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No Hand Tools on NewWoodworker.com?
It's all me, not them - honest
Text & photos by Tom Hintz
Posted - 3-5-2010
I get a surprising amount of email from people questioning the lack of hand-tool-specific content on NewWoodworker.com. The tone of those messages varies from the purely inquisitive to the outright accusatory. Perhaps it is time to address the lack of hand-tool-specific content for the inquisitive types. I am fairly certain that no response this side of total acquiescence will satisfy the more militant of my hand-tool-specific accusers.
Hand Tools in My Shop
I actually do have several hand tools in my shop. I have a pair of very old but very nice planes that used to belong to my Father. I keep them sharp and clean but leave them in a drawer. I have used them in the past but cannot do them justice. Besides they are far more valuable to me as a remembrance. I also have a couple small hand planes that I do use occasionally to make small corrections but only when the shop doors and windows are closed and shuttered. My complete lack of hand plane skill/interest also means that those small corrections be inconspicuous and totally unimportant to the project.
I have a hand-operated rasp, a set of bench chisels and a decent dovetail saw. I even turned a few mallets to give passers-by the impressions that I actually use chisels for real woodworking. I do use them occasionally but those are rare occurrences and like my use of planes in very inconspicuous and unimportant places within a project.
I tried making hand-cut dovetails a few times only to confirm my suspicion that I totally suck at that part of woodworking. I can actually make portions of my hand cut dovetails fit though. Unfortunately, I can fit stuff into other portions of the same assembled joint and I am certain that is not normal or desired. Since those disappointing dovetail efforts I bring out my dovetail saw only when I must chop off a small piece of wood or cut a (small diameter) dowel.
Only Good Content
When I started NewWoodworker.com I promised myself to only present good material. My near total lack of interest in and skill with hand tools means I would not like nor trust material that I produce on them. With that in mind I decided early on to leave e hand tool part of the woodworking Internet for others that are interested in them and actually skilled in their use.
I am also unable to get myself to tell people that they must learn to use hand tools before using powered equivalents or they risk using both incorrectly. I have been told this frequently in some of the more accusatory emails and have seen many similar posts on forums.
I understand that hand tools are wrong for me and many others apparently who have voiced those same feelings in emails. However, I am fully aware that there are folks who truly enjoy working with hand tools and readily acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with that. Actually, I admire woodworkers with the skill and patience to make attractive hand-cut joints or to use hand tools effectively.
Within the hand-tool community there is what I suspect to be a very small faction that feel compelled to tell people that they cannot use a dovetail jig without first learning to cut them by hand. Very often this admonition is offered when someone asks specifically about a dovetail jig with no mention of hand tools. Often this same reasoning is applied to using a powered planer, learn to use hand planes first. Aside from the obvious belligerence of those responses newer woodworkers might think that they are correct and unnecessarily become frustrated in their learning process. I have had several people in precisely that situation email me for help over the years. Virtually all were relieved to know that they were not required to conform to anyone's way of doing things.
If you want to use hand tools, great! That is a worthy skill that is very rewarding for those who enjoy it. If you are not interested in using hand tools, you don't have to despite the often-unsolicited and not-so-veiled warnings that you will be less of a woodworker. Do what makes you happy, with the tools that interest you. Woodworking is a hobby for nearly all of us that is to be enjoyed. You can't enjoy anything if you go about it in a way that is not fun to you. And remember, use whatever tools you choose safely!
If you are one of the machine-based, power-accepting woodworkers in the world remember that I am with you. For the hand-tools folks, NewWoodworker.com is an equal-tool-accepting zone so feel free to join us when you want. I obviously can't hurt you with hand tools anyway.
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