Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dr. Powertool, or, how I stopped worrying and learned to love handtools

Hi, I'm Brad and I'm a Normite.... that's right, like all of you I am a powertool driven, bought a biscuit joiner, have a dedicated mortiser, have 4 routers Normite. But I'm recovering, over the last few years I've been converted to quality hand tools.
I've been watching The New Yankee Workshop every Saturday morning for years. I guess you could say that its replaced my Saturday morning cartoons. Over time I grew to have serious shop envy. I wanted a big shop with a huge tablesaw, a stationary tool for every operation and a brad nailer, oh how I wanted a brad nailer. But, alas, I had a house in Downtown Charleston with no garage and no space for one. I worked out in the driveway and used all portable tools, but they were power tools. Don't get me wrong, I had chisels, Stanley Chisels that had never seen a wetstone. I had a block plane that I got from the local True Value, it was a Stanley, but by this time, all Stanley made that was any good would be garage door openers.
I found a nice house on the island with room for a shop... a shop.... oh how happy I was. I built my shop, after lots of drawings and using the shop planner tool on the Grizzly tools site at least once a week. The shop turned out great, just what I wanted. I filled it with all the power tools that I'd been planning over those long years of shop lust. I ran a dust collection system, lots of power outlets, I built some ugly cabinets and made a big assembly table. I even sharpened my chisels.
Well, oddly enough, the Internet brought me to hand tools, well that and the magazines. I saw people using hand tools and read about techniques. I even got some decent chisels free from Dewalt with a combo router kit, they were actually Marples but in black with the Dewalt logo. I started getting saws, a Japanese saw, a flush saw, a gent's saw. But the true conversion came when I got my first Lie-Nielsen plane, it was a low angle shoulder plane that I picked up at Woodcraft to clean up the junk that the tablesaw left on my tenon's shoulders. It was like that scene in The Holy Grail when the clouds open up to Arthur and the voice of God talks to him. That plane, right out of the box, cut shavings that you could see through. It felt so good in my hand, heavy, solid, SHARP!! That was it, I had seen the light, my eyes were opened.
This winter I got a sharpening system, now all my irons and chisels are razor sharp, even that crappy old Stanley Block plane cut ok. I think I turned a corner this summer when I made my first wooden plane. I really can feel this plane move through the wood. I decided to replace that POS block plane that never holds a setting with a Lie-Nielsen low angle block plane. I love the heavy blade and the solid brass parts. I ground a microbevel on the blade and stropped it on a leather wheel, rubbed little wax on the bottom and zzzzzzooooommmmmmm.

I finally treated myself to a nice set of chisels, I ordered these Two Cherries babies through The WoodWhisperer's Amazon site. They are sharp and shiny and in a nice box. I could feel a burr on each bevel so I hit them with a very fine grit at 25 degrees and a microbevel at 30 degrees, and on the flat. I then stropped both sides on the leather wheel with some green compound.

Now, all that said and done don't come asking me to sell you my Powermatic Mortiser or my Leigh Dovetail jig, I still need my power tools, but there are times when its easier and FASTER, to use a hand tool to do something then to set up and run a power tool. If I have a dresser full of drawers I'll take the time to set up the Leigh Jig and Router, but if I have one drawer in a wall cabinet, it time to hand cut. I'll still cut my tenons on the tablesaw, but I'll trim them to that perfect fit with a shoulder plane. I'll still cut my mortises on the mortiser, but cleaning them up is now a breeze, and the through mortises are cut on the outside with the chisels. If I just have one or two mortises, its the drill press and the chisels.
Thank you to everyone that has helped me overcome my addiction and move along the road to being a better craftsman. I end with this simple prayer.
God grant me the serenity to accept the time I have to use powertools;
courage to use hand tools when I should;
and wisdom to know the difference.

1 comment:

Mike Lingenfelter said...

I hear you brother. I'm a recovering Normite myself. I love Norm and still watch his show, but handtools have found their way into my life and are not going away! In fact they are taking over.

My turning point was getting a DVD by David Charlesworth, to learn how to sharpen a block plane I had and hardly used. Seeing what he was doing with hand planes blew me away. Then I got a DVD by Rob Cosman and saw what he could do with hand-cut dovetails. Now almost 2 years later, I can't get enough of hand tools.

To totally cement my path on handtools, I just spent a week with Christopher Schwarz in a hand sawing class :).