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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Here is something to ponder:
Would the forefathers of woodworking laugh at us for trying to emulate them by trying to step back in time and copy their stuff while they were continually striving for a newer, easier and faster way to do things?
When I was an engineer we would always say "if the old ways are better, we would still be doing it that way." The word "we" meaning the bulk of the tradesmen, not any one individual.
I can understand the lure of the past, but I'm more about getting it done. I really enjoy my woodworking but I still want completion.
This sounds strange coming from me, the old sailboat guy that lived by the motto "It's not the destination, it's the journey"
What say you?
 

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David - Machinist in wood
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I believe that if Henry Ford had had the tooling and automation we have now he would have used it to the fullest extent possible. In the woodworking world I'm glad we have CNC machines for certain types of furniture and to assist in instrument building but I don't think you can (yet) replicate hand tooling, carving marks, joinery, etc. with machinery. And yes, I do enjoy the journey so I use my CNC where it makes sense and do the remainder of my work with traditional power and hand tools.
 

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The Nut in the Cellar
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Are newer ways to work wood better? I don't think we will know, because we will be long gone from this life before those new ways prove/disprove themselves. The stuff I've made in the last 30 years is still like new. My children will be gone before that stuff ages out enough to prove the methods I used. I think the newer adhesives will be the main reason for wood pieces lasting longer than the stuff we now consider antiques. Modern finishes will also likely hold up better thus protecting the pieces. The bed step stool I made for my Granddaughter 15 years ago using bamboo pins for joinery has been stomped, kicked, jumped on, and knocked around but still looks like it did when I gave it to her. Maybe her Granddaughter will use it.
 
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Egg Spurt
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I suppose the answer depends on what you want to accomplish. If whatever you make is intended for a family member and you want it to last as a legacy piece that's one thing. If you're trying to make a living and time is limited and your customers don't have fortunes to spend...well.. When I'm making cabinet doors and charging less than home depot I can't very well hand saw and hand plane and hand cut everything and expect to turn a penny in profit now can I? If I'm making a special box for grandkids I can go either way, but time is still money and grandkids are expensive little boogers.
 
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Most of the operations are doing the same thing, for example if you run a hand plane along the edge of a board or run the edge of the board through a jointer you end up with a board with a straight edge. If you rip a board with a hand saw or run it through your table saw you have a board ripped in two. Power tools are used because they give quick consistent results with a very short learning curve.
That being said there are many times when I will grab a hand saw because it is still the best and safest tool for the job at hand.
 

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Here is something to ponder:
Would the forefathers of woodworking laugh at us for trying to emulate them by trying to step back in time and copy their stuff while they were continually striving for a newer, easier and faster way to do things?
When I was an engineer we would always say "if the old ways are better, we would still be doing it that way." The word "we" meaning the bulk of the tradesmen, not any one individual.
I can understand the lure of the past, but I'm more about getting it done. I really enjoy my woodworking but I still want completion.
This sounds strange coming from me, the old sailboat guy that lived by the motto "It's not the destination, it's the journey"
What say you?
My theory is the old ways were a response to the poor adhesives of the time. With modern adhesives you can get better results quicker without fancy joints and have it last just as long. A dovetail joint for example, It used to be a drawer box built with dovetail joints would last longer and a necessary part of of cabinetmaking. Now, today you could almost teach a monkey to make the joints but with modern adhesives they are inferior to a butt joint. When I had a furniture repair shop 9 out of 10 drawers that needed to be repaired had the dovetail joint. Then it usually involved making some replacement parts. On the other hand if a drawer with a butt joint needed repair it was usually a quick repair with a little epoxy and a few brads.
 

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Modern tools can be used as shortcuts to period techniques. I see no difference between furniture ripped and milled by hand vs furniture milled by machines if everything else is equal.
 

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where's my table saw?
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Modern tools can be used as shortcuts to period techniques. I see no difference between furniture ripped and milled by hand vs furniture milled by machines if everything else is equal.
The history of modern woodworking includes the invention of the circular saw and blade"

Seems as if woodworkers were always trying to speed up the cutting and milling operations to save time and physical effort from the pit saws run by two men. One was below the log in a pit, pulling the heavy blade down with the help of gravity, the other had to be stronger because he had to pull the same blade back up. That was ultimately mechanized by making the blade into a circular band OR a large circular disc.

In my case, I'm always trying to minimize the labor required in my shop from having multiple saws with different blade profiles, to making various jigs to speed up certain operations. I designed and built my own two axis panel saw from the carriage of a Craftsman radial arm saw and some low cost angles for the rail system. I polished the edges of the angle that rides in the "V" groove bearings on the radial saw's arm to duplicate that smooth gliding operation. A spring wound counter weight balances the heavy saw carriage in the vertical rails. The only issue that I couldn't resolve was adjusting the blade height off the cutting surface. I needed it to clear it slightly to enable rotating the blade 90 degrees. The solution was to space the work up by 1/4" thin plywood rather than lowering the whole rail system. Thinking outside the box works every time.
 

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IMO, the only people that say the old ways were better aren't doing it for a living. No matter the task you are referring to.

I am as old school as anyone and still use a spokeshave for some things, but if you are looking for production, the new technology is the way to go. As a hobby, use whatever makes you happy.

I started my career as a draftsman using ink, mylar (even linen for some) and a drafting board. I remember saying that I'd never want to sit in front of a computer to do the work. Fast forward almost 40 years and now I can do a redesign that would have taken all week in 4 hours. I still miss the "good old days", but not when it comes to getting stuff out the door.
 

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Would the forefathers of woodworking laugh at us for trying to emulate them by trying to step back in time and copy their stuff while they were continually striving for a newer, easier and faster way to do things?
Without question they would use the best technology available. And I think they probably would chuckle a little if they saw a guy milling boards by hand.

A hobbyist is interested in efficiency and the best ways possible, but also has the option of doing things whatever way brings the most satisfaction. That said, hand work CAN be production work. For example, if you have one drawer to make and you’re proficient and have decent tools, you can hand cut dovetails in less time it takes to set up a jig. I have to laugh at those who try to fake hand cut DT’s with machines.

But hand tools will take anyone’s wirk to another level. Many are so focused on machines they are missing out on a part of ww’ing that can take them to another level. I call them “wood machinists”. Fretting over thousandths of an inch, forever calibrating stuff. In many aspects hand tool work is more accurate than machines.

Simply out I couldn’t build much without hand tools. And there’s another aspect — when the screaming machines are shut off, the dust mask and ear muffs hung up, and I’m in my bench room, the sound of a well honed hand plane, the rap of a mallet on a chisel, a hand saw cutting….there is a lot of satisfaction in that and it really does give a feeling of connection to think that 200 or 300 years ago someone was working exactly the same way, and producing furniture I can only hope to make. I think that is probably a big the motivation behind the ”unplugged” people.

But — you’ll never see me milling boards by hand. Life is too short and besides, I have cyclist arms 😁
 

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In another life I play around with toy and model steam engines, wood, alcohol, butane gas and electricity are commonly used to heat the boilers. It is rather ironic when one uses mega watts of electricity to run an engine driving a generator that produces fractional watts to light a small bulb. It is a hobby, just like woodworking for many, so one does what makes one happy even if it doesn't seem logical.
 

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Here is something to ponder:
Would the forefathers of woodworking laugh at us for trying to emulate them by trying to step back in time and copy their stuff while they were continually striving for a newer, easier and faster way to do things?
When I was an engineer we would always say "if the old ways are better, we would still be doing it that way." The word "we" meaning the bulk of the tradesmen, not any one individual.
I can understand the lure of the past, but I'm more about getting it done. I really enjoy my woodworking but I still want completion.
This sounds strange coming from me, the old sailboat guy that lived by the motto "It's not the destination, it's the journey"
What say you?
Balance. I work for a homebuilder these days. Although they did not look into the future, homes built in the 1700's to 1800's are still standing. I wonder if architects and builders ever think "I want this house to be here 5 generations from now". When I made custom pieces for clients, one of my lines would often be, "I am not making this for you, I am making it for your great grandchildren". How we achieve this can be by modern, or historic methods. But certain things have to be considered. Will the material I have chosen last 200 plus years? Will my construction methods endure 200 plus years? If you can answer yes, then it does not matter if you are doing dovetails with a mallet and chisel or an omnijig, you are serving yourself well.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
I do give a certain amount of credit to the 200 + year old homes and builders. However they were no better or worse than we have today given the status and wealth of those particular home owners back then. If you have the money, you can get a home built to last 200 years. There are no secrets they had that we dont know today. If you build it with the right techniques and materials and maintain it properly, it will last 200 years or more.
 

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We look back and admire our woodworking forefathers because they were working with the same material (wood) as we do today and, over many years, they perfected the methods and techniques of putting it together to make something useful. Power tools have made the work faster, easier, more accurate, and more efficient (and noisier). But otherwise, not much has changed. There are few, if any, new joinery techniques; just the tools we use to cut them. No doubt they would be using modern day equipment if they had had it available. I believe that is largely why people enjoy woodworking as it give us a connection with our past and an appreciation for our forefathers. Working with hand tools, similar or same as what they used, just heightens that connection.
 

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The carvings, the poles made by the First Nations artists here in the Pacific Northwest, are altered a little from the "old days". You will see that the pole, from log to standing, is completed much more quickly. Of course, this implies the use of big gouges and big mallets and chain saws for the rough outs. The good ones will saw to 1/4 inch from the line to leave wiggle room for modifications. I will never be that confident but it's easy to see how fast the junk gets cut away.

The other thing is the 3D depths of the features of the individual totems. The old poles such as you still find on Haida Gwaii are cut in a very shallow style with all the hand tools that they had. Now, the features are very deep and dramatic, which is OK.
 

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My fatherinlaw and wifes grandfather were both pattern makers and the later owned his own small foundry.
Only knew the grandfather for a short time before he passed and I wasn't woodworking then.
Sure would have been interesting to go back in time and see them work.

I always worked for a living with metal. I know manual and CNC equally well .
There are times when manual is more efficient as in one off parts or machine repair
but I wouldn't want to go back strictly to the old ways.

Ha and yes it is the journey.
Last Saturday us guys drove 5hrs away to get a trailer full of mahogany hydrotek and okoume.
Somehow heh heh it turned into a 15 hr day
 
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