Power Tool Guilt

Article - August 6, 2008

I was just thinking about something and I know I can’t be the only one. As a self-proclaimed “hybrid woodworker”, I try to balance hand tools and power tools in a way that makes the most sense for the job at hand. This is a method of work that takes a certain amount of time and experience to develop. I am getting there. But one thing I have noticed about myself over the years is that I have a touch of power tool guilt. Sounds silly but its totally true.

Have you ever watched a video about hand tools where the woodworker is showing off his mad skillz?? You know the kind where the guy makes his perfect wispy shavings during a serene and peaceful milling session (I’m talking to YOU Schwarz!).

I did some milling today and you know what I looked like? A soldier about to engage in chemical warfare! I usually finish watching the video, and with my head down and my bottom lip out I say to Nicole, “I’m at one with the wood too……”, almost asking for reassurance. She usually pats me on the head and says, “Of course you are dear!” and then gives me an ice cream.

Looking back over the years, this sense of guilt was what fueled a number of my hand tool purchases. I frequently bought these tools before I even knew how to use them. As a result, they became very cool looking decorations for my shop. While nearly every one of my hand tools is now in use, that wasn’t always the case. And I honestly just felt guilty about it.

But this is where the story takes a positive turn. As the complexity of my projects increased, I soon confronted problems that were not easily solved with power tools. So by necessity, the hand tools were pulled down off the shelf and placed into service. Now I may not use these tools to the extent that a hand tool only woodworker might, but who cares? I am what I am. And what I am is a hybrid woodworker! So as I continue to develop my woodworking identity, my guilt slowly fades away. And I’ve come to realize that it really wasn’t guilt over using power tools, it was the guilt associated with knowing I haven’t yet fully explored the simplest options available to me. And now that I have, I can confidently select the best tool for each job, powered or not.

Fortunately for all of us, woodworking is a process and not a destination. There are all types of tools for all types of woodworkers and there is room in the world for all of us. So my public service message for today is: End the guilt! Have confidence in who you are as a woodworker. And most importantly, do what makes you happy!

By the way, check out the October issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine for an article that covers some of my favorite ways to incorporate hand tools into a power tool workshop.