Case For Hand Tools

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My friend Scott, a man of few-words, dropped by for a cookout this past summer and I took him downstairs to have a look at my shop. He spotted a row of old wooden planes on a shelf. "You mean to sav that vou actually use those

things?" said the look on his face. I handed him a coffin-shaped smooth plane and clamped up some pine in the vise. "Try it," I urged. He turned the plane around in his hands and t<x>k a long, careful stroke. Nothing.

I reached for a hammer and tapped out the blade just a hair. "Ssshlihick!" went the plane as a whisper-thin shaving curled up from the throat. Scott turned the plane over and examined the edge. "It's shiny," was his only remark. And sharp. He took a second pass. Then a third.

I've seen that reaction in woodworkers again and again. Quiet surprise at what an "old-fashioned" hand tool can do; the tactile pleasure of pushing a sharp edge through wood.

Power tools are great. No doubt about it. They've taken the grunt work out of stock preparation and made woodworking accessible to nearly everybody. You don't need skill or muscles like a linebacker to make a straight cut with a tablesaw or straighten an edge with a jointer.

The widespread use of power tools has made woodworking faster and easier. but we've lost a little something along the way. Power tools tend to separate you from the wood itself— like driving through the desert in an air-conditioned car. As a result, w(x>d-workers who start out with power tools instead of hand tools often don't learn much about the structure of wood and don't understand what's happening at the business end of the blade. When the grain tears out or a router bit "climbs'" they may not have a clue as to why.

Hand tools bring you right up close to the wood. The cutting action is slow and deliberate—you can actually sec and feel what's happening where the edge meets the wood. Push a hand plane into rising grain and you'll feel the resistance and see the rough surface. Then plane the other direction and notice the difference. The same theory translates to the jointer or planer; feed the board one way you get tear-out, feed it the other way and the cut is glass smooth.

Unlike most power tools, which are easy to master, hand tools require some practice to get gmxl results. The payoff is worth it. They'll give you a better feel for the subtleties of wood that will help you in your power-tool w<x)dworking as well.

Hand tools complement power tools perfectly and can add tactile and visual details that will set your work apart. Run your fingers over a hand-planed surface and you'll understand what 1 mean.

You'll also gain a new appreciation for the furniture of the past which was made entirely with hand tools. And who knows? You might learn to like working in a quiet, dust-free shop.

David Sloan Editor and l*ublisher

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