Thursday, 21 January 2010

Hand tool versus Power tool,Tradition versus Progression

To my mind the hand tool versus power tool debate is primarily about control & involvement.

Many power tools remove that involvement,once you set them up it's simply a matter of feeding your timber through so there's more involvement with the machine than the timber.If you are a professional woodworker who relies on speedy production so that you may eat then chances are that you will be won over by the most efficient way to complete any said task,this usually means some form of powertooling.

Of course,there are some professionals who market their work as handmade with handtools & are fortunate enough to thrive doing this but I suspect that they are in the minority.

If you are a hobby,or escapist,woodworker then chances are you want to be more involved with the wood,to have a more therapeutic experience.This involves using not only the hands but also the eyes & the ears,well actually,the whole body(should we call them bodytools then?).You know when a plane is correctly set by the feel of that first shaving & the sound it makes as it is peeled from the surface(hiss-swoosh).

When I think about the hand tool versus power tool debate it makes me think about the past & the future,tradition versus progression.

Being self taught I am not what could be called a traditional craftsman.In fact I eschew the very term "traditional" & prefer "proven",it's a semantic quibble but I feel an important one.

The term traditional means to me"the way it was done by our progenitors".

Now,I'm sure our progenitors were sensible people,the course of technological history has proven that.I just wonder at what point did people start to look to the past in a more favourable way than the present?In my opinion a belief that things were done better in the past negates the possibility of advancement & that just doesn't make sense.Of course it would be utter foolishness to ignore the past,it is a treasure trove of ingenuity & invention but it doesn't hold all the answers simply because all the questions haven't been asked yet.There are techniques that work but I believe in finding a way to make things work better.

I have no time for romance in woodworking,I have no time for tradition for its own sake.

"Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible."
Frank Zappa US musician, singer, & songwriter (1940 - 1993)


  1. Nice post -- and I agree completely.

    I have a cabinetmaker friend who can get very close tolerances on machines. I think that is an art in its own right. I prefer to work closer to the wood, but I'll abandon that if I can get a better result with another method or tool.

    Lately it comes down to which tool do I own, regardless of which is traditional. Sometimes (not always) I feel that it is a tradeoff between enjoying the process or enjoying the result.


  2. well said-
    very, very VERY well said!