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The old ways

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I’m betting your shop is as well equipped, or better, than mine. But once upon a time we didn’t have all those tools. I’ve been reliving those days lately.

The book I’m now working on is a collection of woodworking projects that parents and their kids can create together. To keep the projects as accessible as possible, my publisher and I came up with a list of basic tools and I’ve designed the projects to require only those basics. We eliminated “big” tools – table saw, jointer, planer, band saw, etc. – and I’ve geared everything to the use of hand-held tools like cordless drill/drivers, jigsaws, hand saws, small scrollsaws, hand planes, and so on.

When doing a project book I need to photograph all the key steps, and for those I’m restricted to the tools on my list. I can use any machine in the shop to make components not in the pictures (and I am, of course, to speed things up), but for a good portion of each project I’m working exactly how I did 30 or so years ago when I didn’t have any shop machines.

It’s rather humbling in a way, and it’s sometimes frustrating to be forced to work more slowly than I usually do, but it’s helped to reconnect to my woodworking roots. Fortunately, the old skills are still there – there was a time when I had no choice but to rip a board with a jigsaw, and learned to do it pretty well. Turns out that I still can.

By the way, none of this has anything to do with hand tools vs. power tools – I still use hand planes and still chisel a lot of mortises by hand no matter how many big machines I have – so I won’t get into that debate. Sure, I love the speed, efficiency, accuracy, repeatability and productivity my machines give me and wouldn’t dream of replacing them permanently for the old ways. Rather, this is all about an opportunity to revisit things the way I used to do them, and I’m enjoying it thoroughly.

Well, almost. I didn’t have to wear glasses back then to just find the tools, much less use them.



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