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Are draw knives and planers that horrible?

 
master steward
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I've been slowly learning some roundwood woodworking through the PEP curriculum, and I've seen a lot of mention of draw knives and planers for smoothing the wood. I called up my dad to see if there were any extras from when my grandfather moved out of his house and into a retirement apartment, and I was told that there was no reason to use a draw knife or planer. That they were too hard to use, and to just use a electric sander. I don;t really like power tools, and would like to learn the traditional skills. But, currently everyone seems to be saying that these older ways of smoothing wood are hard to use, inaccurate, and possibly dangerous. Are they really that bad? Should I just learn to use the sanders that we have, and not look for a draw knife or planer?
 
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A sharp hand plane will leave a surface finish that would take a lot of work to approach with sanding. Chisels, planes and draw knives don't require hand, eye or ear protection and of course no electricity.

Making a long shaving with a hand plane is magical thing.

I really like Paul Sellers on YouTube for woodworking by hand instruction.
 
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The very first electric drill was invented about 100 yrs. ago. Sanders were invented less than 100 years ago. Every single building and every single piece of furniture in the world built before 100 yrs. ago was built with hand tools. ~~Not bad for "hard to use, inaccurate or possible dangerous" tools. Especially considering that many of the world's most beautiful buildings and finest styles of furniture date to before 1900. As for me? I prefer hand tools. www.ohiofammuseum.com  P.S. When I was younger, I  worked at a place where a guy was using an electric planer, with rotating blades. He slipped and the planer took all the fingers of his left hand right off. Rather dramatic to see (and very red). If he had been using a hand plane and slipped, he might have got a nick. Oh well.
 
pollinator
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Draw knives are great! Don't use a planer on roundwood.
All this wood i've done in two hours i think, with a visitor of my neighbour. The French farmer is holding the beer in the second picture. This wood was robinia pseudoacacia, black locust, cut in april, we didn't have to use a drawknive, we could just peel it off with a knife, if the sapstream is going it's super easy.
Have used the drawknife a month ago when peeling roundwood. You've got to get into what i think they call the cambium layer and draw towards you. Sharp knife makes it easy. It depends on your muscle strength as well.
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pioneer
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marty, the man of this outfit, does most all of the building and maintenance in this here outfit...but, i can tell ya...although we do have some power tools, he HATES the sounds of power tools...and his preferred method of carpentry are his old hand tools picked up here and there...resale stores, auctions, trades, etc.  his draw knife and planers are among those tools most used in his toolbox...i wish i could get him to share on here...but, he is a quiet man and an old cowboy :)  

so, ill do it for him...to the best i know how...he was SOOOO brought up in the old ways...and has so many gifts!!!  i love to watch him whittle away at a piece of tree...whatever size or shape, and turn it into something marvelous! :)
 
master pollinator
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I've used a draw knife and I think they are fun.  The key is to keep them sharp.  My husband is much more skilled in woodworking than I am and has carved puppet parts with a draw knife (he was a professional puppeteer in a previous career).

 
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My father had a box of broken glass he used as shaves held perpendicular to the work.  Try it... carefully...
 
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Years ago I had a part time job after school working for a furniture company. They sold antiques & some very expensive mass produced furniture. They also had an old time master cabinet maker, named Erno, from Hungary or somewhere near that region. I forget, it's been many years. He made custom designed furniture for the very wealthy. One day I asked him why he did not use power tools. He pointed to all the beautiful precision furniture he made & explained his work was about craftsmanship not quantity. He explained that one can feel the wood with hand tools & that makes all the difference in bringing out the best qualities of a particular piece of wood.  I'm quite certain he departed the earth long ago but his amazing furniture will be cherished for many more generations to come. There's a little Erno in my wooden spoon.

Plus, what are the available options if the power goes down hard??? Hand tools are good. Many tools can cause injury. Powered or not. There are "rules" for staying safe with them. Wear appropriate safety gear. Pay close attention to the task at hand. Learn the safe method to use them. Don't use them for something they're not intended to do. Don't try to force them. Keep sharp tools sharp.

Hand planers are fairly safe. Draw knives are more dangerous but following the rules above will help prevent injury. Neither are suitable for young kids without adult supervision. Just because something might be more difficult does not mean that it is not worth learning.
 
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my draw knife is a lawnmower blade with two pieces of rebar tackwelded to the ends (for handles)  sharpened with a hand file.   For debarking roundwood it is good, but its a workout.  Definately work the wood as green as possible. And know know the sap-timing.

i can strip 4  3m logs of  15 cm diameter doug fir in an hour, but if you do that more than a few hours in a morning the next morning should not be an abs or triceps day.

Safety not an issue,  i mean, i would choke if i tried to swallow it, and i suppose i could crack a bone if i wacked myself with it... i cant imagine an unintentional injury.  

 
pollinator
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I don't exclusively use hand tools, but was taught how as a young boy by my father.  I still use hand tools from time to time and enjoy it. I actually used a handplane just last week on a tabletop I had glued together. Handplanes are not too dangerous as you are generally pushing the tool away from you.  A drawknife can be more dangerous as you are pulling the cutting edge towards you.  Just use common sense, keep your tools SHARP and go slow until you learn how to use them.
 
Joseph Michael Anderson
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Also, you can push a draw knife away from you, like when you are tired of going in the same motion,  make your angle between the knife and log less than when pulling because you tend to push down more "in reverse".    
 
master pollinator
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I prefer hand tools over power tools for woodworking, and if the success of Lie Nielsen says anything, hand tools are not going out of style. I would have to check the website, but when I worked there as a machinist, drawknifes were still being made.

I still think people using drawknifes for removing bark is the wrong tool to use. Here in Maine we always used a spud. Up until the 1980's, a logger made $5 more per cord if it was "peeled". Every old barn has one sitting on a sill somewhere for this reason.

 
Travis Johnson
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This was one of may most ambitious woodworking projects done almost entirely by hand. It used mortise and tenon joinery, dovetails and lovetails, the latter of which is impossible to do with power tools because the heart shape pins must be carved by hand chisel. You can see the lovetails on the drawer that is partly open underneath the engineers side of the locomotive cab. They are called Lovetails because when they fit together, they look like a series of hearts. (The cradle part isin back of the cab, but ahead of the radiator and where the engine would be).



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Nicole Alderman wrote:I've been slowly learning some roundwood woodworking through the PEP curriculum, and I've seen a lot of mention of draw knives and planers for smoothing the wood. I called up my dad to see if there were any extras from when my grandfather moved out of his house and into a retirement apartment, and I was told that there was no reason to use a draw knife or planer. That they were too hard to use, and to just use a electric sander. I don;t really like power tools, and would like to learn the traditional skills. But, currently everyone seems to be saying that these older ways of smoothing wood are hard to use, inaccurate, and possibly dangerous. Are they really that bad? Should I just learn to use the sanders that we have, and not look for a draw knife or planer?



OK lets dig into this here.

You were told there is no reason to use these tools. With all due respect to your dad, I think he is mistaken. These tools will teach you the wood in ways a sander never will. A sander indiscriminately removes material with little to no care of grain and character of the wood. And this is likely why your dad thinks these tools are not needed, but he is missing the point of learning the wood. Knowing your piece of wood is important. Its grain, knots, bows, and character will tell you a lot of how it will perform. It will let you know what way it will warp, where it's strengths and weaknesses are.

You were told they are too hard to use. Yes and no. Yes to learn to be a master with them is a long process. But generally a novice can do fair with just a little practice with various samples of different types of wood to experiment on. A little time learning what the tools do in different situation and you can be putting what shapes you see in your mind into the wood with a fair amount of accuracy.

Power tools can be extremely dangerous, go talk to a shop teacher and hear some horrifying stories of accidents with power tools. However a simple bladed tool can be too. All tools have potential for disastrous accidents. Respect and care should be take with an electric sander and a draw knife.

I can tell you that some of the old timberframe stuff is amazingly accurate. Especially the old Japanese timberframe stuff. Joints that are just amazingly accurate and impossible to do with power tools.

If you have a desire to learn traditional skills, then give it a try. Do your research, find someone to give you in person basic instructions (especially about safety), and give it a go. We need all the people we can to keep traditional skills from disappearing.
 
gardener
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For me there is a more intimate connection when using a hand tool. You have to be more aware. My power tools are accurate when properly set up and faster by far. Noisier and require an awareness of the spinning, reciprocating flesh eating steel. The satisfaction of watching a thin curl of wood roll out of a plane and the sound is meditative. A craftsman version of OHHM. I admit I need a twelve step intervention for my tool addiction. I use power tools for most of my wood work, but have hand tools to take their place if need be. I find that even with power tools a cabinet scraper, spoke shave, chisel is used. When talking "round wood" I think the use of hand tools is required. I have large round tenon cutters for making rustic log furniture that fits a drill. But made my first first hand operated one that works perfectly fine. Bodgers never used electric tools.
 
Devin Lavign
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Nicole here is some inspiration and info for you to check out



And for Robert, some calm meditative tool use without any talking with the wonderful Mr Chickadee. If you weren't already familiar with his videos I would suggest you check out the rest, it is amazing. Just the sounds of tools and nature, no narrative or explanation. Just pure meditation of craftsmanship.


 
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Professionally speaking, hand tools are much too slow. I’ve spend decades behind a belt sander and can tell you, they make wonderful sawdust. Hand tools are for the romantic at heart, but you will get much more built with power tools. If you decided to cook would you use a mixer, or just dig out your old wooden spoon. When I’m working on a personal creative project I’ll use power tools 90% of the time simply because the project is more important that the process. Still most of my log furniture is worked with a draw knife. One of the most practical hand tools is a card scrapper. My favorite hand plane is a simple little 7 inch block plane. The good news is used hand tools are horribly underpriced.
 
Devin Lavign
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Nicole here is a well reasoned explanation about why to choose hand tools over power tools.

 
Devin Lavign
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Dennis Mitchell wrote:Professionally speaking, hand tools are much too slow. I’ve spend decades behind a belt sander and can tell you, they make wonderful sawdust. Hand tools are for the romantic at heart, but you will get much more built with power tools. If you decided to cook would you use a mixer, or just dig out your old wooden spoon. When I’m working on a personal creative project I’ll use power tools 90% of the time simply because the project is more important that the process. Still most of my log furniture is worked with a draw knife. One of the most practical hand tools is a card scrapper. My favorite hand plane is a simple little 7 inch block plane. The good news is used hand tools are horribly underpriced.



Sometimes it is less about speed and more about feeling the wood you are working, enjoying the process, and being able to be social and safe while doing the work.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I've been meaning to update this for a few days! When I was over at my parents' house, I was telling them how excited I was to find a manual drill in the stuff that my grandpa gave to me, and my dad went into his shop and came out with one of my grandpa's old draw-knives to give me! It needs to be sharpened, but I'm so excited to learn how to sharpen and use it!
 
Devin Lavign
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Awesome, congrats on getting a family heirloom draw knife.
 
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A drawknife is one of the safer hand tools, in my opinion: you have to have both hands on the handles to operate it, so it is pretty hard to cut yourself, especially in critical places like fingers. It can work even if not perfectly sharp (though obviously works better when sharp), unlike some tools which don't work at all if not very sharp. A drawknife may not be the ideal tool for debarking, but is more controllable for smaller logs or where the log is not anchored by mass or dogs/clamps. If you are not working with fresh green wood, a spud could have a hard time working at all while a drawknife would just take longer.
 
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I do a little woodworking on the side and I've found I PREFER plane/draw knife over sanding.

I'd also add a card scraper (aka cabinet scraper) to that list.

The reason I say so is because sanding dust goes all over the shop, gets tracked into the house on clothing, and floats all around getting sucked into your poor lungs.  Shavings, on the other hand, just lie there waiting to be swept up.
 
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I love power tools, particularly cordless electric tools. But for the type of work Nicole described, the draw knife makes sense because it will be the faster tool without the noise and cost of sandpaper. You can really remove a lot of wood in a hurry with a good draw knife. It would be slow, loud and dusty done with the sander and you would run through a whole bunch of paper.

For many things I like to use my cordless chainsaw or circular saw or whatever, to remove large quantities of material, but then go back to chisel, gouge or draw knife to clean things up.

One summer I made hundreds of bowls out of driftwood. The small bowls were made completely with handheld gouges. On really large pieces I ran my circular saw across the grain about every half inch. Then I used a straight screwdriver to break off the easy stuff, and I finished with curved and straight gouges. So every portion of the finished piece was done with the hand tool, but much of the drudgery was done with the power tools. Later on, I bought an adze and found that the power tools only made sense for really large pieces, since I was able to take out nice big chunks with the adze.

It's mostly about skill level. I got very good at using those hand tools and I banged out a lot of bowls in a hurry. I made good money as well. Almost always more than $200 per day, but it only worked during the summer on weekends. I was selling on the beach.

A few years ago I watched a guy square a timber with a broad axe. He used his chainsaw to cut into the timber about every foot along the way, but then he used his broad axe to finish everything off. It went pretty quickly and the finished product looked totally hand-hewn.

This guy in Kisumu Kenya, keeps his hand tools in tip-top shape. He built this dining room set using rough wood, straight from the sawmill. He uses a fairly large Stanley plane which gets a little rub on the sharpening stone at each break. His hand saw is razor sharp.
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I love my power sanders and have many different kinds ranging in size from large belt sanders to small drill sanders but there are still jobs that a draw knife can outperform them. Even in production work there are times that a draw knife is faster than a sander. I would start a child out on a draw knife before many powers sanders. Keep in mind power sanders are not without risk either, I have had my fear shear of injuries while sanding. A draw knife would be one of the first tools I would buy and I have spent many happy hours using one.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I've been meaning to update this for a few days! When I was over at my parents' house, I was telling them how excited I was to find a manual drill in the stuff that my grandpa gave to me, and my dad went into his shop and came out with one of my grandpa's old draw-knives to give me! It needs to be sharpened, but I'm so excited to learn how to sharpen and use it!



I was putting the draw knife to use today and got to try my hand at sharpening it. I still need to sharpen it a bit more, but it did the job! (Sorry about the poor quality pictures! I stink at having a steady hand, but I was just so excited about my grandpa's old draw knife!)
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After!
 
Devin Lavign
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Awesome Nicole. How are you liking the draw knife in use on wood? Are you getting a feel of the wood grain and how the differences in grain effect the draw knife?

This is one of the things I feel make hand tools an important thing to learn to use. How they help you learn the characteristics of wood and how to work with it rather than just power through it with a power tool.
 
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Alley Bate wrote:A sharp hand plane will leave a surface finish that would take a lot of work to approach with sanding. Chisels, planes and draw knives don't require hand, eye or ear protection and of course no electricity.

Making a long shaving with a hand plane is magical thing.

I really like Paul Sellers on YouTube for woodworking by hand instruction.



I agree with the merits of draw knives and hand planes as well a scrapers.

AS FAR A NOT NEEDING EYE PROTECTION, YOU ARE MISTAKEN!

I nearly lost an eye due to not wearing eye protection while operating a very dangerous tool in my shop... A broom.

Any time you are generating dust, sawdust or shavings good eye protection is necessary. Being too lazy to put on eye protection is an F'ing stupid reason to endanger your eyesight.

 
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