In Defense of Hand Tools

semmes 2016 SPRING Newsletter

Tom by Tom Moore

77 skil saw

A worm drive Skil-saw 77

I am a basic minimalist at heart and old school to boot. I have always believed that if several things can be done with one tool, there is no need to roll out an entire woodworking shop to complete simple tasks. I believe the root of this thinking goes back to when I chose this calling of Carpenter in the mid-seventies and drove to work in a Karmann Ghia (later traded for a ‘65 Chevy pickup). Nail-guns weren’t in vogue yet so I didn’t have to worry about that, the worm drive Skil-Saw was state of the art and everything I needed to frame a house fit in my nail bags and under the hood (“What’s under the hood?” answer: “A tire.”) And, the couple times I left the state to work in Alaska, Hawai’i or Colorado it was easier to travel with less.

This brings me to the archaic concept of actually using hand tools. I wouldn’t use hand tools to frame an entire house anymore, but whenever I would bring up a new apprentice we would hand nail the framing and I’d let them use a nail-gun to nail off the shear panels and roof sheathing. (I’m not a masochist and my left forefinger lacks meat since my first job was nailing off roofs by hand). I can tell a great framer by watching him swing a hammer once.


…there is no substitute for a sharp handsaw


a block plane

There is no substitute for a sharp handsaw; I see no purpose in rolling out a cord if the only thing you need to do is cut a couple of 2 x 4’s. And a fine handsaw is irreplaceable when cutting a set of stairs. Every good carpenter should also have sharp chisels and a sharp block plane.



a rechargeable impact driver

Don’t get me wrong, there have been many advances in the technology of tools and most are for the better. There is no finer tool than a high quality rechargeable impact driver. Skil-Saws are lighter and safer than ever and yes, I do use a nail-gun but I truly value my hand tools.

The list goes on, as does this minimalist.