Old School V. New School

This is article is based on an article that I did for Highland Woodworking’s Wood News. The original article was a review of a Lie Nielsen shoulder plane. I receive a lot of great feedback so I decide to post it here.

As a third generation woodworker and being a builder by trade, woodworking and creating has always been a passion. Growing up in the mountains of western North Carolina, I looked at my father and grandfather being master craftsmen and could not imagine ever having the knowledge they had, but my father said to me that someday I should become a better woodworker than he or my grandfather. He said the reason was that he had learned all that his father had taught him as well as what he had learned on his own and that I should take their knowledge and add I learned along the way.

My grandfather died when I was still a teenager and like many young boys I did not ask the questions I should have while he was still alive. What I do remember about him was that he worked hard and built many great homes and beautiful cabinets, on a few occasions he even built wooden boats that local neighbors used to get across the river to their homes. He did not have a lot of the fancy tools we are accustomed to and think we can’t live without today. Mainly he relied on simple tools which for the most part were hand tools. Many of the tools were often handmade such as a chisel made from an old piece of steel or an axe handle made from a small tree cut down from behind the barn.

Most of what I learned growing up about woodworking came from my father. He was a successful builder and often included custom built cabinets and even custom pieces of furniture that he designed and built. Growing up we went from a small shop in our garage to a 40’ by 100’ woodworking shop equipped with industrial planers, jointer, table saws, and most any other tool needed. I was taught to work with all of these tools but the most valuable lesson I was taught was to be accurate. My father would mark a board with a line that was barely visible and tell me to cut it but to leave half the line. I would like to believe that I have become a good woodworker because of what he taught me but know that I still have a lot to learn.

With time and opportunities I have moved away from the mountains where I grew up and now live just out side of Atlanta, Ga. I still love woodworking but with only half of a two car garage to use as a shop I have little space for more than a few basic power tools. I always thought that I had to have all of the tools my fathers shop offered in order to build and limited my woodworking to weekend trips back to the mountains. Then, I started thinking of my grandfather and how he built beautifully crafted pieces and homes with few tools.

I realized that maybe I needed to rethink some of the basic techniques that I used. I started reading more about the use of hand tools such has smoothing planes, shoulder planes, and hand scrapers. I soon learned that I enjoyed the tranquility and feeling of nostalgia I get from cutting dove tails by hand or smoothing a board with my hand plane and hand scraper with result as good or better than I was getting before. What I also learned is that I don’t have to be a purest and only use hand tool or only use machine tools. I use what works best for me and the space I have.

Then it hit me, suddenly I found that what my father told me all those years ago is right. Although I have a lot to learn, I have finally taken not only what my father taught me but also the knowledge my grandfather used and put them together. In combining the two styles I have discovered that I am now acquiring skills that have made me a better woodworker. In continuing to improve upon my these skills I feel I am a part of many generations of learning and that I am creating pieces that I hope will be enjoyed for many more generations.


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