I have been working on increasing my hand tool knowledge and skills the past six months or so, and things are coming along okay (still working on that cutting a straight line thing). As a part of this, I have been reading a lot of articles on hand tool usage and history… a lot of articles. During these readings I have come across a few “purists”, folks who believe the only tools are hand tools. While I do love hand tools, and it’s true our ancestors turned out some incredible works of art in the form of furnishings using only hand tools, the simple fact is this; our forefathers used hand tools because that’s what they had. Period.
Now, I do enjoy the quiet, relatively dust free environment. And working with hand tools, for me, is kind of a Zen thing. And I love history and learning how woodworking was done in the past. But, I also have some power in my shop. I use power tools on jobs where they are more efficient (read faster, more accurate…again that straight line thing). I have no doubt our ancestors would have done the same thing, mainly because they did. Carpenters and Joiners of the past used hand tools because that was what was available to them, either because they couldn’t afford a table saw, or they hadn’t been invented yet. But if table saws were around and they could afford them, those woodworkers would certainly have bought one. Again, I know this because they did. As proof of this, all you need to do is a little research…
The photos above were taken from the pages of The Scientific American. The first add, for circular saw blades, is from an 1873 issue. The two table saw adds are from 1893 and 1896 respectively. Power tools were here, and were being marketed to the masses. After all, that’s what our economic system is all about…find or create a need then fulfill it.
So, if you are like me, and occasionally enjoy the schush of a hand plane as it cuts across the surface of a board, or appreciate the silence of a Jennings bit as it bores it’s way through, more power to you. But, don’t dis the power tool users. After all, your Grandfather may well have been one of them.
Want to learn more about Vintage Machinery? Then head on over to VintageMachinery.org ! They have scads of info, adds, and photos of antique woodworking and other infernal machines from days gone by.