I am the Modern Traditionalist

I have been reading and listing to a couple of blogs and podcasts that discuss “the hand tool craze.” And obviously, I belong to that group of hand tool crazies, but when asked what kind of woodworker I am, I tell them that I am a Modern Traditionalist (MT).

I totally agree that hand tool use on the rise. Why, I can’t give you a total answer, but I do believe the driving force has been the influence of Christopher Schwarz, the soon to be ex-editor of Popular Woodworking.  He showed up at the right time, in this economy, when people are doing more at home and shopping less. (Although, I personally have busted my FbY bank account going crazy buying more hand tools.) Christopher introduced many of use to Robert Wearing, and many other great woodworkers who really understand how to work with wood.  And his articles have shown us there is much more to woodworking than a great big table saw.

Andre Roubo

 If I could go back in time, and give Andre Roubo a thickness planer (solar-powered I guess) I bet I would be his best friend, until he remembered it rains a lot in Paris. So if given the latest , greatest tools, I’d be happy too. BUT, I have found, that to be the best type of woodworker I can be, for my one man shop, I hereby declare that I am an MT!  

So what is an MT? I use the best tool I need, whether it be, my beloved #4 Lie-Nielsen smoothing plane, or my porter-cable biscuit jointer. What does this have to do with the price of gas in Newport? I’ll give you an example. I hope I will never have to buy, 60, 80, 100, or 120 grit sandpaper ever again. With my smoothing plane, or scraper, I can get to a surface ready for 220 or 320 with my plane just as fast as I can sand through all the grits, thus saving me money on sandpaper and electricity, and the harmful effects of breathing in dust.  And I burn calories too! The catch is, you have to know how to keep sharp blade and how to properly use the tool. On the other side of the coin, would I ever re-saw with a handsaw? Are you nuts! Of course not! I know how to do it, but in my shop, time is money. You’d have to pay me quite a lot for me to give up my band saw or table saw.

Hand tools have opened up a whole new aspect of woodworking to me. For example; I have a much better understanding of how to work the wood. I have a much better understanding of wood in general. I can achieve higher levels of accuracy in my work, and I have to admit, there is just something special about knowing that you made something “Old School!

I am the Modern Traditionalist Woodworker, I use whatever tool is best for the job, whether it be antique or electric powered.  One day, when the electricity goes out all over the world and we are invaded by zombie vampires created by a virus from another world, I will be safe in knowing that I can make furniture in my bunker in Idaho. (Just so you know, my wife has stopped checking out post apocalyptic audio books for me to listen too throughout the day)

So are you a Modern Traditionalist Woodworker too?

About yaakov

Husband, Abba, Furniture Maker, Turner, Bookseller, and all around working stiff.
This entry was posted in In Yaakov's Workshop and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to I am the Modern Traditionalist

  1. knottywood says:

    No, yeah… uh no, I’m Knot Traditional.

    About ’75 I started working as an apprentice carpenter, forming & framing houses and commercial buildings. There was a huge Black Walnut tree in the backyard of the old house I was renting. A big limb broke off in a violent wind storm. I cut it up with a sharp Fanno pruning saw. Fanno saws were made in Chico, Ca, I believe for the horticulture and orchard industries. I also got a pair of Diston panel saws (1o & 12pt) with rosewood handles from the ’40s. They have have an eagle with a banner in it’s talons, that says “By War Bonds”. I bought the three saws from from and old man for $5 ea., at a garage sale in 1980 . He used them to build the Boardwalk and the Giant Dipper roller coaster in Santa Cruz, California in the ’20s. The Dipper is still going after all these years.

    Most everything was built out of local Redwood trees. He said the carpenters did everything by hand that they had no electricity… because there were no electric tools. He said the carpenters made a buck and a half an hour and were far an away the highest paid tradesman at the time.


    My first woodworking project was to carve a Walnut stirring spoon with a Girl Scout knife. I also carved a pancake spatula. I still have and use them. The rest of the walnut I dried. As I began to learn how to build cabinets, furniture and buy tools, I used bits of the Black Walnut on different pieces. I used the last of it on a spalted apple table I made in 2004. I use it for a night stand.


    Yaakov, nice posts on the work bench. Very cool, I hope it makes work a little easier and it pays itself off quickly.

  2. Lazy Larry says:

    You betcha…Love my power tools and machines but now and then reach for a tool not connected to electricity…altho I can’t live with out my number 1 power tool… the fridge…lol

  3. bob says:

    I am a MT too.

  4. No question about it. A hybrid approach is definitely the most practical. Don’t forget, James Krenov himself would fit in this camp.

  5. Slissie says:

    I agree in using the best tool for the job. As the pieces I sell are small ticket items and don’t fetch near what a Chai Boy might bring in terms of a price, I my self have to be concerned with production time. I would be interested in leaving behind the several grits of sand paper that is for sure.

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