Why Use Handtools

 I feel I learned woodworking the wrong way. I was first introduced to woodworking in shop class in the 7th grade. We spent the first few months learning drafting and we had to draw things exactly. I hated it. I wasn’t very good. But then finally we got into the shop. It was amazing to me. It seemed so big and open, but very industrial, dark, and cold. The large machines seemed to tower over me. They felt intimidating, but I was ready to face that fear. And so we built our first project, a pop bottle opener. I still have it to this day. It sits on my countertop and reminds me of my beginning and also my mistake.

That summer I took all my allowance money and bought a small benchtop bandsaw and belt sander. Why those tools? Because that what was I used in shop class to make the bottle opener. I wanted to make another bottle opener and I believed in order to make more bottle openers I needed the same types of tools I had in shop class. This was the beginning of a fault belief.

Because I was introduced to power tools, I believed that was what was needed to do woodworking. This belief was further reinforced by such shows as The New Yankee Workshop and the American Workshop. They both had a shop full of power tools and it seemed there was nothing they couldn’t make because of the power tools. I even remember saying to myself, “Sure, I could do that too if I had all that equipment.” At that moment I wasn’t even giving them credit for their abilities. I was under the assumption that the tools did all the work and the craftsman was just an operator.

Then after those shows came The Woodwright Shop show. I used to think, “Who is the Neanderthal man with his primitive tools?” I thought it was ridiculous to do woodworking with hand tools. And so onward with my misconception of the belief that power tools rule the world!

A few years into woodworking I wanted to do dovetails. I had every article on how to do it. Dovetails with the table saw, dovetails with the router, dovetails on the bandsaw, dovetails with some kind of machine or jig. And in the end, they didn’t work well for me. I thought I would never be able to do it. But then I saw Frank Klausz do dovetails by hand and I was amazed!

After that, I was determined to do hand-cut dovetails, and it changed my life. It was a struggle at first. It certainly didn’t happen the first time. But it slowly taught me the relationship between my mind and my hands. 

Today we are so used to having everything instantly. Our phone, texting, google, Siri Alexa, etc. Waiting seems to be an inconvenience verse a strength-building virtue.

I find I enjoy the process of doing woodworking more verse the results of it. I’ve learned it teaches me how to express the image in my head and tries to translate it to my hands. It gives me a deeper appreciation of the fellow woodworkers before me who had to do this 100-plus years ago. But most of all I enjoy the fact it slows me down. It makes me appreciate the task and the process more. I appreciate the wood and the tree it came from. I can even say it spills over into my personal life where I recognize being more focused on the ones in my life and taking more time to be with them and even listen to them. Using hand tools has taught me more lessons in life than just woodworking. 

I can tell someone the benefits of hand tools from a logical standpoint, they are cheaper, take up less room, and are quieter than power tools. But the true benefits I think the individual needs to experience for themselves.

Chad Stanton – 9-30-2022