Never has the phrase “Your mileage may vary” been more applicable.  The decisions I made as to how I worked were heavily influenced by how little space I have to work in coupled with the fact that I have a strange aversion to loud noises ( my love of rock music not withstanding).  Everybody brings their own biases into the process and what works for me may drive other people crazy.  In the end, it’s about your end product; if you produce something useful or beautiful (or both), that is success.  But here are some observations in no particular order:

1)      For mortises, avoid the drill-out-most-of-it method.  Chiseling out the rest tends to leave a tapered mortise wall – at least that’s how it worked for me.  Using a square block of wood to guide the chisel introduces just enough fiddling and clamping that it become quicker and easier to just bash them out with a chisel – that works better than you think it will.  Or buy a hollow chisel mortiser.  Or buy a Festool domino.  But if you’ve got the money and/or space for that, you probably never even went through any of this hand-tool business anyway.

2)      A router plane and a shoulder plane turn the process of making tenons from near-impossible to near perfect.  Again, this is true if you’re using hand tools.  But I’m gonna claim that even if you get rid of most of the waste with a power tool, these two hand tools will complete the tenon with perfection and avoid your having to spend a lot of time fiddling with a jig.   But hey, we all make choices…

3)      Laying out things works so much better with a divider than with even the most accurate tape measure.  And the more mortises you have, the more the layout will get out of whack with even the tiniest error creeping in at each measurement.

4)      Waxing the sole of a hand plane makes a huge difference in how much energy it takes to push the plane.

5)      Sharpening a saw makes a huge difference in how fast it cuts.  This seems obvious but it is still striking when you first experience it.  Perhaps because dullness sets in very slowly and you aren’t aware of how gradually things are getting worse.

6)      The humble holdfast is more valuable than any F-clamp.  And faster.

7)      The chamfer is an attractive accent and extremely easy to do with a handplane or spokeshave.  For me, it went faster than a router when I factored in the time it took to find the chamfering bit and get it installed into the router table and hook up the dust collection.  The crossover seemed to have been about twelve linear feet of chamfering – more than that and it became feasible to do all the router set-up.  But the routerless method was more pleasant due to the lack of noise.  If noise doesn’t bother you, then route on!

8)      You have got to learn to cut as close to your line as possible – whether with a hand saw of powered one.  Splitting the line is not some high-minded goal – you’ve really got to do that or risk making a lot of work for yourself later on.

9)      If you use hand tools at all, your bench becomes all-important; it is as much a tool as anything else.  If you are an all-power-tool person, then all you need is a table to assemble parts on.

10)   Everything is great until you have to work on an especially large or long part.  Then your tried and true methods of work have to be altered.  A long bed rail may force you to abandon your precious band saw (or, hypothetically, your table saw with a tenoning jig that holds the work vertically) and grab a hand saw anyway because that’s really the only way to attend to that tenon on the end of it.

11)   A surface planer truly is a luxury that almost anyone can justify.  Life would be extremely difficult without it.

12)   A project becomes almost chess-like when you try to look ahead several moves in order to match the pieces of wood you have with the project you’re building but to do so successfully will make the project end up looking noticeably better.

13)   Sharpness is important but it seems that only the smoothing plane and a block plane intended for doing end-grain need to be as sharp as a razor.

Advertisements