PT2 – Misconceptions of Hand Tools

Definition: Hand Tools Only

  1. using traditional hand tools
  2. unplugged
  3. no power tools
  4. no electricity

These are common misconceptions about hand tool only woodcrafts, in my experience.  Hand tool woodworking is not always well understood, and I think it deserves some clarification.

Hand tools are slow...

I think this misconception comes from watching how fast a blade cuts through the wood.  That’s only a small part.  Comparing the speed of hand tools vs power tools is like comparing handmade vs manufactured.  The difference is setup time.  A single woodworker can make one chair in X hours, but the furniture manufacturer needs to build an assembly line before starting production.

The hand tool woodworker draws a line and makes a cut, while power tools need to be setup and tested for accuracy.  Once the power tools are setup they can make many cuts in short time, working in more of a “manufactured” style.  The hand tool guy is still drawing lines for each cut, whether there’s 1 or 1000. 

This is definitely over-generalizing; it’s more like comparing apples to oranges.  Are hand tools slower?  It depends.  Sometimes power tools are slower.  Perhaps hand tool work is simply more… hand-crafted. 

Hand tools are exhausting?

I’ve seen the look: sometimes we cringe at the idea of doing something the hard way.  Why would anyone want to work hard with a hand saw?

First of all, a well made, properly tuned and sharpened hand saw makes all the difference.  I wouldn’t want to use that $10 saw at the store either!  In fact, old hand saws are so popular because they actually don’t make them like they used to! (that I know of) 

A well made hand saw, properly used by a patient person (3 things hard to find these days) can work a rip saw down multiple boards without wearing out the user.  Add that up with skipping trips to the gym (and avoiding problems with power tools), who wouldn’t want to use hand tools?

Hand tool woodwork is more expensive…

I think this comes from the idea that hand tools are slow (which I discussed above).  There are even more variables affecting price such as business overhead cost, how fast the person works, batch size, methods, design, and craftsman experience.

Regardless, I find pricing generally follows the craftsman’s attention to detail.  You are going to pay more for perfection.

Lathes didn’t exist before power tools…

I’ve heard this response too many times!  It only comes up because so many people assume I have a lathe (I don’t).  It also shows how lost we are in the power tool ways.  Lathes DID exist before power tools, in two forms that I know of:

  1. The spinning piece is linked to a wooden spring. It spins back and forth, in both directions, and the chisel only cuts in one direction.
  2. A pedal is used to spin a heavy wheel creating momentum. The momentum is enough to keep the piece spinning smooth during the cuts, for a smooth finish.

Conclusion: Centuries ago, people were smart!  Some people are smart today too, but we also have technology.

All woodworkers have a lathe…

Or at least I do… except I don’t.  Many people assume I have a lathe, or I make round things that require a lathe.  I suppose a lot of people have a lathe in this town and use it to turn bowls.  They are called turners.  I don’t have a lathe, and I don’t turn bowls, but I do carve bowls, and they are not round.  Just clearing that up.

I don't use power tools because... I'm crazy?

Actually, I don’t think anyone knows the answer to this question unless they have experienced it.  It’s not an easy question to answer, but I’m working on it.

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