You Advise Me

I still receive an occasional comment from someone who knows me not at all and knows nothing of my work beyond just having seen me saw down a dovetail angle. With my gent’s saw still poised, they’re advising me that a power router will do this or that better, faster or whatever other adjective they care to address the issue with. It’s funny though, they seem to think that somehow I might not even know that there is such a machine after my being in the saddle for 56 years. They are certain that I am on the wrong path and that I, moreover, am on the losing side. As Wendell Berry puts it, my efforts are “relegated to the dustbin of history.” Anyone who takes a differing path and declares it a better way, perhaps with wider views and smells and sensations unattainable any other way, they often become offended for no real reason at all, you know, more huffy or even condescending. I am never really sure why this creates an anxiety in them.

I only imagine my methods somehow scratch their super-sensitive skin, as if I am shunning the advancement of technology and the more progressive way. One thing is for certain, in most cases they see my hand working as tediously difficult, body-straining and primitive. In essence, they also see it as less accurate, which I am sure it probably is. When my handsaw passes through the wood, I deliver only a hundred teeth to the 1/4″ depth of cut in each stroke I take. Their circular saw, on the other hand, on its fixed, immoveable axis, delivers thousands of cuts in perfect alignment over the same depth and distance. Surely, then, if this is the superior cut, why not use it? In chorus, they usually repeat what their college tutors and mentors have taught them to mimic, “It’s outdated, old-fashioned, uneconomical and impossible to make a living from!” My response? ‘Oh, well, you can’t really altogether understand. I don’t make to live, I live to make! That way, the rest all falls into place!’ Perhaps that is a little romantic in some people’s worlds but making anything, even badly, is better than making nothing at all. I do know people who only buy needs and never make or grow or bake anything. Imagine!

At my workbench, I’m in a world seldom known by most today, certainly so-called professionals, that is. The brick walls become a shield and shelter. They take away most but not all sound and much light too. I still can hear the robin and the blackbird singing, alongside the thrush. If you have never listened to Ann Murray’s songs or Maria Callas singing “Casta Diva” in the otherwise silence of your workshop you might just try it. What about the newly mastered Brahms Cello Sonatas #1 and 2 with Jacqueline Du Pré and Daniel Barenboim. Such diverse intonations lift your spirits and elevate the work you engage stroke on stroke, be that chisel or plane and saw, or the bow across the cello strings. I hear my plane strokes and the saw teeth strike chords no machine work can. I hear the voices yet again saying, “It’s not real to do it that way!” “You can’t make a living that way!” I say to myself, in a low breath, or in my head, “How come I just did so for over five wonderful decades then?” or, better, “I don’t make to live, I live to make!”

The cello moves almost seamlessly to Elgar’s cello concerto and Jacqueline plays unswervingly between the passages of my work and I might just stop to listen for a minute or two. It’s Saturday. I am drawing up the new design for a bookshelf and thinking as I work the joints in my head. I choose joints that cannot come from a machine and choose them carefully. The hand tools I choose twist and turn in my mind’s eye as I rehearse the possibilities and the orchestra comes in and out as I tune my sketches for my future intent. I strain for a certain line and suddenly the deep tones of the cello describe my peace at finding what I strove for. The bow dances from string to string in short jags before returning the deep dulcet tones and deeper peace still! My intention to limit the invasive and harmful technologies wherever and whenever I can have brought me to a place of sanctuary within the walls of my creative space. Yes, it is just a garage, maybe my shed/studio/garden-room-cum-potting shed. But it is mine and I love it! I’m no longer asking myself if I can but more the how and when. My fingers move steadily and precisely across the page and the lines fill in the white space to compose. I look from a distance and I feel a good composition coming together. It’s more a sketch and the importance of it this: that sketch takes the negative of clear unoccupied space to a place filled with a new work. It is, in essence, the genesis of a design. Probably, possibly the most important stage of the design process.

Make the most of it. The last time I used a power router in 2011. I have no intentions to use one again!

I am not sure that I can ever recall using a power router to cut a dado housing, I do think I have., but certainly not in the last 10 years or so though. I think that was the last time I turned one on. And I never ever used one to make joints of any kind with. Of this, I am certain though–even two street blocks away, let alone in my own workshop, I have never once felt the peace I speak of now when a power router is switched on and the cutter engages in the wood. If this is not a good reason for never turning one on again, then it’s as good as any. I think it was more in the USA that I felt the strongest resistance to my working with hand tools. That changed significantly over the ensuing years though, as I gained approval show by show and demo venue on demo venue. Those advocates for power equipment, the ones that weren’t going to consider new options using older and well-proven technologies anyway, just walked on by. I’m never sure whether they just couldn’t believe in themselves or wouldn’t. This kind of blindness is common to us all if or when we think we see everything. This is when we are at our most blind. We can readily close off many alternative probabilities if or should I say when we think we know it all. Guilty!

At my age of 71, I feel I have found a peace in my work that I never knew to be possible. The good thing is that you don’t need to wait five decades or until you are my age. If you will just believe that it is there for you and that you can make decisions to establish it now or soon, you are 98% there. I do find it a little disrespectful when a 23-year-old scoffs in my face and makes a retort saying, “They’ve invented routers for that!” What’s worse though, is when a 50-year-old says it. I don’t altogether care that much, but I do know that if they gave me a day or two with them that I could change their minds. Having lived where they live, I can say that the peace I find now is second to none. It respects all ages providing you seek change and try the possibilities. Being inured to the dangers of a machine is the most dangerous stage in any machinist’s life. That kind of confidence gives me the shivers. It is never spoken of by sales personnel. I wonder why?

In reality, though, I have found peace in working the way I do. Know this too though, after years, decades, of using machines, I am at peace with both them and with hand tools. I simply choose to no longer own them. That said, for ripping down 10,000 linear feet of fencing I might consider using a small and portable tablesaw in my back yard. In my workshop, this is very different. What I don’t really care for is the noise, loss of workspace, extreme dustiness, inherent danger and then the dependency that comes in tandem with all machine work. For the vast majority of woodworkers who follow me today, machines might well be out of the question anyway. Wealthier nations make many assumptions and the main one is that anyone can, well, just go buy one; that everyone has a half-acre garden and a four-car garage too. Cost, space-guzzling footprints, housing, economics and availability are really the key factors. Does that mean that this is the reason I generally avoid having machines? Well, no, not at all. But I do understand that it is all too easy to misunderstand m. For the majority, they are simply unnecessary, and when they discover that they too can actually own the skills I have for themselves, they just want to become skillful with their hands like me and go for it. I think I can say that the majority do, anyway.

126 thoughts on “You Advise Me”

  1. I while ago feeling a bit bored I planed some scraps of softwood that had been lying around for some time. They sat on my bench, and having looked at them for a couple of days I saw a tool carrier. So within the constraints of what I had, a design took hold in my head. It would be simpler to have nailed (or screwed) it together. But I decided to cut dovetails to join the box part together. It is presently awaiting me going to the garage workshop to remove the clamps, fix a base, 2 uprights and a dowel handle. All it will have cost me is time. I know that I could buy a cheap plastic one, indeed I have a couple already, one with electrical tools in and one with plumbing tools in. But I have the ability make one.
    I do have a cheap router, my last recollection of using it was the mess it created all over the workshop., it was only to do a small job, I realised that including cleaning up time it was quicker by hand.
    I do use electric drills, but have a brace and bits. I use a circular saw to rip up wood, but try to mainly use hand tools. For some time I thought that there was a need for power tools to do jobs. I now realise that the problem was in my head. It wasn’t the lack of power tools, but an attitude of mind that made me think that I needed them. Now that I am retired, I have the time to develop my skills.

    1. I am a professional joined 54 years of age , and I to have never cut a dovetail with a router. I also never used a power plants to hang a door.

    2. When I retired two years ago I was excited to finally being able to have the time to start woodworking and using the power tools I spent the better part of the last 45 years collecting. So I started looking at shop vacuum systems, all the latest gadgets and shop aids, all the different saw blades and router bits one could invest in etc.
      In researching all the latest tools and methods on youtube, I happened upon one of your videos Paul, which led to a few more.

      To make a long story short I can’t Thank You enough for pulling me out of that rabbit hole.
      For a lot less than I would have spent on a shop vacuum system picked up some nice hand tools and have never enjoyed woodworking more.
      Can’t say thanks enough, keep doing what your doing.

  2. Denis McFadden

    You are a born teacher, someone who can make woodworking look so easy.
    I watch your videos and I am trying to learn how to cut dovetails and make small pieces for my house. No interest in CNC or power tools. I watch all your videos and eventually I would love to be able to build something larger. You are a master craftsman. At the moment I have cheap chisels and a tenon saw. It can be done without a large budget that other channels demand to follow along.
    Small steps.

  3. Paul, I know exactly where you are coming from. I have a shop full of power equipment. I have discovered you a few short years ago and have since invested in hand tools. It has changed my outlook on real craftsmanship. I recently took on a wall mounted shelf with 16 cubicles for a gift for my wife. I decided to do it completely by hand. My first project without the use of power. I had a visitor to my shop who questioned why I would do such a thing when I have all this equipment. As if I was wasting my time. And then went on to criticize a few of my joints. I will admit a few joints weren’t “perfect “. But I feel as if it was some of my best work.

  4. I try to avoid machinery where possible but I recently had to put a plinth on a dry lined wall to mount a bannister rail. I used a power router to put an edge decoration (ogee) on it which had to follow curves and angles. I’m sure there is a hand way to do it on a piece of timber 10ft long but I just don’t have the skill level to do it and it would have looked awful. I suppose this is the insidious thing about it all that you must avoid and treat it as a convenience when the need arises. I wouldn’t for example buy a dovetail jig for it or spend hours setting it up for rebates or dadoes. Watching this site, I’ve come to recognise that hand methods are often quicker and more contollable.

  5. Ronald Heberle

    Thanks much Paul, I too have a garage full of power equipment that I use. After discovering you several years ago I have purchased a number of planes from eBay. I followed your YouTube video’s to get them in shape and read a number of books naturally both of yours. I am trying to learn how to make things by hand. I am also 71 and finally realize that hand tools really do have a place in woodworking in more ways than none, thanks again.

  6. Where would we be had not there been a hand-tool guy named Stradivarius? I haven’t seen an app for that, so to speak.

    1. Same with that Chippendale feller. Not the stripper but the furniture maker. As Paul has said in his videos, some of the most beautiful, delicate and ornate woodwork still comes from a time of wooden planes and time-served craftsmen. Where are they today? Probably lost a couple of fingers on their table saws!

  7. Perhaps you could say one method used to make something is art and the other is manufacturing. With the artistic method attention is paid to details like color of the wood, orientation of the grain and design not limited by machine restrictions. How do you fix tear out with a machine when the grain reverses direction, you might just discard that piece of wood as undesirable and lose an interesting feature of grain and figure.
    Not everyone appreciates art, it’s something that they never developed or care about. You will not reach everyone but the information is out there for those who care to explore and learn.

  8. Thanks to you Paul I don’t eschew power tools but I do ask myself for every operation I’m contemplating if one of my hand tools wouldn’t be faster and more pleasant. The hands seem to develop more sensitivity with practice over time and that lends confidence in any operation.

    And a question for you… I was just completing the final woodworking touches on a somewhat dainty serving tray. I wanted to cut splines in the mitered corners to re-inforce the joint. In the past I had mused that sharpening a saw from one side only although expedient raises a burr on one side of the saw but not the other. I’d noticed in my practice cuts that the saw pulled to one side and indeed with practiced touch now I can feel the burr on one side of the saw even though it is a fine blade.

    I wonder if you have seen this behaviour and if so how you leverage it to your will. I wondered for instance if sharpening alternating teeth from opposite sides could be a technique for increasing or decreasing the width of the kerf depending on the formed burr being on the inside or outside facing tooth. Have you seen this behaviour?

  9. Some people, Paul, are all hat and no cattle. They simply will not (N.B.: will not and not cannot) understand. Keep doing exactly what you’re doing. Perhaps they will eventually see.

  10. Yesterday I was upcycling wood from a former pick-nick bench. Using a #4 to remove what was left of the “lasure” after scraping most of the gunk.
    Not very good for the edge. After sharpening once again, the plane was still hard to push. Then I took the “oil rag in the can” and got over the plane sole.
    What a difference! Suddenly my plane seemed really sharp.

    Thank you

    I have bought a router something like 15 years ago and used it twice, once inside (what a mess), the second time in the garden in 2015 to make part of a molding and finishing it with a scratch stock.
    My workspace is about 2 m X 3 m in the attic; no place for machinery.

  11. Paul
    That was like reading from a book of poetry, that was beautiful and inspiring.
    Along with the impressive wood working, you should consider writing poetry.

    Rick from South Carolina

  12. I’d say Wendell Berry can’t see the forest for the trees. I also love the comment above about being all hat and no cattle. Keep it up Paul.

    1. Maybe I misunderstand what you are saying about Wendell Berry?
      Not quite sure what you mean, or if you misunderstood how Paul quoted him?
      Have you ever read any articles and books by Wendell Berry?
      I first remember him from the Mother Earth News back in the 70s maybe.

      1. I think I did misunderstand. I was not aware of Wendell Berry and I must have read Paul’s comment about him with the wrong perspective. I read it as though he was some fool who walked into Paul’s shop and began ignorantly spouting off incorrect information. I apologize.

    2. Actually, I’m pretty sure that Wendell Berry would be sympathetic to Pauls’ position, and that’s certainly how Paul seems to have taken it.

      Wendell Berry is, among other things, a man who obstinately refused to incorporate many “modern” and “efficient” technologies into how he ran his farm. I always thought that Paul Sellers would appreciate the things that Wendell Berry has to say, and his comments here seem to confirm it. 🙂

  13. I’ve been a student of your’s now for a few years. I’m 71 now and had my shop full of machines. I moved house from the country to the city and as soon as I started up my machines the neighbours complained about the noise. I found your site and have never looked back. So much so that I am now learning to carve so I can include it in my woodworking. All with hand tools again.

  14. Paul, again, your writing is poignant and a joy to ingest. I, at a time, had a shop filled with spark eating noise makers…a five hp tablesaw, bandsaw, jointer, planer, mortiser…you name it. A time spent away on military assignment left me with a yearning to “make.” The option to have a small shop space utilizing hand tools was the only opportunity I had. Through that, I discovered the peace and satisfaction of which you write. I now own a healthy assortment of “cordless” tools and not a single spark eater remains. I can forever make anywhere!

  15. I used a power router to do half blind dovetails on a desk I built. After watching videos on using a dovetail jig, I couldn’t get my dovetails to fit tight. Pulling out the drawers you can see the grand canyon gaps. I couldn’t get it to work like the videos. After watching your video on masterclass, I wish I could have done the dovetails by hand. I got more accuracy then I could have imagined. Even though I still want that piece, the desk is on its last leg. It’s not holding together like the projects I built by using hand tools

  16. Marc DeCarufel

    Paul, thank you so much for teaching to “wake and smell the roses” in my shop! I also realize that taking the time to “comment” on someone else’s method means less time at the bench. Please continue to inspire “us” !

  17. Mike Towndrow

    It seems to me that many fans of power tools use them because they believe it will enable them to finish their project quicker than by using hand tools. Even if this were true, it overlooks the sheer enjoyment you get from working the wood by hand. While I’m always pleased to finish a project, (even when it’s less than perfect), I’m never in a rush to do so. In fact I guess there’s also an element of disappointment when the experience of making something is over…. at least until the next project get under way!

  18. It’s just trolls, Paul. The younger generation are quite familiar with them. So if you worry that not answering their taunts will hand them some kind of win, worry not. Ignore them No one takes them seriously.

    1. Charlie Fryer

      Paul, I don’t believe there is any merit to these kinds of responses that try to tell you how to do your woodworking. As mentioned it’s trolls or people who don’t read and comprehend an entire paragraph, sentence or article.

      Thanks for all you do in teaching others a craft.


      1. Charlie Fryer

        I believe this to be absolutely true: when we offer advice/teaching to anyone that didn’t ASK for advice/teaching; they will not accept or respect it. They may condescendingly nod their head in agreement, however there will be the snicker of disagreement later of “who does he/she think they are”.

        My opinion for what it’s worth.

        ps: I’m here learning from you those things I’m able to ask and especially those I’m unable to ask about.

  19. Liviu Cerchez

    I’m a young programmer by trade and my journey in hand tool woodworking started only last year. I had no space/shop, as I live in an apartment, so I used an existing concrete bench in the nearby park for 3 months to learn the basics. Yes, literally in the park! Oh, I found pure joy and liked it so much I rent a small cheap “office” room to continue my interest. Built a workbench with a proper vice (using your design) and now I find myself working with my first client (a garden bench). Must admit that moving the full set of tools from the “old bench” was a simple operation – one backpack, 3 grocery store bags and no need for a backhoe, haha! I love working with hand tools and will continue to do so as it really enriches my life.

    Thank you for the contagious constant enthusiasm!

  20. Sherri Warnock

    Paul, I love your YouTube video’s and I try hard to follow your instructions. I have recently bought handsaws and planes. I was a military mechanic and like you I am a former police officer. My step-father was a contractor. I loved going to work with him. Before the military I was a roofer and framer. I even took on a finish carpenter apprenticeship but the old man I worked with wouldn’t keep his hands to himself. I was 19. I worked in a hardware store after that. Now in my 60’s friends and family think I am silly for wanting to learn woodworking and to learn to use hand tools as opposed to power tools. I am happiest in my little basement workshop. I don’t care what they say or think. My daughter has asked me to make her a cupboard for her new house now they have seen what I can do. Thanks to you and your videos I have made a screen door and a back door and a desk for my grandson.

  21. I suspect we were both taught that “sticks and stones ….”, apply the same logic and consider it their loss.

    Apart from a bandsaw I am now machine free. Even mistakes take longer and so tend to be smaller.

    I will keep reading your blog, keep learning and keep doing. Many thanks

  22. Larry Edmiston

    You, sir, are a true master. A master of the wonder of the wood, and a master of the marvel of the word. I eagerly watch for and await every email that I receive with your name on it. Like you, I believe that flipping a switch and machining a perfect shape will never be as satisfying as the sound and feel of a good hand tool. The fine edge of a dado made with an electric router may be pretty, but it cannot compare with the feeling of accomplishment I get from one made with a backsaw and router plane. Especially since I also made the router.

  23. Robert Lenart

    Thanks again Paul for your help with my new adventure. It’s been about six months or so since I first started following your blog etc. . I’m also 71 years of age and look at life much differently. I enjoy your personal insight into the many ways one can be happy especially when working wood. Taking time to absorb the moment in solitude truly does enrich the senses. So much to learn and enjoy. Living in the moments of time is truly beautiful isn’t it? I’m still in the process of making my workbench and the excitement of the little things have been worth every moment. Just taking my time and still correcting mistakes brings me so much comfort and accomplishment. Thank you so very much Paul. Your friend from Ohio in the USA. Bob Lenart

  24. Paul, you and I go way back (Iron Horse Antiques Inc. and The Fine Tool Journal) and at 84, I’m no longer active. I thought you might find this anecdote interesting, and maybe drive home a point we both have made over the years.

    When I was very active doing furniture restoration, I hired a very fine craftsman to assist me. He was a mold and pattern maker used to working within very strict tolerances and convinced that power tools were the only answer. I made him a bet that I could complete a complex molding with hand planes before he could do the same on our router table. (Yes, I did use power tools on occasion.) We each had an 8-foot piece of stock to work. Using nothing but planes, I handily completed the job before he was half-finished. The reason was that he took a long time to shape the router cutter, get it lined up perfectly, and tested for accuracy. By the time he was ready to take the 30 seconds to cut the molding, I was already finished. Needless to say, I made my point. Power tools have their place, but hand tools provide satisfaction not equaled when using power tools exclusively.

  25. I’m at the stage when hand working us a great therapy for me. Sometimes I just pick up a scrap and listen to my plane, or kdactice my dovetails. It’s good for the soul. Thanks Paul.

  26. I’ll echo many of the sentiments expressed here already… Thank you, Paul, for expanding our appreciation for the full experience of wood-working, and for sharing and teaching not just the “technical skills,” but also the philosophical and spiritual aspects. I look forward to your posts, and always learn something new… something that deepens my appreciation, and not just my skill.

    I’ll confess that my shop contains a wide array of power tools, but the trend I have noticed in my own habits is a gradual transition from reaching for the small “corded” tools to picking up a hand-tool instead. I realize I may never fully give up my table saw, drill press, or band saw, but the purpose of these tools, for me, is more about reducing larger pieces of wood into smaller pieces that I can manage more easily. The trouble with these tools is that they work “too fast” and seem to break the bond between worker and wood. I am much more likely to put my attention to grain, knots, orientation of growth rings, or potentially decorative “flaws” in the wood if I am holding a hand tool. It just helps to take your time.

    My first clue that hand tools can be equal to, or at times even superior to power tools came many years ago. The project was a pair of crude benches for my son’s nursery school. The material was a 5′ long, 1′ diameter log from a tree that had fallen in my yard. I split it in half, length-wise, with a chain saw, and then proceeded to make the flat surfaces safe for sitting. The first “half” took a good half an hour with a belt sander (yes… my skill with the chain saw was THAT bad, this was 20 years ago, and I had much less experience). For the second “half,” I reached for a Stanley#4 that found its way from the local DIY center into my shop. I had no clue about how to sharpen it or set it up, but I managed to finish flattening the face of the log in 15 minutes. The complete absence of saw-dust and noise, and the bit of physical exercise involved were also enjoyable. I’ve been fascinated with hand tools ever since.

    We are all on our individual journeys in woodworking. What I am grateful for is Paul’s wonderful way of teaching the skills in a non-intimidating way, teaching the art in a non-condescending way, and ultimately being a great spiritual leader, and sharing his personal philosophy. Thank you, Paul!

  27. I did something today that has been at the back of my mind since reading one of Paul’s posts. Rather than swoping between a drill bit and pozi bit in my cordless drill, I oiled one of my 50 year old yankee spiral ratchet screwdrivers and used that instead to drive the screws. Didn’t time it but don;t believe it took me any longer, and pushing on the handle gave me a bit of extra exercise. I guess I could have used an awl for the pilot holes, I don’t have a hand drill. Am now thinking that when I wear out the cordless drill, I might not replace it. I do have 3 corded ones any way.

  28. “I do find it a little disrespectful when a 23 year-old scoffs in my face and makes a retort saying they’ve invented routers for this or that. What’s worse though, is when a 50 year old says it. ”

    The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.

  29. Craig Alderson

    What I find most appealing about hand work is that it relies so much on human qualities: our power of observation and the power of our minds. Thousands of years ago, the Greeks not only deduced that the world was round, they came up with an accurate calculation of its circumference — all from observing the sun’s position in two different locations, and applying principles of geometry, mathematics and reasoning conjured by people who thought. It was simple and brilliant. When the Egyptians needed level foundations for their pyramids, there were no laser levels. They dug a grid of trenches and filled them with water. The water line was level all the way around the vast foundation. They then simply drained the water, excavated down to the water line, and filled in the trenches. Presto! Level. So many tricks and techniques of woodworking are like that, drawing from our ingenuity and imagination.

    Technology enables brutal and stupefying answers to problems. It makes us mental sloths. When you don’t have a technological crutch, you’re forced to use the power of your mind. If you want to divide an end piece into equal segments for dovetails, you could take out your tape measure and calculator and crunch your way to an answer. Or you could lay out a line, strike off the segments, and use the properties of triangles to achieve the same thing — properties that were reasoned out thousands of years ago by the human mind. Mathematicians always strive for, not just a solution, but the “elegant solution.” Power tools are all about brute force. Hand tools are all about the elegant solution.

    Power tools make us arrogant and stupid. We presume our modern capabilities are so infinitely superior, and the capabilities of preceding eons so greatly inferior, because of what tool technology allows us to do. And yet, so much of the work from centuries past is astonishingly precise and sophisticated, and the knowledge that skills that made it possible has been lost. I always like to remind myself: the Palace of Versailles was built using hand tools.

  30. Paul,
    AS I read this essay, I could not help but remember an adage I first heard as a young man in a small, rural community —
    “Don’t try to teach your Grandmother how to suck eggs.”

    There is a lot of implied context behind this bit of rural wisdom, but wisdom it is, nonetheless. Translated it would mean,
    “Do not presume to teach a Master their own craft.”

    I can only smile and roll my eyes at the prospect of someone “instructing” you in the methods of your craft. Utter foolishness!


  31. Paul,
    I think you might really enjoy reading “In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations” by Jerry Mander.

    from a review:
    “… In the Absence of the Sacred takes this argument a step further by examining our relationship to technology as a whole. Mander takes issue with the widespread notion that technology is neutral and that only people determine whether its effects are good or bad…

    “The belief that technology is neutral is only one aspect of what Mander calls “the pro-technology paradigm” — “a system of perceptions that make us blind and passive when it comes to technology.” It’s a cultural mindset that has emerged over time as we’ve become more and more accustomed to living with technology. It’s also a product of the optimistic, even utopian, claims that invariably accompany the introduction of new technology. Another factor contributing to our passivity in the face of technology, Mander contends, is the habit of evaluating it in strictly personal terms. By stressing the benefits of technology in our personal lives — the machine vacuums our carpets, the television keeps us informed, the car gets us around, the computer allows us to work from home, etc. — we make little attempt to understand its larger societal and ecological consequences…”

  32. Thanks Paul. It amazes me how much folks feel compelled to tell others how they should do things.

    I had a teacher in the 80s who taught a classic mythology class. In it he mentioned that we live under a mythology in today’s society. Out mythology is that as time progresses, things improve. He gave plenty of examples of where this wasn’t true that things had improved.

    Folks under this mythology might thing machine tools are modern and therefore an improvement. Simply not true as you nicely elaborated.

    More importantly, again, as you point out. How do you want to live your life? There are ways I don’t want to live myself. If others want to live a way I don’t that is fine as well BUT I wouldn’t presume to tell them so. It is their life.

    Even more importantly, in the USA, the biggest threat is sitting on the sofa and just watching TV all weekend and not doing anything. Any hobby done any way is better than sitting on th sofa all day. I found a series on PBS called Craft. It is a multi year series focused on craft in American. It is fantastic. If one were going to sit and watch telly it would be a good one to watch to give you all kinds of ideas for crafts and hobbies.

    As for a career, there are many ways to make a living. I have no doubt you can do it working with hand tools. With a will there is a way.

  33. The last time I saw a router bit, it was hurling across my work bench and through the sheetrock wall. That was four years ago and my electric router has never been used again. Somehow the bit loosened and by God’s grace it flew away from my body. What surprised me the most is that the shaft on the bit was bent!

  34. James Monette

    I am reminded of my youth when I felt that my views of things were better than my elders. I acted shamefully and did not realise it till many years later. Fortunately my understanding has changed a lot with age. It is a pity that in our older days that our maturity and wisdom it at a higher level when our bodies are breaking down, it just makes no sense. Any skills we have, like understanding and using hand tools will be lost. I can understand why Paul sometimes feels bad about the seeming loss of opportunities the coming generations seem to face. Not to be forgotten is the steady decline of the earth’s diversity due our abuse. I had a man in his 80s tell me he worries about the future of his grandchildren that we have given them. Even the trees which produce the wood that we use and love is failing everywhere. The ash trees in all of North America are dying off due to an invasion of insects, that is unimaginable. There is hope though.

    Let’s say I went into Paul’s workshop and started tossing his planes, chisels, saws and everything else all over the place, up against the walls. Do you think Paul would allow me to completely destroy his things that are dear to him. No he would not. He would step in and stop me. Likewise the owner of this earth has stated he will step and bring to ruin those who are ruining the earth. So the future of everyone working with their hands safely will never die. The wonderful feeling of accomplishment
    one feels when seeing the results of their learned skills will continue, no matter what trade we have. Apprenticeship will flourish. The future is not bleak at all.

  35. John Morrison

    The issue would seem to come down to quality vs speed.

    The problem is that in the early days of woodworking an electric saw or router will cut straighter/ to a higher quality. Electric saws shield the user from learning how to manually cut straight. But this quick gain also hobbles the user’s growth and hides this issue from the user.

    If the user progresses to build skill with hand tools, then a new world opens up. Certainly quality e.g. straightness of cuts comes to match electric tools. But what is really interesting is that the world of quality expands greatly Due to the inherently greater flexibility of manual tools. There are many places an electric saw can’t go, but few to none a manual saw can’t go.

    This battle will continue because the electric tools make it easy for the new user, shield her/him from the need to grow and getting a new user to acquire real skill is not easy. Paul is definitely a leader in this battle. The rest of us? Look for ways to help e.g. mentor someone else to develop skill with a handsaw. As an educator I look for ways to help others acquire competency in different domains. This domain is harder than many others I have been involved in e.g. software & teaching children.

    A book I was reading many years ago ended with a quote: ‘much that is true is not new and much that is new is not true’. Truth and skills, among other things, are worth fighting for.

  36. All I can say Paul is these people who profess about machines doing a better job of they are faster or indeed more accurate, well let them get on with it. It seems to me they are on the wrong site and may be better suited on one of the many other pages that glorifies the virtues of machine wood working ( plus advertising such items at silly prices ). You have opened up a whole new generation of traditional hand wood workers with your tutorials and blogs. We’ve all been bitten at some point by the power tool craze ( including me ) but soon come to realise that the traditional way is the best way be it for pleasure or indeed commercially. So keep on giving Paul and long may you last.

  37. I do own and use power tools, but almost exclusively for metal working. Some are dual purpose, for example the pillar drill, but nearly 100 % of my woodworking, poor as it is, is done with hand tools.
    The exceptions would be the chainsaw, battery drill drivers and circular saw or “snorter” as it’s known locally.
    I bought a half inch router some years ago and only used it once. The damn thing frightened the wotsit out of me. So I gave it to my neighbour who had a joinery firm and it eventually claimed a finger tip from him. Nasty thing.
    I’d probably be tempted to buy some power tools if I could afford them, but thankfully I can’t so I’m grateful to you for showing me how to use and maintain what I have.

  38. Noebert Edmund Onaitis

    Hi, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now. The first training that I received in woodworking was when I was about 12 or 13 years of age… about the midpoint of the last century. Our teacher knew that we weren’t to be trusted with any power tools, so everything was done using hand tools. Even so, we still managed to inflict some non-lethal wounds on ourselves. The point of this was that he knew that we should know how to rip, crosscut, plane, joint, rout, etc with hand tools…and it should be presentable. I know how to do these things with hand tools, and that makes my work much better when I resort to power tools.

  39. Norbert Edmund Onaitis

    Hello, I’m looking for a set of plans for a plain glass curio display cabinet. I’m not very good at making my own designs. Could someone point me in the glroght direction? I need it to display my plastic scale model aircraft. We live in the desert in “The Inland Empire”, and these models have to be protected from the everpresent dust. It will, in time ruin the paint and decals of any model that one builds. I haven’t been able to find a setnof plans. Most of the places I’ve looked have bookshelves rather than something with glass doors and shelves. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

    1. I have a few hand sketches that I’ve made. If you’re interested, what email would you like them sent to?

      Jeff Rogers

    2. To Norbert Edmund Onaitis
      If one has made the projects Paul has proposed one will feel empowered. One will be able to adapt Paul’s design/exercises to other purposes.
      If one search on the web the “curio cabinet” on the blog “woodworking in a Tiny Shop”, one will see the blogger (it isn’t me) has used for the cabinet design and joinery what was taught in Paul Seller’s clock, door making & fitting, mitered bridle joint and so on.
      The design could probably be used for your needs.

    3. John Besharian

      Mr. Norbert Edmund Onaitis,
      In addition to the suggestions already offered, you could also look up plans for glass fronted china cabinets, cases & etc. You didn’t really mention in what style the recipient (your wife) prefers and in whom the ultimate decorative decisions rest. There are plan books out there that cover many different styles and tastes.

  40. You are preaching to the choir Paul.
    No one that reads you blog needs to be told what you have written here today.
    We all feel the same or we wouldn’t be here!

  41. My feelings on the matter range from wanting and using power equipment to wanting and using hand tools. It really depends on my interest at the time or if I have the time. I am retired, but I do take on other jobs. I’ll often drag along my miter box to cut miters, but also take along a few power tools to speed things up.
    Since I have to eat..(Imagine that!) I have to make enough money to buy my food and tools and such.. I try whenever possible to use the hand tools, but going into a person’s home I don’t always have the luxury of time on my hands..

  42. David Johnson

    Paul, just keep on doing what you enjoy. I’m a 72 year old who worked in another trade most of my life but always had a desire for the woodworking. Bought my first craftsman router nearly 50 years ago. With life changes I have found that even the simplest things can be enjoying to me. I don’t have a lot of options for the wood I would like to use, so if I had the space for a bandsaw I would probably own one. Seems like a lot of waste to me to rip 3/4” material to get 1/2 or thinner boards, so I could use some thinner stock for the kind of things I can accommodate in a small shop. That being said, I find such peace in taking my time. I’m not trying to make a living anymore, I am just trying to enjoy each day, & you are an example of finding peace in what you do. Yes, I will probably resort to some power tools to dimension my wood, but to blast through a plan is not what I am after. I’ll keep watching your videos etc. & reading your blogs & trying to get better results with my hand tools. There are a lot of us that want to savor the moment, the challenge, and the rewards of trying to be true craftsman. Anyone want to buy an old craftsman jointer & an old 13” planer that’s been sitting in a storage shed with no one to use them. LOL. Stay true to who you are Paul. There’s a lot of us seniors out there that appreciate what you are doing.

  43. Well said Paul . There’s little satisfaction in using machinery to produce most things . Noise , dust and a boring repetition is not good for the soul .
    Hand tools create a patience and understanding of the materials you are working with .
    I love it .

  44. Sold off or gave away my woodworking power tools years ago.

    For me it was the noise, footprint, danger in that order.

    I do keep a hand held circular saw available for rough cutting large material, but I rarely use it. And I have a hand saber saw and bench top drill press, and bench top sander for the occasional sheet metalworking.

    I’ve even sold or given away hand tools that I never use. I’m trying to pare down my tool collection – not buy more.

    I envy the ability to listen to music while woodworking. I tried that once and it was either one or the other. I was listening to some music and made the most elementary mistakes on my work. So I no longer listen to music in the shop.

  45. I used to own a table saw, planer, and router and router table. Once I saw Paul at a woodworking show I decided to learn hand methods. So I did. So, last summer I sold all my power tools. Now I just use simple hand tools I got as gifts or purchased on eBay. No more noise. No more airborne dust. No more danger of severe injury.

    After much practice I can cut a straight line. I can plane a square edge. I can make a beautiful dovetail joint. I’m happier and pleased with my accomplishment. I entered a place less crowded, less populated but I’m not lonely.

    As I tell people what I did with my power tools they say I’m crazy. That’s how I know I’m right. I never thought I could do hand tool work until I had the right instruction and actually tried. Turns out I can do it. I am much happier.

  46. I am 60 year old son of a joiner I discovered your YouTube videos last year when in lockdown I was wanting to sharpen a saw as my father is no long with us to show me. You explain every step clearly and precisely. I marvel at you skill with hand tools if you choose not to use power tools that’s your choice to make. Thanks and keep up the good work I look forward to watching more videos

  47. Power tools have their advantages, but everyone who has used a router should be honest that routers

    – are not a guarantee of accuracy
    – are not a substitute for a skill
    – are not generally faster, which is a wrong word anyway, “productive” is the word that should be used – a rate of completed operations over time. Power routers are not more productive than hand tools in short runs, for them to be more performant the operations count has to be in hundreds.

    Also opposing power and hand tools is like opposing left and right leg. Can you imagine someone saying “I prefer my left leg, so I’ll be moving around just jumping on my left leg”? It’s not really about which leg you want to use the most, it’s about places you wanna go.

  48. Power tools give almost no feedback to the user. A router or even much worse yet a CNC 2 -1/2 D computer guided router just hogs away wood with no feel at all for grain deficiencies that would relegate a piece of wood to the scrap bin for me. When I carve braces for a guitar or a neck, I NEED to know if that brace will split out inside the body of the guitar when the 160-600 pounds of string tension is applied to the final instrument. It’s a bad day when a brace splits after 400-4000 hours of tapping on the wood & hand selecting wood for tone, cutting, fitting, gluing, finishing, more cutting, gluing, finishing, inlay and marquetry work, staining, applying a final finish buffing, polishing, installing the hardware, and when you go to finally tune the finished instrument up it has a major catastrophic failure and something splits, caves in, breaks, or collapses in upon itself, or a piece flies off it. Gibson Guitars have ALWAYS been machine made, and a surprising number of finished guitars have their peg heads unceremoniously chopped off with a band saw, or a worker slams the guitar into the pavement and smashes it to bits, because it is 100% unplayable, 10% imperfect, or both. Even the best hand builders I know, know when to chuck an unfinished body or neck into the stove and burn it long before wasting more time and effort on working a shoddy piece of material or workmanship into a finished final product that will wind up going straight into the skip anyway. If I feel my chisel start to open grain that has run out in it on a neck so that the peg head will break off, there is no need to continue working with it. It will never work. A machine made neck WILL be installed and that instrument will be nothing but wasted effort, wasted materials, and wasted energy, all for naught, save for maybe being turned into fiber board, firewood or mulch. Are there places for the router? SURE! A solid body electric guitar’s control cavities and pickup cavities are great places for using a router, up to a point. If I need to install miniature toggle switches on an arched top solid body, I always use a bit and brace to cut a recess for the switch body and the lead screw or snail protrudes through the hole where the switch bushing will be installed later. There is no better way to do it! You KNOW exactly where that switch bat will be located on both sides, and it just that fast and that easy, with no mistakes possible. I grew up using 100% hand tools to work with wood, and metal. My father made me rough in a few rooms of a house with 100% hand tools. I was using a bit and brace to do all the electrical and plumbing. Millions of homes were built this way. Oakum, and lead used to seal up black cast iron sewer pipes. It was 100% hand work using specialized hand tools, and specialized skills. Any fool can glue plastic piping together. When a drain pipe broke we made a mold from a soup can and poured molten lead around the break. EASY and effective, if you have the patience and the proper skill sets. I had roofed a house by hand with a roofer’s gauging hatchet by the age of 12, using asphalt shingles, cedar shake shingles and asphalt roll roofing. You get into a rhythm and you can almost keep up with a pneumatic air nailer. The air nailer won’t known when it has nailed into a void. Using the hammer side of the hatchet I’ll know, and I’ll know to move my nail over! We “NEVER” ever had a hand roofed roof leak! We never had a pneumatically roofed roof not leak somewhere. We never had sheeting or planks blow off in the wind either. My father would toe nail sheeting on, or toe nail planks on, and God help the man who tried to dismantle my father’s work. That would usually be me. There was no prying the plywood off a rooftop, or a wall. You had pull a lot of nails, because he would go back over the whole thing and opposed toe nail it once over again so the wind couldn’t rip it apart. It was like doing part of the job twice, but when the neighbor’s homes had no roofs at all, we still had our roof. The shingles needed some work, but the wood was 100% in tact. We made our own furniture, and not just for the home, but we made benches for a camper that converted into a bed, all by hand, with wood. I still have those benches for a 1963 Chevrolet Apache pickup truck with a camper. The cushions are gone, but I can make more. I still build guitars and instrument cases. The large sewing machine that can stitch leather to wood is also handy for making custom holsters, saddles, harnesses and tack too. Lots of the cases I get are antiques or vintage and they all have used wood as their primary structure. I don’t fix blow molded plastic. I don’t think it can be done, or I’d have done it. I have fixed some fiber glass. That is a miserable job! I would rather just make a new case from wood.

    1. John Besharian

      Mr. Burgin,
      First, I have to ask, are you related to a musician named Roger Burgin who plays (or played) in San Francisco, Ca. and/or the Bay Area? If you are, tell him I said “Hello” (I’m the late blues singer Lisa Kindred’s widower and played with a whole host of other players there and in LA, “Back in the Day”). Another Bay Area friend and luthier, Brandt Larson, whom I sold my old ’59(?) Chet Atkins model Gretsch to, has a case in desperate need of your tender, loving care. You may find him on FaceTube, as a friend calls it, and you may tell him I suggested you contact him. I was, by the way, the Guitar Doctor at Stars Guitars in San Francisco (yes, I made “House Calls” to concerts and recording studios) and Brandt seems to think I did a pretty good at setting up stringed instruments as well.

    2. “Any fool can glue plastic piping together.”

      You underestimate fools, I fear. I recall a renovation where we had to re-do all the new PVC pipework because the previous ‘professional’ had done very shoddy work where nearly every joint leaked. No straight cuts on the pipes, no deburring, no cleaning of the joints or roughing with a bit of sandpaper before applying enough (not too little, as in his case) PVC glue, pipes not seated all the way in. The joints were so bad that they were easy to break by hand. If I hadn’t seen/experienced it with my own eyes and hands I wouldn’t have believed it were possible. I was amazed that someone could foul-up something so simple as gluing PVC pipes and joints together. We later joked that the only thing professional about him was the hourly rate he charged.

      As with dovetails or hand-joinery (or basically, everything in life), the devil’s in the details.

  49. Serhiy Ukraine

    It will be not econimocally reasonable to invest in the hand tools soon. You promote handwork too well together with prices for old handtools 🙂
    Hold on a bit untill I buy all I need before they cost as Preston router plane .

    1. There will always be plenty of some around e.g. Stanley planes. But prices will always be a matter of supply and demand and what someone is willing to pay.

  50. I see no black and white in the machine/hand controversy and no right or wrong. Instead, I believe there is a spectrum. I see Paul at one end of it, with a well-reasoned bias towards hand tools. Who is at the other end, with a leaning to use machines in his craftsmanship? I think of Norm Abrahams in his “New Yankee Workshop”. He uses fine machines, often copying museum- or stately home, antique furniture to good effect.

  51. “I don’t make to live, I live to make!” Pretty much sums it up. Few things (to me) are as joyous as working in my hand tool workshop listening to music (all kinds) and making something, anything. I feel at one with the tools, wood and workbench, time slips magically away.

  52. These are some of the best comments ever on one of Paul’s columns. My favorite is “they say I’m crazy. That’s how I know I’m right.” When people tell me their opinions who don’t know what their talking about, that’s what I’m going to say in my head. It’s better than my current reaction — Thinking is hard.

    1. “Thinking is hard.”

      As a Texan acquantance of mine used to say, “Ignorance can be cured but stupid is forever”. He didn’t mince words. (Another one was ‘you can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think’; the naughtier version of ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’.) The reason I remember those sayings is because it is what he told me on multiple occasions…. He was pretty direct even by our Dutch standards.

  53. Domer Ridings

    Good morning from America

    I would not worry very much about what people have to say about how you work. Hand work is always better than machine work because it has the body and soul of the worker in it. It doesn’t matter to much what it looks like most of us aren’t a Morris or a Sellers but we do our best and we are proud of what we do. I guess that people especially, we Americans are always in a hurry to get on to the next project, after all, “Time is
    Money”. I much prefer to use hand tools in my wood working. I have tools that were used by both my grand and great-grand father. They are still going today and will be when I am no longer here. I will have to admit that I do use a table saw to make long rips in wood. No matter how long or how hard I try if I use a hand saw the rip will be off line and at an angle. I am 78 so I don’t think there is much room for correction at this point.

  54. At 60 I tend to respect what others believe in especially after many many years of experience. I have and use both types of tools/methods in my shop. I enjoy both. These young kids, especially YouTube experts that invest in one thing, pocket screws and without glue. There are no shortcuts in life!

  55. John Carruthers

    I have power tools, and use them, but get no pleasure from their use.
    I have drilled a stone wall with a tap&turn Rawlplug tool, but much prefer a power drill.
    Every tool has a use.
    A mate looked at a crude clock I had made on my shed wall.
    ” I can buy a more accurate clock than that in the pound shop”!
    Indeed you can, but what do you learn from that?
    I count myself fortunate every time I learn something new.

  56. Most woodworkers that come into my shop to pick something up that I sold them cringe at the idea that I saw, plane and do everything else by hand. Absolutely true, only a few people were mesmerised by it, but unfortunately the rest thought I was foolish and backward. Sadly though this doesn’t stop with us! The same opinionated lot also have a go at those working at Colonial Williamsburg Museum; “I can do it faster with a bandsaw” someone hollers. These are the loud mouths of society and there’s no point in arguing with them. Simply ignore their emails or politely smile at them at the show and move on.

  57. Some people are too busy chasing the next big whatever. They rarely understand the nature of peace. The sounds of a coping grandchild, the tick rock of the mantle clock, or the singing of a sharpened hand plane over wood. That is the road of there choosing.
    As I heard just yesterday “I’ll take the road less travelled.”

  58. Stephen harris

    After watching your videos I sold all my power tools except for a cordless drill and a dremel. I was a chop and join picture framer and you inspired me to re-look at the traditions of the craft. Since then I have spent many many very well enjoyed hours re acquainting myself with only hand tools and dredging memories of lessons learnt from my old woodworking teacher Mr Miller.

    I dragged out my grandfathers old hand saws and bought them back to life and purchased any number of moulding and H&R planes which I suspect I will spend the rest of life trying to perfect.

    I have reduced a whole batch of softwood to the size of a toothpick trying to get my planing technique back but I didn’t half enjoy it!

    And after a year of researching, and practicing, I managed to make my first completely hand crafted, gilded, picture frame.

    Yes you can probably do things quicker with a power tool but the sense of achievement I feel in making something completely by hand is second to none and I will never go back.

    So thank you Paul for your amazing videos and I hope you continue to inspire people to choose skill and craft over and over again.

  59. The critic you mentioned is just one of those people who like to present as know-it-alls, but don’t have the sense to rightly identify the context in which a tool in question is to be used before blessing all with their presumed wisdom. I’m with you, at most times – hand tools are peaceful, satisfying, and more than adequate for most tasks, and people should allow for that. But I do keep my machinery around for when I have to put on my wood-miller’s cap (not gonna hand-rip a couple hundred plus linear feet of trim to various widths to build up a craftsman-style trim profile when refinishing my bathroom, for example 🙂

    Keep rockin’ it old-school, Paul!

  60. Andrew D. McGillivray

    first of all, why would people who think like that follow your videos or read your books? secondly, what‘s their problem? how and why we work is a highly personal decision. i wonder if jim krenov would have criticized tage frid for using a belt sander? probably! but mr. krenov would have had the courtesy to keep it to himself. and that‘s the point. we‘re not in competition with each other, if anything, we compete with ourselves, striving to improve our skills, to learn something new everyday. our craft is very personal. now where did i leave my 300kg mortiser? …..

  61. Stew Brennand

    Decades ago my power hedge trimmer failed. I borrowed a friend’s and was almost finished the job when the replacement failed (I managed to fix it to the owners’s satisfaction with compatible parts from my own). Into the shed I went to find a barely remembered pair of manual hedge snipers that had been left by the previous resident. As I finished my chore I took note of birds returning to their disturbed refuge, said hello to several passing neighbours and found myself enjoying the work, anew experience to me.
    That started a trend, transferred to other “chores” around the house.
    My woodworking skills are far short of of expert and are mostly directed towards repairs and refurbishing with a few simple original pieces attempted here and there, but they are all puttering and are done mostly with non powered tools. Since I started collecting and using hand planes and saws, rasps, files, braces and bits I have a improved the quality of my work. Forcing one’s self to slow down does that.
    As well, I too enjoy, through the open windows of my little shop, the sights and sounds of nature from my back yard and neighbouring green space as I putter and ponder. Life is good…..but it’s better by hand.

  62. stewart boughen

    Hi Paul.
    I only have a 10×6 shed, so space is a thing. I buy hand tools at what my budget let’s me. But thanks to you, I can now make these to tools to proud of which I am. I love doing dovetails but working them out is a different thing, but I am getting there. I make several little pieces with draws for my shed layout, mainly pine ones. Which none of this would not of been possible without your videos.

  63. Those who denigrate hand tools are the same people who just can’t understand why you’d learn to play an instrument when you could buy a recording, and very likely have better music; or why you would learn to paint when you could just snap a picture. There’s nothing wrong about using machines but you just don’t get the same satisfaction as you do by mastering hand tools. A young man once started an apprenticeship as a machinist, and on his first day he was shown around a machine shop filled with CNC lathes and milling machines…all the very best technology. His foreman then sat him at a table, and handing him a blueprint, a block of steel, and a file told him to “make this, out of that, using this.” The young man was so bewildered he couldn’t speak. His foreman said, “surely you didn’t think I would turn you loose on one of those, before you’ve mastered one of these”.

  64. It’s all about the journey. Yes, you can make a perfect dovetail with a machine and it will look exactly like every other perfect dovetail made with a machine I can buy for $100 at the local big-box store.

    By profession, I’m a theoretical physicist. There are times when I need to run large calculations on supercomputers to solve the problems I’m working on. However, there is a certain joy to sitting with a pad of paper and a fountain pen and simply working out the details and discovering the “why”. The journey is the discovery. It takes a certain mindset to master the steps along the way.

    1. Paul Frederick

      You need to be a theoretical physicist with a supercomputer to figure out how to setup the jig to cut dovetails with a router. It is not easy! But once you have it dialed in things go straightforward then.

  65. Albert Kasenter

    I came a little late to master woodworking tools, so I muddle on as best I can.
    But the time in the shop, with and without some power tools is fantastic.
    I am 78 and don’t spend as much time as i would like and will probably never
    master the tools, but I try.

  66. Dr. Christian Rapp

    Dear Paul,

    I can not understand why you waste precious time defending you. You do it the way you like. 1/2 a million see it similar. Better use the time making one of the cool short videos you recently do showing one new (for sure old for you) trick to us.
    You made your point previously. Just link to one of those posts. Nothing more to say.
    “Who am I to judge?” told me a Russian Orthodox bishop one time. That would be healthy attitude in this hand tool vs. power tool debates.

    Thanks Paul for bringing joy to so many. Folks, let us enjoy what we do and how we do it. The others are not the sinners. We do not have to convert them…


  67. I am so much looking forward to still having all of my ten fingers in 2050, at the age of 71. Given the never ending mistakes I make, I so much prefer ripping my stock by hand if I cannot buy it in the dimensions I need. It’s slow indeed, and difficult, and I use lots of band aid when making joinery, but slowly getting better at it is great. I can make very few things in the time available, but what the hell. Imagine, just one of my inattentions at a band saw, and off they are, let’s say the index and middle finger of my right hand. Happened to a school teacher of mine.

  68. Using power tools is focused on the project whereas using hand tools is focused on the tool and the enjoyment one receives from using it. The hand tool user will pick up a piece of scrap wood and make nice shavings just for the joy of using the tool but does anyone ever pick up a power tool just for the enjoyment of making saw dust? …

    1. John Besharian

      Well, not exactly the “Joy”, but more like the need to fix a mistake with some glue and a little of that saw dust.

  69. Paul, I had to laugh when I saw your tenon saw, I have the same manufacturer but mine has three nuts in the handle. It belonged to my grandfather who gave it to dad. Not as deep as it was new but can still cut 2 inch tenons. Need to get the handle off and spend some time cleaning everything up.

  70. Quite a few years ago Betty Edwards wrote a book entitled “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.” (She later wrote a sequel).

    She taught me, a klutz, to draw with this and what she teaches about drawing is what you teach, and I am learning, about woodworking.

    Both are “right-brain” activities that enrich the soul.

  71. My school art teacher said something to me that I still remember, 40 years’ later. His remark was prompted by an ill thought out comment I made that Picasso couldn’t paint people’s faces very well. His answer was that he was able to chose to paint them the way he did only because first, he had trained himself to be an artist in the “classical” sense. Personally, I don’t turn first to a power tool but I have nothing against those that do. However, before they seek to “educate” others, they should have mastered the fundamentals first. Then their options are likely to be useful.

  72. Chuck Schilling

    Hi Paul,
    They say ignorance is bliss. I don’t know about that, but it can certainly be entitled. I suspect that a lot of these folks that are eager to provide their “help” to improve your methods of work are simply repeating something they’ve heard but have given no actual thought to. I, personally would take the experiences of using a saw, brace and bit over machinery any day. The wood doesn’t seem to care how I shape it. But I certainly do. Thanks for showing me another way.

  73. Paul, Making something by hand in my opinion is a one off, never to be repeated exactly, due to the subtle differences which stand them apart. I have used power tools for years and whilst there are times when they are worthwhile and useful for certain jobs, I never really got that much satisfaction from using them as it never really felt like “I” had really made the finished projects.
    I watched your 3 leg stool video last year and made two stools for a friends two young children. I hand carved their name in each one. They cost me two logs from my firewood pile and a length of 4×2, time and effort. The cheapest presents they were given for Christmas and yet their dad said they were the best present they got because they were made by hand. They brought me pleasure making them and giving them as presents and I achieved a satisfaction that power tools have never given me. Thanks for all the tips, articles and videos.

  74. David Ashworth

    Hello Paul. I like to do woodworking more so now I’m retired. In the past I have used machines (my trade was a fitter and turner) for woodworking. But after seeing your videos I am trying to make more use of hand tools. I liked your reference to music. I have played in brass bands all my life. And one thing that bothers me today is that music has a less important place in school curricula than it did in the past. And I suspect woodworking would have too. At school not only did I learn to play a musical instrument but I was also taught wood work and metal work. But children are not taught these skills today. So people such as your self who have devoted their life to the skilful use of hand tools will be no more and all music will be generated by computers because children have been deprived the pleasure of making music and using their hands for manipulating a phone or computer instead of creating something with them.


  75. Never mind, Paul…some people are never satisfied, no matter the subject matter or skill of the craftsperson or presenter. Press on, you’re doing a bang-up job. Stay strong and keep safe. Peace.

  76. Orville D Williamschen

    There may be some who just don’t or can’t appreciate what you do, but in my case I’m simply jealous of your lifestyle, your skills, and your knowledge. I very much appreciate your willingness to teach us the skills you’ve learned. I get great joy from simply planing a board, or cutting a joint. I don’t have to be perfect at it, or fast, I just want to make something with my own two hands. It’s sad that some people will never get that satisfaction.

  77. Paul,

    I have been subscribed for years and despite my inability to get in the shop as I’d like (I work 13 hours a day and 8 on weekends), you inspire me every week with your episodes and techniques. While there are still a few things I use power tools for such as ripping 8 foot long sections of baltic birch plywood, I have become addicted to hand tools, thanks in largest part to you. They have turned my shop into a place of calm, tranquility and mental focus. I have purchased and refurbished a set of Stanleys, including 4’s, 4 1/2’s, 5’s, 7’s and a giant jointer plane (which I am using to build a 15 foot long mantel of walnut. I sound and feel of the planes refining the wood and the calm of working through it are amazing. Thank you for what you do. I look forward to more of your posts, projects and wisdom. God bless you.

  78. Paul, many years ago I had a chance to see a presentation by Roy Underhill when he was just starting out. I was very puzzled that here was a guy who wouldn’t use power tools when shop at Duke University had a shop full of them. Now it is many years later and I have become almost proficient at using hand tools. I have built a lot of stuff using mostly hand tools. I’m still using power but I know what the goal is: finding peace and the soul in creation.

  79. If all the world were machines, where would the beauty be? I would prefer a teak forest, to a teak deck, I’ll never complain about a dirt floor. I can appreciate the ocean with nothing more thank my feet to bring me to her shores, I don’t even need a yacht. What I’m saying is: we as species overconsume, we think only of our own industry, and by that – we forget to respect and appreciate all that it destroys. We forget what a beautiful place we have had the privilege to be born into, and we don’t recognize how implicitly we are involved in ruining it. I think if man-kind were too return to nothing more than hand tools tomorrow, every living thing here on this earth would greatly benefit, especially us. More power to you Paul, or in this case…less power.

  80. Just wanted to add one thing, a recommendation – watch the YouTube video: Tuktu-2 The Big Kayak. The skill of these craftsmen is astounding, and if you should choose to use tools similar to finish any project, then you will truly appreciate the finest feeling human experience has ever extended to any craftsman – integrity.

  81. dr. al gerretsen

    Some people simply do not get it Paul. The quiet of working without power tools is relaxing. I stopped a long time ago trying to have people understand it. I started to explain a lot of what I do here but then decided, you already understand and said it all very eloquently in your blog. I will not change the mind of someone that wants to use power tools for everything. But, my clients understand how I work and why. They appreciate the craft and maybe that is why I have orders for my custom work (art) two years in advance, at very premium prices. I love your saying “I don’t make to live, I live to make!”.

    keep up the inspiration. You are appreciated by many.

  82. I’m looking for online courses like Paul’s but for traditional blacksmithing…to get away from the expensive machines and fake skill. Any leads?

  83. Michael Briggs

    Bravo Paul a great post. I marvel at your journey from the UK to the Lone Star state and back again. The simple act of creating from wood is satisfying enough, but consiously avoiding power tools, now that is a challenge. I could never make a living from this, as machine efficiency is something I steadfastly avoid. Thanks for the inspiration and writing about some of the the things we enjoy the most in our workshops.

  84. I spent more than 30 years working for an airline as a professional engineer, but I fly gliders for the pleasure of knowing that it’s my efforts that get me to where I want to go, not a kerosene-driven device. I occassionally meet a farmer on an unscheduled basis, but I don’t see that as failure, more as a learning and socialising opportunity. That’s the best personal parallel I can offer, as a very poor woodworker who’s just moved his power tools from the wood-working shed to a shelf in the garage.

  85. Randy Stewart

    Another poetic memo from my favorite British/ Texan instructor. Having ripped countless miles of wood, and thousands of feet routed weekly for too many years, I understand your dilemma with unknowing posters. But you have the gentlemans response, if any is required. We who understand will continue to seek the knowledge that years of wisdom makes great videos and posts. Thanks for your sharing with us.

  86. John Besharian

    Mr. Sellers,
    I have to chuckle a mite vis à vis those who seem to have more opinions than discretion regarding how and/or why total strangers, whom they’ve never met, do whatever it is that they do in the manner they do it. I had someone a coupe of three years ago deride me, in my own home, no less, about some of the clamps I have. I looked at him and reminded him that if your joints are cut properly, you don’t really need that much pressure to hold them together while the glue sets. Much in the same manner, I fish because I enjoy far more than just the meal that caps off my angling experience. Otherwise, I would just go to the market and dispense with all the trouble, expense and uncertainty and pay for the meal by the pound.

  87. Terrence OBrien

    I’m encountering more people today who are going on YouTube or podcasts and listening to story tellers. That’s all the guy does. He stands there and tells a story. No animation, no graphics, just a guy telling a story.
    So, I started wondering if people might be slowly retreating from the high tech for simpler activities. Hand tools rather than power tools, and story tellers rather than flash-bang games and FaceBook.
    And my bench? It’s all hand tools with one exception. Paul Sellers is sitting on the far right corner on a ChromeBook, showing how to cut through-mortises. Traditional instruction, delivered via incredibly high tech, from a guy four thousand miles away, teaching me the old ways. It can indeed all work together.

  88. Grahame Burnip

    I’ve no doubt in my mind that fine hand crafted is better than machine made. Even at my level the joints may not be perfect, but at least they have been made by you, all the time, the thought, effort and skill are yours. I don’t have the knowledge or skill to make furniture or even shelves by hand. Recently I’ve started to sharpen my chisels properly, there is a great thrill in using them now, similarly my block plane. A clean straight cut is so satisfying, even the sound of shaving a thin slice off the edge is rewarding. I’m not giving up my power tools there’s room in my life for both.

  89. Janne Olinsson

    I started up my woodworking by making a custom gunstock for a hunting rifle. I wanted one of those – to me – beautiful creations made by the master builders in the USA. Not to hunt however, just to print holes in paper sheets using a thing of beauty.
    I built it from a plank of walnut using an axe, a rasp, files and scrapers made out of old cold-saw blades. And of course a LOT of sandpaper, steel wool and elbow grease.

    Since finding your you on youtube I have moved up to chisels, handsaws, planes of all sorts and lately even shellac. It all started with your work bench and the list goes on from that. I know feel I can make just about anything I put my mind to.
    So, Thank You for that!

  90. Jason Groszowski

    I don’t know you in the personal sense, but I feel I share a your sensibility and passion of approach toward work. I utilize a combination of power tools and hand tools in my everyday life, but can never measure up to the satisfaction that a wholly fashioned piece from hand tools provides. If I only had the time to have everything I work to he a hand tool product, I would probably be a much happier person for many reasons.
    Thank you for sharing and recording your knowledge and skill for others to follow or become inspired to follow.

  91. I like your comments and attitude Paul, I like reading your blogs partly because it’s easier to read than listen because I my 72 year old ears ring and I don’t hear so well from running power tools and other noisy things I’ve done. I very much enjoy using hand tools especially planes and hand saws. Keep on doing what your doing Paul, I appriciate what you share with everyone.

  92. V K Subramanian

    Dear sir

    Thank you for that valuable piece. I live in India and have worked as a banker. I love to work with my hands. Tools are expensive and generally good quality ones, when available, are not reasonably priced. I had, therefore, no choice but to manage with a bare minimum of tools. I have used a broken saw blade honed to an edge, as a Chisel. A hack saw blade served as a rasp. In the pre YouTube era, there were very few gurus and what ever I learnt was from carpenters who came to work in our neighborhood. My first real hand tool, for woodworking, was a small saw. By them I had accumulated a hammer, a screwdriver and an adjustable wrench. I bought myself a set of chisels and a cheap plane as well as a carborundum stone to sharpen them. The Reader’s Digest, how to books helped me sharpen them. In sure course, I bought a hand drill. I built tables with drawers, cabinets for the living room open shelves for the kitchen and loved every moment of it. I think the feeling of achievement was the primary feeling. Even the wonkiest achievement have me a warm feeling.

    It was only in the YouTube era, that I discovered the error of my ways. I have now been trying to unlearn summer of the erroneous processes that I have become habituated to. I am enjoying that too.

    Who knows, of quality tools were available cheap or power tools were available easily, I may will have taken a different route. Now things are different and these power tools are by and large available at reasonable prices but usually they are not the drool worthy stuff that YouTube content creators seem to be always endowed with. I suppose that is not the reality even in the Western world.

    However, I continue making small stuff when I get a chance and I still get that warm feeling.

    Thank you for sharing your valuable experience.

  93. I was just recalling a conversation my wife had with someone she cares for that makes a living from woodworking. She commented that I was making furniture with hand tools. And he replied “good luck with that.” And I found myself thinking without realising it. ” Oh, he’s old school”, and I think that is actually very true. Just as Concervatism has become the new counter-culture with millenials I do believe wood working with hand tools is now the norm for most ametuer and some professional furniture makers.

  94. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe

    I need to cut the legs of my work bench as they are way too tall. It was a conscious decision when I built the thing as I wanted to “sneak up” on my preferred bench height by gradually lowering the bench height. Opposite thinking than that of my cooking, where the “you can add, but you can’t take away” rule apply (for the most part).

    Can someone tell me how to do it with my table saw, router, track saw, circular saw, sawsaw, band saw or reciprocating saw? I even have a Bosch multi saw.

    The terms and conditions:
    – The legs must be cut to the exact same length
    – The cut must be square
    – NO tearout!
    – The legs cannot be removed from the bench.

    What kind of workbench leg height adjustment jig is the best?

    Or should I just make a knifewall all around and just chop off the excess with my S&J 9500 Vidar-powered saw?

    Which method will be FASTER, more EFFICIENT and thus increase my PROFIT?

    Yes, I can saw to the line. 😉

    1. When I decided to start making things with wood I went to a store and asked what tool I should start with. They suggested a power router, so I gave it a shot. I made some cool stuff, and friends and family were impressed with items that ‘looked like they were from the furniture shop’. It is an amazingly powerful and versatile tool, but also amazingly destructive to my immediate environment (noise, 1-10 micron dust particles in the air, regular dust on every nearby object, danger of hot flying projectiles). That was a good experience, as it motivated me to find another way. So, on advice from Dr. Sellers and others, I bought some chisels for $20 (and some planes for, initially, ~ $30 – but that is another story). Now it would be a cold day in Mississippi before I would ever use a power router.

      At the same time, I am trying to build a shelf unit, quickly, and my handmade joints are not perfect. A voice in my mind keeps saying, “all would fit perfectly if you used a micro calibrated dovetail machine”. I agree, but I don’t have the time nor money nor interest to invest in that path.

      p/s: @Vidar – The leveling of workbench legs with a tablesaw cracked me up. That would be some impressive jig.

      1. Vidar Fagerjord Harboe

        Brian, that finely tuned dovetail jig is something you already have. Your hands! It’s just that they need that fettling which a commercially made, anodized marvel also needs. Richard Maguire talks about “scruffy looking dovetails”, and tells that he had a hard time to cut a bad dovetail. “Once you can cut a dovetail… ya can cut a bloody dovetail” as he puts it. 🙂
        Paul talks about muscle memory. This is all true. I’ve struggled with my hand planes – it was hard to get a square edge. Not anymore. Most of the time, they end up square by default. I think it has come down to experience, a good “check yourself” regime and knowing how to effectively use the hand planes. And of course muscle memory. I hold the plane correctly, not with a death grip.

        And yes, the jig for trimming the legs of my 200×80 (6’7” x 2′ 7 1/2”) work bench on the table saw would be a behemoth!

        Maybe if I made it in spalted live edge epoxied maple plywood cored MDF riddled with holes from a gatling gun…?

  95. I think the first time I knew of your existence, it was a publicity for your book, and you said, on the same subject:
    “there, that’s done while you are sill looking for your router cable”
    this has stuck with me ever since, and I will add your comment in this blog piece:
    “better making something badly, than not at all”

  96. I hear you..
    I have spent the past 30 years as a Luthier, hand building my Guitars, Bass and other weird bespoke stringed instruments.
    More times than I care to remember I have had folk say mindless things about how antiquated and out of touch, how I will never make a living doing it the way I do…
    Then the arguments of how CNC is so much better. More accurate blah blah blah.
    I challenged one fellow to a build off, a simple Electric Guitar. By the time he had set up his CNC to cut the body shape and control cavities, I was done and starting on the neck…..
    Best one was a guy saying how he can get to .01mm accuracy with his CNC. All that told me was he had no knowledge of timber, the movement inherent in the material and how to work with that.
    I did laugh to myself when I later heard that a few of his builds self destructed at the change of season.
    Now that I am in my fith year of taking early retirement at 50, (what was that about never making any money?) I have the time to explore other facets of woodworking and a whole new raft of skills to learn.
    Thank you for your informative, easy to follow tutorials and the subtle humour you often display.

  97. Dr. Kálcza László

    If one loves wood as a raw material from which one can create miracles, one can appreciate hand tools.
    As a family doctor and occupational health specialist, I have seen many accidents involving woodworkers caused by machines. I know what they are capable of. That’s why I’m also a little scared of machines, so I’m always careful with them.
    I am 62 years old, close to retirement. I have also been involved in wood carving since I was 5-6 years old. I learned a lot from my grandfather, he didn’t even know about electric woodworking tools, he only worked with hand tools. I also have power tools, but if I can I use hand tools. Yes, it’s not that fast and efficient, but for me, it’s more of a pleasure than getting over it quickly. I’m not a factory, I’m just a human being. In the silence I hear the blade splitting the wood, I can smell the wood (the real smell, not the smell of the burnt wood), there is no big cloud of dust and in the meantime I also listen to my favorite music, it depends on how I feel that day.
    I love the instructional videos and the peace of mind as you work. Thank you.

  98. I am in the process of making a infill wood plane for which I required a piece of rosewood ,offcuts or salvage, with which to make the front and rear totes. I thought that I had found the perfect answer with plank of Namibian rosewood. Upon researching how to prepare and glue this wood I Found a site which implied that this wood could well be the result of illegal logging. I have not been able to contact the seller. Should I return it it would no doubt go back into stock and be sold on. I am annoyed with myself, if its too good to be true……. Can you recommend a seller of reclaimed exotic woods and have you any advise on how to prepare and glue these types of timber?

    1. John K – keep the Namibian Rosewood, use it well and learn a lesson. And perhaps support a charity that helps to limit such illegal logging. I don’t know of any, but a small action to help raise awareness and limit the damage that importing exotics can cause would do some good.

    2. You are not the first and you won’t be the last. The damage is already done and you have no control over the integrity of those who sold you the wood if indeed it was taken illegally. Take greater care going forward. You obviously care not to do wrong. Conviction over our personal wrongdoing is the most important thing so as not to repeat ourselves.

  99. Paul,
    About this time last year I took delivery of 60 reclaimed scaffold boards to make a garden room – never done it before and may never get the opportunity again: 3m x 3m, lined/insulated, with power, heating and internet. I even made the doors and windows. I DID USE POWER TOOLS and invested in new ones. I used pocket-hole fixings. It was NOISY & DUSTY (my son will never work with me again – he sanded many of the boards for me). I’m sitting in my Garden Office (re-purposed as result of Covid, I have only been to the actual office once since March 2020).

    Inspired by your techniques and peerless expertise I set myself a challenge – to make something without power tools (but I cannot find an affordable brace so may need to use a drill when I get to the hinges). So I’m almost finished making a storage chest for my paddle board – using the remaining scaffold boards. I have planed and “trued” the boards (having refurbished some bench planes from eBay); I have glued them; I have cut my first ever dovetails (oversize and proud rather than flush); I have ploughed some grooves and cut rebates; I even inserted a butterfly joint which was more than pure decoration. I’ve spent another small fortune on second hand tools (which are really expensive with the COVID/Brexit shortages that we have in the UK). I’ll make the lid at the weekend and it will be finished.

    I’m enjoying not using power tools, and cannot promise that I never will again. I do much prefer the tactile nature and relative quiet of making with hand tools. And then – when I do get back to the office and my colleagues – the garden office will be re-purposed again, to my workshop, from where I will make and hopefully, eventually sell furniture…

    Thank you Paul.

  100. Make and grow and bake. That is me. When I was 15 I made a tiny bookshelf in a summer class. I am 48 now and I still remember the joy of making it. I am always on that search. What to make, what to grow, what to bake, what to learn. During this covid times I finally got a space where I can do more stuff; I planned many things, wrote lists of things to do and figured out that the first thing I needed is a workbench. So I am building it now and it is all twisted and chipped off. I figure out I need to learn how to cut, drill, plane, sand, etc. The last month I spent sharpening and setting my hand plane. Last weekend I spent planning some wood. It is still twisted and curved despite I removed more than 15mm of stock. I got heavy sunburn in the back of my neck and yet the joy of spending the whole sunday doing this is something I had been missing for a while. I found Paul Sellers on Youtube and now my to-do list has so many more projects I am looking forward to start. Somebody told me woodworking was an expensive hobby. It is if you try to get all the fancy tools, but working by hand, with a few chisels, planes and saws is not that much. So many people have told me I could have bought a workbench and move on. They don’t understand. I am glad I found you. You are a great inspiration.

  101. And painters should give up painting for Photoshop, sculptors sculpting for 3D printing, and virtuoso performers their instruments for digitized imitations. Funny how sophisticated technology manages to inspire crude stupidity in particular individuals of a species so famous for its high self-regard. No embarassment here!

  102. Some years ago, I was about to buy an electric router to add to my meagre collection of power tools – a cheap circular saw and a cordless drill.
    During my research into which one to buy, the algorithms brought me to your ‘making the poor man’s router’ on You Tube. The change in mindset was instantaneous! With your help I know which hand tools to buy at car boot sales and which to avoid and can sharpen chisels and plane blades so that working with wood is no longer a frustration.
    Next step is to tackle saw sharpening and drilling perpendicular holes with a hand cranked drill!
    Thank you Paul, for opening my eyes to an older and much more satisfying way of ‘making things’.

  103. I’m a power tool person! And I can turn out functional projects by that means.
    I learned basic (very basic) woodworking skills at school nearly 50 years ago. This blog has given me the inspiration to make at least on item soon, using only hand tools. Who knows how it will turn out. But try, I will. Thanks, Paul.

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