Pros and Cons of Woodworking with Manual Tools - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum

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post #1 of 82 Old 01-12-2016, 09:58 AM Thread Starter
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Pros and Cons of Woodworking with Manual Tools



There are unlimited options for those who love working with wood. You can do amazing things with routers, CNCs and other machines, but there’s something to be said for working with manual tools as well. If you’ve been thinking of taking up manual woodworking, here are a few things that you should consider. Manual tools aren’t for everybody, but it may be worth checking to see if they suit you.

Pro: Greater Control

When you’re working on wood with manual tools, you have complete control over every move you make. You control the angles, the pressure and the length of each motion. This means you can shape the wood to look exactly the way you want it to look, instead of trying to find the closest approximation you can while your power saw or lathe does its work. You also don’t have to worry as much about feeding the wood too quickly or the machine cutting too far because you’re directly controlling the speed of the blade or the length of the cut.

Con: Learning Curve

Working with manual tools isn’t easy – depending on how dependent you are on power tools, it might entail a pretty steep learning curve. When using manual tools, you’re performing some of the same tasks, but different movements and levels of pressure are required. If you’re not used to it, you might find yourself making more mistakes than you normally would simply because you haven’t yet learned the proper way to work wood with manual tools.

Pro: More Adaptability

Manual tools can make it easier to adapt what you’re doing on the fly, especially if you’re working with unfamiliar wood or wood in its natural state (as opposed to lumber or processed wood). It also gives you more leeway when inspiration strikes, letting you change what you’re doing far easier than you could when working with power tools. This doesn’t mean you can always just ignore your plans and do something else with manual tools, but there is a greater amount of adaptability involved in most situations.

Con: Slower Production

Power tools are nice because they speed up a lot of woodworking tasks. When you’re working with manual tools, you have to make every cut, carve every line and sand every surface by hand. This can be very slow work, especially if you’re used to a much faster production rate. Depending on what piece you’re working on and which tools you’re using, working with manual tools may frustrate you at first.

Pro: Feel Like a “Real” Woodworker

There are likely some who would argue with this, but some woodworkers find that moving from power tools to manual helps them to shed the mindset of being a “hobbyist,” because they’re working hands-on with the wood instead of just running it through machines and piecing together what comes out the other side. Not everyone experiences this, of course, but it can be pretty satisfying once you have a finished piece that you’ve shaped with your own hands.

Con: Manual Limitations

One big problem with using manual woodworking tools is that you’re largely limited by your physical strength and endurance when working on a project. Working on wood by hand can be very tiring, especially if you’re not used to it. Depending on the tools you’re using, your arms will get tired, your hands will cramp and you’ll have to be careful to make sure that your work doesn’t suffer as a result. You’ll get used to it over time and build your endurance, but when first starting out, you may wind up sore in muscles you didn’t even realize were used in woodworking.

Is Manual Right for You?

If you’re not sure whether you should give manual tools a try, consider how much control you like to have over the wood you’re working on.

Some people find using manual tools frustrating and only use them for fine detail work, if at all. Others enjoy working by hand whenever they have the time, setting aside the power tools whenever possible in order to get up close and personal with the wood.

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post #2 of 82 Old 01-12-2016, 10:23 AM
where's my table saw?
 
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I agree with some, not all of the above

As far as greater control using manual/hand tools, not in my opinion...... and if so, only if you are very skilled.

Here's my thinking. If I set my table saw for a width of 2" and make a test pass and measure it, it's gonna be 2" no matter what. If I have a power planer and set it to 2" and run a test pass, it will plane all the succeeding boards to that dimension in a heartbeat. If I want to handplane a board to 2" it will take several types of planes, several passes over the rough stock, and several measurements, and repeated sighting to insure that it's a constant 2" along the length... that require some special tools and some good skills and considerably more time.

So, time and accuracy are interrelated. If time is NOT a factor then handplane to your heart's content. If there is this "connection" as some woodworkers describe it, between the material, the process and the woodworker, and that is important, then go for it. In my case the connection is not as important as getting to the finished product, so I'll use the best, most accurate and least time consuming method I have at my disposal.

In my case, I have a pretty good collection of handplanes, Japaneses gouges and slicks and Robert Sorby mortising chisels and all are beautiful to look at and work with. I use use them when the operation requires it and it's very satisfying to see the results. A Japanese type pull saw is often just the right tool for my needs and no ther saw will work. As with hammers, screwdrivers, pliers, etc., there is no one tools that will do every task well, so you end up with more than one type of plane, chisel, gouge, etc. and pretty soon you have a "collection".

The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specfic. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo
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post #3 of 82 Old 01-12-2016, 10:23 AM
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It is a Roy Underhill or Norm Abram approach to wood working and I use both. In the winter when I am driven indoors because the shop is cold, I take to my small shop in the basement and use hand tools. Plus collecting hand tools at antique shops and thrift stores is fun.
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post #4 of 82 Old 01-12-2016, 10:43 AM
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I like working with hand tools. As you say, it gives a greater satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment than what is possible by power tools.
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post #5 of 82 Old 01-12-2016, 09:06 PM
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Handtools give me a connection to the wood and a peace that calms my ptsd.
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post #6 of 82 Old 01-12-2016, 10:31 PM
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Handtools give me a connection to the wood and a peace that calms my ptsd.
I completely agree! It is much more soothing to work gently with the wood than to beat it into submission with a power tool.
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post #7 of 82 Old 01-12-2016, 11:53 PM
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Pro: Feel Like a “Real” Woodworker
So, what, I'm a "fake" woodworker because I use power tools?

I need cheaper hobby
etsy.com/shop/projectepicfail
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post #8 of 82 Old 01-13-2016, 07:34 AM
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I use power tools for rough cutting my lumber and planning down to thickness, other than that hand tools the whole way. I am in no rush to make anything and I really like the feeling of using a plane, chisel, scrape, mallet, et al. This was done by hand:
(except the bevel on the table top..that I ran through my TS....and I am here to tell you...do not try to do that alone!
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post #9 of 82 Old 01-13-2016, 07:51 AM
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Wow, that's a great looking coffee table! Mahogany or maple?
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post #10 of 82 Old 01-13-2016, 08:39 AM
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There is really nothing that can be made with power tools that can't be made with manual tools. It just increases the skill level of the person doing it and the time it takes to preform a task. What might take minutes to do with power tools could take a person all day doing manually. It's actually what made the dovetail joint a sign of good craftsmanship. In the old days before mechanism people used to look at the dovetail joints of a cabinetmaker to see what kind of craftsman he was. The dovetail joint was so difficult to make precisely by hand a so so cabinetmaker might have some minor gaps in the joints. Now in today's furniture factories you could almost train a chimpanzee to do dovetail joints and folks still look for the dovetail joint for quality. I'm sure there is a lot of satisfaction in building the old way however myself the end result is all that is important. If a task can be done easier and better with power tools that is what I use. The only hand plane I own is a block plane I use maybe every other year. I have been known though to make small pieces of molding with wood carving chisels because I can make the molding easier than the tooling to run the molding on a machine.
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post #11 of 82 Old 01-13-2016, 10:38 AM
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Wow, that's a great looking coffee table! Mahogany or maple?
Thanks....Sapele
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post #12 of 82 Old 01-13-2016, 11:27 AM
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To each their own, for some it is the destination, for others the journey.

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
― Marcus Aurelius
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post #13 of 82 Old 01-13-2016, 06:26 PM
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To work properly, hand tools have to razor sharp. Not all people have the ambition to succeed at that. Wood has to be cut, so one will have to know how to sharpen a saw or buy a new one every time one gets dull. A kicker there is that not all saws come as sharp as they can be made to be. While chisels and plane irons are rather easy in comparison they still require frequent sharpening and tweaking.

Wood suitable for hand tools needs to have a consistent straight grain. Knotty and figured wood give problems to the hand plane, dulling it quickly or chipping out. Hard woods like oak and sugar maple require a great deal more effort than cherry, mahogany or poplar.

Arduous activity doesn't guarantee a quality result unless its the activity one is most interested in. By what's been written already, that activity, for some, is prime.
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post #14 of 82 Old 01-15-2016, 02:17 PM
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Ford -vs- Chevy
Left -vs- Right
Power -vs- Hand tools

There seems to be something in human nature where we have to take a side and then adhere tightly to it. I think this limits us.

I have a lot of tools and I use them all the time. I have stationary, portable, battery, and hand tools. I have used hand tools for 55 years, stationary power tools for 45 years, and portable power tools for probably about 43 years. I do everything from small home and hobby projects to major remodels. It is a rare project where I do not use all of those categories of tools. My planes are not pretty because they get a lot of use. I go through 3/4" wood chisels like there is no tomorrow. I'm also in the market for a new table saw and my router table got a load of mortar dropped on it, so it will need replacement, too. I'm about to start working on re-installing a kitchen full of cabinets and I'll need to make some new ones to match the old ones, so that router table is rising to the top of my list.

As a hobbyist, you have complete flexibility in your choice of working methods. You do not usually have time constraints (unless you got started late making those Christmas presents!) You can use all hand tools if you want and everyone will be in awe - if you do a good job. But the learning curve is arduous and you'll leave a trail of lesser quality work or firewood behind you before you can truly do that awesome work.
At the same time, almost everyone is really going to judge your work on the results, not on how you did it. So if you use power tools along with the hand tools you'll produce more great work and at an earlier stage in your development.

The opportunities for professional woodworkers who only use hand tools are vanishingly small because the market for their extremely expensive work is vanishingly small. Young guys starting out with ardor and beliefs and no fear of poverty may go into this market, but only the cream of the crop will survive. Almost all others will start adopting power tools to increase their productivity so they can make more than 50 cents an hour.

So now I have a tangential question to pose. Where does non-electric machinery fit into the spectrum of hand to power tools? Treadle lathes, egg-beater drills, and the like? At what level of complexity does a hand tool become a machine?

Last edited by FatBear; 01-15-2016 at 02:19 PM.
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post #15 of 82 Old 01-15-2016, 02:31 PM
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For me, as an amateur where time taken to complete a project isn't of great importance, two pros of hand tools are:

1. Much less dust, which is good as I have a pretty limited workspace and no extraction fan system
2. I have tactile and kinesthetic learning style. This is not a good thing with table saws.

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post #16 of 82 Old 01-15-2016, 02:37 PM
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Much less dust. What a fantasy! I do envy you that. :-)
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post #17 of 82 Old 01-15-2016, 04:31 PM
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This post is the silliest post so far for 2016.
Hand tools or power tools?
Really?
Open it up to everything else in life;
Walk or ride?
Dig a grave with a shovel or a backhoe?
Do it the hardest/slowest way possible or do it easily and quickly?

You get my drift.
Since the beginning of time, man has always looked for a better way of doing things. Unless you're demonstrating how something was done in the old days, I see little reason not to progress forward.
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post #18 of 82 Old 01-15-2016, 04:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Toolman50 View Post
This post is the silliest post so far for 2016.
Hand tools or power tools?
Really?
Open it up to everything else in life;
Walk or ride?
Dig a grave with a shovel or a backhoe?
Do it the hardest/slowest way possible or do it easily and quickly?

You get my drift.
Since the beginning of time, man has always looked for a better way of doing things. Unless you're demonstrating how something was done in the old days, I see little reason not to progress forward.
Yea, you could always do like me and spend three years building one little table.
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post #19 of 82 Old 01-15-2016, 04:41 PM
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Yea, you could always do like me and spend three years building one little table.
Heck, I could do it in four years with power tools.
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post #20 of 82 Old 01-15-2016, 06:34 PM
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Heck, I could do it in four years with power tools.
Ok, go for it.
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