What Is Hand Woodworking?

Dan Cavallari

Hand woodworking is the process of creating items or products from wood using only hand tools rather than power tools. The modern approach to woodworking involves the use of power tools and computer numeric controlled, (CNC) machines that automate much of the work to be done. Hand woodworking is the opposite of such processes; the woodworker will create all aspects of the piece using only hand tools, though some woodworkers will usually use power tools such as drills or circular saws. The idea is to create a piece without the use of automated machines.

Planers are commonly used in hand woodworking.
Planers are commonly used in hand woodworking.

Some purists will do hand woodworking exclusively with non-powered tools. Hand saws, non-powered drills, chisels, and planers are common tools used by woodworkers creating pieces in this fashion. The advantage to hand woodworking is the ability to make a completely custom piece that is unlike any other piece, even another that is created in the image of the first. Each woodworking project will have idiosyncrasies and customizations that distinguish it from all other projects. This process will generally take a fair bit longer to complete than a piece made with modern technologies, and a hand woodworker will probably charge more for a completed piece.

Sauterelle or a T-bevel can be used to create, duplicate and measure angles.
Sauterelle or a T-bevel can be used to create, duplicate and measure angles.

Some hand woodworking can be done using a limited amount of power tools as well. Drills, for example, are often powered and used over handheld, unpowered drills; circular saws may be used for rough cutting, as can table saws. Larger machines are generally avoided, especially CNC machines that can make the same cuts over and over again with little or no variation. Such machines make it possible to mass-produce woodworking pieces, and a woodworker needs to do little more than program the machine and monitor it to ensure it is working properly. Part of the allure of hand woodworking is the fact that a customer gets a final product that was built with care by human hands rather than by machines.

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Custom furniture makers are some of the most common types of woodworkers who will utilize hand woodworking techniques. When a customer desires a custom piece, much of the rough cutting can be done with machines such as table saws or circular saws, but sometimes the finer work will be done using hand tools. This is especially true if the furniture will feature specific types of designs such as inlays or intarsia designs, which require careful cutting and a keen eye for design.

Hand woodworking uses only non-powered tools.
Hand woodworking uses only non-powered tools.

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