Design philosophy. Does anyone use hand tools to build modern (or mid-century) furniture?

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Forum topic by aherna posted 04-14-2013 08:04 AM 3570 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4 posts in 2405 days

04-14-2013 08:04 AM

Topic tags/keywords: mid century modern design philosophy hand tools arts and crafts shaker

Hi All,

I’m relatively new to furniture making and am setting up a hand tools only shop for a combination of reasons (limited space, not interested in dust control in my basement, aesthetic preferences).

I would most likely have stuck with hand tools even with more space. I tend to towards the function and aesthetic of items at the peak of mechanical simplicity in my hobbies (well build lugged steel bike frames, mechanical film cameras, etc).

In delving through the range of hand tool centric blogs, I’ve been struck by the overwhelming lack of modern and modernist design in the projects discussed which are really the types of things id like to make.

I’m not talking ikea stuff but clean, mid-century inspired and more architectural forms like these. I completely respect the skill that goes into period work but arts and crafts, victorian and really even shaker designs dont do much for me.

So my question is:

Does anyone use primarily use hand tools to build this sort of furniture?

8 replies so far

View JohnChung's profile


419 posts in 2526 days

#1 posted 04-14-2013 03:11 PM

Yes it is possible. But for commercial use most use power tools. If it is hand tools here are some tools
that would be use

1) Spokeshave.
2) Jack plane
3) Block plane
4) Rasp and files of various sizes
5) Rip and cross cut saws
6) Chisels

View Tim's profile


3827 posts in 2413 days

#2 posted 04-14-2013 05:11 PM

I think the combination of what you are wanting to do is relatively rare, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Just happens that most people that are interested in hand tools to build furniture are interested in period furniture. I bet though that someone here can find you a link to someone doing similar to what you are looking for. I think though to expand your resources, what you’re probably going to have to do is take the skills you can learn from hand tool materials and adapt them to the plans or designs you see that are intended for power tools.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4099 days

#3 posted 04-14-2013 05:22 PM

You can do it but you need to have a great deal
of patience, fine tools and sharpening skills. Somebody
who already has mad skills and experience could do
it with less fine tools.

You’ll find it maddening to do some of that stuff
without sanding boards, which are fortunately easy
to make by gluing sandpaper to a flat substrate.

If you use walnut or teak, you can get away with
filling joinery flaws with lacquer burn in sticks and under
a gloss finish like shellac they are almost invisible.

Read this:

View aherna's profile


4 posts in 2405 days

#4 posted 04-18-2013 01:49 PM

Thanks for the advice guys. I’ll see how this goes.

I don’t have any plans to build furniture commercially so I’m happy to work through some of the techniques.

Loren, great article.

View Hmlee's profile


18 posts in 2376 days

#5 posted 04-19-2013 10:05 PM

Please do update on your progress. I really love modern designs, and for similar reasons am trying to switch to hand tools for some applications… Lately I do a lot more metalworking for my modern furniture, but I’d love to see what you’re able to make.

View Don W's profile

Don W

19286 posts in 3019 days

#6 posted 04-19-2013 10:15 PM

there are a lot of guys around here building with mostly hand tools. You should find lots of company.

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

View pintodeluxe's profile


5970 posts in 3264 days

#7 posted 04-19-2013 10:41 PM

How about all hand tools except a mortiser?
Do you get to have a mortiser?

Wait, no tablesaw?

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

View Tim's profile


3827 posts in 2413 days

#8 posted 04-19-2013 11:42 PM

You can have your table saw if you pedal it like Roy does, Willie.

JK, do whatever makes you happy and productive.

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