These days, it can seem like every woodworker in the business uses power tools almost exclusively. There are, however, still people who believe in the elegant simplicity of a saw and a chisel. But how do you build furniture without the help of power tools?
To build furniture without using power tools, you need saws, chisels, sandpaper, a combo square, a vice, and some screwdrivers. Design and build a simple piece of furniture like a bookshelf or table that uses only one joint type. If you do a project that is too small, it will be harder.
Building furniture without power tools will be a lot more tricky than doing it with them, but there are loads of things you can do to make things easier for yourself! In this article, we’ll look at woodworking without power tools to find out how things should be done and how you can build furniture in the modern era using the traditional methods.
Why Build Without Power Tools?
Though it might seem far less efficient, there are several reasons why building without power tools can be a great idea. Here are a few of the benefits:
- Cheap: Power tools are expensive. If you are just a hobbyist and can’t afford those expensive machines, hand-crafting might be the way to go.
- Charming: Hand-crafted furniture has a rustic charm to it. You can even market your business as a power tool-free zone and attract customers that way.
- Good practice: If you fall in love with woodworking, and you decide to buy a bunch of power tools, you will still need a good grounding in hand tools if you are to succeed.
You will need a universal or general-purpose handsaw. These are the classic straight-bladed saws that you will use all the time. It might also be a good idea to get a backsaw designed for fine joinery work. Backsaws have a rigid strip of metal on the top of the saw to keep the blade stiff, making for more precise cuts. Tenon saws are the most popular type of backsaw.
Another very useful handsaw to have is the coping saw. Similar to hacksaws, these saws will be vital for cutting curves into your projects. For example, if you want to create a rounded or wavy edge on your furniture. You can also use coping saws to cut shapes in the middle of a piece of wood.
- Detach the blade from the handle.
- Drill a hole in the wood.
- Feed the blade through the hole.
- Reattach it to the handle.
Chisels are another vital component of any woodworker’s toolbox. The first chisels you will need to buy will be a few bench chisels. These are so-called because they are so useful, they never leave your workbench.
Make sure to get a good range of sizes. Sometimes you might need to get a chisel into a tight spot, but other times a small chisel will make the work go too slowly. Wood chisels generally come in sizes between ¼” and 1 ½”.
It is also a good idea to get a few straight chisels and a few bevel-edged. Straight chisels only have a beveled edge at the front, whereas bevel-edged chisels also have them down the sides.
That makes them perfect for dovetail joints since the sides fit nicely into the joint’s curved edges. You will also need a couple of mortising chisels, generally quite small, to make neat mortise and tenon joints.
Whether you are using power tools or not, sandpaper is essential for all woodworking. Power sanders may be quicker, but all woodworkers will sand by hand on occasion to ensure that they don’t accidentally take too much off the piece.
The sandpaper can be very coarse or very fine, depending on the grit. It is a good idea to get a range of different grits since you will sometimes be smoothing out the wood, but other times you will be shaping it with the paper.
It is worth buying or making a sanding block that can hold the sandpaper in place and make for smoother sanding. It is important to always sand with the grain of the wood. If you sand against the grain, it can show up in the final piece even after a finish has been applied. The sandpaper is also made with various materials, including emery, flint, and garnet.
Using Other Tools
Many of the aforementioned tools probably seemed obvious. Still, it is worth going through a checklist of the vital tools you will need in your arsenal if you build furniture by hand.
Now that we have covered saws, chisels, and sandpaper in some detail, let’s look at some of the other things you will need to build furniture without power tools:
- Vice: You will definitely need a mechanical vice to hold the wood in place while you work. This is one of the more expensive items you will have to buy.
- Hammer: A standard claw hammer will prove very useful when building by hand.
- Screws, screwdrivers, nails, and glues: This one is pretty self-evident
- Plane: You will need a plane to smooth out bumps and defects in the wood.
- Combination square: One of these will be needed to measure angles and levels.
What Should My First Project Be?
One of the hardest decisions when starting in woodworking is what to make first. Some projects will take a lot more skill and experience to build than others. As a general rule, it is a good idea for your first projects to only use one type of joint since this allows you to practice that joint until it is perfect. Tables, for example, will usually only require mortise and tenon joints.
Designing your project to suit your skill level is vital! On your first project, for example, do not try to make fancy decorative cuts. Nothing will turn you off woodworking like building a bookshelf, only to accidentally ruin it at the last hurdle. Here are a few simple pieces of furniture that might be perfect for your first build:
- Table: Fairly simple and always useful, tables are a great first project. As mentioned above, they basically only use mortise and tenon joints, so if you have practiced, you should make a great table.
- Bookshelf: A bookshelf with two or three shelves is another great project for beginners. It is good to make it smaller than usual, so it is not so intimidating, but be careful not to make it too small since the joints can become more difficult at a smaller scale.
- Box: The standard beginner’s woodwork project. It can be very tricky, but it can also teach you a lot about woodworking in general. Like the bookshelf, it is also good practice to make neat 90° angles using joinery.
There are plenty of things you can build without the help of power tools! While it might take you a fair bit longer, you will end up feeling very satisfied when that project finally comes to life. Once you have the tools you need, you can design a project that will allow you to practice certain important skills without making things too hard for yourself.
Once you have become skilled at using hand tools, you can market your pieces as traditional hand-crafted furniture and get a higher price for them.
Good luck in woodworking the traditional way!
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- Bob Vila – Selecting the Right Sandpaper Grit and Type for Your DIY Job
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