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Sometimes Hand Tools are About “Just Because I Can”

Subversive Woodworking

My wife loves all the crime and forensic shows on TV today.  Because of this I often find myself watching them with her, or being pulled in from the shop to watch a scene.  This happened the other night when Heather called to me in the shop to come watch an episode of “Bones”.  As usual a murderer was on the loose and time was running out.  Our heroes were facing great adversity but coping well when suddenly the power went out all across the region due to a monster snow storm.  All the fancy mass spectrometers and x-ray cameras were made useless and the team was forced to resort of “old school” methods to catch their killer.  A static electricity driven x-ray machine was devised, chemical and physical reactions were measured using Victorian methods of flame and simple observation, and finally a cell phone was powered to retrieve the call history with an array of potatoes set up to provide controlled amperage thereby preventing the overload of the rusted circuitry.

Our heroes were undaunted, and even exhilarated by their triumph over adversity and thrilled by getting back to basics and “feeling” the raw science of their investigation.  Obviously my wife knows me too well!  The hand tool neanderthal in me just reveled in this episode.  What is this subversive woodworking movement all about, but freedom from fixed tooling, getting closer to the wood and “feeling” the work?

Cut a few grooves with the spinning terror called a router and you get them done quickly but with some risk of blowing out the wood by cutting too quickly and deeply.  (not to mention hearing damage, and loss of limb)  Now cut those same grooves with a plow plane and feel how the wood reacts to the cutting edge.  Feel the complete control over the process as you precisely drop the groove bottom thousandth by thousandth.  Is your plane shifting during the stroke?  Compensate with more pressure or changing your body position.  If the grain switches back you can control the tearout by sound and touch alone creating a flawless result.  Feel the tool.  Be the tool.  na-na-na-na-na.  (Go watch Caddyshack, and you’ll get that)  Moreover, that result is a product of your skills and sensory attention, not the RPM and bit height.

What could be more satisfying than that?  So the next time your power goes out, light a candle and head to the shop to experience true freedom and sheer joy of creating a work of art with only your hands.  Call it a triumph of the human craftsman spirit.

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