Hand Work, Efficiency, and Mindset

Note: The content of this post has been moved to my new blog.  You can find the new post here:



8 thoughts on “Hand Work, Efficiency, and Mindset

  1. A very good article. I am a machine woodworker by day who is trying to work more with hand tools at night. Ill try a few of these tips.

  2. I have been playing around with many of these points recently. It is very freeing to realize that I can stop working on a board once the critical areas are done for it’s task. Thanks for the tips!

  3. I’ve done one project entirely by hand and I think you hit on everything that slowed the whole effort (except for life and family which always slows hobbies down). Thanks for the excellent insights. Hopefully I can implement them for the next hand project.

  4. Bob,
    Well, it seems you beat me to the punch on my first blog “series” which is of course on the mindset differences between power and hand tool working. I posted the first on the 8th, apparently a day after you did this post. Oh well, I’m still going to finish the series because 1) I have already written most of the other 3 posts, 2) I am coming at it from a different angle so I should have some different things to say, and 3) only about 4 people are probably going to read it anyway so what’s it matter.

  5. This is great stuff, and I completely agree with “Just Plane the “Money” Side”. The last case I put together was a stand for my drill press. I decided to make it with dovetails at the top, and dados for the middle shelf and bottom. This time I made sure I knew which were the show sides and the reference sides. Not only did it save me time, but the case was more square than anything I had made before, if that makes sense.

  6. Excellent points, especially about the shooting board. The subject of “where to mark and measure from” deserves a whole article, because I think the realization that the ends of the board aren’t important is a fundamental divide between machine and hand work. Machines provide the convenience of four faces and two ends to measure from, and discovering that one usually only needs two adjacent faces was a revelation to me.

    • The thing is, this can, and should be applied to machine work as well. Referencing all measurements and gauge marks off of only the reference face and edge is simply a good practice for precise work, regardless of whether one is working by hand or machine. The extra benefit for the hand tool user is that we don’t have to 6-square everything. I would imagine there are situations in machine work where six squaring could be skipped as well, but it’s so engrained in us when we learn, and so easy to do with machines, that it’s hard to let go of the concept.

  7. Hmmm maybe not. I’m one of the Hand Tool School (.net) students. In semester 1 Shannon has us making simple appliances. I accept that making every edge square to its neighbor, every surface look like the money side is both unnecessary and inefficient. I don’t care at this point. I’d much rather climb the learning curve on my shop appliances than on my furniture. I need the practice!! Boy, do I need the practice. My learning curve looks like the Matterhorn, but, I’m getting there. The curve used to look like the cliffs of Dover after an ice storm.
    A friend of mine who spent several years as an apprentice in Japan uses an expression that I like, “let the spirit of the tool speak to the spirit of the wood.”

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