Think Hand Work for a Life-Changing Future

I listened to a man describe his advancing deafness in terms I had not heard described before. He said that in his case it was not so much that voices and sounds become quieter but that surrounding sounds becomes ever louder and that through the months and years those sounds make it impossible for him to tune in on the sound he wants to hear. In a sense, to him, it was a general and overall noise pollution whereby he was less and less able to focus.
DSCN0042-copy2At The Woodworking Shows show in Dallas in 1995 I was mocked by reps from Bosch and Makita because I was demoing using hand tools. I was the only one in those days and this day it was a quiet Sunday close out and their sales were non existent. Losing interest in their booth they were looking for entertainment I supposed and took a walk. One big noise from Bosch made a loud laugh and shouted, “Now let’s see what have we here?” As he launched himself towards my booth. A small group gathered as I demonstrated hand cutting dovetails in under two minutes and soon the mockery slowed down as I could see that their uniformed shirts made them feel less and less comfortable. The dovetails were perfect, thankfully, as I passed them around and when the Bosch guys took hold of them they seemed, well, speechless. Deprived of their money-making toys, the reps stayed with the new interesting English guy and watched me cut some pretty healthy dadoes with a knife, a chisel and a mallet. The bottom of the dado looked good but a little uneven from my chiselling. “Should have used a Bosch” the big voice said, laughing. Well, sometimes things happen that just somehow flow together and I pulled out my Record hand router already set and waiting for action. It was one of those moments I could not have engineered and as I pulled the router across the bottom of the dado the wood peeled away like an onion peel. The crowd was bigger now and the reps stood alongside them gob smacked as for some reason the inner surface was a smooth a surface as any I had ever prepared. “Gentlemen!” I said, “Let me introduce you to the first ever cordless router.” The ice broke and humour filled the aisles.
Just as noise pollution often starts with sounds we barely notice, so too the birth of industrialism and the resultant invasion became pandemic in our culture. The results of it lead to deafness for some and, well, blindness for others. Just as noise pollution drowned out the man’s limited hearing to the point of deafness in a head filled with noise, and street lights conceal the bright and sparkling stars in cities all over the world, woodworking machines can disguise the art of working wood and the blind and deaf seem to laugh at those who see and hear with clarity of sound and vision? They did all enter into my de-industrial process without knowing that, for just for a few moments at least, I was able to turn out the lights.


  1. recognizable story about the noise.
    Great story.

    It’s clearly that the “power” is with Paul and not with Bosch…

  2. I so loved this story because it toed in nicely with a series of reviews I have been reading on power tools from the BIG 3-5. Seems most of them still cannot get their machines quite right without a lot of add on accessories, realignment of guides, blades and whatnots, and frequent return of said machine for a replacement. Last night I setup my Veritas plow plane in about a minute, made a very acceptable groove in cabinet door rail, and got in some terrific cardio which my Dr. wholeheartedly approves!

  3. Great article I love how quiet my shop is now. I can hear the birds singing outside my shop while I work. I just love it It is like practicing a for of Tie Chi while working wood.

  4. Paul loved the story, since I have taken the Hand Tool approach in my opinion there is nothing like it. As I have mentioned I have a full shop full of power tools minus a table saw which I sold to a friend. Other than an occasional use of my Band Saw and my Shopsmith for a Drill Press and ( 1 ) 3/8″ electric corded drill I have not used my power tools in over 5 years and so far don’t miss them.

    Sure is quieter with less mess and you get a little exercise to boot, hard to beat it.

    Keep up the good work.


    PS: Just took possession of my Eze – Lap fine and super fine diamond stones looking for ward to making the holder for them this weekend. I will get the course one eventually also.

  5. A great story, thanks for sharing. I notice that as I improve the comments at work et less and less, or maybe they’re just bored.

    By the way, a local toolmaking company has said they are starting development of coreldss poert tools, including -guess what- a cordless router. They expect it will take about three more years to develop…

  6. Paul, I can relate to this in another way. I work on refrigeration equipment 50 hours a week, the noise will drive a sane man crazy. Hand tools are a way to create quietly, the scraping of a blade on wood is actually one of the sounds I enjoy most; it is what work should sound like. I own an electric router but avoid using it specifically because of the noise. Great piece, Matt

  7. Wonderful post – thank you.

    I’m just getting into working with wood as a way to escape the day-to-day grind of staring at two computer screens for 7-8 hours, however a lot of people tell me I should be using machines instead.

    I remember some wise words my father-in-law said to my some years ago, when I first bought a jigsaw to make sawing of floorboards faster – he preferred a handsaw. I said to him that it’s faster with a jig saw, and he responded that it’s also a lot faster to make mistakes as well.

    That’s so true I reckon. If you start going wrong with a tool the mistake isn’t normally as bad and can be corrected sooner, but when you make a mistake with a machine, it’ll be a big one.

  8. In my job I use power tools a lot, because its faster for me to use, and in my line of work you need to get 5 or ten jobs done a day, to me I would be lost without them because they make me the money, however I would never dream of using my own personal hand tools on the jobsite because they are, as I class as “my special tools”. Woodworking for my is not about making a living, it is “my time” where I can relax and be creative, make a piece of furniture, show it off to the in-laws hoping to sway them from shopping at Ikea and come to me if they want some thing that’s looks nice and lasts longer then its Chip- board counter-part!

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