Share Your Hand Tool Skills Challenge

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Blog entry by stefang posted 11-10-2009 12:52 PM 2125 reads 0 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Hi everyone. I think there must be a whole lot of you out there who have developed woodworking hand skills over time. Some of you may have only one or maybe just a few hand skills that you do really well and others might be well versed on the full range. My thought is that it would be fun and informative to have more blogs showing handskills.I certainly don’t have much knowledge in this area, but I did do a blog on hand chopping mortises showing a method that works well for me.

I guess a lot of you are thinking that we see a lot of this stuff in FWW magazine. True, but there are lots of ways to do things, not just the FWW way. It seems to me that woodworkers are among some of the more inventive people around, so I suspect that there are plenty of interesting and surprising techniques out there that could be shared. If I can do it so can you!

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

17 comments so far

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4303 days

#1 posted 11-10-2009 01:23 PM

Mike, this is an interesting challenge and one that is definately needed. I have sadly neglected developing my hand skills and relied solely on my abillity to use power tools while ignoring this facet of woodworking. I suspect that I am not alone in this regard. I have always had a great deal of respect and admiration for those who follow more traditional paths with respect to working wood so seeing different processes will be interesting.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3766 days

#2 posted 11-10-2009 03:14 PM

I have to admit, my talent with hand tools is more of “where’s the on/off switch”. lol. I also have a lot of respect for the woodworker that has taken the time to learn and master the use of hand tools. I use a few hand tools now and then, but not on a regular bases, so when I do pick up a plane, or a chisel, or a back saw, I always think of the craftsman years ago and that was the only way of doing it. That is truly craftsmanship!

-- John @

View RBWoodworker's profile


441 posts in 3833 days

#3 posted 11-10-2009 06:40 PM

Not to brag, but I have been told by many that I can work a Nickolson patternmakers rasp or an Airiou rasp like a violinist works his bow.. I guess from doing all the Maloof type furniture.. you have to learn how to work the rasp.. it does not seem like much of a talent though, but it’s all I have to offer…lol

-- Randall Child

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

4267 posts in 3646 days

#4 posted 11-10-2009 07:04 PM

I know there are a few hand tool experts out there from reading the posts…......but not me, because I am too early in the game. But I definitely think that will be part of the fun, and I am looking forward to using the planes, chisels, and scrapers, etc.

A couple of weeks ago I watched Todd A. Clippinger’s card scraper demonstration, and came away with the idea I would do that someday. Then Sunday, as I was cutting out my 4 zero clearance insert blanks out of MDF, I came to a choice. After routing them out using the stock insert as a template, there was a fuzzy little band on the top edge of those pieces….....and I almost reached for the sand paper. But then something Todd said reminded me I had another choice….....I don’t own any real scrapers yet. But Todd had mentioned even using razor blades for scrapers.

So I reached instead for my razor scraper, you know the Red Devil kind for putty and paint on windows, and with a few strokes on each of those blanks near the edge removed that fuzzy little band with no trace of band, or of the razor having been used. Perfect solution.

I’ll be interested to see what comes up in the blogs, because I am sure I will find something useful, even if I have not come to a stage where I can teach these skills myself.

Good challenge Mike, but at this time, I guess I am just a pupil.

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View stefang's profile


16717 posts in 3815 days

#5 posted 11-10-2009 07:47 PM

Notottoman How about a spray finishing blog then?

Randal I sometimes use my cheap wood rasps, but it would be good to know more about what type of rasps are good for general woodworking and also how to use them properly, Like do you cut only on the push stroke or what? I even bought a small Airiou rasp, but I still haven’t found any job it works well on. I know it’s just my ignorance, but any help is appreciated.

Scott, Huff and Jim Like you guys, I’m pretty machine oriented, but machines are still only tools and so require a skilled people get good and effective results from them. The reason I’m trying to encourage hand tool usage is because it’s quiet, and more pleasurable. I think almost all projects present ample opportunity for hand tool use, which often saves a lot of set-up time. Of course using a handtool is not the first thing that comes to mind for the next step on a project, but when you have the skills, you will know if it’s appropriate (read faster, easier and/or better). Besides we will feel good about not being slaves to machines.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Kindlingmaker's profile


2658 posts in 4008 days

#6 posted 11-10-2009 09:08 PM

I like this idea a lot! I too have no hand skills except for taking really good wood and making very expensive kindling of it.

-- Never board, always knotty, lots of growth rings

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 3767 days

#7 posted 11-10-2009 10:27 PM

The last 2 years or so, I have really developed my hand tool skills, after a long time thinking everything must be done with power, the bigger the better. I could definitely relate to Tim the Tool Man. I finally discovered the joy of hand tools. Now, I’m not going to do away with any of my power tools by any means, but I have learned there is a balance of the two. It does not need to be either, or, but a combination of the two. It’s amazing how the two complement each other. I used to walk across the shop multiple times to fit a door with my jointer. Now I get close and then use a block plane to get it exact. Gee, guess which is faster—and better.
Then there’s the pleasure of using good quality hand tools. When I first started on my hand tool journey, and finally got it right, I found myself spending hours planing just fot the fun of it. Amazing how many thin boards I created just for the fun of it. Like Lumberjocks, It’s addictive.
I’ll stop for now, but you have given me the bug to blog my experience in the world of hand tools.


View a1Jim's profile


117712 posts in 4058 days

#8 posted 11-10-2009 10:42 PM

Hey Mike
There are areas and points in woodworking that hand skills shine but unforchantly this is not my strong point.
I think it’s part of learning through the Norm generation were more power and even more power is better.
I try and blame Norm but for most part it’s my fault for being lazy and not developing these skills. So as I have said the last few years now I will practice and develop these skills ,soon or maybe next week or month or next year, Maybe but soon.
Mike Thanks for this post it might make it sooner rather than latter.

View stefang's profile


16717 posts in 3815 days

#9 posted 11-10-2009 11:31 PM

When we plan a project we should do like Kent has done and try to identify some of the tasks that could be done by hand and which could save us some time and/or work. If we get in the habit of thinking this way, We will probably become more proficient with our hand tools and enjoy the experience more.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View IkeandBerry's profile


45 posts in 3745 days

#10 posted 11-10-2009 11:32 PM

I have only really started doing woodworking over the last couple of years and I have been mainly been using hand tools. I did not have a lot of money to start woodworking so I was able to get a few good hand tools to get started and I love it. I have some power tools and I do use them, but I get the most pleasure from using my hand tools and from the peace that it brings to me. I work on websites as my regular job and it brings a great deal of peace and balance into my life to simply unplug and create without modern technology. I have become quite good at sharpening chisels and plane irons using the scary sharp system. This is a skill that even a power tool user needs in order to have their tools working the best.

-- There is nothing like the sound of a hand plane passing across a board in an otherwise quiet shop.

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1588 posts in 4046 days

#11 posted 11-11-2009 12:05 AM

I like to plan my projects this way; use power tools to dimension the pieces for a project and then move to hand tools. I have found I enjoy the hand work more, its not as noisy or dusty and more relaxing.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

View john's profile


2380 posts in 4863 days

#12 posted 11-11-2009 12:07 AM

Hand tools ? I,ve heard of them before ! :)

-- John in Belgrave (Website) ,

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18658 posts in 4157 days

#13 posted 11-11-2009 02:41 AM

sounds like a good idea to me Mike, but I’m not up to speed to be a teacher of hand tools unless it’s conduiit bending :-))

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View stefang's profile


16717 posts in 3815 days

#14 posted 11-11-2009 12:29 PM

Great idea about the list Pat. I’ll take a stab at it. I hope others will be able to improve and amend it. I also hope some woodturners would jump in with something. When your suggestions are in I will try to incorporate them into a new list.Here goes:

  1. Sharpening techniques without or without jigs. TS saw blades. Chisels, Planes, knives, carving tools
  2. Handplanes: tune up tricks and usage including the appropriate planes for different jobs.
  3. Accurate Handsawing: Considering recent posts, handsawing is a much underused skill. I’m not very good at it myself, but I use them a lot and am getting better at it all the time. Can’t teach it though.
  4. Proper selection and use of wood rasps: what kind of jobs bring wood rasps to mind?
  5. Chisels: I think the most versatile tool in the shop. If you don’t believe me look at the work of LJ member Marcio Fenandino from Brazil. It would be interesting to see how many different ways to use them, (except for opening paint cans and using as a screw driver).
  6. Spoke shaves. I use mine, but often forget I even have them. They are great tools.
  7. Carving tools: Selection, technique.
  8. Marking up. Selection of good measuring and marking tools and/or how to make your own and proper use.

Ok guys and gals, this probably is not the best list, but please come with your suggestions to improve it. When we get it completed, maybe we can get some volunteers (forget what your Mother told you). I think it would be great to get more than one blog on one subject. There are lots of good ways to do things and often we will choose one over the other because it fits our way of working best.

Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words. (ok, I know I’m a hypocrite)

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View hunter71's profile


3433 posts in 3668 days

#15 posted 11-11-2009 02:06 PM

My Avatar says it for me. I do a lot of hand work. I think in today’s shop you have to have and use power tools. But when it comes down to detail, Hands work the best. There are sites where they sell tractors and trucks cut from a CNC machine “some assembly required” Great looking, but not for me. Hard headed, sure, but mine are handbuilt. 100%

-- A childs smile is payment enough.

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