Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Silence

Power totally rules.

In school, I loved my history classes. Reading about the early colonists who settled very close to the site of my elementary school made me feel as if I had a direct connection with the history of America. And, learning about the hardships they had to endure made me feel pretty lucky to grow up in an age of power tools.

Washing machines to do the laundry.

Chainsaws to cut down trees, and powered log splitters to spit out cord after cord of firewood.

Table saws, sanders, routers and all of the other tools Norm Abram used to build projects on This Old House and the New Yankee Workshop. Yes, Norm and my dad are the two guys responsible for my woodworking habit. Both made – and still make – extensive use of power tools when they build their projects, although Norm a) has more of them b) has fancier ones and c) can build a freakin’ bedroom set in half an hour, while my dad can do something like that over a period of a few years.

So, it was only natural that when I started setting up my shop, I told my wife that I was going to need more power in order to build nice projects. I built pretty projects with my power tools. The louder my shop was, the nicer the projects turned out.

Then, the day happened. I was building a low credenza entertainment center – my first real paying project. The top was going to be 24 inches wide, seven feet long and made of solid red oak. The rest of the project had been a piece of cake, but the top was giving me heartburn. How was I going to make this top work without a jointer? I had neither the cash nor the space to provide for this essential piece of woodworking equipment. I thought and thought and thought some more. I even considered loading the wood back into my minivan, driving it back to the hardwood supplier and having them do the work.

As I was getting ready to cart the wood to my van, I looked at my workbench. There sat an antique No. 5 Stanley plane from about 1935. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “I wonder if that would work?” I clamped the piece to my workbench and took a swipe with the plane. It didn’t glide like I could make it now, but it sliced off a pretty decent curl of wood. Another pass – another curl. Before long, I had planed the boards nice and smooth, and they fit together tightly. And, boy, was I impressed!

Today, I couldn’t imagine working without hand tools. I have hand saws that slice through wood like a dream, planes – both ancient and brand new – that can shape wood into exactly what I want. Other tools, like spoke shaves, drawknives, bit braces and rasps will often eliminate hours of jig building required to make one cut.

Learning how to use these tools isn’t as difficult as you might think. Your library is a great resource for finding how to care for and use these tools from earlier days.

The Internet is another outstanding source of information on techniques and how-tos. I’ll even throw you your first one right now – a “how-to” I wrote a while back about face jointing boards without a jointer.

And, I can’t tell you the pleasure I get from going out to the shop on a Saturday morning, while my wife and sons are asleep. All I hear is the whoosh of the plane over a maple board, the zip-zip-zip of the handsaw or the yielding of the wood fibers as a sharp chisel pares away waste wood.

I’m getting a lot of woodwork done without disturbing the peace that comes with the start of the day.

Now, that’s power!

3 thoughts on “Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Silence”

  1. Great article Tom!! I find it funny that the longer I work with wood the more I turn to my hand tools and I couldn’t agree more with this statement “Other tools, like spoke shaves, drawknives, bit braces and rasps will often eliminate hours of jig building required to make one cut.” Not to mention I seem to have much more control over what I am trying to accomplish.

    Great stuff guys and gals keep up the good work!

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