Hand tools or power tools. What approach to woodworking is right for you?

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Among the things beginners find when starting a pastime is that there are different types of woodworking. Determining what interests you will spare you from investing cash on tools and devices you don't actually need.

In this video, I'll break down the 4 woodworking methods to assist you determine which design is right for you. Keep in mind, these are broad classifications and there can be lots of overlap in between them depending on the person. Think about these as your basic viewpoint towards woodworking.

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Hand tools or . What approach to woodworking is right for you?

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40 Comments

  1. As a woodworker for the last 30 years this is the best explained video I have ever seen of my hobby. I would recommend everyone that is considering woodworking as a hobby to watch this video with great interest. Thank you Steve.

  2. Steve, you only missed one discipline: Those who buy all the tools, sometimes many duplicates, but seldom or never use any of them….

    1. We call that a tool collector. Also overlaps, you can be both a woodworker and collect tools you don’t use lol

    2. That’s called a gear collector. He probably also has golf clubs, scuba equipment, mechanics tools, a forge and anvil, a welder and plasma cutter, fishing gear…

  3. This is a great video! It’s something I’m realizing about myself lately. I definitely fall into the category of conceiving a project and wanting to see that project realized. I think it’s incredible what people can do with hand tools, and enjoy watching the channels that you mentioned, but I’m realizing I’m much more focused on accomplishing the project then the journey that it took to get there. I think someday I might try some hand cut dovetails to experience it but probably not anytime soon 🙂 thanks for all your amazing content!

  4. Nice breakdown of the craft! I always thought there were two kinds of woodworking, flat work and in the round. But I think your way of describing it is much more thorough! I suppose turners fall in to the power category, unless you’re Rex and make a foot powered lathe..

  5. While I do love my table saw and all the other things that plug in or connect to a battery.

    That was before I got a Stanley no5 plane off eBay. I love that thing. I got it for around $25. And it’s not uncommon for me to walk to the garage just to shave a board for a few seconds and then come back inside. I’ve used electric planers and clearly I’ve used sanders. But a hand plane. Is possibly my favorite tool.

    But I can see how hand planes can get away from me. A good Lie Neilsen cost just as much as a table saw.

    1. Aye – some power tools are more or less enjoyable to use than others. Table and mitre saws, drills and drivers are fine. However, electric planers and routers are a disgusting experience. They scream at incredible volume, and fight you every step of the way. I’ll use them for client jobs where time equals money, but if the project is for me, or a gift for a friend, I’ll use my beautiful old hand planes and hand routers every time.

    2. @Benedict I use an electric planer to rough shape chunks of chainsawed wood before they hit the jointer or tablesaw. Agree that routers are a pain.

  6. “I am doing it my way and others are doing it their way”. Humility and assertiveness. Thumbs up !!

  7. Still expect Steve to say “The Gripper” 10 seconds into a video. He should get that sponsorship again, even if it’s for nostalgia.

    1. Well, there was a Gripper right there… meaning Steve actually uses it, which is actually a better advertising/testimonial (in my mind) than paid sponsorship.

  8. Nice presentation! Thank you for reminding us that Our style isn’t the only one, and we can always learn new things from each other.

  9. It was sooo nice to see Rex Krueger on there, I think he does a great job introducing people to hand tool woodworking without being exclusive and condescending

    1. @Tom Redfern there are some hand tool woodworkers or even just creators who give off that vibe because they have the greatest Stanley plane or whatnot

    2. @Haris Ali Like who? All the main ones are very open and welcoming and willing to share their knowledge and experience for free.

    3. @David Hawley agreed. Even just by reaching into a cabinet with ten $300+ saws and pulling the perfect one for the exact cut can make it seem harder to achieve than it has to be.

    4. @Tom Redfern Personally, I like the Paul Sellers and Rex aproach because they teach you with the less requirements, they dont encourage you to buy a $400 plane because is great… And everyone can bet that is great, but they know that most of people trying to learn doesnt have a lot of money to spend on tools. So they teach you the mínimal requirements so you dont get frustrated that you dont have the tools they are using

  10. Blended Woodworking I think is the approach most folks take eventually, there’s a guy I know of that really focuses on this but he calls it Hybrid Woodworking… Semantics I guess, but in the end whatever plants the bug or Whispers to you and gets you involved in the hobby is what’s important 😉 There’s a lot of great content creators online regardless of what your interest is; just jump in and get started

    1. I consider myself a blended woodworker, hybrid would suggest you only combine two types into one?
      I love + follow all the channels Steve suggests, so definitely several styles appeal to me, although a CNC is still out of reach (i.e. out of budget 😄).

  11. This made me smile in so many ways. The safety message, plugging of my 3 favorite hand tool woodworkers, the 80s synth for opening the digital segment!

    1. I missed the 80s synth and i had to look it up again. Ur right it does add a futuristic electronic vibe while sounding great at the same time

  12. When I get stressed or depressed I grab a lump of wood and a hand plane. I don’t tend to make much apart from large amounts of shavings but I do get enormous satisfaction and can really feel my mood improving. I tend to follow Paul Sellers approach that there is nothing wrong with using power tools but that the most enjoyment comes from using hand tools.

    My approach is greatly influenced by the fact that my work area is tiny {about 4ft x 5ft) so any power tool usage has to be outside and given that I’m in Scotland I have to take the rain/midges into account.

    All of the channels you linked to are great and I get loads of inspiration from them. Another woodworker I like is David Picciuto (Make Something). One comment he makes quite often in his videos (which are almost entirely power tool based) is that you don’t need all his fancy equipment to make the same things. A bit of thought and you can work out how to do it all with hand tools. That is also a very enjoyable way to spend some time.

    Great video and hopefully it will help others to find the fun to be had by manipulating lumps of tree!

  13. I enjoyed this presentation. Your balanced coverage of the types of woodworking was refreshing and exposed the reality of my sawdust environment.

  14. Thank you for this honest overview. While you clearly have chosen path No. 1 for yourself, you did not fail to mention a lot of good points for the other styles. Youtube often creates the impression that you have to chose 1, 2 or 3 while you really can mix them however you want.

    Additional point: Hand tools have almost no setup time. Setting up a router or a stack of dado blades takes way more time than it looks like in a cut Youtube video. Drawing a line and grabbing a hand saw does not. A power tool on the other hand makes perfectly straight cuts with no learning time needed once it is correctly set up, but you mentioned that already.

    1. One advantage of a mostly hand-tool workshop is that it takes up a lot less space. Machine tools such as table saws, jointers and thicknessers not only take up lots of room in a small workshop, but require room for infeed and outfeed. With hand tools, you put the piece of wood on the bench and take the tool to the wood.

      That said, I have a variety of cordless tools such as drills and saws. My cordless circular saw is great for certain jobs that used to belong to big 26″ hand saws.

  15. I’ve been running a woodworking art business for five years that started with this channel, and I’ve changed my approach at least four times in that interval. I started as a machine driven woodworker, and then did all my art work by hand. I still do that, but three years ago, I discovered CNC to do carving, which I design, then hand paint and ink. In reading through the comments, I was waiting for the “CNC isn’t real woodworking” comments. Everything I make is out of hardwood, so I still have to be able to make blanks (cutting, planing, jointing, glueups), and in order to machine wood correctly, you still need to understand grain direction, cutting feed rates and rotation expansion/contraction, wood density and moisture; basically all the stuff you “real woodworkers” know, except I also can expand to be able to program a robot (which isn’t a push-button understanding – there’s a learning curve, and it’s steep) to augment the work. Things still have to ne sanded, edge-profiled, joined and finished except I used a piece of technology (that takes skill, experience and wood working know-how to use) to achieve the desired result. I’ve done things with that machine that I could never dream of by hand, but the robot doesn’t *do* the work. I do.

    1. I agree. But you do miss the tactile interaction with the work, so I think it is a little alienating in a sense.

    2. @David Hawley like I said, I still have to cut, plane, joint, shape, sand, and hand-finish all my pieces. Plus every one is hand-painted and inked. My hands are on those pieces constantly, so I don’t feel any disconnect- and if I do, I can always sweep up the sawdust from the CNC. Doesn’t get much more tactile than that!

    3. @Matt Pickering Some people talk about the shape emerging as they interact with the material, which I think reflects the ‘imperfection’ (= not matching a simple model) of real world blanks . That is perhaps what I was trying to get at.
      At the end, It’s all compromises, isn’t it.

  16. Good video. I’ve been heading down the hand tool woodworking route lately. The three hand tool focused YouTube channels you mentioned (Rex Kruger, James Wright, & Paul Sellers) have all been very valuable in helping me with this. I would love to see any (or all) of them on your Woodworking Talk Show.

  17. 2:50 REX! Love the collaboration between you guys! I am so glad to have both of you available to get the jobs done around the house.

  18. Great segment Steve. As woodworking is becoming more and more popular, this is great information for many.

  19. And you can always flow from one style to another as you go. Started with hand me down construction hand tools. Then as I got better and more space I was able to pick up power tools and use those. But now that I have kids in the shop with me the loud tools scare them off so we’ve been learning how to use more hand tools so we can work on stuff together

  20. Loved seeing you recommending Rex Kruger. He does a great job of explaining hand tool woodworking. Funnily enough, he was a power tool guy when I started watching him, but got on his “Woodworking for Humans” series (sadly, for him, you’d already taken the best name) and his lost himself in the world of hand tools, despite one of his earliest videos poking fun of James Wright’s hand tool method for flattening something. Pretty sure he’s going to move to all hatchet and pocket knife woodworking soon…

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