Power Tools VS. Hand Tools

For a long time there has been a rift in the woodworking world. With technology ever increasing that rift will only grow I’m sure. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s the hand tools vs. power tools divide and with new technology on the way everyday it’s now hand tools and power tools vs. computer guided machines. I will give you my opinion on everything and that’s all it is. My opinion.
I believe there is a time and place for every tool. I’m a tool guy, there’s no tool I wouldn’t own if my bank account allowed for it. In my shop I use a planer and joiner and I use a hand plane or card scraper. I would love to have the time (and customer base) that would allow me to do more hand tool work. I absolutely love doing it. There’s something about working the wood with just a blade of some sort and some elbow grease. I find it comforting and peaceful to do it and very satisfying when I’ve completed something. There is nothing like the sound of a sharp plane as it takes of a fine shaving leaving a perfectly smooth surface behind. I love hand cutting dovetails (even though they could use some work) and using razor sharp chisels to carve into wood. However, as much as I love all these things, the truth is a planer can surface that board a lot quicker and bandsaws can make cuts faster than me chiseling something out.
I use all kinds of power tools in my shop. I live on my table saw making a good 75% of my cuts on it. It’s so versatile, it’s just an amazing piece of engineering. I have saws galore to make every cut imaginable and to make my life as easy and quick as possible. They are all a product of old woodworkers and makers in their time figuring out how to make their lives easier and their businesses more productive. I know we all like to beat our chests sometimes and say “we did this the old way, by hand” but the truth is the old way was always looking for a new way. I can guarantee the first guy who ripped a board down on a table saw didn’t step back and say “the heck with this new machinery! I’ll stick to my hand saw and split top bench.” I’m sure he was wondering how quickly they could deliver one to his shop.
I know that there is a difference between the two styles but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in the same shop. I think every woodworker should use a hand plane every once in awhile. It’s a skill that will come in handy at some point in your career, but they should also know how to run power tools to be able to make a project in a timely manner. There is a customer base out there for the six month hand built dresser but it’s not big. So knowing how to do quality work using a combination of tools and getting the job done in a time frame that makes the customer happy is important. It also helps keep prices where the biggest customer base can afford them. All this is achieved using the latest technologies mixed with the old school way of thinking.
I think the “old guy” would tell you, it’s not the tool you use to get the job done but the quality and intelligence behind the piece you’ve built. I know that power tools can make people sloppy sometimes but used correctly and with the right know how they can also make an amazing piece of art. It’s about learning your craft which I think is where the real rift lies. It’s about guys who have studied for years about how to use a saw and how to control their bodies well enough to make that straight cut by hand vs. the guys who grabbed a cheap tool from the box store and hammered some 2×4′s together. At least that’s what some people think. When in reality it’s about two guys who studied for years to get to the same result using different processes. I believe they call that innovation.
To sum this segment up, I said it before and I’ll say it again there is a time and place for every tool whether it’s got a cord attached or not. While there may be a huge difference between the guy building fine furniture in his unplugged shop and the guy who picked up some 2×4′s and screws to make a dining room table out of, there’s not a lot of difference in the two guys building fine furniture using to different tools to do the same job. It’s a quality vs. crumey problem not a power tools vs. hand tools problem.
With that said, you have to start somewhere but I encourage you to refine your craft. Use the technology available to you and get on youtube or a class to take and learn how to build something truly amazing. If nothing else call someone up who does woodworking and see if you can come by and just watch and ask questions. You might be amazed at the response you get. Most of us would be happy to pass down some knowledge to someone who was trying to better themselves.
I didn’t really get into the computer side of things but this is getting long so I’ll save that for next time. Until then grab a new tool and try it out. You might just find that you still need to refine your craft a little more.

Tags: tools power hand tools hand planes planer professional woodworking joinery beginner bandsaw card scraper carving joiner power tools chisel handsaw woodworking

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7 Comments

Todd Clippinger ...

John… WOW! Great write-up! This is absolutely steeped in wisdom.

Really great perspective – everyone should read this one!

Thanks for sharing such a great piece.

shipwright ...

+1 Todd.

I’ve believe that craftsmanship is found in the “software” not the “hardware”.

Todd Clippinger ...

I highlighted this entry in a new blog post at my site. I think it is really a great read that should be seen by more.

John ...

Thank you so much. I appreciate your sharing it with others Mr. Clippinger. I checked out your site and you do some beautiful work! Thanks again.

Britboxmaker ...

Use whichever is appropriate to the task at hand. Failing that, whichever you prefer. Other than that it doesn’t really matter what you use as long as you make something.

Todd Clippinger ...

Thanks John, I just thought it was such a good read I needed to get it more exposure.

Britboxmaker is right, all that matters is that you make something.

kiefer ...

Very well said John and I agree but I would like to add that innovation and design should also mentioned be it a new tool that is needed to preform a certain task or new project designs or design details to set yourself apart from others which will set your work apart from the crowd .