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Machines don’t quite slice it

Someone asked me the question why use a chisel followed by a spokeshave to shape and shave wood when the bandsaw is so efficient? I am asked questions like this all the time and sometimes I want to, well,  just walk away from the question and the questioner because I think that they most likely will not be open to my reasons as they have a made up mind that machines are exactly what’s needed for the task. How do you explain that you are not in the same hurry mode they are to get the job done? Or perhaps that you actually like a workout to the point that your muscles ache with fulfilment at the end of a good day’s workout rather than going to Gold’s Gym?  How do you tell them that shavings ripple in the sunlight and you still love seeing them piled around your feet at the end of any given day, or that you like looking inside the massive pores of a white oak section of wood you just shaved with the spokeshave?

I think it’s true to say that 99% of today’s woodworkers have never known such things. It’s as if we have lost whole generations between the 1960s and today that have never actually worked wood but machines, and so they really do not see the things I speak of. It is hard for me to conceive that someone using an Arbortech carver and a Bosch angle grinder to carve a Windsor chair seat can ever feel that they are carving a sculpted chair. In fact, that’s ridiculous. So too the chainsaw carver sculpting a bear from a tree stump. All that has happened is they have abandoned skill development for power equipment that creates a very raw and rough substitute we might once have called a rough-out. Lazy carving really. Anyway, old fashioned though it may be, I still think that the chips are as important as the sculpting. Chainsaw chips and bandsaw dust don’t quite slice it for me. I never look at the jointer and planer shavings swirling around the dust collector and think, “My, how lovely they look!”

I still enjoy my spokeshave filled with shavings and my scraper defining my work. I like the bevel-down method for chopping coves and hearing the sound of the chisel hammer as the wood splits and separates at my bidding. I like taming the raw, shaping the wild and being creative in my workspace. If someone asked me these things, this is what I would tell them. In the world of creativity, I see that woodworking has been delivered the greatest blow of all. Dumbed down to the rotary cut, I find little more than chips and chunks and great amounts of dust swirling and twisting with every spinning wheel. Twenty years ago a man walking onto the job-site with a 12 volt screw gun was seen as progressive and ruggedly developed. He was after all a true power man. That same man would be laughed off the job today. More torque means real and rugged men. Torx bits and self-drilling woods screws mean even more power for the professional woodworker. Is life easier? I am not really sure. I know it’s much faster than it was. Does that matter more?

Now don’t get me wrong, there is a place for machines and screw guns, I am only asking the questions we should be asking here and perhaps answering the question with my questions.

7 Comments

  1. Brian on 28 July 2012 at 7:51 am

    I thought this was a fitting story that might compliment
    your post.

    MY brother-In-Law the “Professional Trim Carpenter & Custom Wood Worker” was
    at my house two days ago picking up my table saw that I sold him… Well, gave him
    actually. Because of the low price that
    I sold it for, and the fact that I will never see the money that is due me “after
    he finishes this big job he just landed”! He and I don’t see eye to eye on…well,
    anything!

    I told you that story so I
    could tell you this one. Before he
    arrived at my home I was in the middle of watching a DVD “name removed” making
    a set of hollow and rounds. He joins me
    for a few scenes and then asks: “Why on
    earth would you ever waste your time building those, or even taking the time to
    use them?” “Their clumsy with limited uses, and hard to use”. My response was, “They are a very versatile
    tool, and with time you can make any number of profiles for moldings and much
    more.”

    He then says: “You “hobbyist” woodworkers with your hand powered
    toys or whatever you want to call them wouldn’t last a day on one of my job
    sites.” Wait it gets better! “Let me
    clue you in to the world of professional woodworking Brian. Time is money, (learn
    something new every day) and if I have to waste my time creating “CUSTOM” profiles
    on the crown molding, or any other trim that I install I would never make any
    money. That’s why I buy all my trim pre-milled and I can do what I do best…
    Slap it up and get paid”! I guess he told me!

    So the question that begs
    to be asked, and the same question I have been asking myself for the better
    part of ten years is, “what qualifies him as a Professional Trim Carpenter
    & Custom Wood Worker”? Well, it says
    so… On his truck, letter head and business cards!

    Thanks for your post Paul!

    Brian

    White Lake Michigan



  2. Jude on 28 July 2012 at 11:28 pm

    Mr. Sellers,

    I enjoy your videos, you have a ton of experience in woodworking, and I like the fact that you go against the conventional grain. However, the attitude expressed in this blog post is one of contempt toward those who would ask you challenging questions, those who would push you to explain why this method or tool is more advantageous than another, those for whom an opportunity to teach are turned away because you can’t bear the challenge.

    There’s a big difference between telling and teaching. The latter engages students to ask questions, however mundane they may be, and challenge what their being taught; not because of any disrespect for the teacher but because learning is a process of working through alternatives for oneself and not simply being told this is the correct way and that’s it. Telling is a process of indoctrination that stifles learning.

    You’ve clearly learned your craft by questioning and challenging the woodworking status quo. Allowing and encouraging others to do the same, especially when the challenge is directed at you, is the mark of a mature teacher.



    • Paul Sellers on 30 July 2012 at 11:38 am

      I should point out that I didn’t and would never walk away from a sincere question. My point is that all too often people have. Amde up mind and that a made up mind is almost impossible to change. I have spent the past twenty years passing on all that I can and don’t plan on stopping any time soon so rest assured, though I am a woodworker first and a teacher second, I plans a future that will expand the horizons from the forgotten past into the nseen future.



  3. Joe on 29 July 2012 at 4:33 am

    Wonderful and so, so, true Paul. I hope this blog is read by many, it’s a wonderful and true piece of writing to those who love the craft of really working wood.



  4. Andrej Telle on 16 June 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Paul, but what work do you use your bandsaw for then? Only for resawing?
    And would you not recommend buying a bandsaw? Because I am thinking about getting one but am unsure, if I really need it for anything but resawing and maybe complicated curves.
    If you would recommend getting a bandsaw how much depth of cut would you advise to get?



    • Paul Sellers on 16 June 2014 at 9:28 pm

      I do recommend a good bandsaw. It doesn’t have to be very big, a 14-16″ is more than enough. A finely tuned and well set up bandsaw will do far more than resawing and complicated curves. My bandsaws, I have four of them, cut 10″ in depth.



  5. Eddy on 19 November 2014 at 2:03 am

    I’m a joiner by trade. I use machinery to compete price wise with my competitors in a need everything yesterday society. Whilst I like my job I only truly love it when a project presents itself where hand tools must be used as a quicker alternative to setting up complex jigs etc or where i am ahead of my client list of jobs to do…..

    Then i pull out hand tools,

    The satisfaction gained in presenting a project to a customer created entirely by hand with personality, care, accuracy and a deep understanding of tool and material is only bettered by the process of making things in this way.

    Great post Paul



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