Defending your space

A man baited me with a question and I didn’t resist. I’d just done a remarkable demonstration of cutting a twin-tailed, two-minute dovetail to a perfect fit for an audience of 200 who cheered and clapped when I’d done. what made it the more remarkable was that the huge show was 98% machine manufacturers and distributors selling their wares and not a hand toolist in sight. From the back of the audience, the man shouted, “WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN USING A POWER TOOL AND A HANDSAW?”

I answered, “In my experience, Sir, the key difference is simple. If you slip with a handsaw you always stop before you hit the bone!” It was unrehearsed but fast. Not cruel but real and true. He waved and left, offended. So it is with those who take offense at my advocacy for hand tool woodworking. Why do they take offense? Mostly they miss the whole point. Mostly it’s because they’re so-called professionals, but don’t and can’t use hand tools because their way disallows learning to master hand tools as a way forward. They were influenced to use only machines and power equipment; deep inside they might just be unfulfilled but don’t want to admit it. In many cases, they are just plain envious and dare I say even jealous of someone who made it using hand tools as the mainstay of their working. These are the ones most hard to reach, are never impressed by the efficient effectiveness of using hand tools even when they see a man cut a dovetail in two minutes, surface plane an oak board to perfection in the same time, or take a thou’ off a tenon for a perfect fit with just a one-inch chisel and a single stroke. Of course, it is not always like that.

Here is a poem with the picture above that caused offense on my FaceBook page this week:

It’s just pine

Zero machine work

but teaching work.

How to make a violin, a guitar, a cello.

How I taught my sons at three and four years old

To use a spokeshave, a coping saw, a rasp, a chisel,

a chisel hammer and a brace and bit.

Think about it, use your imagination!

Twelve years later they used the same tools

No machines to make fine things, furniture, violins, guitars, cellos.

Hmm!

Wouldn’t change a single thing!

The poem prompted one man’s adverse response. This usually happens about once a week and from a single entity but I don’t mind at all because I understand. Supporters liked his comment, 25 of them, that is. They came from the same school of negativity, but just what is it that prompts such a response. What is surprising to me though is that the man has two small children. My very fondest memories of my young family years is working with my boys in the workshop in the evenings and seeing them make everything from walking staffs to birdhouses, spoons and spatulas, coracles, violins and guitars. His response below carries an accusation intended to dissuade me from the truths I bring about hand tools to a couple of million others every month. So why do they really do it? I have never once said don’t use a machine as far as I can ever recall, but I do encourage and say do it by hand and experience skilled work, develop it and enjoy the difference and the experience to a level that you master skills. I might occasionally have said it is very slow to set up a machine for one operation or another, but only because it is true. Most machine operations take ten times longer to complete a simple task like cutting a dovetail or planing out machine marks that didn’t actually need to be there in the first place. But much more than that, there’s a dads and lads and dads and daughters deficit where the pair get together much less doing practical things like woodworking and such. My working with my own sons over a period of two decades taught me many things and not the least of which is everything I have written from my experience raising boys as a father and lifetime woodworker.

Here is the response the man made to my simple poem on Facebook:

The romanticising of handtool only woodworking is getting a bit much. You’ve built a following out of advances in technology – digital video, YouTube, social media so why romanticise hand tool only woodworking when technology in woodworking has given us so much as well.

Do you also trace your timber back to the source to check it wasn’t felled and milled by machine?

I do love your teaching and projects but please, stop elevating handtool only woodworking as somehow carrying more virtue.

But at the end of the day, all I advocated was that you can start teaching your sons and daughters methods and techniques with hand tools that start with a simple project or two and that employ the tools and techniques used for making musical instruments and fine furniture. What I was saying was that hand tool woodworking can start as early as 3- and 4-years old but machining wood cannot start until two decades later and that such skills as handwork will be more than likely untaught and more likely never learned. I base this on my experience teaching and training adults who seem always to be exposed to machining wood as a first introduction to woodworking. Also worth noting is the last sentence where he demands that I, “stop elevating handtool only woodworking as somehow carrying more virtue.” Does he not notice that in the last three decades I have only ever taught hand tool woodworking and never machining wood for which I have zero interest or need to? Anyway, skilled handwork does carry much more virtue.

Do you see that because he was offended by a simple presentation advocating starting to teach and train small children at an early age he was completely blinded to what was actually being said all the way through, and made an accusation of my “romanticising” hand tool woodworking? I think that it is also very telling about the level of control the man tries to exert over me in his closing sentence but tries to disguise it by his opening words, “I do love your teaching and projects

Some might ask why I am being so defensive. Well, in my experience, people usually say that to try to make you feel bad rather than listen to your point of view. I also feel that some things are well worth defending. Enabling children, people with disabilities of all kinds, and then too those excluded from handwork for a dozen other reasons is all the more worth whatever effort I can give to it to empower them. Had I not stood my ground through the last three decades I would have been swallowed up into so-called power woodworking and feel we might have only a small fraction of the hand tool woodworking we have today. More than that though, we now have enough woodworkers doing real woodworking worldwide to both preserve and conserve the true power of woodworking and that is in the hands of multiple thousands. I hate the thought that it would have been just entertainment rather than a way of life as it has been and still is for me. For those who say you can’t make it with hand tools, that’s just rubbish. In carpentry, on a building site, that’s true, but most of that carpentry is about the most basic woodworking you can get. Mostly, these days it’s men called carpenters who don’t do too much more than cut and nail, drill and screw. Woodworking in amateur realms is far, far more than that. Carpentry may be a general woodworking term but it no longer includes furniture making and design, musical instrument making, boat building, joinery and bench work. All of the carpenters I have known over the past three decades have air-nailed stick frames together and hoisted roof trusses up to nail down OSB. Doors come prehung and window frames slide in with sashes already in place and double glazed. Not too much woodworking in carpentry.

If you have a young child or children, the best time to get them interested in woodworking is around the age of five or six. That was what the poem was saying. Shaping a spoon with a gouge, the handle of a spatula with a spokeshave, the cutting board roundovers with a rasp and so on, uses the same techniques used for the neck of a guitar, a cello or a violin. Of course, there is nothing wrong with simply making the spatula and the cutting board alone. This takes skill. Contrast this with leaving your kids squarely outside the workshop door until they are sixteen or older. I’ll guarantee the window of opportunity will be long gone by that time.

Let’s not get offended by my corner encouraging real woodworking with hand tools that enable the young and old alike. No one will stop me in my remaining years. The conservation of craft is not the responsibility of museums and living history exponents but in the lived lives of people, and woodworkers worldwide doing it in their garages and sheds. It certainly is not romanticising, for it is very much reality itself.

75 thoughts on “Defending your space”

  1. Greetings Paul, I have been following your teachings for quite sometime now and have always felt inspired. I learned a long time ago you cannot satisfy everyone all the time, so I could care less about what others thought. In this day of social media and digital platforms where people believe they can say what ever they want about anything reminds me what my grandfather taught me when I was a boy – “opinions are like your rear end – everybody has one”
    The message I get from all your teaching is pretty straightforward – “Turn your life into a work of art”
    Many thanks for your teachings.
    Dan

    1. Dear Paul,
      Your blog is spot on and say all that there is on the subject—we’ll put. Thank you for opening the minds and hearts for hand tool woodworking. Where others lament, you create a huge following and actually do something about perpetuating the craft.

      Thank you, for all of it.
      Best regards,
      Hans

  2. When I used power tools exclusively, I made jigs. Everything I did had to have a jig! Since I switched to hand tools, I made one jig to hold the blade of a spokeshave. Seriously, only one jig in ten years! Using hand tools seems to take longer to some people but in reality, most operations are completed before the jigs are made and the machine adjustments are done. Add to that the satisfaction and the closeness to the wood that you feel. When I was machining, the wood was just a piece of stock that I fed or maneuvered into a cutter. Now I look at the grain, the knots, and the overall character of the wood before and during each operation. Also, I don’t need dust masks, dust recovery systems, or earplugs. I can listen to the radio, talk with someone or just be quiet while I work.
    Yes, yes, eye protection is still a must!

    1. I agree. When I started woodworking I amassed all the power tools, only to find I’m required to spend most of my time making jobs rather than actually making things. It does not satisfy me.

      The more I’ve watched Paul’s videos and the more I understand hand tool methods, the more I see the redundancy of those machines.

      One of the best times I had in the shed was making a paddle for my son. Rough shaped on the bandsaw, which will always have a role for me, but then refined with nothing but a plane and a spokeshave over several glorious hours without dust vacs or machines whirring, just some music and some peace. No eye/ear protection or masks necessary, no dust, just shavings. I’ll make another one soon and perhaps do the rough shaping with saw and chisel to go the whole hog. It’s far more enjoyable.

      My 4 year old loves to come up to the shed but literally runs away when I use the chop saw, and I push him out of the shed whenever I’ve used the table saw (I’m terrified of it myself). I’m learning that there’s no need for any of this, and he can be up there to savour every moment alongside me.

    2. Andy Hastings

      Mario: your story is also my story. When younger and more impatient, wanting to quickly finish my projects I felt that power tool’s were the answer.
      Now that I’ve reached this stage of my life on Earth, I have found that the journey to finish a project is at least equal or more enjoyable to be able to say to myself “I built that, not a machine”. I must admit that ailments brought on by age and genomic reasons I do not have the abilities to use only hand tools, I still strive to use them as much as possible. I may use my table saw more than before, but I still cut all of my joints with a hand saw. I may well use my jointer planner to surface stock that is simply to large for me to safely use my planes. I undoubtedly use one of my hand planes to make the final finish cuts. I may use my drill press to drill repetitive holes or those to large large for me to use my Brace and Bits. However the old hand drills come to the fore when a hole must be drilled with no room for error or is in an awkward place.
      In essence, I love to feel the wood beneath me as I work it.
      PS: Also gives me the time to actually smell the wood, physically and metaphorically.

  3. I think it’s part of the human condition to reject things that aren’t understood.
    If you can’t find pleasure working wood by hand then perhaps it’s not for you.
    His criticism exposes his lack of comprehension.

  4. Jean Claude Peeters

    25 years ago I studied at a renowned lutherie school in Belgium.
    Almost every guitar maker I know has a book that is considered to be the bible of the trade. And it probably is. But what always struck me is, that when it came to make the groove for the truss rod, the author warns: DO NOT ATTEMPT to excavate the slot by handtools. (p59, first line)
    Why discourage a student to make a simple groove in a rectangular piece of wood? Instead the author spends several pages explaining the procedure using a router. Honestly: this made me think that doing such a task by hand was nearly impossible and only real craftsmen could pull it of to make that groove by hand. Would they chisel it? Saw it? Then you need a table saw the make the tenon…
    Until a gentleman, who seemed to know a thing or two about woodworking, introduced me to the plough plane.
    SHOCK! You can do it in under five minutes! Even in the middle of the night if you’d like to…
    They never showed us a plough plane at lutherie school. Since then I started to question every single task in guitar making, only to discover that adapting the techniques I learned here made the process faster, quieter, cleaner, and much more enjoyable.
    There is nothing romantic about working by hand. It is hard work.
    It engages ALL your senses. It’s great for your body and it’s great for your brain.
    Those who think we feel superior because we work by hand don’t get the point.

    It’s not about what you make, it’s how you make it. (by the gentleman with the plough plane)

    1. Lovely story. I’d love to make a guitar one day. By hand of course! I might try an electric guitar one time, as I think it’d be more forgiving, with the slightly easier to shape body. I’ll add it to my list!

  5. Mortise & Tenon magazine had a recent article about how safe use of machines requires more distance from the work, while safe use of hand tools requires greater engagement. So true! I’m glad I sold my table saw, and find that even when doing rough carpentry, I prefer my self-sharpened handsaw to my cordless circular saw. As for virtue, I feel more peaceful and content working with hand tools. There IS a spiritual dimension to it that feeds my soul. Thanks for being true to that, Paul.

  6. Patrick O'Sullivan

    Hi Paul,
    I completely understand your point of view, I was taught hand tool woodworking when I was about 13-16 and I loved it but I was not able to take the skills forward with me as I was only taught how to make the joints and weave a twine seat on a stool; mainly the ‘Cool’ stuff in hand tools woodworking but not how to source or prepare stock.
    For a long time I have yearned for making things with my own hands, It’s part of my nature and my profession although as a software engineer my tools are my computers but woodworking has always been a very close second love and your videos, website and blog have allowed me to pick up the skills to dimension and prepare my stock so that I can start using my other beloved skills again.
    Recently I had to take 3 weeks off work due to acute mental health issues from my Bi-polar syndrome and I spent the vast majority of my time in my new garage setting it up for woodworking and then making a couple of mobile cabinets, customising our old kitchen cupboards to store my tools and introducing my 4 year old to doing things yourself.

    I have never recovered so quickly from an acute episode as I just did and it is both my opinion and the opinion of the professionals that are treating me that bringing purpose, skill and self care into my life through my woodworking is, in at least my case, a very direct and major source of my speedy recovery. My son is now constantly pestering me to go to the garage and we are both having such quality time together that I know from my own time with my dad and his gardening and nature walks will be precious to both him and myself in the years to come when we can’t be together as much as we can now while he is young and I get to work from home.

    1. Jimmy McAleavey

      Brilliant, Patrick. I know just what you mean. That quiet, concentrated work heals us and makes us feel at home in the world. I’ll bet what you make is beautiful, even if it has beautiful imperfections.

  7. Mike Bullock

    We are living in an age of rudeness. Social media makes it easy to comment without thought. The anonymity of our online personas leads to a sort of brazen disregard to being offensive. At the same time technology has connected us in ways that make it possible to connect and learn with like minded others. One can find information, conversations and community for every niche. In the end one must take the good along with the bad. As for myself. I love machines. I find them fascinating. I find industrial automation fascinating. I also enjoy making things using my hands. It’s fine to only like and appreciate one or the other. There is really no reason to get rude about things like this.

    1. Allan Davidson

      Could not agree more with this comment. I have my machines (table saw, band saw, mig welder, concrete mixer, drills, router, angle grinder, bench grinder, skill saw, drill press…), but spend most of my time on the Paul Sellers ply workbench with my well used hand tools accumulated over the years. I am in the process of building a teak house, and most will be done by hand as it is my form of therapy at 67 in the next stage of life.
      Everybody to their own, but pressuring others with your views is poor form.
      PS – recently invested in the concrete mixer. Hand mixing concrete and mortar was wearing this young bloke out before the day was done 😂

  8. I sadly only found your lessons a couple of years ago. I have been doing woodworking as a hobby for about 60 of the 65 years that I’ve been on this beautiful planet. My father always had a hobby shop, where he did woodworking as well as mechanic projects, you have to learn to do much of your own work when you are a farmer. He taught me a true love for wooden products at a very early age, and I still love to see well made wooden items still. While I do use some machines in my shop, as my dad did as well, I still feel the most peace and accomplishment from the tasks that I still do with hand tools. My table saw rips large boards down to close-to-finished size, but had tools are then utilized to do the fine work – and that is when it turns from “doing work” to “having fun” for me.

    Keep up the great work on showing all of us how to master a skill that produces such great products as well as such strong feelings of accomplishment.

  9. Michael J. Perini

    What is interesting to me is that the internet has relatively few Hand Tool Woodworking sites and blogs, with yours at the top, and literally thousands of ‘woodworking with machines’ sites. Why do people search out the few, just to complain ?
    There is nothing wrong with machines, as you always say, but you put your effort into teaching the Joy of Hand Tool Woodworking and keeping the craft alive.
    That is a great thing, many are grateful a few are not.

    Your point about children is spot on, I have a 5 year old Grandson and he is like a sponge in the workshop. Hand tools are by definition and extension of the hand. The Child does the work and develops not only dexterity and hand eye coordination and measuring / layout skills but the satisfaction of having done it themselves.
    What better way to teach children that we can make rather than buy, repair rather than throw out, and design what we need rather than settle for what is offered.

    When someone takes the time to complain about something like that (rather than just go visit a power tool site) I think it is fair to question their motives. The internet is a big place with room for all.
    Thanks

  10. Frank Stalteri

    Wood working is a hobby of mine. It started back in my high school years in shop class. That’s where I was introduced to the table saw and router and all the other power tools . When I purchased my house, buying a table saw was like you have to have it. Bought the routers and other power tools as well. Then I picked up a hand plane book, saw Tom Figeon on you tube as well as you Paul. I recently became hooked. To me it’s actually stress relief and I am currently trying to cut all the joints by hand. I am though struggling to cut straight and square which really needs to mastered in order to excel in hand tool work. Honestly though, I enjoy using hand tools including sharpening so much that if I never build furniture, my kids are going to have to get rid of a lot of boxes and joints.

  11. There are none so deaf as those who will not hear. If we chose to do so, we can romanticize whatever we wish, for public consumption or not. The offended party is free to do the same, or not, and can spend their time elsewhere if someone’s content is offensive to him. He must have needed a virtual punching bag that day. Sad.

  12. Yes, I work wood with hand tools but it still doesn’t stop me from using my table saw and bandsaw when needed

      1. Hi Paul,
        Just saying that those of us that have converted to hand tools (by choice) doesn’t mean we criticise those who haven’t. The chap that you speak of in your blog sounded to me that he probably does what I do if and when he feels like it, using machines.
        My interpretation of your blog.
        Love your site, been on it for a few years and learned heaps about satisfaction from what you make by hand.
        cheers
        Dave Wood

  13. Thanks Paul. Well said. I think the potential danger in machine tools is understated to consumers. Yes, you can still hurt yourself but your witty response and the trade show is spot on.

    My daughter is now 10, she started woodworking 6 years ago at the same time I started following along with how you outlined teaching your children and others. Now at 10, she has a better grasp of the sharp danger. At times, she wants to work alone so I let her and just check in from time to time. In my blog (Joe’s Woodworking Journey), this pas week, I posted a proud photo of a motise and tennon she did to make something that looked like a garden hoe. She did it all on her own. I was quite pleased. Literally last night, we took and old 2×4 and hand planed the edge so we could glue up two pieces. She wanted to make a skate board (she’s calling in a banana board). Why the 2×4? I wanted to teach her the value of making a prototype first before we get “nice” wood of her choosing for the final version. She was totally on board with this and spent an hour plus hand planing the two sides of the wood (she learned about book matching handplaning). I had to help her finish it but still it was a very fun evening had by both of us that I know we will both cherish. While we were doing this, she had the smart speaker playing her audible dragon book. Not only did I get her away from the tv and woodworking, but she was listening to a book. Felt really good last night. Tonight, if she’s still interested will be coping saw and rasp work to get some shape to it so it doesn’t look like 2x4s.

  14. I’ve posted here recently and maybe ruffled some feathers, unintentionally. I can’t imagine working on a project without the application of hand tools skills and tools. I consider myself a “hybrid woodworker.” I use machines. But I also find that in many processes and parts of processes, a sharp hand tool is far superior. I subscribe to the school of thought that says you don’t need sandpaper and a random orbital sander if you know how to handle a No.4 smooth plane. I like the surface it leaves. I believe-and this is maybe just me-that the gravitation toward a shop full of machines is driven by the idea that speed is an end, in and of itself. The PROCESS of making isn’t as important. And that’s sad. Sure, if you earn your living making bunches of this or that, you need to recognize the efficiency of machines. I know Paul that you yourself acknowledge this for work you were doing years ago. Machines were a necessity for a good reason. A recent post of yours tells us you have a few power tools and that was a fascinating blog entry. But I wholeheartedly agree with you on the idea that it is not a waste of time to educate early on the value and skill of using hand tools. I wish I can hand cut a dovetail in two minutes. You and Frank Klaus can do it, almost with your eyes closed and that is a result of YEARS of honing the skill. But even without this level of skill, I’m amazed in my own shop at how much faster it is compared to going through the setup process of a router jig or the tablesaw or the bandsaw. Mark out the dovetail. Grab the saw. Cut to the line. Fret saw some of the waste, then chisel out the rest. I like hand tools because quite frankly, I like how using them brings me all the way back to how things used to be done, when machines didnt exist in this craft. I make a lot of reproduction pieces. I won’t do it unless I can create the same look and feel that original makers created. I want people to brush a hand under the table top on a Porringer table and FEEL the undulation the plane made when working the underside of that top. I don’t begrudge those craftsmen and women out there who choose to power up every day. To each his own. But for me, there is something therapeutic, calming, connected, when I use hand tools. Many people don’t share our appreciation for and nod toward old school in this craft and that’s fine. I take issue with people who say we can’t work as fast or efficiently with hand tools. In skilled hands, its marvelous to watch. I would direct those people to watch a Japanese Shokunin work. Art in motion.

  15. I have searched with Google and can’t get an answer as to how a twin-tailed dovetail is cut. I had never heard of it before. I can cut dovetails by hand. I would love to see your demonstration.

  16. Paul, I have an aside, if you will permit me. These days there are a number of tool makers who market stuff that cost just a tad below the market value of a nicely maintained Mercedes. Sliding bevels. Marking gauges. Dovetail markers. steel rules Etc, etc. I watch you work on your website. You use a bench top of pencils, all sharpened. An old Stanley marking gauge which is impossible to find any more. German made chisels when you aren’t using the Aldi chisels you make sing. Have you ever determined that any (some?) of these engineered state of the art woodworking tools were (are) actually worth it? I own and use chisels hand made by Ashley Iles. I own and use the mortise chisels made by Ray Iles. I don’t consider this admission as hypocritical because the Iles family has been making tremendous tools for years and years. But you don’t incorporate the use of these top shelf items in your teaching and i’m curious as to why not, leaving out the issue of lack of funds for such things for most beginners if you can. I’m curious regarding whether feature set vs feature set, old vs new, these shiny baubles make any difference at all. Thank you in advance. : )

    1. From what I have seen through the years, it seems that in the mid 1980s, engineers looked at the tools being imported to replace domestic products and said to themselves, I can improve on this or that product. It wasn’t such a big thing to replace the demise in quality of say a Stanley or Record bench plane with the same product but better engineering and then charge ten, twenty and even thirty times the price of a secondhand one for a newer better made version. You could also dis the old ones as having too thin an iron or too light a weight if you had no moral ethic. But still, the truth is that I have yet to pick up a so-called premium plane that could indeed match the vintage models that cost me peanuts on eBay. Even as little as 99 pence one time. Every premium plane I have picked up has been far too heavy, overly clunky and with too thick an iron. Thick irons do not eliminate chatter if the plane irons never chattered in the first place. So, which planes do I own or have used. I think every one you care to name. I put them down quickly and pack them off to my research and development shelves in case I need a photograph or to check a weight or a measurement. The makers of so-called premium bench planes, American, Asian, wherever, haven’t invented anything much at all beyond what Leonard Bailey and Stanley gave us a century and a half ago. They copied every detail and nothing more. As to the chisels: You mention a couple of UK premium makers. Of the many many dozens of Aldi chisels I bought in 2010 for classes, friends, apprentices and such I never found one of them that snapped. That is not the case with the UK maker. Now that could be that I had picked a flawed version. I barely struck it with the lightest tap when it broke in two. But it wasn’t even that. I felt that the grind marks to the bevels and back on some premium chisels was unacceptable so I never use them. With regards to mortise chisels. Again, I own every kind both old and new. The heavy mortise chisels you mention are from past ages when big and deep mortises required strong leverage hour on hour day on day week on week and year on year. We are talking bank and shop doors made of wood with massive bottom rails 20 wide and mortises 4 and five inches deep. We just don’t do that kind of work any more. Metals and plastics now make shop fronts and doors. We also have mortise machines for shopfitting specialty work. Now here is the reality. I own vintage chisels by the best from the very best eras of tool making. When I retire from public life, do you know what I will use? I will use only the tools you and thousands of others see me using in my videos. I used to use a three-foot Rabone Chesterman four-fold rule as an apprentice and on into the 2000s. I now use a £4 ten-foot plastic retracting tape for very practical reasons.

      1. Thank you for your detailed response. I use a Rabone Chesterman marking gauge. Every time I pick it up I half expect I will be instantly transported back in time 75 years. Hahaha. It is a tool that simply works. I have been fortunate I guess to not have snapped an Ashley Iles chisel. I took a suggestion you made a while back to heart and began looking on eBay for vintage hand planes. ALL of my bench planes are made well before WWII. I have replaced NONE of the original irons. I use a wooden bodiedjointer plane from circa late 1800’s. It is a joy to use. Finicky to set but still fun to use. Maybe that’s a bit extreme but I just like the feel of these tools and what they do to wood when sharpened properly. I like sharpening. I find it relaxing. I don’t use diamond plate though as you do. I use various Japanese waterstones. But to me the most important step is when I stop those irons on

      2. Clive Buckingham

        It may well be that today’s premium tools cannot match vintage tools. However, here in Australia vintage tools are difficult to find and usually cost as much if not more than premium tools. It seems that many of these gems from the past are eagerly sought after by collectors destined to spend the rest of their lives sitting on display in a pristine workshop. I have seen posts on some woodworking forums boasting of a collection of 30 or more Stanley planes. I don’t know about old tools but this old fool needs to feel useful, I don’t want to sit on the shelf.

        1. Kia ora Clive,
          Now that our borders are permeable, hop over across the pond if you need (a) new tool, I’d say it takes some looking for, but you can find a #4 or #4 1/2 Stanley Bailey for about NZ$ 50, and… a #71 router for NZ$150 upwards (that’s “post Sellers’ effect” price).

          I only say it now because a) I’m not an influencer to global price of tools like master Paul 😉, and b) I 100% agree with your view on USING, rather than HOARDING. So now that I’ve bought what I need …okay, plus a couple of ‘restoration challenges’ I’ll restore and on sell …you’re welcome to our NZ market (TradeMe). Nau mai, haere mai

          Regards,
          Paulo

  17. John Stephenson

    Regarding why some power tool woodworkers cannot accept hand tool working I believe it might be a case of: “I have spent a large sum of money to equip my workshop so I have to justify it”.

    I was extremely lucky, because when I retired after 50 years as a chef , and decided to work with wood as a hobby I came across Paul’s you-tube clip on making a workbench. By this time I had already purchased a sliding compound mitre saw and was looking for a table saw and a planer/thicknesser. Watching Paul make a bench to such a high standard using simple tools blew my mind and took me back to my school days where we were taught hand tool work.

    Needless to say I scanned e-bay for used tools, I sold the mitre saw and binned the idea of planers and table saws.

    I have never been happier than I am now making small items of furniture for family and friends following the tutorials from Paul.

    Reading of Paul’s experience I do wonder how defensive I would have been of power tools had I gone down that route. I am eternally grateful that I didn’t. I am now developing new skills and loving every moment of it.

    Thanks Paul.

    1. David Hutchins

      I don’t know if that’s it entirely but obviously could be part of the reason. I personally think that a lot of the offense people take is to the comments that machine work is not real wood working. I understand what Paul is saying when he says it but to someone who works solely with machines, I can also see why they’d be offended by the statement without knowing the explanation.

      1. “I personally think that a lot of the offense people take is to the comments that machine work is not real wood working.”

        Exactly!

      2. I have also read Paul’s comments about ‘real woodworking’ and winced a little when they come up (not often, it must be said).

        One of the filters I use when I think of criticizing anything is, “What’s the best outcome I can hope for if I say this?”. The answer is almost always negative, so I don’t say it. 🙂

        I love my hand tools, but I don’t see the point in even mildly denigrating someone else’s approach to woodworking.

        1. Obviously, you have not fought the same battles to gain the same ground and the culture we are and will ultimately lose so it won’t perhaps really matter as much to you as it has me, hence the title, “defending your space,” a battle I have fought for through the decades. You might not have seen the demise of hand tool woodworking and the incredible reduction machine woodworking has played in distancing children who are no longer able to learn, dare I say it, real woodworking, which is really what my article was all about. Most men and women woodworkers rely solely on machines. This is the real power working with power machines has had on blinding people to what’s really happening. Children working wood is an absolutely rare thing. RARE!
          So yet here we face another rabbit trail. Telling the truth is not denigrating which literally means to criticize unfairly. Telling the truth is not actually criticizing at all. It takes only a fraction of the skill to be a machine operative programming and setting the machine to take care of the actual work. That is the reality I speak of. It’s this reality that precludes young people from learning and mastering hand tool woodworking and becoming skilled. This is no small thing when you think that 70 years ago every boy I ever heard of learned hand tool woodworking. I doubt that you or anyone has actually seen me actually denigrate a living being by saying machining wood is not real woodworking. It is real machining wood. I will concede to that, but whether that is skillful is highly debatable.

          1. Paul –

            You’re right – I don’t have the same investment in woodworking that you have. There’s a story about why I am interested in the skills involved in hand-tool woodworking, but my career path took me in another direction.

            My point above was not made to criticize you and your approach to talking about hand-tool woodworking. Still, if you read through some of your recent blog posts and put yourself in the shoes of someone who has maybe grown up using power tools, you may find that what may have been a simple statement of fact on your part could also be taken as putting down or ‘denigrating’ someone else’s chosen approach.

            As you well know, if something you say makes someone defensive, you may have lost the chance to connect with them. My approach is to show them what can be done, and leave it to them to accept that or to close themselves to it because of where their loyalties are. I do not want to make them even less receptive because I put down their chosen path.

            Finally, the skills in using power tools may lie less in the hands and muscle skills, and more elsewhere. For example, there’s a youtuber with a channel called ‘Pask Makes’ – he is an all-round maker – welding, fabrication, machining, woodworking, etc. He may have a shop full of power tools, but I’d never say he’s not skillful at design, building, woodworking and even video presentation. He does use hand tools for some projects, and while his skills in that area don’t match yours, I’d never say he wasn’t skillful. It’s just a different skill-set.

            Finally, because of your videos, I learned enough to have my daughter in the shop with me. I handed her a spokeshave as her first tool and she was happy making curls. She has made a few projects since and seems to like being in the shop with me. I know this would not be possible with power tools, so I thank you for pointing me in this direction.

          2. It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

  18. I have been reading Paul’s blogs for a number of years and nowhere have I seen him make a value judgment about the merit of hand tools vs power tools. He uses power tools when it is necessary… I personally think that working with hand tools allows the craftsman a closer bond with the work… makes it more personal, and in some ways a more fulfilling experience. This is a personal choice… a philosophical one… driven by aesthetic values… I don’t need the finished piece to conform to micrometer tolerances… I need it to “feel right.”

    The person who walked out of Paul’s workshop in a huff was guilty of making a value judgment, and of creating a false equivalence between the technology behind social media and the technology behind machine tools in the shop. The former is necessary if you want to reach a lot of people with your message. The latter is (arguably) necessary if you want to mass produce furniture without having to pay for skilled labor (see how easy it is to become judgmental?)…

    I think the guy was just feeling defensive… That kind of setup usually causes the mind to close…. Sadly.

    I hope Paul continues to transmit his message! It really makes me think more deeply about the craft… and about other areas of life too…. Thanks Paul!!!

  19. It is the same with much hand tool use, I think. I like using hand shears to cut my grass edges and the 130 feet of edge on the public footpath side of my fence. I’m often offered the use of a strimmer – I have one in the shed but don’t use it. as I don’t like it. Anyway, a good number of frogs and newts have been saved as I can see them before I cut and can allow them to move on. A robin usually keeps me company, I can chat to the local dog walkers so it’s win, win for everyone. Maybe the dog walkers don’t always think so though!! Off to Weird and Wonderful Wood at Haughley Park this weekend. Great post Paul.

  20. Hi, Paul. I unfortunately had nobody to teach me about hand tool woodworking, so when I started out ( which was before the internet and YouTube ) my only introduction was shows like the New Yankee Workshop. Don’t get me wrong, I respect Norm and what he does, but the idea I was impressed with was that I needed a shop full of loud and expensive power tools. Now at age 59, my power tools sit mostly packed away as I now use my grandpa’s old tools along with many planes and such I bought and restored for very little money on ebay or at used sales. Most of my skills now I owe to your teeachings. I’m grateful for your passion to share your knowledge. People who critisize have never experienced the joy and satisfaction of hand tool woodworking. I don’t miss the noise, mess, and danger of power tools. God bless you and all you give to we older folks just learning, and to the next generation starting out on your path.

  21. I didn’t really get truly into had tool wood working until watching Paul build his bench on You tube, already had a 5 and block plane, chisels and hand saws, stuff you get over the years. My sons mostly ever witnessed me using power tools. They did learn to work never the less, by the time they were 13 and 12 respectively they where helping by troweling mud off a hock to texture walls or in the oldest case cutting tile on a wet saw. The youngest came to visit last Mothers day and I wanted to show of some auger bits that I recently acquired, and had him drill a hole in a board from both sides. He was so proud of it that he took it in to show off to his wife. Too bad I didn’t ever have the opportunity to teach them the pleasure of hand tool woodworking when they where young….But maybe it is not too late.

  22. I’ve done both. My grandpa was an avid woodworker and my dad always did some. Some of my greatest memories are working in the shop with them in my teen years, even if it was on machines. Now as a father of two young boys, I love hand tools. The boys can hang out, help me, or just run around and play and I don’t have to worry about anything. I’ve made some small projects with my boys including a spatula, and they absolutely loved it. I don’t have much use for my tablesaw anymore but I’ll never get rid of it because it was my grandpa’s. Thank you Paul for the teachings that you do.

  23. I can’t see the man’s issue. I have machine tools, but I don’t even let adult neighbors use them. In my professional field, archaeology (I’ve built screens [sieves to UK folks], I am continuously confronted with people who somehow acquired an education, but lost the imagination necessary to apply their education. They seem shocked when I point out that machine tools were developed to speed up tasks and to reduce the number of people needed to do them. Teaching children about hand tools can be a very enlightening way to “connect” them to the skills they are learning in class. I have had a parent walk up and tell me that I was the first person that had ever made physics (just simple mechanics) relevant to her, not merely her son. I think far too many of us on the internet are liable to comment before thinking.

  24. If you cannot use hand-tools, even on a basic level, you won’t, of course, be able to work outside the workshop.
    From a purely practical point of view, this is a crippling disadvantage for some trades. As an organ-builder, it is surprising how often the saw, the plane and the chisel come out in the church!
    Machine-working has its place, of course, but without the ability to use of hand-tools, confidently, you are only 50% (or less) of a competent craftsman.

  25. I have worked almost entirely unplugged for more than 10 years and I thank you for inspiring and teaching me via YouTube and Masterclasses. I have recently begun teaching my grandchildren how to use hand tools and am using what you have taught me as well as what I have gathered from my own mistakes and experience to pass on to them what it means to use your hands to make beautiful pieces.

  26. I have taught woodworking to members of our woodworking association over the years. Always teach manual skills with handtools first as I have found that good hand tool skills lead to better and safer power tool skills and visualization of the ultimate product.

  27. Jerry Porter

    I am 75 and as a child my father was never comfortable with a Skil saw and used a handsaw for his carpentry . I learned at an early age how to hold a panel saw and not to force it. He did use a table saw extensively although I was a late teen before I was allowed to use it as it was and is dangerous. I was also at an early age given a 12 oz hammer and have it yet. I remember having a short bench in a corner of his shop with these tools and learned to use his chisels and other hand tools with care and to always put them back where they belonged. I have followed this with my children to the extent they were interested and quite often with my grandson. I am looking foreward to my youngest grandaughter being in the shop when she ages a couple of years. I agree that for me hand tools rather than power are my first choice for most projects and best for childten to learn with.

  28. Hi Paul, I don’t know how you get the inspiration or energy to reply to small minority of people who just don’t get the concept of hand tools and woodworking. If they don’t want to come on the ride and be taught the hand made way then why do they go on your web sites and spend there time criticizing (they could be use there valuable time setting up there dovetail jig) As for buying affordable tools, I believe any tool old or new is an asset in your hand and how you take time to prepare it. I’m with you, why buy a chisel for £30 when one for £5 or less will perform just as well with care and attention. Long may you continue Paul. I’m glad the odd one dosnt put you off.

  29. I too as of late have noticed a sense of hostility from the power tool users and I rightly don’t know where it all stems from. Is it jealousy or are they on the defensive? It has become tiresome nonetheless

  30. Hi Paul just a quick note to say thanks for your work and getting the profession back to where it is, I took on hand tools as I do flyin/ flyout on projects where there is no end of scrap timber and it’s a great way to build something without having power tools upsetting the next door neighbour or the whole safety team and yes copped many comments about power tools versus handtools thanks again, Mark from a remote minesite in Australia

    1. You are very welcome, Mark. I love what I do and especially thinking someone halfway around the world is listening and watching and getting the message too! Thank you!

  31. Malcolm Smith

    tbh, I don’t really think his comment is anything to do with handtool working. The “romanticising” as he sees it is probably received as evangelism. The fact that you’ve expressed the moments of joy in making just gives him the dry boak. To some people a walk saves money, a car journey saves time, making coffee gives a hit. How dare you notice and express the taste, feeling, connections (with people and surroundings) etc with the sole purpose of making people who didn’t notice them feel they’ve missed out. Poetry is for wimps. Social connection is inefficient. Joy lacks focus.
    Shame on me for even taking the time to notice my dad run his hands over the console table as he passed for a tea. Jail me for even thinking he sweeps the shavings to be involved and close. (Phone supported, floor cleaned, job done, nothing to see here.)
    We’re bad people because expressing joy hurts others feelings. Cease and desist. 😉

  32. Hi Paul,
    I supported my family with “professional” woodworking as a trim carpenter, then in a custom furniture shop for about 25 years total. 5 h.p. double-spindle shapers, stock feeders, vacuum presses, the lot. I’m familiar with both sides of the equation. I now work wood as pleasurable past time. I’m lucky if I make a dozen pieces a year. I mostly gift them for birthdays / holidays.
    Now that I’m a duffer, I love a quiet shop, with mostly hand tools. I have a few work-horse machines i still use to prep stock and sheet goods. What i have found is using hand tools gets me into a feedback loop with the material i am using. I think you problem solve differently, too, when using hand tools as opposed to machining. Seems like the middle path is a good way to go. Nay sayers will keep on saying Nay. When folks have a strong response I feel it has more to do with whatever their hangups are.

    Cheers,

    Keep up the good work!

    Paul D.

    Cheers

  33. Bob Hutchins

    I’m of an age that I was able to watch some of the post-war building boom of the late 1940s early ’50s. I was still quite young but I was fascinated watching the building process which was done almost exclusively with hand tools and real lumber as opposed to plywood and composites. I’m not saying that plywood and composites don’t have a valid and important place in modern construction just saying that it was an era that didn’t use as much of it.

    The pace and sounds of carpentry without screeching power tools was a melodic rhythm that spoke to my child’s heart. I watched accomplished carpenters ply their trade in ways not available to them now. I watched 2 carpenters build an entire house including cabinets and interior trim, exterior siding and even the roof. Those 2 men allowed a kid under 10 to wander around their workspace, ask questions, and generally make himself a pest, I’m sure.

    An old man with a mule prepared and graded the lot and dug footers. A plumber did his work. An electrician did his work and a heating mechanic installed the furnace. Those 2 kindhearted gentlemen did all the rest of that 3 bedroom house with saw, and hammer, and nails, and muscle power and sweat.

    My lifetime love of woodworking came from those early childhood experiences. I went through a power tool acquisition phase but have returned to hand tools as I’ve learned to use them. I acquire little now but when I do it is always a hand tool that I have a newly found need for.

    Thank you, Mr. Sellers (Paul), for standing your ground and most especially for taking on the daunting task of proselytizing for the old ways with hand tools while teaching us the skills that are no longer common but remain more than useful and effective.

  34. Tom Ashworth

    Hi, Mr. Sellers:
    My shop is 6’X12′. I have two Bosch cordless drills, but I usually use the egg beater or the Brace and bit. I haven’t room, obviously, for table saw, drill press, etc. Your teaching showed me that I could do it anyway. It is great fun to buy an old tool and rehab it, make it mine. I am constantly amazed at the things I can produce using just my hands and some tools older than me. No need for defensiveness on my account! And my 41 year old surrogate daughter made me a happy Papa Tom when she asked me to teach her. We’re building a bench for her spare room now. By hand. So, thank you, thank you very much.
    eta

  35. My dad asked why don’t you take this hand tool course. I told him I don’t want to do it that way. I did well at this other class. His response was you barely can cut that with a machine. How can you do it by machine when you can’t by hand. If I wouldn’t have been so stubborn I would have taken a class from paul in tx. I eventually broke. I can cut all my joints better by hand than with a machine. Never looked back. I even built a dining table completely with handtools

  36. Dear Mr. Sellers,

    First of all let me share my gratitude and appreciation for your influence and guidance throughout my woodworking journey.

    It is with that admiration and respect in mind that I feel compelled to write to you concerning your ‘defensiveness’.

    As I have followed your work for the past several years I have observed that you often respond to those on your blog or social media that question your methods or express any form of disagreement. This seemed out of place to me until this recent post where you actively addressed that ‘some things are worth defending’

    I see now more clearly your deep passion not simply for hand tool woodworking itself, but extends much deeper to a rich lifestyle and relational connection between generations that has continually felt threatened. The ‘Sellers Home’ project is not about the furniture, as much as the legacy and connectedness that permeate it.

    Mr. Sellers, do not be afraid. Your work carries influence more than you know. Your legacy will endure and young hands will continue to experience the joy of woodworking. While there will always be naysayers, you no longer have to carry the full burden of defending this alone, and I hope that by easing this burden you experience a renewed energy to continue teaching and guiding and….woodworking.

    With deep respect,

    Woodwork Therapy

  37. @Paul, thank you for your well structured and heartfelt point, as usual.

    I paid attention when you asked the rhetorical question “so why do they (negative commenters) do it?”, and how you followed up with explaining (and rightly defending) your well intended point.

    I would like to offer a way of answer hinted here by many: modern polarisation. Unfortunately our society is, for many reasons (Tks antisocial media, mostly) comfortably indulging more and more at negative bonding (that person had 25 more reaffirmations after making that comment, than they had before hitting send)

    I do believe all points should be allowed to be raised, and debated. Inflammatory accusations such as that aren’t really designed to expect a response (much like that shout from the back of the crowd)

    I for one think none has the power to invalidate your opinions, then logically neither to validate them – though here is mine: good on you for standing your ground, and going as you put it ‘against the grain’ 😉.

    The core of ‘telling offs’ like that comment, I am certain is insecurity. It is the fear you may be right …and thus they’ve wasted millions of minutes and coins in ‘a substandard path’.
    And I’m not vilifying, nor patronising the commenter …it is just a voiced evidence that in their world, from their current perspective, it is not possible to do what you do, what you say (and show) you can do, and have the value and virtue you describe … and also accepting you do NOT vilify machines!? Honestly I don’t think you do. I’ve just read your recent post acknowledging belt/orbital sanders!

    Thing is, that is their language. There’s no(t much) tolerance or goodwill, because until they FEEL what you’re talking about …it is ‘not possible’.

    Keep on sharing what’s real for you, stand your ground – please. For there’s many of us who get it, or are on the way to.

    Hand woodworking is not a dogma, it is a personal lesson, we can all apply it the way it works best for our current capacity.

    Me te atawhai (with kindness),
    P.

  38. My two older granddaughters are both married to lovely men. But none of them, the husbands and wives have any hand skills. The boys are keen to learn DIY as they are new house owners. I am keen to teach and help. Progress is slow but sure and satisfying all round.

  39. My take on all this has been the same for my last 35 years of woodworking, with machinery things can go wrong in the flash of an eye, with hand tools things can go wrong, but ever so ever so slowly. So slowly in fact that things never go wrong!

  40. Hello Paul! Thank you for your writings which I always eagerly read when you post them. I grew up using power tools. I still have a board with my name carved in it from a router when I was in 7th grade wood shop class. I am 52 now. My first real project was a pulpit for my church’s pastor out of Douglas Fir and redwood using only power tools. My father is a house framer who still runs his business. He was born in 1945. I grew up on his job sites. He put me to work starting at the age of 9. I was paid $2.15 and hour to clean up each completed framed house of all the scrap wood and then to sweep all the sawdust out of the finished house. When I was a child his company used hammers, nails and handsaws. Later his crews changed over time to skillsaws, and nail guns with generators and air compressors. I was born in Texas then later we moved to Arizona. After the military, I worked at a very large production cabinet shop as a cutout man working 14 hour days running a Delta table saw. Fun job, really fun. In the cut out section I was the only employee who still had all my fingers. About 20 years ago I started carving wood using only hand tools and maybe six years ago I fully started woodworking using hand tools. I have a table saw and I have a really old Rockwell band saw. I love both tools but I love my hand saws, hand planes, chisels, rasps and my hand carving tools more. It might sound corny but hand tool work is almost spiritual, it’s freeing, enlightening and emotionally moving for me. My father gave me a really rusted #6 Bailey hand plane. I restored it completely. Buried under all that rust initials were inscribed on the side. I asked my father whose initials were HAB and he said that they were his grandfather’s. I didn’t replace anything on that plane. Same blade, same chipbreaker, everything was original. I honed the blade and took it to my father’s office. We went out back and put an 8 foot 2X4 on edge in a vise and I let him plane a paper thin ribbon shaving off of it with his grandfather’s hand plane! The look on his face was worth all the power tools in the world! Anyway, I thank you for your videos and writings. I thank you for your drawings too. I also draw. My last project was making a drafting, drawing table that I made from scraps from many other projects and many different types of wood. It’s functional, it’s beautiful and it is mine made entirely with hand tools.
    Cheers Paul!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your history Clay! Imagining the expression On your father’s face gave me goosebumps.
      Life just happened in a way I could never connect with my grandfather, who was a poet, painter, wood sculptor and joiner …he’s still around but his mind isn’t 😔 by the time I found my passion for working wood, all his tools and projects got taken away by family members who see them as heirlooms to be stored (not even displayed, or oiled once in a while).

      You and you dad have been blessed with such experience.

      Regards

  41. Kenneth Lerman

    I would say that using hand tools and machine tools have different virtues, not that one has more virtue than the other. Having said that, the older I get, the more I realize that some virtues are more virtuous than others.

    Making furniture with fewer person hours is a virtue. It’s probably an easier way to make a living. Bonding with your children and grandchildren is a virtue. To me, it’s a better way to live a life.

    Thank you for sharing your passion with me.

    Ken

  42. Richard Misdom

    Keep on keeping on Paul. I believe Goethe said truth will always reside with the minority. We all have choices and free will as God devised. The rest of us are quite satisfied with your selections. Thank you and Joseph.

  43. Peter Prevost

    Thank you for your article and promotion of hand tool skills. 4 years ago my shop burned up. But my collection of hand planes which I used daily survived with burned handles. Same with my Japanese chisels and sorry set from my cousin. I replaced the chisels with a great chech set. But recently I found my sharpening stones and jugs. There is a wonderful satisfaction in having a sharp plane iron or chisel. My power tools did not survive and I’ve only replaced 2. My primus long jointer burned though. I have a nice jet joiner but my old joiner was faster. As for dovetails hand cut is great. I only used my router if I had a bunch of drawers. Thanks again and I hope people listen. I just finished going through cancer and now I get to restore my planes and chisel handles. Oh by the way the chisels are still sharp.

  44. Paul,
    Thank you for your insights on both woodwork and parenting young children. Having a young son myself who loves being in the workshop ‘working’ at his own little bench is more fun and rewarding than I could ever have imagined. Seeing a child of under 3 years of age set a piece of wood in a vice, clamp it to the bench top with wooden holdfasts and attack it with his little block plane is a joy, the same joy I suspect and hope my father had when he took me to the workshop as a boy.

    To do this and carry on doing some work myself I have had to reduce the use of power tools to times he is not in the workshop. I have to admit I took the assurance that you and indeed others gave about the efficiency of hand tools with a pinch of salt, but have found them to be quite accurate for all but the most repetitive tasks. The majority of tasks are indeed quicker with handtools than setting up the router/circular saw/mortiser/ whatever + dust extraction. However the big benefit of working with hand tools is I can talk to my son, listen to music together and I get to observe his excitement as he saws another piece of balsa into very small pieces, asks for help drilling a hole or most importantly issues the 2 second warning…..daddy I need a wee wee….

    Thank you for discussing your way of life, skills and thoughts, it adds a really fresh perspective and brings escape from the grip of the tech world within our grasp.

  45. Brian Letherby

    During lockdown a company that sells tools and arranges demonstrations had a series of woodworking “Boredom Buster Projects.” The instructions for one of the first I looked at started “Using your bandsaw start by….” and carried on from there with various other pieces of machinery. The thought occurred to me that a large number of people would have been put off because they either didn’t have the equipment or couldn’t afford it. I myself would love a bandsaw, but I can’t justify the expense for the amount I’d use it and at the moment I don’t have the room anyway. I probably waste less timber as it’s easier to correct an error using a hand tool if things aren’t happening at speed. My one exception to this is using a plane. Having sharpened the iron and got it set properly, I have on more than one occasion, ended up with a piece of timber smaller than I wanted because I became fascinated with the length and curl of the shavings!

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