Over the years, the most offensive thing I’ve ever done (so I’m told) is to make a sticker that said, “Kill Your Tablesaw.” It was conceived of as an absurd self-caricature – a spoof of the classic Luddite bumper sticker that said, “Kill Your Television.” (Wait… do Luddites drive cars?) Anyway, it’s clear by now that M&T has a reputation for the hand-tool “thing,” and we make no apologies for it. We’ve decided not to use “power tools” in our furniture making for several reasons, but none are about pretension or ego. We just do not enjoy machinery. And we really love hand tools.
That said, in the woodworking world, the elephant in the room is the fact that power tools are dangerous. The debate gets revived every once in a while, but for the most part we woodworkers don’t much like to talk about it because we want to encourage people to use whatever tools they have access to. It’s a noble aim, and one I sympathize with. But still. These things are dangerous.
“Ah hah!” you say, “What about the risks associated with hand tools? Couldn’t you mess yourself up with an errant swing of an axe or a dropped chisel? Why call out table saws or shaper tables when edge tools can open your palm at a moment of inattention?”
Anyone who’s been around a while knows that woodworkers have taken different viewpoints on this discussion. One approach is to flatten the difference: “Every tool is dangerous. You’ve just got to be smart with whatever tool you use.” Another position is exaggeration: “Hand tools are safe and friendly, unlike those snarling, flesh-hungry machines!” Other folks are simply indifferent and use whatever they feel like in the moment.
It’s perhaps safe to say that by now the exchange has come to a standstill, and few have contributed much of anything new to the question. Lines have been drawn, and we all know our shibboleths.
But I just finished editing an article for Issue Twelve that I believe is the clearest, sanest, and most honest discussion of these issues I’ve ever read. I will warn you that it’s not a “middle” position that attempts to make everyone happy. But it’s well-argued and worth digesting.