I can remember my first middle school shop project, an edge grain cutting board glued up from slats of maple and cherry. My daughter has it now and uses it every day and although I’ve had to refurbish it a few times over its 35 years in the kitchen, it has never needed repair. Obviously my shop teacher knew what he was doing when he showed me how to put it together, but if you had asked me at the time, I would’ve said he was an old fashioned task master who didn’t care whether I ever finished the project because he required me to flatten it with a bench plane.
Even today, if I had a cutting board to flatten, I’d run it through the planer or wide drum sander and be done in a few passes and a few minutes, but I no longer jump at the chance to fire up a machine to do every task. In fact, I find myself looking for opportunities to use hand tools more and more. One of the best feelings comes from answering the question, “how am I gonna do this?” With the answer, “I can use a hand plane!”
For some tasks, like doing the initial flattening, squaring and ripping of rough-sawn lumber, machinery is indispensable at saving us from the torturous tasks that would sap all the joy out of our time in the shop. Beyond those and a few other tasks however, power tools and machinery may take away some of our enjoyment. I’ve come to realize that the major advantage of power tool woodworking is that of saving time. If we really wanted to save as much time as possible, we should just go out and buy the piece of furniture we’re planning to build. That would save us a LOT of time.
Since most of our woodworking passion is NOT about saving time, we need to look for ways to spend a bit more time in the shop, and ways to spend that time doing something enjoyable. Contrary to my fourteen year old self, I can’t think of anything more enjoyable than making shavings with an old No. 4.