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JOEL Joel's Blog

An Introduction to Hand Tools - The Instructor Confesses


An Introduction to Hand Tools - The Instructor Confesses 1
Tomorrow night (I am writing this on Monday evening, October 9th), I will be teaching dovetailing. This Saturday I will be teaching a free class called "Introduction to Hand Tools" for the first time. So I have teaching on my brain. I've taught the dovetailing class before, so I know what's on tomorrow night. It's the second session, and we'll be learning about body movement and sawing straight. This afternoon I checked to make sure that all the wood we need is ready, and Tuesday need to double check that class saws are ready to rumba.

It's the Saturday class that preoccupies me a bit. The class is in response to the many people over the years who have come to our showroom, for themselves or looking for a gift, who are trying to wrap their heads around the idea of using hand tools. They sincerely want to expand their horizons. Sometimes they are familiar only with what Home Depot stocks and hand held power tools. This applies to professionals and amateurs alike. Many are perplexed by the idea what you can actually build anything by hand. Of course, misconception about hand tools are formed by never seeing the tools in efficient operation. You can drill a hole with an electric drill even if the bit is dull and the drill is noisy. But it isn't patently obvious how to work a brace or a bit so it's fun. We have a reputation and a lot of showroom and warehouse space devoted to hand tools, so the curiosity is natural.

What can I do to give people what they've come to discover? I have to get and hold people's attention. I have to make hand tool skill look like obtainable. I have to show the distinction between cheap knockoff tools that don't work well and quality hand tools. And - particularly for the amateurs - I have to show that the basic operations of woodworking by hand, operations that can be performed in a small apartment or shop, don't have to be painful, and can result in good results.

I try to be practical, not (just) philosophical.

I should teach how to measure accurately but I am afraid it isn't sexy enough to keep a class engaged. People want to see sawdust!

I think I want to teach people how to start a cut with a handsaw. That's a big problem people have. They try cutting something and since they can't start the saw they never get to the joyous moment when they can advance easily through the wood.

I think I want to teach people how to set a hinge because that gives me a chance to demonstrate marking out and chiseling to a line. And it's easier than setting up a router.

I think I want to show people how to clamp their work. It's not very sexy but it's pretty useful. I know some tricks with a few clamps that let you set up anywhere even at the kitchen table.

I will have to plane something - wood shavings are sexy. And if I rub the shavings on the wood I can show a wonderful burnished surface.

And of course I plan to drill a big hole with a brace and bit, showing how to not splinter out at the end and also how a ratchet brace really helps with those large holes.

I think that's all I can do in a couple of hours. My main goal, of course, is to inspire. I hope that at least a few of the attendees will look at what I am doing, try it themselves and then go home, take the plunge and start building stuff.

If you are in the area this Saturday, you're invited to the class! For more details click here.

Join the conversation
10/11/2017 Don Slaughter
Joel, I really can appreciate where you are with this impulse to teach. Having been forced into hand tool wood working by loss of a lung...I've found that most woodworkers are interested in this adventure because it offers more immediacy in their gratification. Before turning to hand tool work (exclusively) I was skeptical about what might be achieved but what I found was that...not only am I able to perform all the tasks required for producing projects....My gratification begins immediately upon the first tool touching the stock...rather than having to wait 'til the piece is finished. And the finished product means exponentially more to me because of the skill I've learned to apply.
THANK YOU for all you do,

10/12/2017 Dan
"I try to be practical, not (just) philosophical." Joel I appreciate your comment but the photo above of a person paring a hinge socket with that hold down set up... what? That is a Rube Goldberg if I ever saw one. Not a good way to work and it will slip with enough push. Get a vise.
I have a vise. But not everyone has a vise - especially a beginner starting out in an apartment. I wanted to show you don't need a perfect setup to get stuff done. Ideally you want two handscrew clamps and two regular clamps to clamp the handscrews down to the table. But, my setup worked fine. For chiseling downward it was perfect, the wood is supported for chiseling by the table top. You are right about paring cuts parallel to the table top, but it worked fine anyway as my chisel was sharp and paring doesn't take much force.
10/13/2017 Brent
One of the most eye opening woodworking demo I have seen was Chris Gochnour shaping the legs for a shaker candlestick table three different ways; coping saw, spokeshave and card scraper vs bandsaw and spindle sander vs bandsaw and pattern routing. The fastest for one was the hand tools, because of his skills. The slowest for one is the pattern routing but would fastest for dozens. My point is that showing that sometimes that hand tools are a fine choice for an job because they are easier, cost less, more flexible or more controlled with less risk of damaging or messing up your project that a power tool, it helps to show it done with both. On planing I would fit a drawer or clean up a boards faces and edges of planer and tablesaw marks vs a palm sander. On sawing I would layout a mortise and tenon joint for splay/compound angle stool or table leg.
10/15/2017 Dan Beck
I would love to attend your session but I am still working at 72 years old. God has blessed me with good health and opportunity. Since I cannot attend, I wanted to encourage you from my amateur perspective. I am a self taught amateur furniture repair person. Many of us amateur wood workers, furniture repair persons, are as interested in the process as much as speedy manufacture of fine furniture. I suspect New york amateurs are quite similar to Ohio amateurs except in Ohio our floor space is much less expensive. I know very little about furniture making. My traditional work bench took 25 years to build and was transported from Ohio to Missouri and back to Ohio during the building process. Eventually I broke the project into 20-30 smaller projects and slowly progressed through each process. completion of each phase was a monumental success for me and I learned something from each. I am now working on the repair of an antique 4-legged bench for a vintage Grand Piano. Those small hand tool classes would be ideal for a dummy like me and, I suspect, others who are limited on space and dollars and love the process almost as much as the finished product.
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