Woodworking with hand tools is like riding a bike

“Hand tools are too slow.”

I used to believe that.

I thought woodworking with hand tools is like walking. I used a machine to drive to my destination, but walked the last few steps. After two years with my machines mostly unplugged, walking is the wrong analogy.

Hand tools are like a bike. A car will travel 150 miles faster. A bike will travel a couple of miles with more grace and fun.

I bike to work. Driving takes 20 minutes or more, depending on traffic. Biking takes 30 minutes or less, depending on my cadence. Walking takes longer than I am willing to try. Like a bike, hand tools are a little slower, but more fun.

Cyclists are similar to galoots. They love to rage against machines, but they own a car. The MS 150 is a 180 mile bike ride from Houston to Austin. Riding 180 miles in two days is possible, but driving to Houston is more practical. However, commuting on my bike is efficient. At the expense of 10 extra minutes, I arrive exercised and happy.

Woodworking with hand tools is practical with a few caveats.

In bad weather, my wife drives me to work. A friend with machines can save the day. I made a bed almost entirely with hand tools. However, my friend Charlie used his big bandsaw to resaw the 12” board that became the headboard. Occasionally a machine is the only plausible answer.

Cycling works best when I can choose the destination. Hand tools work best if I choose the project. Because woodworking is my hobby, I can choose a design that fits with my skills, tools, and time. I don’t have to ride my bike in a suit all the way across town and I don’t have to build a full set of kitchen cabinets in three days.

Bikes with gears make hills much easier. With hand tools, coarse, medium, and fine tools are essential. I use a jack plane with an 8” radius in the edge to hog off wood. That jack plane is several times faster than a jointer plane, but the jointer plane is essential for precision. Talk to other galoots if you think you are in the wrong gear.

Who taught you to ride a bike? Hand tool woodworking used to be taught to middle school children everywhere. You don’t need Lance Armstrong to teach you to ride a bike. There is probably somebody at your local woodworking club eager to teach.

Message to myself: Stop worrying about how long it takes. Pick a project, pick your tools, unplug your machines, and have fun.

Daddy,  Can We Play in the Workshop?

If hand tool woodworking is your passion, you may enjoy my children's book, Daddy, Can We Play in the Workshop?