Don’t be afraid of using hand tools

I grew up watching my dad building projects and doing a lot of remodeling on our home. He’s a master at using power tools and has built some fantastic-looking pieces. But I never recall seeing him use a hand plane all that much. He learned how to tweak joinery and thickness a workpiece using sanders, jointers, and planers. And if he needed to nibble the end of a workpiece for a tight fit, he’d do it at the table saw.

I remember dad having an old hand plane in his basement workshop. One day after school, I picked it up and tried to use it. After a few swipes and not getting any results, I gave up.

Fast-forward about 15 years. He showed up one Christmas with a paper bag. “Here. I found these in my shop. You can have them.” Inside was a No. 4½ Stanley smoother and a No. 78 duplex rabbeting plane.

I did a lot of research on the internet to figure out how to restore, tune, and sharpen these old planes. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I took those first few swipes on a piece of scrap wood and discovered the magic. I was able to get thin, whispy shavings.

That day changed my woodworking forever.

I learned how to use a hand plane to remove machining marks left by a jointer or planer. I learned how to tweak the fit of a joint using a hand plane. I was bitten by the bug. Next thing you know, I was shopping on eBay for old planes.

Have I given up on power tools? No way. I use the right tool for the job. And sometimes, a hand plane is the right tool.

Rob Porcaro wrote a blog post over on Fine Woodworking’s web site about his philosophy of using hand tools. I agree with everything he says.

It’s nice to drive to the mountains and even drive through the mountains, but it’s not as nice as hiking them. Power tools drive you there, but hand tools walk you through.    –Rob Porcaro