I thought this topic might spur some interesting opinions. Over many
years, as a woodworker, I have seen many useful and not so useful
improvements added to the tools we use. An incomplete list of these
(not exhaustive by any means) could include:
1) plastic housings (improved grounding protection)
2) battery operated tools
3) soft start & variable speed control tools
4) keyless chucks
5) laser projected lines on miter saws
6) various pneumatic nailers & staplers
7) various jointing devices (Festool -loose tenon, Kreg-pocket hole
jig, Lamello-bisquit etc)
This list could probably go on for a few pages.
These improvements come out from the tool manufacturers and you wonder
which one is worth investing in, versus a perfectly good one you
There is also a number of hand tools which seem to be handed down
from father to son, or a mentor to student which will never be
obsoleted. Examples might be, a Stanley 130 (push-pull screw driver)
and any number of fine planes and chisels.
Anyway, I post this topic to see what you fellow WW's feel.
I haven't been a woodworker very long, but I've been pondering some of
the same things - I'll paste a portion of something I posted a few
months ago, that was buried in an unrelated thread.
I picked up an old "yankee screwdriver" from eBay recently. With some
cleaning, refinishing of the handle, and a few driver bits from Lee
Valley, it works like a charm. Also, a few years ago I inherited an
ancient Atlas drill press that was originally purchased by my great-
grandfather, and has since been moved from Arkansas to Michigan to New
York. It's built like a tank, and with the addition of a Powertwist
link belt, it runs great. Got me thinking - here are a few tools that
are probably 50 or 80 (or more) years old, and I'm happy to get my
hands on them, and they both have many years of use left in them.
Alternatively, who's going to want my new Panasonic cordless drill/
driver in even 10 years, much less 50 or 80? I guess the copper in
the motor and the Ni or Ca in the batteries might be so scarce as to
be valuable in 50 years, but it's essentially a disposable tool.
Granted, it should last longer than the Craftsman it's replacing, and
the quality of the drill should be good enough that it will be worth
replacing the batteries when they die (even if that's not cost-
effective compared to a whole new drill).
Well, that seems to be the direction our culture is taking - why fix
it when you can get a new one cheaper than the cost of repairs? Go
ahead, fill up the landfills with cheap plastic imported from far away
- if I don't see it any more, it's gone.
My challenge to myself (and whoever else wants to listen): make do
with what I have, buy things that will last, buy used if possible, and
overall, be responsible with the resources I have.
(Stepping off the soap box...)
If you like the Yankee screwdriver, try the Yankee push drill. They
come with a number of two-fluted drill bits stored in the handle, and
are handy as hell, the original cordless drill. I've got several,
just keep picking them up at yard sales. The earlier ones are all
metal, the later ones have a bakelite handle with a screw-off cap.
When you see one, buy it, you won't regret it. Buy the second one you
see, since the bits tend to get lost and it took me two of them to get
a full set of bits.
Strange you should choose those.
I just bought my kid the Japanese version of the Yankee from Lee valley.
I've got Dad's, now with square drive bits! He's using his grandpa's
chisels, at least one of his planes, and will get some more when I go, as
will son #2 who has the automotive tools his grandpa used. If I buy a new
tool, just as when I buy a new car, I evaluate the options based on
experience and make my decision on what I'll lay extra money out to
You forgot to mention that the old time luddites also invented the
sawmill driven by the water wheel. Shakers did that or something? It
beat the heck out of the pit saw for cutting wood to dimension.
Today's power tool buyer is similar to the old time hand tool worker.
Trying to find a better, easier, faster, way to produce the product.
Eliminate the grunt work. In Scott Landis' Workshop book he has a
picture of an early 1900s Park combination machine. It had a jointer
and planer and table saw and other stuff. 100 plus years ago the
woodworker, pro or hobby, was using power tools to eliminate the hard
parts. Invest more time into the skilled parts. Probably today the
power tool buyer wants a power tool to do everything, 100%. Whereas
centuries ago the hand tool user was satisfied if the power tools
could do the hard time consuming stuff, 50%, and they could use hand
tools to do the detail work, 50%. They did not have much choice so
they had to be satisfied.
I attended a class given by Phil Lowe. New England carver, restorer,
period piece maker. He used both hand and power tools with no
thoughts to which was better. Mostly it was just which was quicker.
He could get the same excellent results from either. But he explained
he could cut a board with the band saw right there and straighten it
with a hand plane faster than he could walk to the other end of the
shop where the table saw was and rip it with the table saw. Getting
the job done correctly was important. Not how. For larger tasks it
made sense to set up the machines and have them do the grunt work.
For one piece, it was easier to do it with hand tools.
I took a few minutes to see if a quick web search would tell me
when the water-powered sawmill was invented. I remember James
Burke talking about them in his "Connections" show as being used
during medieval times, but I wanted to make sure. So far the best
I've been able to do is an entry on Wikipedia that dates them to
France around 1300 or so. See
Wikipedia entry on sawmills mentions them existing by 1250, but
doesn't explicitly say how they were powered.
Oh, yeah. People hundreds of years ago didn't like hard physical
labor any more than we do now, so they used whatever means they
could to avoid it, whether that was animal power, water wheels,
windmills, steam power, or (heh) making the apprentices do it.
("You see, son, you gotta work like a dog now, but when you're my
age you can make *your* apprentice do this stuff.")
Makes perfect sense.
Now if woodworking is a hobby, as it is for many of us, you have
the luxury of using whatever tool you enjoy more instead of the
most productive. For some people that's a hand tool that might
take more time than a powered tool. Another consideration is that
the hand tool is probably less expensive, too. (Maybe not Lie-
Nielsen planes :-)
A Shaker woman is given credit for inventing some "power" tool. I
know I've heard and seen it many places. Can't recall which tool it
Or a Karl Hotley handplane. The hand tool person can get just as
carried away with tools as the power tool person. Do you really need
the whole series of planes? 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 4.5 - 5 - 5.25 - 5.5 - 6
- 7 - 8. Maybe for the vigilant, scrupulous hand tool user, hand
tools are cheaper. But the vigilant, scrupulous power tool user can
also make do with very little spent on power tools.
- Hide quoted text -
I have been manufacturing sawdust for most of 30 years. There are days when
I wonder when I'll get better.
Of the things you listed three improvements stand out in my mind:
- Battery operated tools. I think the battery operated drill motor has done
more for me in terms of job simplification. In the shop it helps a lot.
But in the yard, or a remote site it is great. I am yet to fall in love
with the other battery (skilsaws, etct) but my day might come.
- Jointing devices - Other than a standard jointer, I think the biscuit
jointer is a pretty neat tool. I don't own a Kreg system yet but our
son-in-law does and it looks pretty intriguing.
- Pneumatic Nailers. I put them near the category of battery tools. They
are becoming more available, on the consumer market, and I don't know what I
would do without mine.
Laser line projection - Don't trust them. When I want accuracy, I align my
scribed mark with the blade/bit and push the switch.
HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.