Shop journal #5: OK I really don't get it

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Blog entry by Ron Harper posted 03-22-2013 08:21 PM 2650 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Repurposing sometimes makes a lot of sense Part 5 of Shop journal series no next part

I have been amazed at all the heat that Christopher Schwarz gets on the web. One of the major complaints seems to be that he has an opinion. Yes he does, but almost always, he says feel free to do it another way if it works for you. I am a hand tool woodworker and Chris, in his own way has picked up the hand tool banner and run with it. He s not a purist, as is Underhill and a few others, but he really enjoys the hand tools, and like Paul Sellers, is preaching the gospel that you really do not have to use power tools to make beautiful things. Is this what people find offensive?

And speaking of Paul Sellers, a well known blogger teed off on him today, accusing him of being anti power tool. That is totally false. He uses them, and says he does. What Paul is trying to do is to let folks know that the have very real options. You really can make beautiful furniture using only hand tools. If you are very careful, you can take $250 bucks and get all the tools that you have to have to make a beautiful piece of furniture for your home. Another 65 gets you a bench. Now… There is some work involved to build the bench, and get the tools usable, but anything valuable requires some effort. The blogger then points out that Mr. sellers teaches techniques that a lot of folks don’t agree with. Now there is a real crime.

Paul also allows that some tool shaped objects are not worth bringing home and will actually discourage the aspiring craftsperson. He also is dismayed that the majority of the woodworking press, because of advertising revenue, strongly implies that you must use power tools to work wood. C’mon people, compare the ads and the articles. Not as bad as the personal finance mags, but close.

Paul Sellers is a fantastic teacher. I am taking his on line class as a refresher after a ten year hiatus from woodworking. I have tried five or six honing methods. They all work. Yes, all of them. For me, his is by far the fastest way to put a razor edge on a tool and get back to work.. His teaching of using the knife wall for all crosscuts has seriously improved the accuracy of my work.

I don’t get it

-- Ron in Kokomo

9 comments so far

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 2964 days

#1 posted 03-22-2013 09:24 PM

You’re looking at merely one facet of our existence, woodworking, and observing conflict. Problem is, woodworking is something done by human beings. And despite humans being clever enough to even conceive of tools, and then develop and use those tools sufficiently enough to invent a civilization, we still have that other dangerous evolutionary baggage. Our tendencies towards tribalism and clannishness, hostility to outsiders, etc.

You’re just seeing these old trends play out across the internet. Thankfully inquisitions and holy wars against others that don’t share our particular philosophy are on the decline, but everyone still has their own camp from which to take potshots at “the other guys”.

There will always be purists in any camp. If you pander to one, the others will reject you. If you try to get different camps to play along, then they’ll all dislike you. So between the hand tool people, the power tool people, and the ones who like to mix it up, every one of them think the other ones have it all wrong.

I’m rambling, but I guess the moral of story is that you can’t make everyone happy. Just do what you’re gonna do anyway, and make yourself happy.

-- Brian Timmons -

View garyprott's profile


47 posts in 3323 days

#2 posted 03-22-2013 09:36 PM

Not total true B Timmons. I use power tools to get it close and hand tools to finish it. Little by little I’m getting better. I really like cutting in dados and rabbits by hand. The planning is coming along.Soon I hope not to use as much sandpaper. LOL…BUT I don’t think because someone else does it differently is wrong.
There is no right way or wrong way if you get the job done correctly. My two cents.

-- James Krenov..."It's about a lot of little things, they do matter. Enjoy them."

View garyprott's profile


47 posts in 3323 days

#3 posted 03-22-2013 09:40 PM

Oh yeah I forgot to mention about Chris and Paul. I really like Paul Sellers. Chris just seems to come on a bit strong. ‘BUT’ they both can teach someone a lot about the craft.

-- James Krenov..."It's about a lot of little things, they do matter. Enjoy them."

View pintodeluxe's profile


5975 posts in 3292 days

#4 posted 03-22-2013 09:48 PM

I like both hand and power tool, but what amazes me is it is actually cheaper to outfit a shop with good power tools than it is with good hand tools. If you don’t believe me, go shopping for eight or ten good hand planes from Veritas. Then add in a router plane, rabbet plane, and compass plane.

Even for those of us that like hand tools, it is difficult to gear your shop that way due to price and availablity.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View Woodknack's profile


12887 posts in 2859 days

#5 posted 03-22-2013 10:29 PM

Schwarz is plainspoken and opinionated, that isn’t criticism. He’s also studious; and the one time I met him, was very attentive in conversations. Over the years, prior to meeting him, I wasn’t sure if I would like him in person but I respect his writing and research.

Paul Sellers I only know through his videos which I really enjoy.

To extend this out… there is also Tommy MacDonald who looks like he was hired by a modeling agency to play a woodworker but he’s the real deal. I participated in a web chat with Tommy and he was exactly the same as you see him on TV—high energy, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, not very opinionated, the kind of guy who would rather be sawing than talking about sawing.

People are attracted to different traits in others, there are several well known woodworkers who are a wealth of knowledge but I do not enjoy their videos. Different strokes … As for what other people like or dislike, well, some people have dumb opinions (I probably have a few myself) (not really).

-- Rick M,

View Ron Harper's profile

Ron Harper

133 posts in 2395 days

#6 posted 03-23-2013 02:55 AM

I have met them both. They are delightful conversationalists. If you read Schwarz carefully and listen to him, he is very self deprecating, and not at all the arrogant SOB that some portray him as. Sellers is on a a crusade to teach folks to make stuff with a few simple tools.

I used to have a power tool shop with all the bells and whistles. I claim no virtue in using hand tools. I do it as a matter of very strong personal preference. The wood that I rip to size does not care if it is ripped with a table saw or my Atkins 8 pt rip saw. I do strongly prefer hand planed surfaces to sanded ones, and I can certainly see the difference. some cannot. . I do know for a fact that no power jointer can prepare an edge joint like my 608. it is not possible due to the nature of the tools. That does not matter to some folks. I do not care if you want to do woodworking with a chainsaw, blow torch and a pair of pliers. I do think it is important that a guy know that he does not need a table saw, jointer, planer, belt sander, router, and dust collection system to build a bookcase for his kid. He really can do that with a hand saw, number 4 plane, chisel. Pocket knife, and a hammer,and he can make one that looks good and will last longer than he will. That is my hot button. How he chooses to build it is, of course, his choice. I just want him to know that he has choices, and the best advice may not come from retailers and their spokespeople.

-- Ron in Kokomo

View Tim's profile


3846 posts in 2440 days

#7 posted 03-23-2013 04:17 AM

I think Brian has really explained the human nature reasons behind this all pretty well. I think we should focus on the good, what we enjoy, and what we can do to help others enjoy and create useful, beautiful, and interesting things rather than argue.

Willie, if you’re going to compare premium hand tool pricing like Veritas, it would be fair to compare against premium power tools like festool or something and make sure to account for the shop space and cost of dust collection, extra bits, blades, and jigs etc. A little of that is needed for hand tools, but not nearly as much, nor as expensive. Vintage hand tools also offer an economical option, even if you buy them already cleaned and tuned up ready to work.

Ron, I am a big fan of Paul Sellers for his willingness to teach what he has learned and developed and for what he gives back to woodworkers in many cases for free. However, he is pretty hard on power tool woodworkers to be honest. He often refers to them as machinists instead of woodworkers. Check his blog. I do agree with him that it’s unfortunate that new woodworkers are almost always by default encouraged to pick up power tools to get started. In the majority of cases they would be better suited by hand tools for the projects they want to make. In other cases a hybrid shop would be good and in a few cases a mostly power tool shop supplemented with hand tools might be appropriate.

View grfrazee's profile


388 posts in 2618 days

#8 posted 03-23-2013 12:10 PM

Personally, I think the draw to power tools for hobbyist woodworkers is the time-saving factor. I grew up with my dad using power tools almost exclusively in his shop, and I have to believe it was mostly because he didn’t have the time to do his projects (at a pace that satisfied him, anyway) with hand tools. He was by no means without the money to afford good hand or power tools. However, he would refer to himself as “frugal” when it came to purchases.

When I was a kid, it was a reward for me to be able to use a new power tool. I don’t think my dad let me use the table saw until I was at least 16. This is from a safety standpoint. As such, most of my projects as an adolescent were smaller, and I did a ton of work on the lathe.

I’m beginning to take a blended approach to power/hand tool use. Now, I still have limited shop time since I still share it with my dad and I live 1:30 away. I occasionally get caught in the “get it done fast with power tools” trap, but I’m starting to take my time and discover the magic of hand tools.


View Mauricio's profile


7163 posts in 3630 days

#9 posted 03-23-2013 09:51 PM

I don’t get the Schwarz haters either. Maybe its that they cant stand that a writer has their dream job or they don’t like him because he is a pencil neck analytical guy. I don’t know. I learn a lot of good stuff from him. And he is a great guy in person.

Paul teaches you that you can make anything you want by learning 3 joints with 10 hand tools. Also his methods get children back in the shop and learning some skills which they can’t do with power tools. That’s what he is all about.

He advocates old Stanley’s over any modern premium plane. In his eyes the old Baily #4 is the best plane ever made bar none. He doesn’t advocate buying Veritas or LN though he does own some. The idea that hand tools are more expensive than Good power tools is just not true. Crappy used power tools maybe, but not good new ones. Especially when you include all the safety equipment you need including dust collection. No way. As mentioned above power tools are a bottomless pit when you start adding all the router pits and different blades and such you need. Also most hand tools serve more than one function and are more versatile.

By the way I was at the WW show and sat through P.S.’ talks. Then walked over to the Veritas booth and picked up their #4, I honestly believe that an old Stanley #4 can do things that the Veritas cant (or can but it would be more difficult). The Veritas is just too heavy! Especially with the quick pace PS works at. Imagine doing a bullnose round over on a board with a heavy Veritas. The Stanley is superior in that instance because of its lightness.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

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