December 7, 2011


Why are hand tool skills important

Why are hand tool skills important in a computerized and technological society?

We all might agree that there is a correct way to do certain things, even if approaches may differ. The learning of a given approach opens us to the intellectual and manual skills required to enter a larger body of knowledge, in this case woodworking.

Chisels only work if razor sharp, otherwise they are lumps of steel frustration good for blunt trauma to hands and wood. The same is true of hand planes. Many of you probably inherited a bench plane from your Dad or Granddad. You tried to use it, but the thing never did the job correctly and it was relegated to the garage to rust and be forgotten. I would bet no one gave you the instruction to sharpen and tune that plane, and you, out of convenience, decided to use a sander instead. Yes, things felt smooth, but if you looked closely at the surface with a jeweler’s loupe, you would see that all you really did was scratch your project into submission. If one wants to see the true beauty of wood surfaces, a finely tuned hand plane gives you a mirror finish, in less time than you could ever do the same with abrasives.

Learning how to easily sharpen a bench plane iron and tune the plane, allows one to work wood as it has been done, literally, for centuries. When we understand how to accomplish woodworking by hand tools, then we have basic concepts such as flat, sharp and smooth, that allows us to use more advanced tools, such as computers to control cutting or shaping. If you understand sharp and tuned, regardless if it is a hand tool or a CNC router, you will be able accomplish the task correctly.

Picasso learned to draw before he was able to paint. One learns to walk before running. You study the alphabet before you can write a novel. Learning to sharpen edge tools and tune a plane are a gateway to fine woodworking.

Rob Hetler 2011

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