In my life, I’ve never met anyone who truly grasped both hand work and machine work and then completely gave up one or the other. Not once.
— Christopher Schwarz
Thanks for posting this. It’s such a dumb debate to try and prove what s better! There is so much usefulness to machines and hand tools. Really appreciate your approach to our craft Chris.
I love that photo.
Tom Fidgen, Tony Konovaloff, Bob Rozaieski that three that I know of.
I stand by my words. Remember: the internet is not reality.
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I agree with you on that.
I have never completely given up using power. Just prefer using hand tools whenever I can. I still have and use machines from time to time.
This took more time to post than find. From T. Konovaloff’s website:
“Most of my wood is kiln dried from a local lumber supplier. I tend to buy surfaced lumber, as there is little benefit to buying rough lumber when you have to plane it by hand. Not to mention the fact that you can’t even see what you are getting with rough lumber. The wood I buy is only surfaced on the faces and the edges are still rough. All the mill marks come off as I make a piece anyway. The kiln dried versus air-dried is kind of a useless argument unless you are building boats and need the bending qualities associated with non- kiln dried wood.” http://tonykonovaloff.com/?page_id=78
I read Tony’s book “Chisel, Mallet, Plane and Saw” and he prefers machine caressed wood before it touches his hands.
Wood elves make cookies, not prepare lumber for market. 🙂
Since I know Tony personally, I know he doesn’t at home use any form of machinery when working wood. But he now works metal and does use machinery for that.
Well, we’ve never met.
As for more well-known examples, see Salko’s comments, above.
I stand by my statement.
I’ve recently given up both for my new found love of foot tools.
See my response above. I may present primarily hand work, because that’s what I enjoy teaching, demonstrating, and using. But I have never given up power 100%. In fact, I’ve begun adding even more back into my work.
Most of the opposition to machine use seems to revolve around a mistaken imagining of days past when the humble joiner lived a wholesome life of spiritually fulfilling handwork. In reality, hand tool work can and was just as soul destroying as any machine filled production shop; just try cutting drawer dovetails for 12h a day, 6 days a week for years on end.
Aversion to hand tool work is puzzling to me; it seems to be an endless quest for a complicated solution to often a simple problem; how can I spend a day building a complex jig so that I can accomplish something with a machine that I could have done in 2 minutes with a handtool. I suspect that it is mostly based on fear (some hand tool skills have a steep learning curve) and at some point, frustration. This is typified in the experience we’ve all had as beginners in buying a big-box store hand plane and bringing it home and having it maul the wood…some people just don’t recover from such a initial poor impression.
I really appreciate some of the historical work that eg. the folks at M+T Mag. are doing on pre-industrial woodworking; I think it informs and broadens all of our knowledge. I also had a subscription to Shop Notes for awhile and have my share of complicated jigs in my shop. I think at the end of the day, any tool we use, be it machine or hand tool, simply exists to make our lives easier as woodworkers and better enable the flow of ideas and creativity into our craft. Besides, 100y from now we’ll all be using laser saws and this debate will seem silly.
One of the most eye-opening demos I ever had was from Chris Gochnour. In which, he shapes the legs of shaker candlestick table three different ways. First, he does it only with a coping saw and spoke shave. Second, with a bandsaw, spindle Sander, and large stationary belt sander. Both, these things take about the same amount of time. If anything the handtools were slightly faster but that’s because of his skill and the time it to walk to each machine. He then shapes the third by building a jig to pattern route a band sawed leg, this take by far the longest time but then he pattern routes three more legs which of course it was a lot faster. Chris then states the The payback for return of time for building the jig is usually half a dozen to a dozen identical parts.
My friend of my took a class with Chris where they built those Chinese stools where the stretchers meet in the middle with a series of jigs. After all the jig were built Chris was able to build( from pile of wood to dry fit and ready for glue up) one of those stools in about an hour. I guess my point is is is there’s nothing wrong with Jigs so long you use them when you’re making multiples or speed up boring tasks.
That is the truest thing I have ever read.
Sent from my iPhone
In my life, I’ve never met anyone who truly grasped something and then completely given it up. Not once. Except marriage. Or the Republican Party.
Yeah, it does take a certain level of maturity and good sense to be married and conservative
True, it does take a lot of maturity and good sense to be married and conservative.
Can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who insists on interjecting some virtue signalling politics into every subject. There are places for that; I didn’t think this is one of them.
I am finding it very hard to get rid of the bandsaw and planer.
…great new sticker idea. Feel free to send me a free one for my idea.
I never realized how good hand tools can be until I stumbled on good hand tools. I can safely assume that exactly the same thing can be said about power tools.
As a hobbyist you can do whatever you wants (hey, that’s me) but if you need to bring food to the table, that’s an entire different story. The thicknesser & bandsaw combo is a common example.
Well stated. You should consider writing pithy things as a career.
Hand tools teach you when to use power tools. Power tools teach you when to use hand tools.
I like tools of all kind for shaping wood. Corded or not.
Forget about clunky woodworking machines or fussy hand tools. Purchase the latest brushless hand held power tool at your local home center and your good to go. Seriously, there is a hand held power tool inovation revolution taking place. This poses the biggest threat to traditional hand tools; not your 60 year old jointer or grand pa’s drill press.
Wish I could say more on this subject but I’ve got a big day ahead me… carving a seat with an arbortech grinder, then mortising some legs with the domino. Later, I’ll use my Bosch nano saw and Fien multitool to make hand cut dovetails.
Well it’s settled, time to give up my hand tools and corded appliances in favor of doing my part to grow the sludge pits in Shenzhen
I always joke that the most important power tools in my shop are the lights. To me the key part of your quote is, “…truly grasped both….” Being able to choose the right tool for a given task based on experience and needs is a very powerful thing. As you’ve pointed out before, we’ve had power tools for a long time, starting with wind and water as the power source. Arguing about the best way to do something is an unnecessary waste of time.
No true Scotsman?
I think a lot of past influential woodworkers (Maloof, Krenov, Carpenter, Nakashima) used what was best for the task at hand and created beautiful, yet functional pieces of work. I don’t think they sat around milling their thoughts of should I or shouldn’t I, except for what did the job and doing it well.
I think absolutes are mostly a straw man each side of this debate uses.
Paul Sellers regularly says things like “real woodworking” in reference to his hand-oriented approach… but all over his videos and blogs it is clear (both explicitly and implicitly) that while he’s almost exclusively producing hand-cut joinery, he ain’t dressing all, or even most, of his lumber with scrub/fore/jointer planes.
The Mortise and Tenon guys are among the deepest explorers of pre-industrial approaches to woodworking… but we don’t bat an eye at their shop having electricity so they can use their video cameras, cameras, smart phones, laptops, etc. to produce their magazine, blog, videos, and podcast! (Nor should we.)
Curtis Buchanan has made more chairs than I’ve sat on, and he’s done it with 90% hand tools. But he regularly muses on his videos about his dislike — but found value — of the bandsaw. And he’s not using a springpole, nor does he turn away a log that was cut down with a chainsaw. And he bores some things with a brace and spoon bits, and others with a power drill.
If that photo is of a shop class (as opposed to an actual shop), it sure puts the little adding-machine -tape notepad deal I made in my 7th grade shop class to shame.
I used to do handwork only because I worked out of a bedroom shop and had to limit my saw dust. Now that I have some garage space, a small table saw, and jointer/planer combo, I don’t spend my limited shop time trying to flatten and thickness stock. I use the hand tools for the joinery and the fun stuff.
Maguire? Shannon Rogers?
Maguire uses a bandsaw for long rips and a cordless drill regularly.
Shannon literally works at a mill, and as their marketing person. Good dude, but I think he just enjoys teaching hand tool skills when he’s not at his day job. It’s his niche, and there is an audience for people who want to learn those skills. But I’m sure Julia Childs enjoyed a burrito from time to time, even if she got paid to teach French cooking
Shannon uses a big electric surface planer in his home shop. He wrote about it.
I have seen the way Shannon slathers endurovar on projects. He could use an HVLP, that is for sure.
You forgot Chris Schwarz, he’s been a long time advocate of only using hand tools.
I use hand tools to complete the work as fast as possible to earn a living. I use power tools to complete the work as fast as possible to earn a living. Quality is the same. Tools and techniques are decisions on the way to reach that goal
I can’t speak for pros as I am an amateur/hacker. It seems it would be nearly impossible to build most stuff without both hand and power tools unless you were in a niche like building birch bark canoes or Adirondack twig furniture. In hindsight, if I was starting over in woodworking again, I wouldn’t try to do without the big power tools (Savage’s Very Patient Meat Eaters) but I would see if could delay my embrace of the machines. I would try to pay more for dimensioned wood that would have kept me from spending so much time and dough initially focused on the big power tools. I would have been better off initially focused on hand tools, sharpening, paying attention to grain and design, learning about blowout, glues and finishes. The power tools are inevitable, unless you have apprentices. They are also challenging and rewarding to use in many ways but they sure took me on a wide detour before I finally got back to this nice balance between the Very Patient Meat Eaters and the nicely dialed in hand tools.
In Texas, we fight about three things: (1) Women, (2) dogs, and (3) fences. Most everything worth fighting about falls into one of these three categories. Having said that, well, there is freedom.
Inevitably there are some things for which hand work adds nothing to the end results.
Those that show themselves working with only hand tools on vast media outlets still use power tools.. What powers their cameras and computers? Is a camera, computer, lighting not tools operated by power?
Lively in here…
My last project I surfaced and mill to thickness 80-ish board feet. Should I have done that by hand to impress someone on the Internet?
F that noise…
Also, my planer has an ROI saving with rough lumber. That’s the story I told the wife and I’m sticking to it.
I can’t wait for tomorrows post on the best way to sharpen a chisel
May I ask what initiated you to write this quote? Was it really to initiate yet another hand/power debate in our modern woodworking world? I’m curious.
My Life has taken a few abrupt turns lately and I have found comfort and refuge here. I remember clearly the rush of emotion when I held The Soul of a Tree for the first time as a 17 year old boy, 38 years ago, I didn’t understand it then but woodworking would become my life’s work (Thank You George). Here I stand at the apex of modern technology, working, building, and training folks on CnC woodworking machines and the software that drives them. I once had a shop that was full of antique industrial machines, the wood to feed them, and wonderful old benches to build on, but all of that became a burden to keep going, taking work to pay the bills, compromises all around…
Now, what gets me out of bed in the morning is the idea of getting back to handwork, a little shop with big north facing windows, building a nice bench, maybe even a chest. Damn Anarchists. I have a love for the old tools but I think this time I will buy new, from artisans, AS NEEDED (I may be old enough to understand I don’t have to have them all, but that still doesn’t stop me from wanting them all) the quality, range and access exists now that didn’t back in the 80’s and 90’s but, surprisingly, the biggest factor in this decision is that I am supporting others in this community. Dealing with folk who actually care about the process, are proud of what they do and secure enough to ask prices that reflect that. More anarchy!
Yes, my new shop will not have any electric, this is a new endeavour for me I want to enjoy the process, the quietude, the joy of seeing and feeling the wood as I work it, perhaps to find the peace where I can hear it speak to me. That is my path, it is right for me, for now, I don’t feel the need to conform with social media and current political polarization of “with us, or against us” I really enjoy Mr. Schwarz’ take on the world, as I have picked up the thread of handwork I have seen how he and his style have evolved over the years, do I agree with everything, nope, but I believe that is what makes him interesting. Like woodworking that shows the hand of its creator, its the subtle and maybe not so subtle variations that gives it life, energy, interest.
I don’t know why this post caused me to write a comment, I agree with the sentiment, maybe I need to sort out why. I have gone full circle from beginner to professional to enthusiast and it stuck a nerve because I catch myself judging others on this exact issue. What do I care what motivates others or how they do the work, as long as they enjoy it, whatever it may be? It amuses me when asked about the time and energy it takes to work by hand, when I know the work can be easier and quicker, but the mindset has to be right. Maybe that’s it, changing somebodies mindset is impossible unless they are receptive to it, and I will leave that nut for others to crack.
Thanks for making me think about WHY I’m here.
There are not many of us who hand saw our raw boards from logs as was the case before water, steam and gas mills took on that chore. Most of us buy dimensional lumber somewhat close to what we need even if rough sawn and unplaned. Most who enjoy doing largely hand-tool built projects stop short of eschewing any machinery, perhaps a high percentage of us I would risk saying.
What about that guy Follansbee? Don’t know much about Warren Mickley but doesn’t he work exclusively sans electrons? Interesting discussion, particularly about some of the other woodworkers deservedly well known for hand work.
Like most, I’m broad minded… I lust after both!
You forgot about the part “truly grasped both hand work and machine work.” Peter just flat out doesn’t do machine work. I may be mistaken, but I believe he has said that he’s never even used a bandsaw.
Peter Follansbee has said that he likes it when other people use chainsaws to cut logs for him.
He prefers using hand tools but other than that he seems to think that there is no value in arguing about hand vs power tools or real craft vs unreal craft.
My spring pole lathe is alcohol-powered. Does that count?
Human muscles create power too. When I push a hand plane signals from my brain are sent through my motor neurones to my muscles which in turn create power to move the tool. My muscles are power tools too! P=E/t
I have come to realize that the people who have the strongest emotions about what tools I should use are internet navel gazers who don’t actually build anything. I routinely ask people to show me their portfolio when they wax poetic about the virtues of green or reclaimed or hand tools or natural finishes or whatever….. usually I get a blank stare.
I love my Dewalt surface planer and if anyone tried to take it away I’d beat them to death with my Stanley No.7.
I don’t know if Dick Proenneke’s life fits into this conversation since he was not strictly a worker of wood, but for the three decades he lived in the remote wilderness of Alaska he never had or used a power tool to make the things he needed. He fell the spruce for his house, dragged them to the building site and constructed his cabin and all the furniture in it with only hand tools. He made some of the tools he worked with. He build a sled for hauling firewood, built his own skies, bindings, ice crampons, snow shovel and it goes on and on. He, with rare exception, used only what he could find and in the process cleaned up junk left in the wilderness by others. In the process of keeping the wilderness around his home free of discarded junk he found lots of steel, cans, oil drums, airplane parts, etc that gave him metal to work with.
Side by side with working with only hand tools, Dick’s purposeful living also included repairing rather than replacing whatever broke or wore out and it also included his manor of using things in such a way that maximized the item’s longevity.
But Dick was also a person of our time not someone from centuries early when there were no power tools or modes of powered transportation. When I look at a picture of Dick and his brother Raymond as kids, Raymond flying tiny toy airplane, I imagine the childhood dream that 50 years later had them flying their own little airplane over the Alaskan wilderness looking for the perfect spot to camp for the night.
There comes a time when age and health dictate much of what you do. We are blessed to have all tools. The project still ends up being and looking great.
“Embrace the machines, use them for your menial and laborious tasks, for someday the opposite shall hold true.” -Me, c. Just now
What is through the window of their shop? It looks like they work in the folio department of the library.
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Christopher M. Schwarz, furniture maker & writer