Well, I have been writing and rewriting this post in my editor for a while, but with the recent call to war on tablesaws espoused by Adam Cherubini over at Popular Woodworking Magazine, (You can read his blog post HERE) it seemed like the time to bring it out, rewrite a little and shine the sun on it.
The first confession is that I have not gone a whole complete year without my table saw. It's been about 3 weeks short of that year, but writing the title "49 Weeks Without a Table Saw" didn't really sound euphonious. The other confession is that I didn't walk into this year completely by choice. The year was a consequence of other, bigger, life choices. To make a long story shorter, my family and I moved back home from Maine to Wisconsin in a bit of a whirlwind and we took the first place that was available to move into. A small 2 bedroom upstairs duplex in a converted farmhouse. No garage, no basement for a shop, I had a small 5 foot by 9 foot storage area at the bottom of our stairwell, that still shared floor space with the stairwell. My table saw, router table, joiner, drill press, ect. all went into storage and I decided that it was time to focus on really learning to use hand tools.
So what lessons have I learned in this year without a table saw? I'm not sure I will be able to answer all of them in one blog article without it rivaling Tolstoy.
First would be the obvious, skill based lessons. Sharpening a chisel, plane blade, and a saw. Cutting square and to the line. Planing a board flat and joining the edges. The list goes on and on.
Then there would be other skills, less readily tangible, but possibly more valuable. I have a better eye for what is straight and square now, along with the muscle memory I learned sawing came a kind of "sight memory" where I can more readily tell when something's off square, even by a little. I have learned to read and pay more attention the the grain of the wood. It's important in hand planing but it's also important in wood selection, and in deciding which parts of a board to use for which parts of a project. I had read some on grain selection in projects before and just passed it off as something beyond me, but in working on my latest project I have been paying attention to the grain and how it will flow in the piece. It's making a difference in the look and I'm impressed. There are other, more subtle lessons I have retained.
What's the point of learning all these hand tool techniques if I don't plan on staying exclusive to hand tools? This seems like a self explanatory question to me but let's explore it for a second anyhow. All these skills I have gathered in the last 12 months have made me a better, and more confident woodworker. For a long time I stood still in my woodworking, exploring the same shapes over and over, but now I feel more confident in my abilities, my eye for design, proportion, and detail, and my horizons are broadening. This year without a table saw has been a year of extreme growth for me as an artist working in wood. The time learning hand tools has made me a better woodworker overall.
I like my table saw, I'm not going to give it up, it was the first quality piece of equipment I purchased and it is high on my list. It is so versatile and you can do so many things well on a table saw. more things I think that you can do with any other single piece of equipment. That in itself should earn it some merits. All in all with everything one must respect the power and danger of the tool in question, and have no arrogance or ego when it comes to working with the tool. Notice I did not use the word fear, you should not ever fear a tool, fear will, by itself, get in the way of safety. Not fear but respect.
Cheers and Be Safe.