A Great Write-up on Hand Tools vs. Power Tools

The debate never seems to end on the topic of hand tools vs. power tools. 

It seems that the debate is fueled by it a lot of people regurgitating something they read somewhere, just a lot of opinions with no sound experience behind them and a limited field of view.

The damage is done when new woodworkers join the online communities and they feel like they have to make a choice: Which ONE type of woodworker will I be? Hand tools or power tools? 

This morning, I found a really nice blog post by John at Woodworking Web.

He has written a well balanced perspective steeped in wisdom and sound judgement. 

I am not going to re-hash it here at my site, but you can read his post HERE.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 

Well done John, it is one of the best reads that I have had in a long time, printed or digital. 

Your friend in the shop-

Todd A. Clippinger

Share the Love - Share the Knowledge


Rediscovering the Joy of Woodworking

 I love woodworking and I actually make my living by working professionally from the shop. I had to give up remodeling due to health issues specifically connected to remodel activity and the things it exposes me to. So now, all of my projects are shop based.

Fortunately, I have years of connections and reputation behind me now, and that has led to continued work, strictly from the shop. I get all manner of projects, there are so many things that need to be built for companies and clients, way more than just cabinets. 

Even though I love the woodworking and the challenges I face as a professional, I lose some of the excitement for it because I do it everyday. I realized this as a recent project came through my shop for the local Audubon Society. They are building an interactive playground, and they needed a turtle for the kids to drum on. So I built a "drum turtle."

I take pride in my ability to design and build under pressure (that comes along with being a business) and to execute very technical projects to a high degree of professional quality. The drum turtle was clearly not a technical project nor anything that could be considered fine woodworking, and when I accepted it, I had the passing thought, "this could be kinda fun." In all honesty - I had a blast!

I was given a screenshot that the director found online, I have no idea from where, but I did not care for the design. Even though it is a simple concept and an outdoor project, the drum turtle in the image was just not a very good design so I came up with my own.

Most projects are very technical and I have to get very specific with the design and details. But for the drum turtle, I did not spend a lot of time on it.

I had a rough idea of size and that gave me all I needed to buy the materials. But I did not head into the project with any design details on paper at all. I simply started by building the basic body first, then I designed everything else on the fly just to fit the body. 

It was really liberating to just make it all up as I went along. After making the body, I knew that I had to glue up material to get it thick enough for the legs, the neck/head, and the tail. 

At the time I was gluing up the stock for the legs & neck, I did not have any idea of the details or shape that I would make them. But the designs started to flow as I started working on the pieces. I realized the goal was to just keep it general and as a graphic, to represent a turtle, rather than being caught up in creating a life-like sculpture. 

After gluing up the stock, I squared it up and attached it to the underside of the turtle. It was at that point I determined what the finished width and length should be without even knowing the detailed shape of the feet. 

As the legs were mounted on the body, it hit me just what the shape should be. So I created a template with some 1/4" hardboard and that way I could transfer it to each foot so they all would be the same. 

As the feet took shape, it really confirmed that it all should be kept very as a very general representation and stay away from being detailed.


I actually had to deliberately force this thought since I most often deal with lots of details. Once I began to loosen up from my normal thought process, I really started having fun! 

While I was working on the legs and feet, the tail naturally came to me. I didn't measure anything out, I just stuck the tail board on the turtle and made a mark to cut it at a length that just felt right then I cut out the form at the bandsaw and then sanded it out and routed over the edges. 

What I found interesting, was the way that my mind would naturally start working out the details of next piece while I was still finishing out the one I was one.

For instance, at the point that I was sanding and detailing out the tail, my mind was not needed for that task, so it had moved on to the next task. My physical actions were always just a step behind since it takes longer to perform the task than to think it out. 

By the time I got to the neck & head, I pretty well had it figured out. Once again, I did not really measure anything, I placed the stock on the turtle body and marked where I thought it should be cut. Actual numbers were meaningless, I just went by how it felt. 

I roughed out the head at the bandsaw and sanded it out into a smooth shape with my little Porter Cable "armadillo" sander. That has become one of my favorite sander. I used to handle the big sanders the same way, but PC really nailed it when they designed this little gem to be held in one hand. 

I finished the parts on all sides as I assembled it, this will provide for maximum protection. I found a certain relief to not worry about a flawless finish as I do with all of my higher-end projects. 

I have already been getting questions about the finish, so I will share for those that are wondering: I used Messmer's deck finish that is formulated for mahogany, ipe', and tropical hardwoods because the back of the turtle's shell is mahogany. It will work fine on the redwood as well. I put 2 coats on everything. 

Normally I push for Sikkens. With all the years of remodeling and decks I have done, it has been my observation that nothing holds up like Sikkens. But it is a hard sell at $80 per gallon, so I used Messmer's. On average, it is just OK as all the other products that major companies sell are, which are all still second to Sikkens from my experience. 

Here is the drum turtle front and rear views all finished. 

I have no doubt that you are wondering how it sounds so you can check out this clip. 

The director of the local Audubon Society was really excited and pleased with the results of the drum turtle when I delivered it.


The interactive playground is not ready to receive the drum turtle so it will stay on the patio of the Audubon center until it can be put in it's permanent location. Here the visiting school kids can start using it. 

In the end, I was happy with the results, I had a great time building it, and I learned something too: keep the fun in woodworking. 

Your friend in the shop,

Todd A. Clippinger

Share the Love - Share the Knowledge

Carpentry and Fine Woodworking - It's All Related

Craftsman To Go

At the end of October I travelled out to Andy Chidwick's to do some remodel work on his house. Andy is touring with the Woodworking Shows giving seminars on sculpted furniture. His whole family is touring with him and while they are gone is a perfect time to do a lot of the dirty work that is difficult to live in during a remodel.

The Chidwick School of Fine Woodworking

While it is great working for someone like Andy, since he is a good friend and fellow craftsman, you may wonder, "What does carpentry really have to do with fine woodworking?" I can tell you that carpentry has EVERYTHING to do with fine woodworking.

It is typical that carpentry/construction, cabinet making, and fine woodworking are all separately pigeon holed. The perception is that if you do one, you can't do the other. But that is not true and there are some great benefits to me starting as a carpenter before moving on to fine woodworking and I would like to share some of these with you.

How It All Started

Carpentry is how I started building my hand/eye coordination using a wide variety of tools, day after day, year after year. It is said that a general rule of thumb for becoming an expert at any trade takes about 10,000 hours of experience. That turns out to be about 5 years based on working about 2,000 hours per year.

I started in '97, so now I officially have 16 years experience of making a living with my hands and implementing my ideas. But each one of those years is filled with work weeks that range between 60-70 hours. You can do the math but it means that I am getting a lot of experience packed in any given year.  

The Tool Tester

Using Andy Chidwick's Bosch Glide Saw on his job site.

Since I work around other contractors, I get exposed to a wide variety of tools, basically getting to test drive them in real-world situations. Doing a few test cuts on a demo model at the store with the company rep available just isn't the same. Any tool's inherent strengths and weaknesses quickly become apparent on the job site on a live project. 


Getting a Feel For It All

I am exposed to a wide range of products that I have to work with every day.  I have built years of muscle memory working with so many different materials. Every one of them has a different feel and gives a different feedback. This allows me to take most any material that I have never worked with, quickly interpret it's feedback and zero in on how it handles and it's characteristics. This is important for proper handling so I can get clean cuts or be able to work it in the most effective manner with the least amount of waste, or to keep from screwing it up because of some unique characteristic. 

Cutting plywood underlayment takes as much skill to cut as furniture grade plywood.

Over time I have seen what products and methods work well and which ones do not. Especially as a remodel contractor, I am often replacing what does not work.

I have been around plenty of new construction guys and their mantra is "It only has to last a year." This attitude is in reference to the warranty that contractors must provide on their projects. If the projects don't break down in the first year, then it has made it past the mandatory warranty period and they will not fix it. I have the mindset of producing a legacy project, no matter if it is a piece of furniture, a built-in, or a remodel. It is designed and built to last. 

Problem Solving & Designing

Being a carpenter challenges me with a lot of problem solving and forces me to think outside of the box. So I have to understand my materials, my situation, and think in both a lineal and abstract fashion. If problem solving keeps the mind young, I have found the eternal fountain of youth. 

A design solution to create a threshold for a set of french doors drawn in SketchUp.

The threshold design becomes reality.

Being a remodeler and carpenter has exposed me to a lot of design ideas that are both good and bad. Being in control of a project has also allowed me to offer my design ideas, sell them, and follow through with constructing and installing them. 

It always amazes me how many bad ideas and designs I see that have been implemented. Realizing that someone actually got paid for these bad ideas, has given me the courage to sell my own. My ideas are competitive and better than what I have seen. 

Being in so many different residential and commercial spaces also exposes me to a variety of sizes and volume of both space and projects. Getting a grasp of spatial relationships and volumes is essential to design success. This means I am constantly exercising my senses for understanding volume, dimension, and relative proportions. 

The Great Connection

While carpentry & construction are typically seen and kept in different compartments from fine woodwork and design, I saw the great connections between them. 

In each I am exercising my hand skills as a craftsman, measuring, cutting, and handling material. I am constantly building muscle memory as I do this, reinforcing hand/eye coordination. I have to exercise technical problem solving skills. My design senses are challenged in both as I utilize balance, proportion, and employ contrast in color and texture. My choices in product and construction methods are driven by what I see has both worked and not worked. 

What This All Means For You

Framing a wall for a picture window while temp wall supports the roof.

Most woodworkers have a job that doesn't allow for daily use of all these skills, but the secret to success still lies in one simple principle: spending time in the shop, with hands on tools building projects. This is the only way you will build your skills. Never dismiss the seemingly simple and unglamorous projects around the house, those are how I built my skills as I worked on client's homes.

Working on a project for your house or a friend's provides the opportunity to exercise your problem solving, design skills, and to build that muscle memory every time you pick up a tool. So I hope you see the growth potential in every project, even if it does not appear glamorous and measure up to the "fine woodworking" status. 

That's all for now. 

Your friend in the shop-

Todd A. Clippinger

Share the Love-Share the Knowledge