Photo: carving a spalted birch bowl with chisel & axe. The chisels shown are blacksmith-made, Taiwanese-style gouges.
Time is important, but I think what we do with it is often overlooked. First, what is Time when comparing hand tools vs manufacturing, or hand tools vs machines?
Manufacturing is designed for building many of the same thing. The setup time is ridiculously long, which is made up for by producing so many pieces very quickly. No one is going to setup an assembly line to build just one piece of furniture. That one piece will be handmade. People familiar with how manufacturing works know this.
What about hand tools vs machines? Do you cringe at the idea of using a hand saw? Let me put this in perspective. If I want to crosscut a board, I mark a line, grab my saw and make the cut within one minute. In some cases, this is less time than a machinist to setup the saw for the cut. If you tell me hand tools take too long, then my response is you probably don’t know how to use them. I think it’s more about the physical work that slows us down.
So why use hand tools?
There are many reasons. It’s a personal preference, but here’s a list:
Less risk: I can’t chop off a finger, loose my hearing, choke on dust, or start a machine fire. I get to develop and use a real skill. I’m more involved in the creation of each piece. I can sharpen, repair and build my own tools. Everything fits neatly into a tool box and the shop fits in a small room. I can make one piece of furniture at a time. I can create a better finish with less effort. And, when the final result looks great, I know it was the result of my own concentration.
How do you prefer your furniture is made?