Maybe it is just the circles I run in lately but there are a lot of conversations about not needing this power tool or never using this jig because it is more enjoyable and sometimes faster to use a hand tool instead.
It probably has a lot to do with my personal development as a woodworker as I continue to focus more on the minutiae of joinery and the perfect fit or perfect shape, but I am certainly using my hand tools more and more every day. I don’t want to necessarily espouse one philosophy over another as I think the woodworker needs to do what works best for them. That best practice could vary from day to day and project to project too. There is no need to criticize a fellow for doing something differently because sooner or later you will be in that same position.
For example, I really enjoy using planes to flatten boards. There are several reasons for this and most of them are warm fuzzy, introspective ones. The measurable reasons are:
- shavings are great for starting fires (in the fireplace) on cold days
- most boards from my favorite lumber mills come in 8″ or wider sizes & my jointer is 6″
- I can stand to burn the calories
- I have never been able to get twist out easily on a power jointer
- I have a really, really, cool workbench
However, we all have those projects or tasks within a project that can only be described at tedious. This drudgery can kill your enjoyment of a project and oftentimes leads to abandonment. Raise your hand if you have an “unfinished project” corner in your shop! Do I want to spend several days working on that task by using hand planes to process the stock when I could zip through it on a jointer in 15 minutes? Not likely. So you can see my point of not criticizing another’s dogma. I can say I don’t use my power jointer anymore and don’t really see the point of such a tool and encourage others to ditch their jointers all day long until that one task comes around and I sneak off to the electron smashing side of the shop. That’s a little hypocritical don’t you think?
My preamble here is a set up to some of my thoughts about my own work and my shop set up. This is in no way a cavalier way of saying do as I do and everything else is wrong. Call it an experiment.
As many of you know I have one of those magnetic mats that covers the table saw to protect against rust. I realized the other day that it has been on there so long that the fine coating of dust on it has hardened in place. I began thinking and realized that it has been well over a month since I used the machine. The same story for my power jointer. It was probably early November since I last used it. Now let me honest: I haven’t been working in the shop every day. The Christmas shop rush was all about the lathe as usual so there was no need for either tool. The ongoing Roubo bench saga is well beyond the point of milling and sizing stock so there was no need there. Even the Chest of Drawers that I built in August saw very little use of either machine. Most of the sizing of stock was done on the band saw and the wider stuff was flattened by hand then run through the thickness planer.
So here is my idea: to abstain from table saw and jointer use for the next 60 days. I would like to see what happens to my work style and time until delivery of finished projects. I say 60 days as I have 2 furniture pieces in que for the next 2 months to start. I probably won’t finish them both in 60 days but I will at least be on to the joinery phase where I spend all my time at the bench anyway. Let me be clear, I am not unplugging completely as I will probably still use my planer to save time when creating parallel faces, but beyond that I feel I can handle everything with just my hand tools. I really want to see how many times I am reaching for these tools and what happens to my skills when I have vowed not to use them.
I can honestly say that if this experiment is successful, I will NOT be getting rid of these 2 tools. Remember what I said in the first part of this post: drudgery is not for me. I can however see myself moving them off to a corner of the shop in a long term storage mode and freeing up a substantial amount of space for dancing.
So let’s throw down the gauntlet! Starting today and until the end of March I will not touch either my table saw or my jointer no matter how badly I screw up a rip cut or flail about with my hand planes. It should be an interesting experience to truly test my hand skills and see what my patience threshold really is.
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