this tool. But things don’t always work out that way. It seems like some flexibility is afforded by some of these special purpose tools. Many years ago I got a side rabbet plane because the plywood I was using wouldn’t fit in the groove. Is planing the plywood thinner really the answer? (I know, you’ll say the answer is to quit using plywood.)

    • billlattpa says:

      I hate to use money as an excuse but I found that for certain projects I like plywood if for no other reason than it allows me to woodwork more. If I only used solid boards I wouldn’t be able to afford certain projects, like the bookcase I’m working on at the moment.

  21. Tim says:

    Chris, where do you draw the line with specialty tools? Various recent photos you’ve posted have included some joinery planes (a router plane, plow plane and I think a shoulder plane but I’m not sure on that one). How specialized is too specialized? Just curious.

    • lostartpress says:

      Tim,

      Plows, rabbets, shoulders and routers are all in the core set of tools you find in most inventories (and mine).

      Once you get past those tools, they are pretty specialized.

  22. joemcglynn says:

    I’m reading this while also having my morning coffee and perusing the new 2013 Lie-Nielsen catalog. Really, I don’t need to buy that 98/99 set? But they look so nice… And those mortise chisels would look great with my English mortise chisels. And I’m not sure what I’d do with a chisel plane, but it sure looks like it would be handy. I already know I don’t need two Stanley #8 planes, but shouldn’t I at least have one of each number?

    Probably not, as since I got my #8 I haven’t used the #6 or #7. But still, can someone with only five planes, seven chisels and five saws be considered a woodworker? Seems more like a haiku to me, but I digress.

    My biggest problem is storage. For a long time all my tools were laid out on my welding bench waiting to be used. When I needed to weld something then all had to be moved onto my giant DoAll bandsaw…until I needed to cut something out. God help me if I ever had to cut something on the saw and then weld it. I freed up a roll-around cart which is where they live now, but I think I have a storage problem, not a tool problem.

  23. David D from IN says:

    ‘use the right tool for the job’ –

    perhaps I’ve overcompensated – as I’ve scaled down from homestead building (roofs are important!) toward cabinetry I’ve struggled to lose the power tool mindset – late last year I made a run of small boxes, finally taking the time to make a shooting board and miter guide, as the power miter box was just too gross for such work – I’m not getting rid of the power box tho as there is much gross work coming up, and now there are two pieces setting on the bench that don’t have a spot to live –

    so, am I improving or not?

  24. Like my father I’ve always used wall boards with scrap wood shelves and supports screwed to them for my tools. Lately, in this Pacific North West climate, I’ve been seeing the odd trace of rust on the less-used planes.

    Time to do some weeding, and build my own Anarchist’s Tool Chest!

  25. Chuck N says:

    This then is the advantage of having two shops! My home space is 6’x9′, with lots of hand tool work being done. I also rent my brother’s garage, where sit my machines and the grosser work gets done.

    Old Street tools inhabit the home shop and LN tools inhabit my brother’s garage.

    Now it I can just line up a third shop…

  26. Frank D says:

    I have only been in the hobby for about five years, but there isn’t a day I wish I could start all over again and buy the tools I need – the right amount, the right quality. I think I have easily spent double what my current “ideal set up” would cost. Maybe triple? While I blame first and foremost my own impulsiveness and the seductive photos, websites and ads of many tool makers (power and hand), it really is a jungle out here. Between the endless contradicting advice and opinions on line, the magazines and forums it is not easy to really understand what a person needs for their shop and their own goals. So, I agree with the poster above. Your ATC book is about the only resource I can think of that really lays it all out (and yet explicitly states your own needs may vary).

  27. Gary K says:

    The key word here is “NEED”. None of us ‘need’ a TV, car, house with more than one room, or BEER! If you want to live like Gandhi, by all means gird on your loin cloth and hit the street. Like all hobbies in the modern industrial world, it is about what we can afford, not about what we absolutely need.

    The sad thing here is that when you write something like this, a lot of people will run out and start selling off their excess tools, but then next week when you write about some new [or old] tool you’ve come across, those same people will rush out and buy it.

    As for me, I will continue to enjoy [guilt-free] all of my tools, and will happily buy up the many orphaned tools what will wind up on e-bay thanks to this article.

    • Well said Gary. I’ve gotten to the point in my tool-life that I only buy very specific things (18th century London tools and user-made Scottish infills), but I have many, many, many tools I don’t use or need. For example, I have no fewer than eight wooden jointers over 26 inches, including a 30 inch model I built myself. Do I use them all. Not at the moment. I feel no guilt. Although I did feel a twinge in my back in August when I moved to a new house. I am only 29 and I fear for a point in my woodworking future when I can no longer replace a treasured tool, so I preemptively replaced them. I don’t sharpen them all. They sit, protected from pests, light, moisture and dust. They await my future need.

  28. Jerry Olson says:

    Alright already! I get it you are a minimalist/anarchist/pragmatist and you are totally into less is better. I love your blog, all of your books (Rubio can’t come fast enough) and virtually anything you write. Just please stop with the guilt by association with too many tools.
    With over 5000 square feet of 18th century post and beam wood building available to me I have more than enough space for all of my hand and power tools. Being semi retired with my business in the same building I have no need for portability. My “tool box” is a 36in X 24in X 81in stand up affair which keeps out the sawdust and moisture and does a great job of displaying Lie-Nielsen, Lee Valley etc.
    I love being surrounded by, using and sometimes rescuing tools. As a great philosopher (??) once said “He who dies with the most tools wins”.

  29. Samson says:

    I think most of us have to overshoot before cutting back. We just don’t know what we are missing until we try it for ourselves. We also don’t always have the means to buy the best first. I went a long way on pre-WWII Stanleys before gradually getting LNs. Nothing wrong with the former, and I still use them, but if I could only have one set I would have to choose the LNs. Besides, think about the grand kids; two or three sets of everything seems a minimum for the progeny!

  30. Patricia says:

    In our consumer culture, the acquisition of material objects is often a transference for the desire for security and satisfaction- it is much easier to go buy a tool than heft the ones at home.
    I too often have to check my own impulse to acquire against the actual progress I am making with my projects.

  31. GregM says:

    We all know this, but … wordworking and tool accumulating/appreciating/c*ll*ct*ng are two related but separate objectives, with a relatively small degree of overlap. Nothing wrong with either (or both), but keep it in perspective …

    Chris, can you please give us some information about the photograph?

    • lostartpress says:

      Those are three chests I photographed and examined at John Sindelar’s (now closed) tool museum for “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.”

      I don’t have my notes on them handy. If I stumble on them, I’ll post details.

  32. David Fisher says:

    I think Chris made it clear that he is not suggesting having a crapload of tools is wrong or that you must be a gluttonous consumer if you do. It seems to me that he is merely and clearly saying that if your main goal is to build things, you might not need as many tools as you have or want. His comments are about using tools and getting to know them intimately and use them skillfully and creatively to accomplish your goal.
    That idea seems pretty empowering to me, not threatening or condescending.

  33. “OK, I’m only gonna keep the tools I can fit in this chest…”

    …Said Studley…

  34. John Orear says:

    Having spent some very “quality ” time with a friend of mine, as he was being taken by cancer….. a man with much money and eleven air planes…… his thought ” if I had it to do over, I would have had less airplanes ….and more flying time “…..nuff said ……often the one who dies with the most tools ……. jut leaves more for others to fight over……leave them memories !!!

  35. Richard Mertens says:

    –“O, reason not the need!” (King Lear II.ii.453)

    But then there’s this:

    –“The man whose thoughts are on getting thinks no longer of what he has got.” (Montaigne, “On Coaches”)

    Chris, of course, is right.

  36. sawdustmaker says:

    If you happen to have any moulding planes Please contact me post haste. I am in the market for some

  37. Stefan Wolf says:

    A poem by Robert Browning 1855 – Less is More

    “Who strive – you don’t know how the others strive
    To paint a little thing like that you smeared
    Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,-
    Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
    (I know his name, no matter) – so much less!
    Well, less is more, Lucrezia.”

  38. Stefan Wolf says:

    The tool collection is perhaps a metaphor for the modern western (obese) world.

    What is this mental illness the drives one to hoard, is it a scarcity, greed, ego ……?
    The accumulation of ‘stuff” ( what ever stuff be) Is a modern illness.

    My grandfather could not understand ( nor can I ) why people would collect ‘things, he used to say one can only drive one car at a time, fish from one boat, sleep in one bed, use one hammer at time. If a saw is not sawing is is not longer a saw. If a tool is not used it is no longer a tool but an ornament. If a man cannot carry it, then he does not need it, then why does he have it?”

    Do not judge one self worth by money, possessions or career
    but by what one does and does not do.

    One a personal note I have built a beautiful house with a shovel, a trowel, a wheel burrow, a hammer, a chisel, a screwdriver, a saw, a square, a tape measure and a carpenters rule ( All the tools fitted in the wheel barrow and the nail bag).

    The greatest tools one can have….
    – caring hands
    – a passionate heart
    – a creative mind

    With a hammer and an anvil, I can make any tool I need and with
    these tools I can built all I need.

    *************

    epilogue: Oh, have just realised I might be coming down with some illness I now have
    two nail bags. :))

  39. Graham Burbank says:

    So I read this post before work, and left feeling all smug thinking “yeah, I need my three sets of chisels. One set for home, one for installations, and my oh so spendy japanese set for the shop. The super hard steel hols up better to abrasive woods…knowing full well that a teak coffee table awaited dovetailing when I arrived. I forgot how irritated I am with these chisels as they have rather thick edges that don’t reach well into dovetail corners. After a few choice words, I sighed and pulled out my trusty Freuds, circa 1986, that live in my site box but are my go-to chisels for most jobs. I took another look at these fine old chisels, with their sides ground thin, tapering from 1/16th at the butt to a bare 1/64th at the bevel. The classic octagonal boxwood handles have taken a beating, but are still all origional. The steel takes a keen edge easily, so having to resharpen more frequently isn’t a burden. I slowly sighed as I closed the drawer on those japanese wonder chisels and set to work. Curse you, Doctor Evil ! Right again, I suppose.
    I’ve noted a lot of comments above on side rabbet planes. When I spent 9 years restoring wooden boats, it was an essential part of my toolkit, seeing regular use. Since I left the boatbuilding shop five years ago, I haven’t used it more than twice.

  40. Rob Gorrell says:

    I am trying to shove tinsmithing, coopering and hand tool woodworking (very basic projects mind you) into a 14 x 22 garage. The ATC has really got me going through and eliminating every unneeded, busted, POS, and space-wasting tool. It has been very refreshing to be able to go into the shop and not have to move piles to get to the projects. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will ever get such a diverse and bulky group of tools into a single chest.

    In my case it is not so much selling and giving away good tools I don’t need, as it is thinning out the cheap crap I should have never bought to start with.

  41. Dean says:

    To quote my brother-in-law: “It’s easier to obtain than maintain”.

    I think the idea of stepping back and reviewing ones tool situation is something we all need to do now and then. Chris did and realized he was becoming a slave to his tools and not the other way around, thus robbing him of additional, and quality build time. How did he resolve the matter. Remove the overhead. Completely? Probably not, but mostly. And, it was a process completed over several years, not a sudden purging of all things unneeded.

    Do you have to sell or give away your “surplus”? In my opinion, no. They can be stored away during a “cooling off” period during which time you can see if you have cut back too far, just right or not far enough. There will probably be some shifting back and forth between storage and your active tool set for a period of time. Do you then need to sell or give away these “extra” tools. Again, not really. That is a personal decision. Just get them out of sight, but make sure you’ve oiled them and stored them in as humidity free a container or environment as you can.

    I also see a reason to keep some tools available and not store them. They may be a thing of beauty, or historical value that should be on display in your shop as a conversational piece, or simply something that makes you feel good or to be proud about.

    Another thing to consider is, simply put, others. You’ve heard of the “starving artist”, so I guess we also have many new and motivated woodworkers out there that have chosen the hand tool woodworking path. Like many of us, we have a VERY limited budget, and don’t want to pile more debt on top of the credit card and loan debt we may already have. So, we look for extreme bargains, or severe price reductions, or cheaply made tools as our only alternatives.

    I’m thinking it would sure be nice if somehow woodworkers who do have extra tools that they are not going to use (not the show case tools), would sell these tools, at a reasonable price, to such woodworkers, or dare I say, even give them a tool or two to help them on their way. You might find a local woodworker like this, or contact a local woodworkers Guild to see if they are aware of someone such as this. Of course if you have a friend or someone in your family (immediate or otherwise), that is in the need of some tools then they should get first consideration. Except for friends and family, I realize that you would have to be able to validate that someone indeed is financially strapped, and is in need of tools that work. I didn’t share this idea to engender guilt, but just as a possible new home for your “extra” tools.

    • Rachael Boyd says:

      I do have a box that I put the stuff I don’t use for when some one the family wants to get started in the old school ways.

    • Graham Burbank says:

      there was, at one time, a system in place for this. The person needing to gain tools, skill, and experience traded labor over an extended period of time in exchange for them. They were referred to as “apprentices”, and this exchange was an essential part of the economic well-being of all parties concerned.Upon completion of said term of apprenticeship, they often received a set of tools from the shop owner.

    • Rob Gorrell says:

      I agree. I put most the portable power tools that I use when working on the house into storage nearby. I have moved a few things back and forth as you say. The other larger tools were placed on “long term loan” into my brother’s shops.

      I have also passed on some antique tools to other living history friends for next to nothing just to get them into a good home, or so they can sit on someone else’s shelf for a while.

  42. Rachael Boyd says:

    wow to many tools how could that happen?(giggle) I have been doing home repairs, remoldeing , mantaince for about 30 years. some how I have most every tool for most every trade. I got an old school tool chest that my grandfather made and in the last year I have been buying tools and friends giving me stuff that there grandfather used. I have been doing old school furntiure buliding , the way it was done over 100 years ago. I am sure my boy friend Roy Underhill (only in my mind) would be proud .
    I made my own bench and a spring pole lathe. if I pick up a round or a hollow that needs a mate I make it . I have a full wood shop but my true love is wood working the old fastion way. my thinking is that the old school stuff should be eazly fit in a pickup and moved to the job site and as a jointer ,make all the cabintes, windows, doors and trim that you need to finish a house . try and do that with power tools.

    Rachael the country woodright

  43. billlattpa says:

    I guess that we have another endless debate here. My non-expert advice would be that you can certainly work wood with a fairly small set of tools. If you have the space and money and time to maintain a larger set of tools, then it’s up to you if you want to use them if that is what makes you happy. It doesn’t make you a bad person. If you prefer hand tools over power tools, or vice versa, or maybe a combination of the two, you are doing nothing wrong as long as you are having fun. If you want to follow Christopher Schwarz’s advice that is fine, you could do much worse. If you don’t want to follow his advice you aren’t doomed to failure.
    I’ve always maintained that while it is nice to have people like CS who are willing to use their experience to provide advice, in the end there are certain things that can only be learned through personal experience. Maybe this is one of those things.

  44. Thanks for you posting Christopher, but I have to be honest that I can not tell my wife about your mission. If I did, she will congratulate me and start to watch my ebay purchases closer to ensure I am not collecting more tools. I will say that our daily topic regarding woodworking is how I can produce promised projects verses scouring the internet and garage sales for old tools which require fixing and tuning after they are purchased.

  45. sawdustmaker says:

    Bill, I think the apprentice system is alive and well. This is especially true in the building trades unions. This is an appropiate place for it don’t you agree?

    • billlattpa says:

      I agree that there is a place for it; I was once an apprentice electrician. I meant in the tradition of the master taking the apprentice in and paying for and guiding and in some cases even boarding him. Those days are over in a broad sense. Most apprentices today are employees/laborers who generally pay for at least a part of their educations, their tool kits, their board(in the sense of a house or appt.). When I was a field electrician I obviously learned some things on the job, but my formal training and code work came from classes and college courses that I paid for almost completely out of pocket. Some unions offer discounted training from what I understand. The military is one of the last bastions of a true traditional apprenticeship.
      I am 100% for apprenticeships. I think the country would be much better off if we had them on a large scale. It simply seems that nobody wants to pay for them anymore.

      • sablebadger says:

        To some degree, there is a new learning system happening now thanks to the internet.

        We have blogs, video podcasts, and forums that are sort of helping revive some of the craft knowledge previously passed from master to apprentice.

        There is a tremendous amount of knowledge out there now, good and bad, about the craft and plenty of opinions to go with it. I get a lot of stuff from blogs such as this one, Peter Follansbee, Paul Sellars, etc etc. You can contact some of these people, and they can answer.

        We also have schools opening up all around the country to learn from that will take anyone, not just a member of the guild.

        badger

      • sawdustmaker says:

        Bill,
        Lets get Chris to start up the type of apprenticeship you were thinking about -nudge nudge- lol

      • Graham Burbank says:

        Even today’s union cabinetmaking apprenticeship system is pretty much dead (at least in the greater chicago area). My earlier post was not as an advocate of the old near-slavery system that existed up until the late 19th century. The tradition continued in some form of passing on tools to apprentices as they became journeymen even in the 1980’s when my buisiness partner completed his union apprenticeship. The system included the union maintaining it’s own school with course instruction on the weekend. In our shop, we encourage employees to purchace their own tools because people tend to take better care of their tools when they have paid for them, but we certainly pass on tools to employees from our ever-expanding hoard. The number of professional shops is dwindling, at the same time as the number of serious hobbyists is expanding, and the range and quality of (hand) tools available is better now than at any point in our lifetimes. Hand tool skills are invaluable in a busy workshop, but most educational/tech school programs focus on CNC and machine operator training. Hobbyists tend to attend places like Marc Adams School and other similar programs. The few colleges teaching a more blended approach seem focused on “art furniture” rather than teaching you how to make a living at this. Guess I’m off the point here, but it deserves further discussion, bill.

      • billlattpa says:

        Graham, it’s funny that you mentioned the “art” furniture being taught/built at colleges because I’ve thought the same thing myself. I can’t say I have anything against somebody building artsy furniture, it’s not my thing in the least, but I also can’t say that in a broad sense it is good for woodworking, especially in the traditional sense of the word even if you aren’t necessarily a strict hand tool user.
        Of course who is to say what is actually good for woodworking? My only worry is that many college programs that I’ve seen seemed to focus on it. Keep in mind, I personally never had any type of formal woodworking training except for the weekend classes I’ve taken. But that was a very interesting point.

    • billlattpa says:

      And if Captain Schwarz wants to crusade for a new apprentice system I’m all in!

  46. Dave says:

    I tell you what. If you are looking to thin our your tool herd, let me know and I will give you a hand. I could use some more tools, as I have few, but do not have the extra funds to buy a bunch of new tools.

    This goes for anyone else looking to get rid of stuff. Shoot me a message on my blog and I will gladly help with your tool addiction. LOL Come on, help out a fellow woodworker. :-)

    Dave
    Traditional Skills Blog

  47. redtaildd says:

    An instructor of mine commented, half under his breath, that a chisel is just a plane without the training wheels

  48. In the early eighties, I attended a small college who hired a long time local furniture maker, to teach courses on furniture making. He guided us all through the process of completing nice pieces of furniture, usually selected and modified from his back issues of FWW. They also held classes where they would build a house outside the woodworking building, and then donated the house and moved it upon completion. It was funny though, each class would start with about thirty people, he would inadvertently thin the herd down to about 10 people, by his expectation that “everyone is born with a certain amount of woodworking knowledge”. He just couldn’t believe that people didn’t know the “proper” clamp to use, etc.. He would yell and offend those that weren’t serious, and they would drop out. But those that stayed, all left with some really nice pieces. I wound up working for him and helping with the classes for several years.

    I owe that man a lot, he became a close friend. But he sure was grumpy.

  49. BobB says:

    As a newbie in the craft and having read ATC (3 times so far :-) ), I find much appeal in Chris’s minimalist philosophy. It’s very easy for us newbies to get caught in the Siren song of tools and more tools.

    I’m gratefully I discovered both ATC’s and Shannon Roger’s (Hand Tool School) “do more with less” tool set. I won’t waste years discovering what they already have. Instead, I can spend money and space on wood rather tools I really don’t need. Thanks!

  50. Marilyn says:

    Ok .. you just inspired another tool sale – http://sheworkswood.com/tools-for-sale/

  51. Marilyn says:

    You’re right and you’ve inspired another tool sale.

    I’ve posted a few tools for sale at my site. Here’s to keepin’ the tool set small.

  52. Antti Nannimus says:

    Hi,
    According to Steve Martin (Yes, THAT Steve Martin) on Twitter:
    “Using my head to pound in nails. Trusting wife worried. I say I’m bypassing a tool. ”
    Well, as I’m sure we all agree, GOOD for him!
    Have a nice day,
    Antti

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