WT177 – Hybrid Woodworking

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On today’s show, we’re talking about Hybrid Woodworking and the goal of incorporating hand tools into a power tools shop. Looking for Marc’s book, Hybrid Woodworking? Click here!

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42 replies on “WT177 – Hybrid Woodworking”

First, I want to thank all three of you for the work you have done to help build the community of woodworkers, and help to increase the overall knowledge of the craft. In particular, Marc’s energy and incredible gift for teaching has been invaluable to bringing non-denture wearers into the craft – and I am a happy guild member.

This episode was the first time I left disappointed . Marc’s general pitch was “hand tools are there to make you feel good, but not to get real work done”, coupled with a “I wrote the book on this, so I should know”.

Unfortunately, what was intended to be a message of “follow your own groove” came off like nothing more than the embodiment of the Dunning-Kruger effect. In short, one’s inexperience can lead to an over-estimation of one’s skill. It was pretty clear that Marc’s time with hand tools is still too limited to really give the kind of in-depth insight the audience could use.

Personally, I am at best 90% power, and 10% hand, but I went down to Roy Underhill’s classroom and realized pretty quickly that my previous view of hand tools as archaic was more related to my skill than the tools themselves. I was forced to confront my own Dunning-Kruger based assumptions and ask “what hand tool skills should I focus on so that I can be faster than making a jig”?

For example, I watched Roy make a tapered sliding dovetail for the center stile of a cabinet far faster than I would have been able to do the same with any power. You might say “don’t use a tapered sliding dovetail”. Except that for what he was using it for, I’m not sure I could have chucked my router for a dado, set the depth, grooved it, then squared, glued and clamped it, all in the time that Roy put in a joint that will hold the case square without clamping and provide a great look to boot.

Of course we all know that milling boards with hand tools is for pleasure, not for value. And that the main example Marc used during the podcast – drawer making, is one where the repetition of power is far superior. But I’ve now learned enough to be more cautious in ruling out hand tools as the FIRST point of attack on a project, even when I want to get it done quickly.

I ask myself: How long will it take me to make a jig to hold the piece vs. how long to cut to a line and hit it with a hand plane? Or: can I use a chisel or a saw to do the fine cut, and waste out the rest with a pony router?

I think of the times now that I use my shooting board to ensure that a miter is tight, or grab my dividers rather than a tape measure for layout, and I now understand that hand can make you faster and more efficient, if only you take the time to build the skills.

Again, I am personally grateful for all you have done Marc, and I happily put my money where my mouth is. But I hope the book you wrote is more balanced in tone than the podcast.

Thanks for your thoughts on this Morgan and I encourage you to listen one more time to the first minute or two of the podcast. I stated at the outset that we were “wingin’ it” and didn’t do much in the way of preparation for the show. We even jokingly apologized for what was about to happen. The discussion was then largely guided by Shannon’s questions which were based on some things that had come across his inbox. We NEVER intended this as a well-rounded guide to the hybrid woodworking concept.

As a Guild member who consumes what I consider to be “my best work” and a fan of the free site, I would hope the hours of content you’ve enjoyed to date count for a bit more than a singular disorganized discussion in a 1 hour audio podcast format.

And frankly, I’m a bit stung by your interpretation of my comments. “I wrote the book in this so I should know.” is a sentiment that goes against everything I stand for. And the part about me not having enough experience to provide something useful for the audience? Ouch.

How about this. I’ll send you a free copy of my book. Read it in your spare time. When you’re finished, feel free to come back and add your thoughts to this thread.

Morgan – I see you clarify your point below. That being said, I had the exact opposite reaction. If Marc did not give the disclaimer that they were winging it, I don’t think anyone would know. And I prefer to hear people’s unscripted views anyhow.

I actually thought the show was pretty balanced on hand vs. power tools. Hand tools are raging fad right now, and the trendy view within woodworking (at least among some people) is that it is the “correct” way to do fine woodworking. The message I got was that the right way to do something is the way that makes you happy and gives you the best result. There is nothing wrong with doing something for the intangible benefits. Its like cycling vs. driving to work. No one will argue that cycling is faster (unless you have a 2 block commute), it is really about the other benefits. I see hand tools vs. power tools the same way. Especially for rough milling and cutting operations, hand tools will almost always be faster, and often more accurate. But that does not make them better or more enjoyable.

My last sentence above was obviusly a typo, it should read:

Especially for rough milling and cutting operations, power tools will almost always be faster, and often more accurate. But that does not make them better or more enjoyable.


I think that part of hand tools making a comeback is that people see that there are certain things that can be done faster/better with hand tools, but often underestimate the really steep learning curve. If you take classes with Roy Underhill or Chris Schwarz, they make hand tasks look crazy easy. Then you try it yourself and it morphs a little to “hey, I’m just doing this for fun”!For a hobbyist, there may not be enough time to get the skill up to benefit from hand tools.

So it’s not as simple as what makes you feel good. There’s a real practical tradeoff. For bespoke furniture it’s likely that a true master craftsman, who did the time as an apprentice, will be a hybrid woodworker. Not because of some old world throwback, but because it improves productivity and outcomes. If you put the time in, you get to the other side with not only something more pleasurable, but also more efficient.

I guess that’s why I bristle at the characterization of hand tools as merely implements of enjoyment. They are tools, and used correctly can be the ideal tool for a task. If we talk about them as something cool to fiddle with, we undermine their value.

On your side note, I live in a place where biking to work is actually faster than driving. We have awful traffic, and the newspaper did a study looking at commute times. They found that there was a ring around the city, about 7 miles out, where biking to work is actually be faster because of bad traffic. It may not be the perfect example, but again, its about the best tool for a situation.

I absolutely am still an incredibly happy Guild member, am and advocate for your work and of the podcast. Nothing in my comment should be taken as a retreat from full-throated support.

My point was to highlight what I felt was something that was missing – a recognition that we as woodworkers should look at hand tools as part of our world, rather than a sidebar.

As to your point about it thrown together nature of the podcast. To quote from our shared love of comicbooks “with great power comes great responsiblity”. You now have “written the book” on hybrid, and therefore if there was a podcast to give more thought to, it would be the one in which you are now taking a powerful, leadership role in the woodworking community :).

But I am not trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, I don’t think that this was a bad podcast, or that the information was incorrect. I only ask that you wear your mantle as the “hybrid woodworking guy” with care, and guide us forward to continued improvement in our craft.

Ahh the internet, where we can talk smack but never take it back.

In re-reading my first post, I was out of line. To all reading, I want to make it clear that I went too far in saying that Mark lacked the experience. It was tone, not substance that caught me off guard. I was expecting more of a “here is how I see the skills and talent merging” from Mark, and was my assumption that colored my comment.

So I’m taking back that statement, and if I could edit I would; but I can’t, so the best I can do is just apologize.

Again, great show guys. The topic is relevant and the discussion was spot on. In the end this hobby is all about enjoyment and satisfaction. . . . . To each their own devises.

Great show. I personally love the single topic format. Mostly because you don’t play listener voicemails (I actually think it is a backhanded compliment to the listener when you play their voicemail… secretely you are counting the “ums” and laughing that it takes them 15 minutes to ask a simple question… but um, like um like I digress).

Seriously, the single topic episodes are more interesting and engaging to me. It allows you to get deeper into a subject and I tend to learn more when you do that.

I am glad you conceded that “hybrid woodworking” is kind of a silly term you had to make up to sell books… marketing 101 is to take something everyone already does and give it a name so that you can claim it as your domain and I feel you guys are above that. That being said, if it helps demystify the process a bit then it is a necessary evil.

On the coping saw, that is the one hand tool I owned 3 of before I got into woodworking. You see these guys on TV cutting beautiful copes on their crown with a $12 saw so you go and buy one… get a crap result… buy a different one… get a crap result, then realize there is some camera magic going on.

Hey! I never said it was silly. I said it was a necessary evil. And I didn’t make it up to sell books, I made it up to sell an article 6 years ago and have used the term ever since. As a former molecular biologist, the term Hybrid is one that I naturally use to describe the combination of any two things. So at this point it was the logical choice for the book title. My admission was that I understand how a new term that catches on can be annoying to folks who never felt the need to use a term. OK I feel better now. πŸ™‚

Ha – thanks for the clarification, no harm intended on my part.

But I will repeat my main point, please more single topic shows!

I really appreciate you taking the time to make an entire podcast of my email. I was very surprised and quite pleased. Matt: I laughed out loud when you wondered if I have a coping saw hanging over my bench. I actually do, and it’s one I inherited from my dad. I think the last time I used it was making my sons pinewood derby cars about 14 years ago.

The show was very informative and I thought it answered the questions well. In my mind, your final thought was that there is not one correct way to do woodworking and we should do what is comfortable and enjoyable for each of us individually. I appreciate that advice. I dont feel like I’m missing anything but it made me realize that I want a few more hand tools to incease my skill as a wood worker. However, I dont feel like I need them immediately and can take my time to find what I want.

Thanks again for your answers and advice.

I really like Shannon’s comment about (to paraphrase) “how many people need a planer larger than a lunch box planer?”. This coming from a hand tool guy who’s buying a 20″ planer with a Byrd Shelix head.

BTW. I’m the guy who mentioned the ‘deal’ on Byrd heads over the Grizzly head.

Jim I stand by that comment, but I am actually the exception to that rule. How many guys do you know that work at a lumber yard where 24″ wide lumber is no longer a novelty? Its a tough job but dang it, I’ll take on the challenge πŸ˜‰

Re: Hybrid Woodworking, couldn’t it have also been called “Practical Woodworking”? It seems that Marc has described the better balance between process and result. Because of the setup requirements, power tools can’t be described as completely result oriented, even though they tend to be most efficient at repeating tasks. Similarly, hand tools can’t be described as all process, because they can be the best result-oriented tool, depending on what the task is and the time required to set up a power tool. Being all power or all hand tools will certainly result in inefficiencies at times.

P.S. Please note that I purposely stated that Marc has described a “better” balance between process and result. There is no universal “best”; the best process for woodworking is subjective to the woodworker. Baskin-Robbins has all those different flavors for a reason; we are all very different.

Excellent show, by the way. Shannon did a nice job in the John McGlaughlin role, but he could have thrown in a “Wrong!” once in a while.

Nice Show Guys, But you forgot one of the more useful applications for bench planes, the shooting board, which is really handy to tune joints, and get those pesky 45 degree angles perfect.
I had to laugh when I heard that most everyone has a coping saw, but never uses it. I have two that I inherited, and I believe that they were the reason I started to get into power tools after trying to cut a straight line for a pinewood derby car with one of those infernal creations.

Guys this episode was a bit of a fart in a space suit. I’ve listened to every woodtalk episode, and this was the first one I’ve turned off, I made it to the 30 minute mark and couldn’t listen to anymore.
I appreciate the time and effort you guys put into the show as well as your individual efforts, and I listen and will continue to listen every week. I just hope you keep these one topic shows to a bare minimum, or maybe put a 30 minute time limit on them.
Either way I don’t think i’ll be listening to anymore shows that make a feature of the hand v’s power tool debate or “Hybrid” woodworking, it’s everywhere and I’m sick to death of it.
Please stick to the regular format.

I seem to be in the minority with my opinion of this show, it looks like there are plenty of people that enjoyed it. I’ve even heard a comment that it was your best show ever.
I think from now on I’ll just skip the one topic shows, and not make any comments about them.

For the price of a new half set of hollows and rounds you can buy a shaper, a power feeder, a set of cutters and a Festool router.
Kinda funny, dontcha think?

For those of you who give us feedback on the show format, I hope you’ll forgive us if we don’t immediately implement your advice. This comment thread is a great example of why we need to trust our guts when it comes to show content, as one person here LOVES the single topic shows and another person clearly hates them. We will always listen to and consider all feedback we receive and our goal is to continually improve. But all three of us are experienced enough to know that we’ll never please everyone and it’s futile to try to. All we can do is stay true to our hearts by making content that WE would want to listen to in the hopes that others enjoy listening as well. We’ll evolve for the better over time, slowly, with audience feedback taken into consideration.

I should also mention the reason single topic shows exist. We started recording them so that we would have a bank of recorded shows that aren’t tied to current events. We use these as substitutes for the regular show on weeks when our schedules don’t allow us to record. It’s all part of our commitment to run a weekly schedule. So if you don’t like the single topic shows, the alternative is actually no show at all that week.

Totally understood – you guys are the ones doing all the work. You can’t please everybody all of the time. I will keep listening either way, and secretely hope that as your multimedia woodworking empires continue to grow (did anyone ever call you the “Martha Stewart of Wood” better yet, “where martha stewart goes for wood…talk”), you will have no time to do anything but pre-recorded single topic shows πŸ™‚

Good show for “off the cuff” and timely for me personally as I just attempted a hand tool only project from Tom Figgen book “Made by hand”. I’m a power shop but have a basic selection of hand tool but decided to make this project about the journey more than the destination, sadly my journey lasted about an hour. Ripping stock with a hand saw is not fun, nor relaxing or ethereal (for me). However I did cut all of the mortise and tenons (and there were quite a lot of them) by hand, didn’t even use a drill & bit to hog out the mortises, this I enjoyed doing. Cutting groves & dado’s by hand with a saw, chisels & router plane was enjoyable was well. last power tool used was a drill for the drawl bore pins, I knew I wasn’t going to buy a bit & brace. The project is finished, in use and being enjoyed as expected.
my take away from this journey is that my power tool get me doing what I want to do, build stuff, but it also enlightened me to the fact that I don’t need to buy $1500 Domino router to make furniture (time is not money for the hobbyists), that money can go to buying more wood.
Marc, Matt & Shannon, thanks for the show, keep doing what your doing.


I loved the show. As a newb, I was very happy to see you address Hybrid Woodworking directly. I have Marc’s book and it helped shed light on what I was beginning to discover for myself re: the efficacy of hand tools, but it was great to hear Matt & Shannon’s takes on the subject too. In fact, I wish you’d cover Hybrid Woodworking more often, since all 3 of you are well rounded in that regard and I think it helps dispel the mythical power vs. hand tool dichotomy.

It was a little surprising for me how much you guys dislike the #7 plane, and how Shannon stresses joinery planes over bench planes (recalling from memory here so forgive me if I got that wrong). Both positions contradict my own findings, but I am open minded and definitely want to hear your perspectives.

So bravo, and I encourage you to keep challenging our thinking. And here’s another thumbs-up for the single-topic format.

Maybe we can dive into some of this a section at a time in the future. I think by pushing through so quickly, we may somewhat amplify our feelings about various tools for the sake of making our point. I definitely don’t dislike the #7 and still own one. So it might be worth discussing its role a little more. I’d also like to have other folks’ perspectives, like yours, so that we can round out the discussion a bit.

That sounds great, Marc. Happy to share whatever I’m discovering as a newb. And, please tell Shannon & Matt that if they want to sell their #7s, I’m in the market πŸ˜‰

I own a #8 jointer plane and have had it for many years (about 10 or more years). I don’t use it very often but it is fun to break out this huge plane, work a long edge, clean it, and put it back in the plane sock. LOL
The only real task that I use my #8 for is making sure my workbench is flat. I find it useful having my workbench as a flat reference surface since I don’t have room for an assembly table.

I love the single topics and the variety that it brings.

I did wonder if you might want to delve into this a bit more deeper on some of the sub-topics of the Hybrid/Practical/Do what works for you topic .. since its a pretty meaty topic.

One thought on this is how you might use a combination of power tools and hand tools to over come impediments to wood working. You talked about this some, but I’ll here’s what I was thinking.

I like, Shannon, don’t own a power jointer. I don’t have room for one or if I did give up the room for one, I’d have to limit my projects to small ones . Case and point, my current project : http://sheworkswood.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/above-1-of-1.jpg. (Marc, don’t know if you remember but I had that 10″ Jet jointer planer that I dumped.) So, I bring my boards in, mill one side and an edge and I’m off to the races with my power jointer and I keep my hand planing skills up, to boot. If I had a big project that need lots and lots of milling, I might .. go up to the community college and do my milling. That’s what I did for my workbench. That and used my track saw.

Hand tools have also made me a braver wood worker (you guys also talked about this a little). Curves! Ahhh! Scary .. until I learned how to use a rasp and spoke shave. And, of course, I use a band saw to cut the curves, but I’m practisin’ with my turning saw cuz, man! do I spend a lot time tuning to stupid band saw (who knows, maybe there are ones that need less tuning). And I keep sneaking over to Tom Fidgen site and eyeing the Kerfing plane method for re-sawing. Yes, sweating might be involve, but no bandsaw tuning and I wonder if it might be faster given how little re-sawing I do.

I don’t own a router table either, so if I want moulding, I have to make them by hand or with my hand held router.

So there you have it, maybe two sub-topics to expand on something like : 1) Space! I need space or smaller tools and 2) Scary Wood Working conquered by easy peasie hand tool methods. You did talk about this some, but I’d love to hear more.

Yes, space savings! For a tiny (~150 ft2) hobbyist shop like mine, small footprint is worth a lot. Worth the learning curve & sweat to save space.

Hey Guys,

I have two observations on this episode and the following comments.

1) When I hear you say that you don’t like labels and the power versus hand tool debate, I see a contradiction when you do a show on hybrid woodworking. To me, this further accentuates the debate by adding a third option (that I believe most people fall under to some extent) and discussing it. To eliminate these labels, I think we should simply think of those as tools. To me, the source of power for these tools is irrelevant, whether it is human, animal, electrical or gas. We tend to see the hand tools as more precise for refining but I would argue that a domino is pretty damn precise and creates just as good joinery for some applications than hand cut tenon and mortises.

To eliminate these labels, I think we should focus of process rather than tool. We all know there are dozens of ways to accomplish common tasks for woodworking and we each use a certain process but there are definitely some that are faster, slower, more effective, more precise, etc. To share your own processes is much more relevant to me than hearing about incorporating hand tools. Since most weekend woodworkers have limited budget (I certainly do), we have to chose carefully which tools we need to buy. Yet, I don’t seem to hear what power tools we should incorporate in our power tool shops. A great example of process in this episode was hearing Matt talk about eliminating the table saw. In other words, to talk about going from coarse to fine for a certain task is something I think would go a long way to eliminate the labels. The tools you use for these tasks becomes secondary. They simply become tools instead of hand tools or power tools.

2) My second observation is that I think woodworkers apologize more than Canadians (I know, I’m one)! Seriously though, I’ve seen a few instances where someone says something a little controversial and when they get picked up for it, they back peddle right away.

Morgan R, I’m using you to make my point but please don’t feel that this comment is directed to you personally. I have no reasons to think that your apologies weren’t sincere. I have juste observed a few guys who appeared to me like they had to apologize for saying something controversial and they were voicing their opinion which was against the grain. I think a woodworking debate can benefit from different and sometimes controversial opinions. This being said, I’m not saying to attack people personally and I truly hate internet trolls. I just think that we should hold our opinions even if it goes against the grain if expressed respectfully.

Finally, when I started listening to this podcast (around #95), I first thought that it was a lesser version of your respective shows. I quickly changed my mind since I’m now a regular listener and I’m slowly going back to the first episodes. Please keep doing the great work and I like the single topic shows. I wouldn’t like to see those all the time but they are quite enjoyable when they arrive from time to time.

I have to differ with you guys on the Jointer Plane. I have replace my Jack with the LA Jointer. It’s awesome as a jack plane. I used it for over a year now for all my planning needs. In fact, it’s becomming a bit small. I like to get something bigger and wider. Something that will fit my stature. Something that would not look so small in my hands like that no 8 does. So I went down to woodcraft to see if they had something bigger. After being notified I might be a bit….well I ran into this oldtimmy woodworker who was down on his luck. He hear my conversation, and the cream to get out. I told this grizzle old woodworker that I was looking for a bigger plane. A challenge to the unrulely twisted wood. He scratch his beard and looked around. Come here sunny, and don’t repeat this. He pulled from his stollen shopping carts a Hugh 3 inch wide plane blade. He said in a nearly whisper, this blade came from the great one. The one we call, Moby Jack…..

The only comment I’d add about this particular episode was that the vibe was that power tools are the default and you need to justify hand tool usage. That was the original question obviously but the word ‘need’ was the problem.

You don’t need hand tools if you have a power tool shop… you don’t need power tools if you’re a hand tool user either. The correct word is want. Why would you want one over the other, and phrased that way there are plenty of reasons you’d want hand tools over power tools in a shop and the other way around as well.

While I am very tempted to insult your motives and skills in order to get a free book offer (that is just not fair!), I can’t do it! πŸ™‚ Sigh…

As for me this show came a few $1000 too late. In fact I sold my $1500 Domino to buy a lot of hand tools (didn’t use the Domino much)! Some of my hand tools I use all the time, others are tool chest decoration – plow plane, moving fillister plane, 16″ Bad Axe tenon saw, full set of augers and braces, fishtail chisels, dowel plate, brass hammers… all things that caused sweaty nights of rabid tool lust that could only be satisfied by clicking “Order.” Thanks for helping me realize 1) It’s not just me. 2) I should have put this all into a Sawstop cabinet saw.

Hey, guys, thanks for including my question on the show! (It was the one about giving up the most versatile tool in your shop, and how losing that tool would affect your woodworking.)

I thought Matt put an interesting spin on his answer by saying his table saw is both the one tool he could do without (if he got to keep all his other tools) and the one tool he’d have to have (if he could only have one tool). But I’ll have to go back and listen again, because I think Marc dodged the question by saying we’d have to pry his table saw out of his cold, dead hands!

I had mixed feelings about this episode, as others have mentioned. I understand Marc’s viewpoint completely, but I think that a certain distinction needs to be made.

There is the woodworker who does woodworking for a living and needs to get things done within a certain amount of time to deliver a product or come in under budget.

Then there’ s the hobbyist / enthusiast who is just doing it for the love of the craft.

No doubt that power tools are faster and easier in the vast majority of cases. But once you take time out of the equation, all bets are off. I’m a relatively new woodworker, but the more I get into it, the more I’m drawn to hand tools. There’s a huge sense of satisfaction there, more than I got with using power tools.

Of course, satisfaction doesn’t pay the rent. πŸ™‚

Great podcast. Working my way though it from both ends, daily on my long dog walks.

Hey Keith. Interesting thoughts. I think you actually highlighted somewhat of a misconception: that time isn’t as much of a factor for hobbyists. From my experience, many hobbyists are even MORE concerned about their time simply because they don’t have much of it to spare. A busy mom or dad who holds down a 9-5 job, for example, might only get a few hours a week in the shop. For someone like that, obviously time doesn’t equal money. But time is still time and when you don’t have much of it to spare, you might even value that time MORE than money. So would that person rather spend their five hours milling their boards flat and square by hand, or would they prefer to use power tools for the work so they can get on to building something? There’s no right answer as both positions are valid, depending on how the person wants to spend their time.

I guess what I’m saying here is that you can never truly take time out of the equation. Time will always be a factor for both hobbyists and pros and depending on your particular tastes as a hobbyist, that time value proposition may push you toward hand tools or away and both options would be “right.”

Keith, I would have agreed with you back when I was in college or just out of college, but now I’m really wrestling with trying to find the right balance between time vs. dollars–hence my question about eliminating the most versatile/time-saving tool in your shop.

I’ve always found a way to fill my “free” time to the point that I felt like I was always busy. But over the past few years I’ve found myself with less and less discretionary time–on average, I get about every other Saturday and maybe an hour or two after work a couple days a week of purely discretionary time. Another factor in the equation is whether your woodworking projects “need” to be done. In the past when I’ve needed to work on a project because there was a deadline, I’ve had to take time off from work, and there’s a limit to how much I can do that. I’m just a hobbyist (and a novice, at that), but for me time is always a factor.

I’m way behind listening to WoodTalk, obviously, but I enjoyed this one even though it seemed like you guys were trolling me most of the time. Joinery planes over bench planes? Bevel-up over bevel down jack? Tailed routah over moulding planes? No jointer plane? Equating Japanese saws with panel saws? More shows I can argue with, please!

Also, I think Marc’s absolutely right on the time factor; I’ve spent my entire woodworking time allotment on milling stock. I need the exercise and enjoy the challenge, but if your goal is to complete projects in a short time, being a hand tool purist using rough lumber is not the way go.

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