Hand tools vs power tools for beginners - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 19 Old 03-03-2012, 06:28 AM Thread Starter
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Hand tools vs power tools for beginners

I'm a wood working novice interested in building small projects. I like to build using traditional joinery and try to avoid using screws and nails. I have bought myself a few hand tools and I'm happy with them. I recently bought a plunge router, I hate it and I'm pretty sure it hates me right back. I enjoy using hand tools but the time involved is considerable vs the power tools.
I was thinking that it's more important to master hand tools before moving onto power tools, however, my Dad is very my of the opinion that I shouldn't waste my time with hand tools, if there is a power tool that will do the job quicker and, if I'm honest, more accurately.
Your thoughts please?
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post #2 of 19 Old 03-03-2012, 07:30 AM
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Depends on what you are trying to do. Hand tools are slower, but as you get good, they aren't so much slower as to be a deal breaker unless you are earning a living doing this. If it's a hobby it is meant to be enjoyeable right? I also would say that hand tools are just as accurate and in many cases more accurate when used properly with practice.
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post #3 of 19 Old 03-03-2012, 08:05 AM
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Reading your post I think that attitude is a major player in your situation. You think that hand tools should be best and therefore instinctively dislike power tools.

My mental focus is the exact opposite. If I could only use hand tools for my projects I would have quit before I started. My skills with hand tools are virtually non-existent. I need power tools to even cut a straight line!!! Even though I have discovered pull saws and do much better cuts with them, power tools are an essential part of my life.

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post #4 of 19 Old 03-03-2012, 09:29 AM
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It doesn't matter when you get into power tools. It's not going to be easier later. What anyone knows working with hand tools won't help much with power tools. The only way power tools will be easy for you to use is to keep plugging away at it until you get experience with them. Just try not to do any work that feels really cumbersome. That is when you put yourself in a position where you could get hurt. As far as the plunge router, I would lock the plunge portion of it until you get better acquainted with it.

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post #5 of 19 Old 03-03-2012, 11:22 AM
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I myself am very new to woodworking, and am wrestling with this issue myself. I consider myself to have "smart hands", and have heard that if you gain experience with hand tools, they become "an extension of your arm". However, I don't see why power tools, with experience, couldn't also become an extension of your arm. I think that since hand tools will require more sweat, muscle fatique, etc., that it will force me to really think before I make any cuts. Plus, I am kind of a klutz, and it's safer for me to use hand tools only. But time will tell, I very will may find myself switching to power tools in the near future. All the best.

I also heard one guy on youtube (I forget his name, but he is a well known hand-tool user) that when using hand tools you can "feel" the wood better while cutting it, and that this more intimate knowledge of the wood may be helpful. For me, though, the safety thing is quite important- I'm the kind of guy that would be hasty with a power tool and end up hurting myself.

Last edited by Woody1987; 03-03-2012 at 11:25 AM.
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post #6 of 19 Old 03-03-2012, 11:23 AM
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There is sort of a "culture" hand tools vs machines that has developed among woodworkers. Personally, I think it's very limiting to a woodworkers repertoire. There are things that each does for you and neither should be considered exclusive. It would be like saying the only way to travel is on a bicycle.

I was a finish carpenter before electric miter boxes became available, in fact, we seldom had electricity on job sites. Not many folks could do the work since it all was done with hand tools. Since the availability of those saws and temporary juice on site, many folks can do the work. It used to take numerous tools that were not only the correct ones but they had to be maintained, used and sharpened correctly, too. These days, you just buy what you need and plug it in. Not that is doesn't involve skills but they are different. The skills with either can be complex and challenging but in different ways.

The fundamentals of woodworking are the same whether you use power or not. Learning these is essential. How you accomplish them doesn't matter but as projects get more complex, you'll find that you may want both hand and power tools. Keep an open mind. Traveling to Asia isn't reasonable on a bicycle but you may want to use one when you get there, at least, some of the time.
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post #7 of 19 Old 03-03-2012, 05:54 PM
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I have gone the full 180 degrees. I started with hand tools as a beginner. But because I knew nothing and had no real mentors decided that to improve I needed power.

Then, I had to have evry power tool and machine invented, then I had the good fortune to run into and befriend a person who had exceptional hand tool skills.

he taught me some important lessons about hand tools in particular. The number one Rule is to have sharp tools, blunt ones are a sign of frustration.

He taught me how to rehab old good quality tools, how to sharpen and hone. While I still use power tools I find, more and more that instead of reacing for the switch I will use hand tools especially if it is small things I am doing.

Certain Power Tools are important and you will gather them as you require.

I went without these for years but they have paid for themselves many times over for the work I do.

No1. Power circular saw if you are doing 2x4 s or bigger.

then. Table Saw. the table saw is something i have found to be the best thing i ever did. Once, if I needed some inch by inch timber and did not have it I would head off to the bix Box store to buy some.

Now, I just cut down some larger stock I have lying around. I scavenge free timber where I can and then cut it too the size I need.

The hand tools that are important are hand saw, tennon saw, chisels and good quality old hand planes.

Because i make a few Toys I also find a small belt sander to be particulary handy. It depends on where your journey takes you.

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post #8 of 19 Old 03-03-2012, 07:22 PM
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This discussion can go on forever with each side stating the benefits of doing it "their way".

I learned on power tools, was forced into hand tools and have returned to power tools. The result is I still can not make a decent dove tail joint to save my life regardless of the tools used, nor plane a board smooth using a hand plane.

If your woodworking is more of a hobby than a job, then by all means pick your weapon of choice and learn it well before switching to something else. You'll enjoy it more and won't have a fortune invested in tools that sit and gather rust.

The only thing I'll add to that is to recommend that you buy the best tools you can afford. That $20 set of chisels may look nice, but they will never do as nice a job or work as smoothly as the $100 set you passed by.

If Woodworking is so much fun why isn't it called WoodFUNNING?

I've made a few videos
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post #9 of 19 Old 03-03-2012, 07:22 PM
where's my table saw?
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60 years ago I started with hand tools

Because that's all my Dad would allow. A eggbeater drill, brace and bits, a crosscut handsaw with small tiny teeth, hammers and screwdrivers etc. My first power tool was a Craftsman 1/4" electric drill...Wow. A saber saw was next, then a big 1/2 drill and a Skil saw in 8 1/4", a heavy monster. I had a metal legged stand you could bolt the saw in upside down and make it into a "table saw" I wish I still had it for senti "mental" reasons.

Now, years later, I have one or more of every wood working power tool you can get, well almost. Table saws, Bandsaws, Radial Arm Saws, jointers, planers, routers, drill presses, and a mortisier, shaper, spindle sander, drum sander, etc.
I also have a modest collection of hand planes, one of the most used hand tools in my shop is a Stanley low angle block plane. I have a great collection of chisels, a few hand saws including Japanese pull type saws.
There is no absolute preference in my shop, what ever works best easiest and fastest is what I use. I can't hand saw cut a straight line across a board well enough to join it to another hand cut board. So I use a table saw or RAS which is far more accurate. Yeah, I could practice until the Zen overtakes me, but that ain't gonna happen. Just my point of view. bill

The answer to your question will only be as detailed and specific as the question is detailed and specific. Good questions also include a sketch or a photo that illustrates your issue. (:< D)
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post #10 of 19 Old 03-04-2012, 03:41 PM
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Originally Posted by woodnthings View Post
...... what ever works best easiest and fastest is what I use. ...... bill

Bingo! Once again Bill echos my thoughts exactly. The tool is only an instrument to get the job done.
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post #11 of 19 Old 03-04-2012, 03:52 PM
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Originally Posted by JohnK007

Bingo! Once again Bill echos my thoughts exactly. The tool is only an instrument to get the job done.
I totally agree. I use only hand tools because I can buy the best available for a lot less than the top of the line power tools. Also, I am a hobbiest and am not conserned with speed.
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post #12 of 19 Old 03-04-2012, 05:02 PM
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I like handtools because I hate the noise of power tools. That and I only have a limited space in my house and a limited budget which to work with.

However, my uncle has a pretty sweet shop set up. And I'd be lieing if I did say I go over there from time to time to plane, join, and cut stuff down on a table saw from time to time.

Hand tools allow me to turn on some music and relax. Power tools allow me to get stuff done quicker. Though there are times when pulling a hand saw to make a few quick cuts is faster than setting up the table saw.

So I guess the best answer is depends. And I wouldn't suggest learning how to use hand tools first if you see yourself mainly using power tools in the future. It's a good skill to know, but it isn't really a stepping stone into power tools.
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post #13 of 19 Old 03-04-2012, 07:12 PM Thread Starter
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I've got to agree. I hate the noise, I worry about my neighbours getting the hump and I havn't got much room. I agree with the budget restriction too, decent power tools seem to cost so much. I think the biggest thing for me is that, once I've completed a project I tend to forget about it. I think I enjoy the building my than looking at or using the completed work.
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post #14 of 19 Old 03-04-2012, 11:41 PM
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Unless you are trying to make money, this is supposed to be fun. So stick with what is fun. I think I heard you say like hand tools. So use hand tools, and have lots of safe fun.

I've got two specific ideas.

Whether you do hand or power tools, buy quality layout tools, and that probably means some place other than Home Depot.

Not to get you off your hand tool track, but you mentioned your hate-relationship with your router. Have you made any accessories? I got my first one last year and my experience was similar, until I read up a little bit and made some different base plates and guides for common tasks. That really helped a lot.

So.... have fun! Be safe.
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post #15 of 19 Old 03-05-2012, 12:24 AM
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As several mentioned,"which do you injoy?" Hand? Power? Both?
Some people injoy collecting antique hand tools as much as useing them.
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post #16 of 19 Old 03-05-2012, 12:33 AM
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I have a good assortment of both. For me it's like shaving my face and head. If I have the time I prefer to use my straight edge. It takes me close to an hour to do both and I enjoy it. But, when I have to move fast nothing beats a quality power tool.

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post #17 of 19 Old 03-05-2012, 12:51 AM
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I am very new to this... and there are probably a few discussions similar to this elsewhere on the forum... but from my experience, hand tools allow you to make adjustments even after you've started you're cut... with power tools once you commit to the cut there aint no going back. As someone else said, you can play music and relax. Hand tools are lighter, and therefore less fatiquing to carry around.

As many have said, if you have fun with it, than that's the right choice. There's no right or wrong way to pursue a hobby. If you like it one way, it's completely up to you do it that way. Just had to add my two cents
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post #18 of 19 Old 03-05-2012, 12:54 AM
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Hand vs. Power Tools

My husband was mentored by an "older" Gentleman, Mr. Ray Herman. Being in the wood pattern making business, "gruffy" Ray would love to answer the question...what tools/materials do we use in patternmaking/prototype building? with his "form letter" answer..."any f#@%kin' thing that works!". Always with that sly semi/evil, mostly loveable look on his face. He was an inventor (1,000+ patents to his name ! RIP Ray !
We, as patternmakers/modelmakers, always take the advice he left us with (while working safely) to this very minute !
Point being, especially when you work wood to survive, his 'any (blankin') thing that works' concept applies here here and to other small industries [custom furniture (carving), custom framing, commission building, custom restoration of landmark buildings], etc.
Hobbies also...it depends mostly on what your goals are, We believe, however, that a basic/intermediate knowledge of hand tools...chisels, mallets, planes, scrapers, etc are necessary and helpful in understanding the whys & ways of what your're doing, in addition to being helpful when the project calls for it.
It's up to You and your're ambitions, Best
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post #19 of 19 Old 03-05-2012, 05:26 AM
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I have mostly power tools and I don't see myself putting them totally aside.

However the more I get into woodworking the more I want to branch out to hand tools. There's something about watching someone use a hand plane and seeing a long curl springing from it that intrigues me.

Its also a good thing to keep the old traditions and methods alive.

For my purposes a well equipped shop will have power and hand tools.

As far as your shop goes, do what makes you happy. That's the whole point of it.
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