Learn the Old Ways First

Recently, my dad gave me his stationary power tools. He’s in his 70’s and they were rusting in his packed shed.  I got a table saw, a chop-saw, a radial arm saw, a drill press, and a bench grinder.  I’ve been very excited about these tools because everyone knows how much more woodworking one can do with these than with a handsaw and a door plane.

My handsaw is a Stanley, Sharp-Cut with hardened teeth.  This saw is disposable and an absolute piece of garbage.  Several teeth are broken and I’ve had it for about 10 years.  My grandmother always gave great gifts and she meant well with this one.  How could she know that a Stanley saw was garbage?  My plane is a Buck Bros. No. 5 smoothing plane that I call a “door plane”.  My rough boys have broken enough cheap doors that I know how to install, set, and fit these with my eyes closed.  The plane was a gift to myself when I did the first door replacement.

Now, since I have a table saw, everything needs to be cut.  “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  I don’t know who wrote that but I never thought that the table saw could generate so much joy until I actually had one.  This was until I was shown a scrub plane.

IMG_1477The scrub plane doesn’t require ear or eye protection.  I wear glasses already and it seems quite safe. I purchased a kit from a cabinet maker that sharpens saws, restores old tools, and make his own tools. This plane is made from hard-maple and touts a fairly thick iron that’s ground in an arc.  The arc creates more of a dip than a gouge but it truly cuts material quickly.

I was told that apprentices would use this plane to quickly pare material from a board to be finished with a smoothing plane.  The irony is that I’ve dreamed of owning my own power planer and I think I’ve found it.  And, it’s much greener on the environment.  I love this thing!

I’m not sure how the blade will be sharpened but for now the plane is a joy to use.  If you plane with this diagonally then even though you are taking waves of material from the lumber, you can still maintain the plane of the board.  IMG_1478I finished the plane with shellac and tru-oil (gun stock finish) and waxed the sole of the plane after I planed it with another plane that I sharpened very well.

A week ago I had never seen this.  And, I believed that I would have to continue building things from pine shelving board because I didn’t own a planer or jointer.  The thought of looking for rough-cut lumber was far from my mind.  We always need to stop and think about how these operations were done in the past.  I’m an amateur woodworker and I don’t have the space or the money to have all the power tools I want.  But, what I wanted after I set up my dad’s tools and what I want today are entirely different.  If I can build a respectable piece of furniture using hand tools, I’m more excited about that than I am having a some power tools and not building the piece of furniture because I don’t own a planer.  Or, not doing dovetails because I don’t have a jig for my router.

I can do dovetails now.  And, I’ve done some with a bandsaw, a router, and I’ve done them by hand with a good chisel.  For me, doing the dovetails by hand give me a sense of satisfaction like none other. And, I think that if you, the reader, the amateur woodworker learn how to do things the way they were done before electric power, you will enjoy your work more, get a little exercise, clean up less mess, and take great pride in what you did with your hands.

But, don’t be fooled by sawing your brains out with a cheap saw and then deciding that power tools are the way to go only because of your bad experience. I’ve had a terrible handsaw and I haven’t had much motivation to go in the garage and saw anything.  I got the table saw, ripped some boards, made a big mess, and just bought some seriously nice handsaws that provide a good experience when you use them.  They are sharp.  They don’t require great physical effort.  The wood smells good.  The sound of the blade is not piercing.  The feel of the saw lets you know that your hand is cutting the fibers.  And, good saws seem to maintain straight cuts as long as you use the width of the blade and let the saw do the work.  It’s a very pleasant thing.

Give the hand methods a try.  And, learn more about planes e.g.  You know that $40 router bit you want for Christmas?  I bet there used to be a plane iron shaped liked a roman ogee or whatever fancy adornment the bit can do. I would much rather push a plane down my shelving board and create a beautiful cut while enjoying the experience of the artistry of the tool than setting up my router table, pulling my wife’s car from the garage, covering my clothes, blowing myself off before I go in the house, and then cleaning saw dust in the garage for 3 days.

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