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Ergonomics in tool design

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Chris Knight

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In another thread Midnight":65owyrgk said:
as a relative new-comer to shoulder planes, I canna help wondering why it's only recently that a manufacturer has given any thought to ergonomics... I mean face it, these things aren't exactly the easiest things to get to grips with. That said, I reckon there's still room for improvement... personally I'd prefer to see a larger radius on the top edges to ensure that my tendons aren't gonna get pulverized..
I thought this was a good question and started to wonder which tools people would consider to be well designed from an ergonomics point of view. I guess the Bailey type planes must figure on the list as I can use them for a long time without discomfort or undue fatigue but I am having a hard time with other things since so much of what we use is purely functional.

I had thought of broadening the question into what one might call the "user interface" that allows the user to accomplish the intended purpose efficiently (thinking here if the Titemark marking gauge for example) but decided that this was too fuzzy.

So if anyone would care to suggest something, I propose it conform with a strict definition of ergonomics as
"The applied science of equipment design, as for the workplace, intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort"
 

Bean

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Chris I would put my vote in for the humble Saw, fit nicely to the hand and is extended from the arm in line, pull or push its a very good example.

Bean
 
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Chris

Nice idea.
I think the humble block plane, especially the small bronze LNs are a masterpiece. They generally just nestle in the hand and one has full and easy control. Often it feels more like one is removing the wood with the palm rather than a tool :wink:

I find paring chisels less well designed ergonomically and would like to see abit of creativity applied to these to facilitate easier control.

Finally, i rather like the wooden carver's mallets. I use one to strike chisels other than my Japanese ones. With the short handle, the broad head sits very close to the hand. They are so easy to use and very effective.
 

Chris Knight

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Tony,

Yes I do agree about the block plane - my little one gives me pleasure just to pick it up and hold it (sad ain't it!)

Bean,
You are right of course, it takes a lot to beat a nice handsaw and equally a poor one can make your hands/arm sore in no time. Sometimes the things that make one tool so much better than another seem quite subtle.
 

Philly

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Chris,
One Man's comfortable tool is another Man's blister maker!
The recent reviews of Lee Valley planes (by our esteemed expert Alf) brought this to light-Alf didn't like the tote's. Yet a lot of people prefer them to the L-N's, etc.
If it works for you then it's "right".
Don't know if this is relevant to the thread but I can't stop myself. :lol:
Philly :D
 

Alf

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While Philly is correct that one man's perfect tote is another's torture implement, but how about this for a sweeping theory: really good ergonomic design will work for everyone. 'Course, it probably also means it won't be spot-on perfection for anyone, but what is? :roll: Somewhere in one of the standard hand tool books is a picture of a chisel with an ergonomically designed handle, specifically designed to give the optimum grip. And that would be...? Well it'll depend if you're holding it for chopping, paring, just swivelled round to get in that corner just there, etc etc. There is no optimum grip for a chisel; a round or oval handle is the best overall design to cover all eventualities. Which is probably why I've never seen an ergonomically handled chisel in the wild. There's usually a darn good reason why a certain style of handle becomes synomynous with a particular tool; 'cos it works for most of us. LV seem to be trying to crack this Universal Law of Good Enough for the Majority, and good luck to them but I'm not convinced it can be done. (Go on then, Rob, prove me wrong. I sharn't mind :) )

Do I have a nomination? Nope. I think most tools I feel comfortable with are simply a matter of habit. I'm hoping the same will prove to be the case with the L-Vs, but I dunno. I don't think it's for nothing that the rear totes of metal planes have largely remained the same for many, many years. It wasn't broke, and I wish L-V hadn't fixed it... :(

Cheers, Alf
 

ike

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really good ergonomic design will work for everyone.
Ah, 50 percentile man or woman - does such an animal really exist! Of course, for those around 6'7" with small bony hands, or 4'2" with sausage hooks - now there's a challenge for the ergonomists! :? :D
 

ike

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oh.. and not forgetting leftist hookers, er... or is that lefthookers? :lol:
 

Rob Lee

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Hi -

There's a saying that most designs best fit the hand of the designer...

It's a tough thing to design for a variety of hand sizes, strengths, and working environments. Generally, one shoots for a best practices environment, and an "average" person.

The problem with sticking with designs 100 years old, is that the population today is significantly different in many average dimensions, (not to mention lifespan). We know alot more about good working heights, repetitive strain injuries, bio-mechanical stresses - in general - how the body "works" (as in performs work).

Then too, there are changes in manufacturing processes and materials. Ductile Iron didn't exist (commercially) for most of the last century. Heat treating/stress relieving has also changed/improved - we don't stack castings outside for a year to stabilise them!

Our approach has been to design for a "suitability to purpose", refine the product ergonomically, and finally address the price point/value proposition. This results in some different appearances, material choices, and configurations of tool.

We understand that there's no actual requirement to own one of every style of plane made (though one may want too:) ). We're trying to re-interpret a complete plane line, with as little overlap as possible, relevant to today's methods of work, and today's materials. Keep in mind, that the wood we work today is different in quality and scope than that worked a century ago... the nature of the mater has changed too.

Currently - we are running a number of major R&D initiatives into the mechanics of cutting - blade wear, wood failure, vibration and force analysis. Some of this should be published later this year, and there'll be a few surprises.

We're also trying to accomodate different hand sizes/handle preferences in much of the line (working on planes now) - either through allowing adjustment (pivoting knobs), redesigning grip angles/surfaces, or even encouraging/enabling user modification (like the handle interface kits for the spokeshaves).

We have a an alternate handle profile under development (mostly for Alf) which we may make an option (though there could be an small upcharge)...the problem here is that we don't want/can't afford to sell tools the way clothing is sold - with an inherent high return/exchange rate.

Perhaps we may even offer handle "blanks" so you can fit your own ...

All this is good grist for the mill....

Cheers -

Rob
 

bugbear

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Perhaps we may even offer handle "blanks" so you can fit your own ...
Given that (I assume) "handle blanks" already exist at some stage in production, this would seem a cheap and easy way to keep the VERY FUSSY PEOPLE OUT THERE happy.

Of course, if you shape 'em and then drill 'em, my assumption is false.

BugBear
 

Chris Knight

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Rob,

Those are interesting observations and I look forward to reading what your research produces in due course. I think the idea od semi-custom fitted options is an interesting one but as you say there is that all-important pricing consideration!

Putting aside any Lee Valley product - I know that is hard - is there any particular tool you admire for its ergonomics?
 

Alf

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Rob Lee":3dhwg6z0 said:
We have a an alternate handle profile under development (mostly for Alf) which we may make an option (though there could be an small upcharge)...
I'd like to apologise to Lee Valley's R&D department for causing them so much trouble. I didn't mean to, honest. :( I imagine my name is mud in Ottawa. Usually I have to at least have been somewhere for that to happen too... :oops: But hey, on the upside, at least I like the circles on the sides... :D :lol:

Cheers, Alf
 
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Rob Lee":2dx4zafz said:
We understand that there's no actual requirement to own one of every style of plane made
Is this true Alf?
 
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The flip side is that a tool with VERY poor ergonomics can turn out to be a valuable collector item :lol: .
With traditional hand tools, most of the ergonomic issues were worked out and evolved because people used them all day long and learned what was comfortable and what wasn't. If I am lucky I might get a couple of hours in the shop two or three times a week, and it is spread out over using several tools. Tools that are pretty good egonomically are good enough.
Then, too, most handles had a great deal of shaping done by hand in those days and, until recently, machinery was not sophisticated enough to closely match hand shaped items. As Rob pointed out there is a price point issue involved. Konrad Sauer can custom fit a plane to the customers hand but not at Lee Valley prices.
I think Rob's idea of user finished totes is a great one, it appeals to me. BTW, so do the looks of the large shoulder plane. I guess I'll be the only one to say I like the wooden knobs :lol: .
 

Rob Lee

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waterhead37":kufjjzys said:
(snip)

Putting aside any Lee Valley product - I know that is hard - is there any particular tool you admire for its ergonomics?
Hi Chris -

That's a hard question...there're a number of tools out there that are ergonomically well designed (as opposed to things I find comfortable).

Avoiding all woodworking tools - take a look at a Felco #10 (or #7) pruner - with the handle that rotates as you close the jaws....a wonderful innovation. What also makes that line "ergonomic" - is the variety of sizes and grip shapes that suit a number of hands (even Alf's! :lol: ). Felco had to invest heavily in tooling to do that - multiple sets of molds.

One of the things we can all do with woodworking tools, is to try and figure out which shapes/styles fit us best - and not be afraid to take a rasp, drill, sand(glass)paper or knife to a wooden handle. Try adding material to handles as well - using a modelling compound (bondo, plasticene etc.). Many of the tools we have in our collection have been modified by the original craftsmen who owned and used them. Perhaps today the price we pay for our tools makes us reluctant to modify them - but speaking as a manufacturer, it's tremendously difficult to find find a "one size fits all" handle - and I'd even say it's not possible.

Cheers -

Rob


Cheers -

Rob
 

Alf

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Rob Lee":yiyd89z0 said:
One of the things we can all do with woodworking tools, is to try and figure out which shapes/styles fit us best - and not be afraid to take a rasp, drill, sand(glass)paper or knife to a wooden handle.
Someone remind me of that should I rasp my way through to the bolts ... :oops:

Tony":yiyd89z0 said:
Rob Lee":yiyd89z0 said:
We understand that there's no actual requirement to own one of every style of plane made
Is this true Alf?
Tsk. Poor man's been over-doing it, obviously... :roll:

Cheers, Alf
 

Chris Knight

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Rob,

Don't have that particular Felco but an older one I have is certainly well thought out ergonomically speaking - I can imagine the handle you describe is great but as someone who worked in a manufacturing industry I appreciate that the tooling costs must have been horrendous.

You make a good point about user modifications, I heavily modify chisels to suit a particular need and I have made plenty of handles for planes and chisels. I tried the "Bondo" approach a couple of times but found that a fitted grip that seemed comfortable at first became a "prison" after a while and made it very difficult to relax the hand. I once modified a target rifle stock in this way and ended up shaving it off as I ended up with cramp in my hand that couldn't move because of the perfectly shaped finger rests.
 

Rob Lee

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waterhead37":1ayh24l2 said:
Rob,

(snip)

I tried the "Bondo" approach a couple of times but found that a fitted grip that seemed comfortable at first became a "prison" after a while and made it very difficult to relax the hand. I once modified a target rifle stock in this way and ended up shaving it off as I ended up with cramp in my hand that couldn't move because of the perfectly shaped finger rests.
Aha - a common mistake - things that fit too well can actually impair circulation.. the pressure points have to move around somewhat... sort of like a peristaltic effect - massage the blood around.

Cool tip I learned from my Dad while re-roofing this year: drill dimples (just like the plane circles!) into a wooden hammer handle - your skin deforms into the depresions, and creates a mechanical lock; means you don't have to grip as hard! Try it with a cheap hammer - use about a #6-#8 countersink...

Cheers -

Rob
 
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