Journey into Handtools #1: Why the change

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Blog entry by chopper6322 posted 11-05-2013 07:13 PM 1739 reads 1 time favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Journey into Handtools series Part 2: Shopping List »

So I have decided, with great agonizing, to become a Neanderthal. I will be relinquishing my power tools at the end of my current project due to a time constraint on the commission. With any luck I will be sweating and frustrated by Christmas. There are several valid reasons which justify this move for me; thus the reason for the blog post. As I worked through this decision, I realized that a great deal of information is available for the power tool woodworker, the hand tool woodworker, or more recently the hybrid woodworker, but not a lot is out there in regards to why choose one over the other.
The reason all of this came up was due to the small shop that I use. It is a 12’x 20’ standalone metal building in my garage. I have had it for about 3 years now and feel that I have pretty efficiently utilized the limited space. With lots of bench top tools I was able to base the shop around a rather large table saw. However the space was not congruent to growth. As I looked into getting a larger band saw, a decent sized drum sander and a workbench, it became quite obvious that this shop setup was not going to cut it. Now I am far from saying that amazing work cannot be done in small spaces, I see it every day on this website. It’s just not pleasing to me and my personal workflow. So my solution to this was to move from the shop to the garage and use the shop to store all of the garage items in. Apparently this was not a solution as my beloved wife holds on to this delusion of a garage being designed to house vehicles, not tools. Hmm I’m still working on that.
This lead me to begin thinking about more hybrid approach, ditch the table saw for a sufficient band saw, and begin to collect the hand tools required to replace the functions of the table saw and using hand planes to do the job of a drum sander. This however quickly became an economic issue, with a family of four; it is very difficult to fit woodworking into an already tight budget. Selling the table saw and bench top band saw would not even reach half of what a large band saw would cost, plus the added expense of the hand tools that are required. However, by selling all the power tools, I would be able to have a respectable bag of hand tools. Between buying new and shopping around, I could potentially furnish a hand tool shop without spending a dime from the actual budget. Of course this involves some wishful thinking for Christmas presents.
So with space and money being the two biggest factors in my decision, there are some more minor supporting reasons that I have decided to go full on knuckle dragger. First of all, the Renaissance Woodworker, enough said I know. Shannon’s knowledge and passion for hand tools, and for sharing has been an inspiration for me similar to what most people say about Roy Underhill and others. As somewhat of an old soul and an embracer (is that even a word?) of the old world ways, his views have always resonated with me. Also I am reading a book by John Ortberg called “The Life You Have Always Wanted”. In it he talks about the disease of hurriedness. This has become a major theme in my woodworking. The hobby has become one of producing furniture over enjoying the job. I have fallen away from the love of woodworking, and instead fallen in love with the praise of finished pieces. My hope is that through the slowing down required by hand tools, I will develop a sense of patience in not only my hobby, but in my life as well.
So again, I will hopefully continue to share my thoughts and findings throughout this journey if for nothing else to hold myself accountable to the joy I desire from spending time in the shop and eventually passing the craft on to my two young sons. So now it’s time to get back in the shop and finish a dining room table that is standing in the way of my transition.

-- "As iron sharpen iron, so one man sharpens another" Proverbs 27:17

13 comments so far

View TerryDowning's profile


1153 posts in 3451 days

#1 posted 11-05-2013 07:21 PM

Read New Traditional woodworker by Jim Tolpin. He gives his rationale and reasons for switching. Good book for those switch or thinking about switching to hand tools.

Welcome to the club of hybrid wood workers.

-- - Terry

View chopper6322's profile


59 posts in 3747 days

#2 posted 11-05-2013 07:57 PM

Thanks Terry, I read the pages available on amazon and that book sounds like exactly what i need to read. The idea right now is not to become a hybrid woodworker, but to go all hand tools, as it will take the selling of everything in order to furnish a somewhat complete set of hand tools. Eventually, depending on my feelings for hand tools, i may begain to migrate back to the middle and become a true hybrid woodworker, but for now it will be knuckles to the ground.

-- "As iron sharpen iron, so one man sharpens another" Proverbs 27:17

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4667 days

#3 posted 11-05-2013 08:44 PM

I hear you loud and clear. My shop would be so much better to work in without all the machine tools. If I were younger I would consider tossing them in favor of hand tools only. As it is, my machines are my apprentices to help me get multiples or harder work done without undue physical stress. They are also a great help with the Christmas rush. That said, my favorite work mode is now using hand tools and I decided awhile back that I wouldn’t worry much about time (except before Christmas) as long as I was enjoying myself. Enjoying the best of both worlds is probably the most sensible approach for us oldies, but I do think younger folks can go unplugged without any harm, but I would suggest you hang on to those machines awhile before chucking them out the door.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17671 posts in 3952 days

#4 posted 11-05-2013 10:49 PM

Chopper, good for you!

I’m in the midst of a shop do-over and right now I’m not looking foward the bringing back all the dust-making tools that were in there before. There are a couple I won’t do without, meaning there are others I’d love to see relegated to a “only as needed” location in my work. We’ll see. Either way, I know where you’re coming from and wish you the best on your new challenge!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View Don W's profile

Don W

20277 posts in 3901 days

#5 posted 11-05-2013 11:42 PM

I started using hand tools more a few years ago. I’m not full bore, but my hand plane collection is out of control. But I say, if it’s not fun, why bother?

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View BerBer5985's profile


445 posts in 3753 days

#6 posted 11-05-2013 11:53 PM

Ive started to make the switch as well. Table saws scare the life out of me. I don’t enjoy using one one but really, although it definitely comes in handy at times, but the only thing I use the table saw for anymore is dimensioning wood. And a good band saw takes care of most of those needs and a good hand saw takes care of the rest albeit more work. When I’m in a hurry for a project that the wife needs or a friend needs but is only worried about functionality, then the power tools come out. But other than that, I don’t truly enjoy the tools. The one tool I do love us my 8” jointer and thickness planer however. Dimensioning wood is not something I truly enjoy doing by hand, but all of my joinery is done by hand and everything else. I think I could do without power tools though, just haven’t reached the point of no return to do it yet. I work a lot with recycled and reclaimed hardwood flooring since I own a flooring store and my 8” jointer with shelix head makes very quick work of existing polyurethane finishes and of they start to full, just rotate them a turn. Easy peasy! My hand planes and scrapers would take a long time and get easy Dulled by those finishes. It’s really the only reason I keep them around. Good luck with the transition and keep us posted.

-- Greg, Owner, Quality Carpet One,

View funchuck's profile


119 posts in 4390 days

#7 posted 11-06-2013 12:10 AM

I still have all my power tools, but they are pretty much low end stuff (mostly Ridgid and Grizzly stuff). I switched to all hand tools about 1.5 years ago because I work the night shift and even on my days off, my schedule is flipped around. I didn’t want to disturb my family or my neighbors during their sleep time by using noisy tools. I also didn’t like using a dust mask and ear muffs the whole time I was in the shop, it made me feel sort of disconnected from the work.

In the beginning, when you have just switched over, if you’re like me, you’ll really miss your power tools. A rip cut on the table saw is super easy compared to using a handsaw. Resaws are more difficult and thicknessing by hand is also challenging. But over time, I came to appreciate my hand tools. All my hand tools combined take up only a little more space than my table saw. When using hand saws, just saw on the waste side and hand plane up to the line and you’ll get an exact cut, no more wasting wood with test cuts on the table saw. No more dealing with snipe on my thicknesser either.

Once you learn the tricks, things are easier. One thing that I find much easier is cutting joints. Dovetails, lap joints, mortise & tenons are easy to do with a minimal set of tools.

I prefer learning from videos, and recommend the LN set of woodworking videos. Especially the David Charlesworth ones on hand planing and chisel technique. His videos are boring so you may need to watch them several times, but it seems he has valuable information into every minute of those videos.

There are also the Paul Sellars videos on youtube. His videos are also full of useful information. His blog has some information about starting out on a budget and there are several video series, one on building a hand tool workbench (if you don’t have one already).

-- Charles from California

View natenaaron's profile


442 posts in 3130 days

#8 posted 11-06-2013 12:37 AM

Been thinking about this myself, as I clean the dust out of EVERYWHERE, and I really don’t like wearing a mask. I can either invest is a top notch dust control system, or go the hand tool route. I have a family of 4 too, and being the only income (long story, don’t ask) I think the decision is being made for me. Keep us posted. I am interested to see how things go.

View Oldtool's profile


3401 posts in 3524 days

#9 posted 11-06-2013 01:20 AM

Very interesting story, and much if it reminds me of my woodworking story. Same shop size, about 12 X 20 integral garage, some power tools, the desire to work at my desired pace rather than meeting some deadline – therefore no sales, just hobby woodworking for family members, and a gradual conversion to hand tools.
I’m going more and more toward hand work for reasons like yours and other than yours as well, some of which are: a great infatuation with American colonial woodworking – the Anthony Hay cabinet shop at Colonial Williamsburg being my favorite vacation spot, plus all the old traditional woodworking articles in the woodworking magazines – which prompted me to buy a large collection of wooden hand planes over time – that I now need to use, plus the joy of cutting a rabbit or dado with a plane rather than a router – and faster many times. Of course I don’t miss the noise or dust, and neither does my wife I might add, who thinks my wood shop is still her garage.
At first when attempting to use the hand tool approach, I did get frustrated with the results at times, but I’ve got to say I’m getting better and better with practice. So, keep up the effort, you’ll find it becomes second nature with time, and very rewarding.
Looking forward to your installments,


-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View chopper6322's profile


59 posts in 3747 days

#10 posted 11-06-2013 01:25 AM

Thank you all for your well wishes and advice, I have since found an onslaught of information about hand tool techniques, Paul Sellers, Shannon Rogers, Roy Underhill, and i have not yet seen any of David Charlseworth’s videos, but his name is definitely prevalent in most discussions on the topic. Also another great resource i’ve found has been the close grain blog by Steve Branam. Again I want to thank all of you and a big thanks to all of those who are sharing their experience in a digital matter to both shorten the learning curve and keep motivation for what i can only imagine will be a somewhat frustrating journey to satisfaction.

-- "As iron sharpen iron, so one man sharpens another" Proverbs 27:17

View Holt's profile


280 posts in 3962 days

#11 posted 11-06-2013 12:06 PM

I followed the link in another reply to New Traditional woodworker by Jim Tolpin then spent some time looking around (unsuccessfully) for the book in hardback. Am I the only one around that wants hardback copies of their technical books?

-- ...Specialization is for insects.

View chopper6322's profile


59 posts in 3747 days

#12 posted 11-06-2013 02:08 PM

I agree Holt. I would much prefer a hard cover book and think it is because of the tactile nature of our craft. Feel matters, and quality is important. While a soft cover book will have the same information we desire a certain feeling while we are reading it and I would think that publishers would grasp this more firmly. However I think also the raised price that comes along with that quality would in most cases be rather spent on tools or wood. So perhaps that is why so many books are in soft cover today. The compromise would be a softcover book teaching how to make wooden covers for other books :)

-- "As iron sharpen iron, so one man sharpens another" Proverbs 27:17

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 4200 days

#13 posted 11-06-2013 02:18 PM

Different strokes for different folks. I don’t see anything wrong with what you are doing if that is your preference. When I got married back in 1971 all I could afford was hand tools and I spent about $1000 for a carefully selected set of tools. Back then a $1000 could buy a whole lot more than it does today. I had a carport with a roof on it and worked that way for years. I had an old antique wardrobe to lock my tools in when they weren’t in use. I still have all of those tools and have also added quite a few more. Fortunately I’ve also acquired a number of power tools as well. Best of luck to you and your decision to go in a new direction.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

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