Woodworking with Hand Tools

Most of the heavy lifting in woodshops today is done with power tools but there are many situations where hand tools can get the job done just as well or even better than power tools. Some woodworkers even rely on hand tools exclusively.  Roy Underhill of Woodwright’s Shop fame, comes to mind.  The eco-appeal of hand tools is that they are generally quiet (minimal noise pollution) and only require human-power (no fossil fuels to burn to generate electricity). They are also relatively inexpensive, comparatively safe, provide a good workout, and allow you to “become one with the wood”. There’s a kind of back-to-nature aspect to using hand tools. They allow you to enjoy the soft smells and quiet sounds of wood craftsmanship. And hand tools do a nice job. For instance, many people think a hand-scraped surface is superior to a sanded one.

To get really serious about using hand tools, it’s worth investing in some good reference books from the likes of Tage Frid, Roy Underhill, James Krenov, Sam Maloof, Sandor Nagyszalanczy, Garrett Hack, Leonard Lee, Peter Korn, and Ian Kirby. Some specific book recommendations are provided below. You’ll need to learn not only what tools to use for specific tasks but how to use the tools and how to sharpen them. Sharpening is a big part of using hand tools and it’s a satisfying feeling to use a tool that you’ve sharpened yourself.

There are a myriad of hand tools out there for cutting and milling wood. But, what are the essential hand tools for a beginning eco-woodworker? Well, here are some suggestions:

• Saws. Good quality cross-cut and rip saws are important for rough cutting. For finer work like dovetails, consider getting a fine-tooth back saw or a Japanese style pull-saw. For curved cutting, get yourself a coping saw. A sturdy miter box also comes in handy.

• Planes. These are used for preparing edges for gluing, planing boards down in thickness, and smoothing surfaces. For starters, you’ll want to own a block plane, a jack plane, a smoothing plane, and a small chamfering plane.

• Chisels. There are many types and sizes of chisels. For starters, consider buying a 4-piece set made up of 1/4-, 1/2-, 3/4-, and 1-in. bevel-edged bench chisels. Eventually, you’ll probably want to spring for a good set of mortising chisels for chopping out joints and other heavy-duty cutting tasks.

• Scrapers. A scraper is a flat rectangular piece of high carbon steel roughly the size of a 3″ x 5″ index card. A properly burnished scraper can produce a super-smooth surface in less time than it would take to sand it.  They also work well for removing glue.

• Rasps, files, surforms. These all come in handy for surfacing and filing operations.

• Draw knives and spokeshaves. Draw knives work great for hewing beams, removing bark, and making barrel staves. For more delicate work such as rounding chair legs, get yourself a spokeshave.

• Hand drills, braces. The hand drill excels at drilling smaller holes, such as pilot holes for screws. The brace is designed for drilling larger holes such as holes for chair spindles. Both give you a good workout.

This list only covers cutting tools. You’ll also need squares, rules, marking gauges, clamps galore, mallets, sharpening stones, and most importantly, a workbench. A good, heavy bench is essential because a lot of hand tools like planes involve lots of pushing and shoving. You need a bench that will hold a work piece securely without the whole thing rocking and shaking. Make sure the bench has front and tail vices and slots for the bench dogs. You might even consider making the workbench yourself to help develop your skills. Plus, you’ll swell with pride every time you use it.


Recommended Books about Hand Tools

Tage Frid teaches woodworking
by Tage Frid

Classic Hand Tools
by Garrett Hack, John S. Sheldon

James Krenov, worker in wood
by James Krenov

The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking
by James Krenov

The Art of Fine Tools
by Sandor Nagyszalanczy

The Woodwright’s Shop: A Practical Guide to Traditional Woodcraft
by Roy Underhill

Wood Wright’s Companion: Exploring Traditional Woodcraft
by Roy Underhill

The Woodwright’s Eclectic Workshop
by Roy Underhill

The Woodwright’s Apprentice: Twenty Favorite Projects from the Woodwright’s Shop

Sam Maloof: Woodworker
by Sam Maloof, Jonathan Pollock

The Woodworker’s Guide to Hand Tools
by Peter Korn

The Workbench Book (Craftsman’s Guide to)
by Scott Landis

The Complete Guide to Sharpening
by Leonard Lee