Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why I Love Hand Tools

There seems to be a movement going over the past several years toward hand tools, at least for woodworking.  So I'm definitely not the first to try to say this, but there really is a simplicity and elegance to taking care of a job with the simplest and most straightforward tool.  And it's not more work.  It's less.  Less screwing around trying to get the height of your dado blade just right to cut the joint you're working on, and no time or materials wasted making test pieces to run across that dado blade.  Less time is spent worrying about how precisely square your cabinet opening is.  You can cut everything a little fat and shave parts down to perfection with a plane or chisel.  You don't have to figure out how to set your miter saw to that weird acute angle, you just cut to the line with your hand saw.  And on and on.

I wouldn't expect a production line environment to benefit from most hand tools.  Jigs and big powerful machines are the way to go when you have to make lots of copies of anything.  For the artisan or home craftsman, however, you gotta love hand tools.

My first personal example is fitting tenons.  I make a lot of cabinet door frames with bridle or mortise and tenon joints.  I don't worry too much about the width of the tenons.  I cut them a little oversize on the tablesaw (with a tenon jig) or on the band saw, and shave them down to a nice fit in their particular mortise with a rabbetting block plane.  Sort of a block plane / shoulder plane hybrid.  It cuts right to the corner and shaves off a wide swath of the tenon cheek, which helps keep the surface flatter compared to a shoulder plane.

I'm currently working on a table top.  At 7' x 3', very few of us can afford a drum sander or other power tool that would take on the job of flattening a slab this size.  I've seen plans for a track system to run your router on, or I think there are baseplates for handheld belt sanders that help flatten large areas, or maybe you could rent a floor sander,  but with a jointer plane it's a straightforward process to get it extremely, accurately flat.  You may work up a sweat, but that's not a bad thing.