Would you say hand tools are slower than power tools?
That is totally dependent upon the “programming” of the operator. A person using hand tools can produce a piece of furniture just as fast, if not faster, than a person using power tools provided that the wielder of the hand tools thinks the appropriate way. There is virtually no need to four-square boards for the hand-tool woodworker; we just make a reference edge and face before making the other side look “good enough.” We don’t have to make test cut after test cut to set up a router table; we grab a molding plane with the shape coded in and go to town. If your try plane is appropriately sharp and set up properly, you don’t have to smooth plane the entire case side down when you get a little tearout, whereas you must with a machine-planed surface. It’s the little things like that that make a difference.
This is, of course, predicated on the idea of making one-offs; in a production world it is obviously far less expensive to automate and electrify the work provided the design lends itself to this type of work. But because most of us are not doing woodwork on an industrial scale, hand tools are just as fast. I’ll put it this way; my William and Mary spice chest, the first piece for which I was truly recognized by the larger woodworking world, took me less than 90 hours from rough wood to finished product. The Hepplewhite huntboard from the book was about 20 hours of work. The foot stool features cabriole legs that can be done by hand in less than one hour each (not including the foot). I’d lay a friendly challenge at the feet of any power-tool person to execute those designs that fast to an appropriate level of period accuracy.
In my world, speed is but one consideration and I would argue it isn’t even the most important. Fidelity to the past is what matters to me.
– Zachary Dillinger, excerpt from “Fidelity to the Past” in The First Three Issues