The 5 Faces of Woodworking

The Tattooed Woodworker makes some interesting observations in his classification of woodworkers.

Where do I fit? I guess with a hint of regret, I’d have to fit into slot number 1. Almost my sum total of woodworking involves murdering electrons, with just a few scant visits to “The Dark Side” (or as Rob calls them less controvertially, “The Purists”).

I don’t deliberately avoid handtools, and in fact those that take pride-of-place in my workshop (or will when I build the Krenov-inspired cabinet when on the Ideal Tools course) are all handtools that “The Purists” would be very happy with – HNT Gordon planes, Chris Vesper’s marking knife (I really need some more of his tools I think) etc.

What is interesting for me, is how I evolved to this point where I can and do pretty much every single task in woodworking with some form of (typically) large machine, yet I seem to crave the purity of hand tools, without having the time to do anything about it.  Not that I regret the path chosen – I am a mechanical/materials engineer in practice and thought, if not by vocation.  I enjoy mastering machines, and all that comes with the ability to precisely process a material, be that wood or steel. (Aluminium doesn’t rate – horrible stuff that doesn’t have the decency to burn, or melt properly!)  But I do look at the hand tool purists with a sense of loss – there is a skill set there that I am sadly lacking, and I’m not sure what is blocking me from going there – time perhaps, a desire for precision, who knows.  A rough-cut dovetail doesn’t evoke the same reaction in me as it does for some, but when watching a real artisan produce a drawer with handtools that is so precise that it can hardly close properly because of the cushion of air behind it that becomes compressed keeps me enthrawled.

Have a think about it, particularly against Rob’s list – where do you choose to fit as a woodworker, and why, or how did you get to the point that you are?

3 Responses

  1. There’s absolutely NOTHING wrong w/ the power tool only path. In fact, remember I said that there are craftsmen out there who can do things w/ a machine that I could only dream of doing. For me, my machines are scary. I treat them w/ a healthy dose of respect and trepidation, and only ask them to perform the most basic of functions (ripping on the TS, curve/tenon cutting on the BS, crosscutting w/ a miter saw). For me, there’s a certain satisfaction in using hand tools, and in practiced hands, a precision machines just can’t match (at least w/o a lot of fussing about). Whatever method you employ, it has to be the right one for YOU. Stu, you may look to the Hand Tool guys w/ a certain longing, but for what it’s worth, I’m sure you could burn electronss in circles around them. I know you can around me.

  2. I reckon I am sort of halfway between the Handtool Woodworker who uses Power Tools and the “True Purist”. I like to find the “best” way to do each particular task.

    If I have multiple rip cuts to make all the same width, there is no doubt – its a job for the TS. If I have 10 boards that need to be flattened that are less than 13″ wide – I take them to the FIL and use his thicknesser (I really want to get one of my own).

    But many of my joints and pieces are one-offs and not so big and I find it more convenient, faster and easier to use handsaws, chisels and planes. I have a DP, power drills and bits and braces, and use them all to make all sorts of holes and all sorts of screwdrivers (hand, yankee and electric) to put screws into them.

    Some tasks just self-select the tool – I almost always scrape to finish rather than sand (even when I am flattenig lacquer between coats) but if I have left epoxy go hard or I am reoiling outdoor furniture, its the ROS all the way.

    The one reason I tend to be hand tool first though is really simple – they are quiet and my workshop is right nder my kids’ bedrooms. If I want to do any woodwork in the evening its handtools or nothing!

  3. Cost is what drives my tool choice. If I already own the hand tool and the job would only take a little longer with it, or the power tool is expensive and not likely to be used again in the near future, I don’t buy the power version. Once I own it, I make the true purist choice and don’t worry about it, the job determines the tool.

    On the other side, I’m usually glad I own the hand version of a tool as invariably the power one is too far from the power (out on the boat dock) or needs charging (I hate battery power tools), or won’t spin up….dang table saw…. In all my years, the hand tools break the least, probably because I’m using ones that were new 75 years ago and if they were going to break, would have by now.

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