My first woodworking job was at Therma-Tru, a door-making factory in Arkansas. For eight hours a day, I cut rails and stiles for fireproof doors on a sloppy and unguarded radial-arm saw.
To say I hated that machine isn’t a fair measure of the word “hate.” I was scared of the machine, and I would have a close call almost every day when the saw would lurch or bind.
But when I inherited my grandfather’s tools and machines in 1993, I was thrilled to obtain his sloppy, unguarded Craftsman radial-arm saw (aka the “radical-harm” saw).
For me, whether or not I like a tool has nothing to do with whether it’s powered by hand or electricity. Instead, it is about whether the tool keeps me “down on the farm” or sets me free. I know it sounds like a dimestore Marxist theory, but it’s true. (And if you think I’m a Marxist, then we haven’t met.)
Despite my love for handplanes, chisels and handsaws, I will never speak ill of my thickness planer, jointer or table saw. All of the tools in the previous sentence have allowed me to squirm free of being employed by someone else. Because I own those tools, I am entitled to the fruits of my labor (and theirs).
When I crank up my table saw, I am grateful for its ability to rip hundreds of feet of stock for a woodworking class or for a customer. When I remove the burr from the back of a chisel, I am thankful for its ability to chop and pare dovetails to an airtight fit.
Most of all, I love the fact that all of my tools allow me to build things that suit my aesthetic, that use raw materials that are renewable and that will last well beyond my short life.
Bottom line: I dislike adjectives (not to mention the dirty, filthy adverb). When I say I’m a woodworker, I don’t want anything modifying the noun. Just “woodworker.”
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. So why don’t I write much about power tools? Easy. There are tons of fantastic books, magazines and videos that cover the subject in exhaustive detail. Handwork is, for our generation, an undiscovered country.