Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Paring down

I haven't been in the workshop for a week because I was pressed into service looking after my little granddaughter as she recovered from a painful, not too serious childhood illness.  I think I exceeded expectations, which isn't saying much, and had a great time doing it.  It left me time to think about our favorite subject.

I have been in the process of migration from mostly power tool woodworking to mostly hand tool woodworking for several years.  For the foreseeable future anyway, I don't intend to use hand tools exclusively.  I call myself a "traditional woodworker," the phrase Jim Tolpin used in the title of his book.  This means being hand tool centric but using power tools as limited adjuncts.  Paul Sellers does much the same.  Since I started with a fairly complete power tool workshop, this has been a paring down and refocusing process for me.  The big step was selling my table saw and I must say I haven't missed it at all.  I'm glad it's gone.

I have taken my remaining power tools and moved them into a corner of the workshop, the large ones on mobile bases.  When I want to use them I get them out one at a time and then put them away.  This discourages use, but I still want to pare down to a minimum set of power tools over time.  I categorize my power tools like this:

  • tools that I really want to keep:
    • Laguna 14" SUV bandsaw
    • Festool Tracksaw
    • Makita cordless drill
    • Worksharp (for major reshaping/sharpening, not honing)
    • Shop-Vac with Dust Deputy
  • tools I like having but could do without:
    • lunchbox planer
    • floor drill press
  • tools I have because I already own them, they're old, aren't worth much and they are useful for carpentry, but I could easily do without and wouldn't consider replacing:
    • chopsaw
    • jointer
    • Multiple corded drills, sanders, angle grinders, power plane, jig and circular saws etc.
    • air compressor/nailers  

There is a glaring omission from this list because I don't know where to put it:  my router table.  Next to the table saw, a router table is the essence of power tool woodworking:  a screaming, dust-belching, potentially dangerous, mechanical antithesis of hand tool woodworking.  I feel guilty every time I use it, but use it I do.  Why?  Because it's fast, efficient, economical and easy to use.  I have made a fair number of dados and rabbets with hand tools now, but sometimes it's nice to get'er done.  I learned from Paul Sellers that you can in fact produce many profiles using ordinary hand tools quite easily:  roundovers with a smooth plane for example.  I need to get into scratch stocks.  I cut dovetails by hand (though I do sometimes cut box joints with the router).  The big thing holding me back is this:  Matt Bickford suggests that a basic set of molding planes includes "a half set of hollows and rounds (9 pairs, 18 planes), a pair of snipes bill planes and two rabbet planes, 5/8” and 1.”  From him, these cost $4,500!  I know, I know, you can pick up vintage sets and restore them, and if I ever run across a decent set at a reasonable price I probably will.  On top of that, I've gotten to the point that I can sharpen chisels, gouges and plane blades fairly well but I am not all that anxious to take up learning to sharpen all these shapes.

What to do?  In the short run, I'm keeping the router table.  For one thing, I am going to be making a set of kitchen cabinets.  In the longer run I think I'm just going to forgo profiles that I can't make without molding planes and give up the router table.  As I have thought about it, I'm not really into these profiles anyway.  I have the Lee Valley plow plane and both of their router planes.  The rabbet plane is on my wish list.  If I feel remorse when the router table is gone, there's this.  Five pages of profiles!


  1. Hey Andy, keep in mind that that's a "starter set" that lets you produce a lot more profiles than your collection of router bits…and it's also overkill for a lot of cabinetmakers. I got by with #6, 8, and 14 hollow and round pairs for a long time, plus a couple of side beads (3/16 and 5/16 are my go-to sizes). You should be able to put those together from Patrick Leach or Josh Clark for <$200.

    I have a pair of snipes bills and made my own hollows and rounds to finish off the half set (another good option to save money), but the #4, 6, 8 (or 10) are ideal for cabinet work, especially if you have a small side bead and can whip out a scratch stock!

  2. I don't know what the cost of shipping is these days, but Tony Murland's Double Harlequin Hollow/Round sets are a good value for the user.