The only place I could legitimately see where "cheating" can be a legitimate issue is in period reproductions. Even then, my personal opinion is that if the final result is identical, the methods shouldn't make any difference. I know some woodworkers who could possibly tell the difference, but then we're really splitting hairs. In reality, I most frequently hear "cheating" from hobbiests. And if you're just in this as a hobby, how can you be cheating anyway?
I have only seen a 10 minute preview of the first show, so I don't feel I can comment on the quality of the program just yet. However, I do know Tommy's work and have met him several times. The key thing to understand here is that the comparisons with Norm are really like comparing apples to oranges. Tommy is one of the most accomplished fine woodworkers out there, while Norm is a carpenter that did a show on fine woodworking. The Tommy you see on the show is pretty much the real Tommy (minus a few explicit words here and there). I feel to some extent PBS is trying to white wash his personality a bit, and frankly doesn't set Tommy up as the accomplished fine woodworker that he is. I fear a lot of people got the impression he's just a "pretty face" PBS is putting out there to get a younger audience, but Tommy is indeed the real deal. I'll give the show a chance, in hopes that some of his real talent comes across and I learn some things along the way.
My experience tells me that the attitude toward custom made furniture these days is that it is a last resort, rather than a first choice. In the 18th century, elegant furniture was a status symbol as it was clearly distinguishable from cheap or common substitutes. These days, people can't distinguish between high and low quality furniture (once you get past the knock-down stuff)so they shop largely on price and look. Only when they need something very specific that they can't find anywhere else do they come a custom craftsman. The good news it allows us to charge a premium, but the bad news is creates a challenge identifying new customers. I'm hoping folks like CM can help educate the market to start thinking custom first, rather than as a last resort. I'd much rather be educating on design choices than evangelizing custom on its own merits.
Considering that you can get a very high quality miter gauge for a table saw for a few hundred dollars, and the sliding compound miter saws are smaller, safer, and more accurate for half the price of a RAS, I can't see a single reason to own one. I'd be interested in hearing if there is any operation a RAS can do more safely, accurately, or for less money than either of these alternatives.
Regardless of what you think about Tommy as a "personality" you can't deny the guy is an incredibly talented woodworker. I chuckle at the comparisons to Norm because this guy has built stuff Norm could only dream of. That being said, it sounds like PBS is positioning him to be an intro-level "DIY" woodworking coach, which would be a shame.
My answer is "it depends". I get very little satisfaction out of things such as sharpening, dimensioning lumber, sanding, and applying that 5th coat of varnish. However, I get a great deal of satisfaction from design, lumber selection, component layout, joinery, and finish planing. So I invest in as much big iron and automation for the tasks I don't enjoy so I can spend more time on the parts I do enjoy.
Just one point of clarification (since I attacked the notion of buying purely based on country of origin). I don't own a single hand plane that wasn't made in the U.S. or Canada. But those decisions were made based on buying the best quality tool I could afford. My LN smoother is probably my favorite hand tool, but I also own a post-WWII Stanley #4 that is a virtual piece of garbage. Both made in the same country, but with widely varying quality. My point is, evaluate on quality and value, not country of manufacture. I know a lot of beginner woodworkers that can't afford a $300 plane, so if Wood River can offer them something of usable quality at half the price, this will only help to drive competition, innovation, and build our craft.
I think there is a little too much emphasis on copy-catting here. Most handplane manufacturers (Lee Valley excluded) make no bones about basing their designs on the Stanley patterns. The patents on those planes expired long ago, and many woodworkers look for tools that are familiar to them, that they know how to tune and use. There is no harm in that strategy, nor infringement on any patents.
That being said, I take exception to the folks condemning the purchase of non-US tools. It is that exact mentality that got the US auto industry in hot water. That sort of anti-competitive behavior leads to a stifling of innovation and quality over time. Buying a product simply because of it's country of origin is fine, as long as you think of it as a charitable donation, not a sound purchase.
I would submit that Canadian Lee Valley has thought outside the box, and developed higher quality tools of their own design, that are even better value for the money. Ever use a Stanley or LV shoulder plane? LV revolutionized the design by adding a swiveling knob to save your knuckles from shredding on the tenon shoulder with each stroke. Just because they are made in Canada, I'm not going to deprive my shop of a higher quality, higher-value tool. But if you consider your bloody knuckles a badge of patriotism, then more power to you.
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