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.