Power Tools vs. Hand Tools: Can't We All Just Get Along?
posted on December 11, 2009 by Ralph Bagnall

If you have been at all in touch with woodworking blogs, forums and such, you have come to realize that there are those who advocate "more power", and those that tend toward hand tool snobbery. I am here to help get us all holding hands around the (sawdust and plane curl) campfire singing "kumbya".

The hand tool purists will go on about how the "masters" did everything by hand, and the purity of the hand work. The marks left by the tools and the slight imperfections are the mark of a handmade piece.

The power tool gang, on the other hand, will discuss speed, accuracy and bringing woodworking within the grasp of the average home shop woodworker.
I believe that both camps are correct. I make my living building furniture and cabinets. While it is possible to build fine furniture from rough lumber using only hand tools, it would be very tough to make money at it. My power tools allow me to perform tedious tasks, like squaring stock, quickly and efficiently. But many common woodworking tasks require multiple machines, and coordinating the accuracy between machines becomes the issue. A router cuts a mortise and a table saw cuts the tenon, but getting them to match perfectly takes some test cutting and set up time. If I am making a dozen cabinet doors, this set up time is well worth the effort. But making a few joints in a table apron is where my hand tools come to the rescue. Ensuring dead accuracy between two set-ups on a simple job can take longer than is justified, so in those cases, I like to mill the joint by machine, leaving the tenon a bit oversized, then use a good shoulder plane to perfect the fit. Machines also typically leave distinctive tool marks on the material. Proper set up can reduce these marks, but they will need to be removed. When I rout out a shallow pocket for a dish, there are marks left at the bottom. A specialty sander could be used to smooth the bottom, but I reach for my scrapers. The scraper removes material faster than even 80 grit sandpaper, while leaving a smooth, open finish that no sanding can match. Hand tool advocates speak of the pleasures of the first perfect curl from your first plane, and they are right. Using well-made tools that are tuned correctly is one of the pleasures that keeps me energized in my daily work. But properly setting up a difficult saw cut can be just as sublime an experience. Making a piece of fine furniture is nice. Making it at a profit gives me the freedom to continue the work I enjoy. In my shop, the power tools occupy positions of prominence on the floor, but my hand tools are carefully stored within easy reach. The two exist side by side in my shop and are both critical in turning the vision in my mind into an treasured and lasting product. From the Blogmaster: You can tweet with Ralph Bagnall on Twitter at @Consultingwood, and tweet with us too at @Rockler!

posted on December 11, 2009 by Ralph Bagnall
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