Saturday, April 11, 2015

Hand Tool Solace...

Interesting facts about using hand tools. Hand tool use usually requires harder physical work than power tools, but they offer a higher degree of skill and concentration in achieving accuracy. Hand tools will always be ensured a place in the workshop due to their compactness and relative economy. In many cases, they provide the quickest solution since they require little or no setup time. Some cabinet making still calls for many operations which machines cannot tackle. The other main advantage to using hand tools is the pure enjoyment derived from them. Hand tools operate in relative quiet, therefore not creating the noisy distractions that power tools can sometimes produce. Hand tools such as chisels and hand planes require sharpening occasionally, which is another skill that needs to be developed.

Hand tools have evolved over the past centuries, and today’s tools are vastly superior in both quality of metal, and manufacturing accuracy. The hand tools of yesteryear remain treasured items though, since there is almost always a story behind a particular tool. Here in my furniture studio I use hand tools as much as possible, due to the benefits of reduced dust and noise levels and the higher degree of fine craftsmanship possible. Most educational programs in woodworking begin by teaching the use and virtues of hand tools. This is done because hand tools are almost essential, and will be needed at some phase of a project. Projects can be built exclusively with hand tools or a combination of hand tools and machine tools.

Edge jointing and flattening a board shown above. It is not often possible to place two pieces of gap-free wood together without using a hand plane on their edges. Wood must be smoothed, squared up, and made to fit, the three main jobs of a hand plane. Although machinery exists to perform these tasks, often highly figured wood surfaces need to be planed by hand to minimize tearout. I use a combination of power and hand tools to prepare board surfaces and edges. For larger boards, I typically dimension the boards using machinery to close to their final dimensions. I then tackle the boards using a series of hand planes. For smaller boards, I just use hand planes to joint and flatten the surfaces as I have more control of the process. So I often seek methods of using hand tools instead of power tools to create the components for my furniture. Why do this when machines are available?  Machines are great for repeatability and production work, but to work the nuances in wood; hand tools rule!