The whole idea of using power tools and machinery to remove arduous work from a project is understandably seductive and makes a lot of sense. Why engage in unnecessary and unbeneficial work if it can be avoided? For instance, I cannot see any virtue in using a foot treadle to operate a wood turning lathe. Clearly, my energy is better spent concentrating on the task of shaping the object, leaving the lathe rotation to an electric motor. Another example is hand ripping of logs or boards. Definitely a job for heavy machinery!
So, if there are logical places to use electric energy, why not do everything with power tools? Why not just bypass the whole hand tool regime and go directly to the power tools?
I am sure most woodworkers have pondered this question at sometime in their career. If it takes “x” amount of time and energy to build a piece of furniture by hand, how much less would it take to do it with power tools? This line of thinking has brought an increasingly larger number of power tools into even the smallest workshops. When I took my apprenticeship, I was limited to the use of a drill and a belt sander, and using the belt sander was considered cheating. It was a tremendous novelty when I bought my first electric router because it opened the door to the potential of power tools. Since then, scores of power tools have been invented and are an accepted part of woodworking.
The question still remains, “could we do everything with power tools alone and therefore take all the work out of woodworking?” The answer is no, if we are talking about a small-scale operation. A hobbyist or a one or two person furniture shop is going to need the help of quite a few hand tools. If, on the other hand, you intend to operate a furniture factory, you might well be able to produce finished components by machine.
If hand tools are a necessary part of woodworking, even when power tools are available, which tools do you need? In some cases, hand tools are used to adjust machined conditions. The following examples show the indispensability of hand tools, even if you use power tools for most of the work.
I like using a dado system for cabinet box construction. Using a carbide dado set on a table saw, I can achieve good locational accuracy and easy assembly. This joint encourages the cabinet to go together in a square and secure manner, but it is not perfect. Occasionally, the plywood or veneered chipboard is not completely flat at the time of machining. This means that the depth of the dado can vary slightly. I use an ancient hand router (which is really a chisel held in a block of wood with a wedge) to confirm the depth of the dados before assembly. Stanley makes a metal router plane if you prefer. Unfortunately, all plywood is not sanded to the exact same thickness, particularly at the end of the sheet. To be sure, I preassemble dry. If I find an over thickness piece of ply, I use a side angle plane to enlarge the width of the dado to suit.
When mortise and tenon joints are required, I often use a regular rabbet plane to adjust the face of the tenon. Likewise the shoulder plane is perfect for fine adjustments to the shoulder. Mortises that are routed leave round ends. Either the corners have to be chiseled square or the tenons have to be rasped round. When a cabinet is being assembled, it is often an advantage to use a sash clamp to locate the parts and hold them long enough to air nail or staple together. I use a wide range of clamps on every project, including “C” clamps, spring clamps and hand screws.
I use a block plane to adjust the mitres on mouldings that are applied after assembly. I adjust open mitres on mouldings that might be slightly twisted or inconsistent profile with this low angle block plane.
Tight inside corners that need some help can easily be reached with the bullnose plane. The latest design even allows the front to be removed. Doors that are to be fitted into a front frame often need to be adjusted with a joining plane.
Inevitably, when it comes to the final cleanup sanding before finishing, you find a spot of glue or a tear out from the planer. I use the simplest tool in my collection, the card scraper. This single piece of sheet metal thickness steel, when sharpened properly, removes glue and tear out without a trace. A few strokes with the sanding block and the project is ready for finishing. In addition to the already mentioned tools, I use number of other handtools, including a dovetail, tenon, hand and coping saw, a brad point hammer, a mallet, a variety of chisels and screwdrivers. I also use a three-piece set of oilstones to keep the edge tools in working condition.
You can easily see that my collection of hand tools (originally bought to be used on their own) work quite well with a number of power tools.
Perhaps, like me, you have begun to wonder which way this really works: hand tools are a perfect compliment to power tools; or is it the other way around?