October 19, 2010

Power tools have their place, but so does a hand tool and a bit of elbow grease. Sure, a power drill gets the job done fast, but there’s something terribly satisfying about slipping a sharp bit into a brace and working your way through a piece of wood. Feeling the saw bite through the grain with each slice and capturing the right rhythm has a magic and a music all its own.

The same holds true for a plane. Anyone who has ever smoothed down an edge or removed excess material can attest to the pleasure of watching each fresh curl of wood appear.

Certainly my favorite hand tool is the wood chisel, one I use all too little. A sharp, well-cared-for chisel is like a carving knife. While you can use a mallet to drive it, a careful craftsman knows it works best under hand pressure alone.

While hand tools offer a symphony of sounds and satisfactions in their quiet use, their real bonus comes in the control they offer. Power tools rip through wood and other materials at such high speeds and with such efficiency that it’s easy to go too far or too deep. With hand tools, you are constantly in touch with the material being worked. You feel the shift in the bit or the variation in the stroke that tells you to slow down more and take extra care as you complete that hole or cut.

Finally, there is no high-pitched whine, no hearing protectors or extension cords, and less fear for fingers, eyes and other body parts. There also seems to be less stress. Life just seems to move a little slower when you are using a hand tool, and that’s all too rare in the modern world.

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