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Hand tools or power tools for beginners?

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  • Hand tools or power tools for beginners?

    I have talked to a guy I know that has been a woodworker, carpenter, you name it, for almost forever. He told me that seeing as I'm a beginner in woodworking, I should invest in hand tools and "master" those before going to power tools. Do you guys agree?
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  • #2

    I think a lot depends on the kind of work you want to do and of course your skill level. Some people shouldn't go near power tools, ever!

    An awful lot depends on the tools and the tasks to be done. There are a number of tasks that are simply better done with hand tools I think and also a number that simply would be a pain if you didn't have power tools. We each have our personal opinions and as you face a task I am sure you will too.

    A good example might be dove tailing. There are a number of tools and guides that might indicate a better job could be done by hand and if you were going to make a jewlery box or a small chest, that might prove to be a great experience and one with which your skills could be proudly displayed. However, if you were going to remodel your kitchen and build the cabinets yourself or make a large chest of drawers, hand cutting the dovetailed drawers would be very time consuming. I'd much prefer to do it with a router and a dovetail jig!

    So, IMHO, a lot depends on the size of the task at hand and what it is you're trying to accomplish. But consider this, even if you become accomplished in your use of a particular hand tool, it doesn't guarantee you will be proficient in the use of the power tool used for that task. The same is true in reverse. The best thing that I can tell you is that power tools are great and I wouldn't be without them, but there are times when I prefer to pick up the old old wood brace, the hand plane, the chisel and mallet, etc. So bear in mind, having a few special hand tools is perfect for some tasks and having a bevy of power tools makes you no less skilled and probably very efficient at producing your masterpieces.

    Whatever the tool, manual or power, you will need to learn to use it proficiently and safely. It will be your brain, your hand, and your eye that makes the difference and you will need to hone your skills with whatever tool you use. There is a saying that I like which applies here, "An archer is known by his aim, not by the color of his arrow". The woodpieces that you produce will reflect your skill, and the tools that you used will not be important.

    For what its worth,



    • #3
      I totally agree to starting with hand tools, no matter what. Obviously, with a collection of handtools, you're not going to build a rolltop desk or set of kitchen cabinets, the first time out. But, is you start with some small projects out of pine or other less expensive wood, there's much to learn.

      Also, a good set of hand tools is well worth the investment, because I am always finding situations where----yes, I could use that power tool, but it will take some time to set up and the handtool is faster.

      Just a few of the handtools I use almost all the time:
      dovetail/back saw
      block and jack planes
      coping saw
      measuring and layout tools
      Japanese saws
      hand scrapers
      usual assortment of hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, etc.

      Now, be warned, there are a lot of what I call "boutique" handtools out there, for prices that make you think they're made of gold. There is nothing sillyer than spending $200 on a auger brace and bit set, when you can buy a nice electric drill and bits for less than half the price.

      I used to send people to Sears, who has a lifetime guarentee on their handtools, BUT, their quality has gone waaaaaaayyyyy down!

      I'd highly recommend Lee Valley Tools----they have excellent value and quality and have some of the best customer service you'll even find. I've never been disappointed with them.

      Good luck and have fun.


      • #4
        What is the purpose of dovetailing? I recently purchased a Ryobi router and a set of router bits, and I see the dovetail one. What is the purpose of the dovetail?


        • #5
          Axio---look at the shape of the bit----it cuts the "pin" opening. Then, a "tail" is cut that fits in between the pins----it's a very strong joint and typically found in drawers and sometimes cabinet sides, also used in blanket chests, etc. It's strong because you have a mechanical joint which cannot be pulled apart in one direction.


          • #6
            I've been wwing since like, well not that long... But the fascination with powertools was just as strong as the urge to work with wood. If I had to hack away at a piece of hardwood with a chisel and a handsaw I doubt it would have held my interest for long. Over time, I've come to appreciate a good handplane and backsaw, and have accumulated some chisels, but I without power tools I wouldn't build much.


            • #7
              Thanks Dave. I figured that much, but I was looking at the rest of the router bit set and it didn't have anything that seemed to correspond to the dovetail's other piece. Maybe I'm just mistaken and it's really there, but yeah, that would be a pretty strong joint that I'd assume I connect by sliding two pieces together, and wouldn't pull out.


              • #8
                axio---you make the matting part with either the same dovetail bit or a straight cutting bit, depending on whether you're making half-blind or through dovetails. However, this isn't something done free-hand with a router---you'll need a jig to do it. That's a whole other matter as the good ones will cost you about $300---don't even waste your money on ones costing under $50----oooooorrrrr you could learn to hand-cut them.

                hewood---one thing about starting off with handtools, is you then learn an appreciation of power tools. You haven't lived until you cut a dado with a back saw, chisel and router plane. And a router plane is a good example of high-priced handtools---since it will cost you nearly as much as a router.


                • #9
                  Is it a better deal in the long run to buy stuff new or go to a tag sale or something and get a Millers Falls smoothing plane for five bucks, like my uncle did for me?
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                  • #10
                    I agree with Daveferg about appreciating power tools after using hand tools! I really appreciate a power planer after (I know this is kinda weak, but...) planing a 2 inch thick board about 1/4 inch on each edge. This was one of my first planing jobs! It does give you satisfaction when you put some of your own muscle into a project though.

                    [ 01-20-2005, 01:34 PM: Message edited by: buctooth ]
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