Time to end the hand vs. power battle
This is my editor’s letter from the May/June issue. For those who don’t have that issue, I think it is a persepective worth considering. In the magazine I titled it “Hand vs. Power? No Contest.”
Some see hand tools and power tools as two schools, or two religions, or as a pure thing and a polluted thing, and so on. I’m in the school that sees them all as tools. Not so many tiny idols, each with its own shrine dug into my shop wall. Just tools, each born to do a specific job well.
Like most woodworkers, my main motivation is to build things, as flawlessly and as efficiently as possible. As I get smarter and more skillful, I get more done, get better results, and enjoy this craft more and more. That’s my definition of mastery, and I use every tool at my disposal, plugged in or not.
Other than noise, I don’t see a meaningful difference between the physics of my No. 4 bench plane and my bandsaw. I’ve learned to tune the chipbreaker and sharpen the blade of the former, and tune the wheels and guides for amazing results on the latter. After that, both offer a similar symphony of reference surfaces and controlled cutting action.
Both also require finely tuned muscle knowledge and considerable finesse. With the bench plane, I’ve learned how to position my body, transition the pressure from the toe to the heel, and skew the plane’s body on tough grain. With the bandsaw, I’ve learned to apply gentle side pressure for smoother curves, pivoting off the back of the blade to keep it on track. (Try it, you’ll be amazed.)
Each tool has earned its place in my shop. There is simply no better or faster way to prep milled surfaces for finishing than my No. 4. Unlike a power sander, it creates a dead-flat surface that makes a finish seem world-class, and it works much more quickly. On the bandsaw, I rough out stock, cut curves, and resaw.
Technology has marched on since the 18th-century apogee of period work, but let’s not forget that those guys were using the best tools available at the time. If the old masters had access to a jointer, do you think they would have surfaced rough lumber by hand? Or turned their backs on a mortiser? Am I not walking in their footsteps?
If you get your woodworking bliss from using exactly what Chippendale, Goddard, and Townsend used, go for it. I get the romance. But if you are in this game to build things, you’ll do it faster and better by seeing tools as tools, each one as hallowed as the next.
My No. 4 removes milling marks instantly, leaving behind a dead-flat surface.
The bandsaw resaws quickly and smoothly, with very little waste.