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Hand tool use in a current production environment

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D_W

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Jacob's posts in my plane iron testing thread reminded me of something timely - a friend of mine actually sent me this, and I was somewhat surprised to see the speed that the workers were working (and the tools that they're using) at the takamine factory in japan.

The workers still work the bracing on production guitars by hand, and they cut the kerfed blocking lining the sides (extra glue surface) to apply the top.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4xLqbbnYDw&t=1731s

6:35 and 16:30 are the two sections of guys using chisels, saws and planes.

What's interesting is as jacob mentioned in piece work, I could never work this fast and wouldn't enjoy it, but I have worked in a cabinet factory decades ago and the work rate was like this (so I could never is more like I would rather not - we had to work like this for 9 hours a day and you could fade in and out of trying to make it physically fun).

The friend that sent me this is someone who is obsessed with thinking he can find a free lunch. He has a yamaha guitar made in japan. It was $1200. He thinks it was "hand made, made in the custom shop", because that's what the ad copy says. $1,200 retail is something like $8,00 wholesale to the door of the retailer, which is bonkers for anyone who has ever sourced about $400-$500 in materials and made a guitar. I also said that it was fantastic that you could get any amount of hand time on the guitars.

Total man hours (including the guy driving trucks and the person responding to the auditors or preparing financial statements, legal counsel, etc. ) on guitars like these ends up being something like 7 hours.
 

D_W

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The other side of this is when we're learning (and over time as I've gone to hand tools only),part of competent clean work is getting to the point that you can do the work without every step being so precious. Fiddly slow work ends up showing somewhere.

Gouge and chisel and plane strokes are done continuously and crisply.

The only thing I've made in quantity to be able to work at pace now is planes. Cutting the eyes of planes is not particularly difficult, but if you do it too slowly and carefully, they look absurd with little marks everywhere. You cannot try to sand out the marks or they look even more absurd. Letting it fly a little bit and doing a tasteful job at good speed is satisfaction that's hard to feel anywhere else, even if it's boring sometimes and makes you sweat.

Bravo Jacob for bringing this up.
 

AndyT

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Funny you should mention this. I recently watched a video showing violin making, in China, largely using hand methods. But like the guitars, it's bulk production.

[youtube]0SvfNhMlnBE[/youtube]

I found it interesting to compare it with the opposite end of the handmade instrument market - which promotes itself in the sort of video where the craftsman spends a long time admiring his work. Or with old methods of Sheffield tool making.
 

MikeG.

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Nice to find something we can agree on, and be interested in, even if we don't see eye to eye on everything.

There are obviously lots of high end bespoke furniture makers who still use handtools an awful lot. Doucette and Wolf in the USA show this wonderfully on Youtube, for instance. Watch them chopping out stacks of dovetails, or finishing large table tops by hand. Custard of this forum is another. Whilst many joinery workshops are almost certainly as power tool orientated as possible, I'll bet there isn't a single one where there aren't handtools in at least semi-regular use. I'm making an oak staircase at the moment, and although I am doing the bulk of the work with machines there have already been a number of jobs, repetitious or otherwise, that I can't see a way of doing without using handtools unless you were operating a massive 5 way CNC machine. Any joinery workshop can turn out high quality handrails for stairs which curve in 3 planes, particularly for Georgian/ Edwardian staircases without newels, but also for modern "spiral" (dammit, they're helical, not spiral!) stairs.......and that is work that they would do by hand (after initial roughing out on a bandsaw).

The best I've seen in terms of production-type hand woodwork is in a cooperage, where it's very difficult to see how it could be done any other way than with the traditional tools (again, augmented by a bandsaw). Goodness, did they get on with it, in an unhurried sort of way. A top class bricklayer doesn't appear to be rushing at all, but can lay 50% more bricks than the youngster who appears to be busting a gut, rushing about in an action-hero way. Same with all good craftsmen, I reckon.
 

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MikeG.":1fxts4px said:
AndyT":1fxts4px said:
Funny you should mention this. I recently watched a video showing violin making........
Those fiddles look a lot like cellos to me. :lol:
The Chinese are not generally big, hunky people, you know!
 

thetyreman

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whilst it's adequate, it's not very inspiring, it just looks like an industrial production line to me, using hand tools in production can be done but it's not really going to inspire anyone to get into woodworking or become a master luthier, it's boring menial replaceable work, and to post it in the hand tool section is pushing it a bit.
 

D_W

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MikeG.":38m9ptcl said:
A top class bricklayer doesn't appear to be rushing at all, but can lay 50% more bricks than the youngster who appears to be busting a gut, rushing about in an action-hero way. Same with all good craftsmen, I reckon.
This is where my nuttiness comes from on the testing of things. The actual testing is something I've only done twice, but I'm interested in things like cutting the sharpening cycle from 4 minutes to 1 and 1/2, or cutting the hand dimensioning time in half, being more accurate and spending half as much effort doing the actual work. I know this doesn't appeal to most, but there are a few people here and there who need encouragement to get over the hump to realize that you can actually use all or mostly all hand tools and get something made.

I started with mostly power tools. I can make an individual project faster now. I cannot make an individual project faster than someone who started where I would have but stuck with power tools and only used hand tools where necessary - that's reality. But my work looks different than it would if I used power tools. There is a combination of physical satisfaction and neuron building that occurs when you work by hand, and getting good at something so that you can do it in rhythm without too much trepidation. that's mostly lost. That's too bad, but is again, reality.

I think much of the hand work done in these videos is soon gone. years ago, the neck dovetail was fitted by hand, now it's cleaned up with CNC and much less work is done by hand. Fender had neck pockets fitted and shimmed by hand to get a guitar right, but their equipment now cuts the joints so closely that it's not necessary. The buffer in most guitar factories is probably the most skilled person left, and it was thought to be something that had to be done by man, but Martin and some other makers now are investing in a robotic buffing machine that leaves little to be done by hand. Most customers don't care, and the ones who say they want one done with fine hand work don't like the way fine hand work looks. Only the very top of the market knows enough to demand those things and their guitars are made outside of production.

There are a couple of hand tool professionals in the states (not many). One mentioned growing up as a kid and loading hay on a wagon with a fork (he's not young, of course). Opposite him was his grandmother (not his mother, but grandmother) and he was excited to be able to show everyone how he could work her under the table (in his teenage years). He found himself going like crazy and ending up unable to keep up with her loading, despite the fact that it looked like she wasn't working that hard.

That fact that we'd even have a discussion on a topic like this is so far out of the norm for most of the first world that experiencing any of the physical sensations and the satisfaction of them seems even further away.

A recent foray into guitars (for me) in the last year or a little more is more power tools than I've used in a while - I was headed toward none at all. I know some folks were frustrated in my other thread on the assumption that people like me don't make anything, which is way off.

https://i.imgur.com/UQieZzA.jpg

I think most folks who make a lot either like to share pictures and talk about it and don't care that it often gets little press, or like me, started out that way and gradually figured over time that posting work isn't really worth the trouble.

on the two guitars in the picture, I used a spindle sander and a cordless drill. That's the extent of the power tool use. I needed to resaw these blanks, but never had a bandsaw that would do it, anyway (too wide). $70 worth of frame saw and 15 minutes of time is plenty to resaw these by hand, and for a luthier making one guitar at a time, I can't see how power tools really save much time. Making 200 of the same thing, definitely. Fair chance that the bandsaw that's now gone would've ruined one of these blanks due to blade wander.

(my grandparents grew up in an era where they did things like the guy I mentioned above - moved bulk material with forks, walked behind mules to cultivate. We're detached from that generation now. They sought modernity and comfort and would think that I'm an silly person as far as shop time goes).
 

D_W

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thetyreman":1vw9y705 said:
whilst it's adequate, it's not very inspiring, it just looks like an industrial production line to me, using hand tools in production can be done but it's not really going to inspire anyone to get into woodworking or become a master luthier, it's boring menial replaceable work, and to post it in the hand tool section is pushing it a bit.
It isn't something I'd yearn to do, either, but you can learn from it and apply it. Not sure how you could conclude that it wouldn't bring people to woodworking, though. It's far more legitimate (and would draw me in more) than most of the "lifestyle woodworking" hot air that's been marketed at us since blogs became popular.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuUqbdTDjcw&t=71s

The video above has a fellow in it who was active on one of the US forums (he's still around, just not on the forums). Perhaps he looks more like a master luthier (he is, actually, he's built more guitars than harpsichords and violins by a long shot). If you saw his actual building in this video instead of just snippets, you'd see things like 3 straight hours of jeweler saw cutting to make the veneer bits for the marquetry on the front of the harpsichord.

The reality with hand work is just like power tools - most people don't come into the hobby with much motivation to make anything worth making, just a romantic idea of something they've seen in a beginner's class, and they cheat themselves out of ever getting to the skill level shown in production. Most people who start with power tools find what I find, that getting good at using them just isn't that much fun unless you're really driven to get the result.

That's a whole other discussion, though - should we coddle people with romantic ideas to get them into the hobby so that most will wash out, or should we hit them up from the beginning with fine work and encourage them to believe that they are capable of doing fine work (because most will be) and light that fire so they don't get stuck watching videos about sharpening for five years or wondering what kreg jig option to pick up next.
 

D_W

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MikeG.":34qbk2qz said:
. Any joinery workshop can turn out high quality handrails for stairs which curve in 3 planes, particularly for Georgian/ Edwardian staircases without newels, but also for modern "spiral" (dammit, they're helical, not spiral!) stairs.......and that is work that they would do by hand (after initial roughing out on a bandsaw).
This is still done by hand in the UK? There are restoration workers and skilled trades folks like that here in the states, but they generally only work for very wealthy people, and there are few of them.

As far as the coopers - the guy in the harpsichord video above became the toolmaker at that museum (so that he could get away from working in front of the public 100% of the time), and they hired two coopers from Scotland at one point. Trade workers at the museum got pay and benefits that would allow them to live in normal conditions. I think he said in Scotland, they worked for a brewery and were required to make 1 1/2 or two barrels per day, and the wage that they received wasn't enough for them to comfortably live in a heated home, so they lived most or all of the year without heat and when they were "imported" to the williamsburg musuem, they got to make the same thing the same way they had been before, but live like they'd struck the lottery compared to their prior living conditions.
 

MikeG.

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thetyreman":33pz9vm2 said:
whilst it's adequate, it's not very inspiring, it just looks like an industrial production line to me, using hand tools in production can be done but it's not really going to inspire anyone to get into woodworking or become a master luthier, it's boring menial replaceable work, and to post it in the hand tool section is pushing it a bit.
Hmmm.......I think that's the whole point of the thread, to point out that hand tool work in days gone by was often about repetition, speed, and just-about-good-enough quality.

-

Another example I should have brought up was cricket bat manufacture, which was only really mechanised in the 80s by Duncan Fearnley, who nevertheless made all his best bats by hand (himself and 2 or 3 others) with draw knives, spokeshaves, and so on, having cleft the willow with a froe in the first place. They'd each turn out half a dozen bats before breakfast (taken in the local pub). Lots and lots of jigs, benchmarks, and so on involved, with the only mechanisation involved being a big pneumatic drum sander for finishing, and a table saw jig for cutting the splice.
 

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David, I thought from your first post, that you are looking for examples of large quantity production where something is still made by hand.

That's not the same as a single person making a harpsichord start to finish.

One of the interesting things about the violin makers (yes Mike, they also make cellos) is that it achieves economy by the classic technique of division of labour, as famously described by Adam Smith.

So each operator does one tiny task, using a minimum of tools, but they do it accurately and they do it fast.

(It may be significant that the video I linked to is actually a transfer from 90s VHS - maybe they've sacked the workers and bought CNC by now.)

Also, it's interesting for long handled knives pushed by the body - something you can read about in Diderot but largely forgotten in the west.
 

MikeG.

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D_W":1jrvu6ly said:
MikeG.":1jrvu6ly said:
. Any joinery workshop can turn out high quality handrails for stairs which curve in 3 planes, particularly for Georgian/ Edwardian staircases without newels, but also for modern "spiral" (dammit, they're helical, not spiral!) stairs.......and that is work that they would do by hand (after initial roughing out on a bandsaw).
This is still done by hand in the UK? There are restoration workers and skilled trades folks like that here in the states, but they generally only work for very wealthy people, and there are few of them. .........
Yep. Bear in mind that many if not most of the houses in most of the UK are between a hundred and 500 years old and you'll understand the need. A 400 year old hand-made staircase needs its handrail repairing.......your only recourse is to old hand-craftsmen. The oldest house I've worked on was built 1432, and some of the church projects I've run have been in buildings well over a thousand years old. Repairing pre-mediaeval woodwork, for instance, isn't something that readily lends itself to machine work. So yeah, there is a steady and enduring requirement for top quality craftsmen around here.
 

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D_W":ctzx7fap said:
Most people who start with power tools find what I find, that getting good at using them just isn't that much fun unless you're really driven to get the result.
I started at the other end mostly (Which I think is the best way to start really), I had a lathe but no power tools as such so it was mostly old scrounged hand tools. I learned how to set-up a hand plane, how to use a handsaw, use chisels and make decent joints, but most importantly I understood how wood works in slow motion before moving onto far quicker and more dangerous methods. These days I get my kicks performing work with machines, setting them up and pushing myself as hard as I can to get everything done on time.

I suppose we're not dissimilar really, I take great and meticulous care in my machining, you take great and meticulous care in your hand planing and data collection. I think me sitting down at the thicknesser at the end of a work day, with a glass of Old Crafty Hen while in a dead-silent workshop, spinning the cutter block by hand and listening carefully to whether the knives are cutting in unison and making careful adjustments to get it perfect is very much the same as yourself spending hours planing a piece of timber to collate some form of data on the perfect plane set up.

Horses for courses.
 

D_W

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AndyT":1janafnm said:
David, I thought from your first post, that you are looking for examples of large quantity production where something is still made by hand.

That's not the same as a single person making a harpsichord start to finish.

One of the interesting things about the violin makers (yes Mike, they also make cellos) is that it achieves economy by the classic technique of division of labour, as famously described by Adam Smith.

So each operator does one tiny task, using a minimum of tools, but they do it accurately and they do it fast.

(It may be significant that the video I linked to is actually a transfer from 90s VHS - maybe they've sacked the workers and bought CNC by now.)

Also, it's interesting for long handled knives pushed by the body - something you can read about in Diderot but largely forgotten in the west.
Yes, the thread has diverged a little bit. The first mention was of still-continuing production. To Mike's point, I actually had two guitars that were made in china where the front and the back (they're archtops) were carved entirely by hand - they're made by eastman (i still have one of them). I can't imagine that many of their guitars are made like that, even there, but some of the upper models are (and they're not particularly expensive). That's production - the same factory makes violins, and i'm sure it would be cheaper for them to use CNC or a duplicarver, but they continue to do a lot of the higher end top work by hand. This is interesting to me because much more expensive gibson guitars are made by machine carving, and have been made by machine carving since long before the advent of the les paul (which has an arched top for perception, and not function - it was added to the design because gibson already had the carving machines and they thought the public would perceive this to be a quality difference between their guitars and fender's guitars).

My reference to the harpsichord (which probably wasn't clear) is that George, in this case, gets to do work that looks a lot more romantic - working at a more moderate pace and not doing the same thing over and over. The reality is if it hadn't been cut and edited into little bits, most people thinking of woodworking would also be put off by the reality that a lot of the hand work is still arduous and long. Or more clearly, either one could send someone who likes TV and golf back to TV and golf.

There's pen turning, I guess, but not much of that done without power tools, and i'm not sure how long people who aim for something simple like that stay in the hobby before they burn out.
 

D_W

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Trevanion":18wj6wnz said:
D_W":18wj6wnz said:
Most people who start with power tools find what I find, that getting good at using them just isn't that much fun unless you're really driven to get the result.
I suppose we're not dissimilar really, I take great and meticulous care in my machining, you take great and meticulous care in your hand planing and data collection. I think me sitting down at the thicknesser at the end of a work day, with a glass of Old Crafty Hen while in a dead-silent workshop, spinning the cutter block by hand and listening carefully to whether the knives are cutting in unison and making careful adjustments to get it perfect is very much the same as yourself spending hours planing a piece of timber to collate some form of data on the perfect plane set up.

Horses for courses.
I agree. I almost quit woodworking early on because of the tools. No fire there for it. The key is first to get in the hobby, see if there's fuel for the fire anywhere with any method. If there isn't, no big deal. If there is, there's no great reason to with methods that don't fuel the fire, so to speak.

It's hard to know at first what you want to make, I guess. I just wanted to make things. I didn't really want to make them well, and I got frustrated when the results weren't that great. Somewhere along the line, I started building tools and i made a couple OK, I was pleased with the progress but knew they weren't that great. The guy (george) in the videos above sent me a PM and said "you did well for having little experience, but I see potential and here are the things you could do better on the next one". I was kind of offended (this was long ago) and it didn't take more than the time he was talking to me for me to realize that he was telling me things that would allow me to get much better results. That lit the fire once I saw how good the results were, and I've talked to george regularly ever since to get answers to things that aren't that easy to find. George also said that most people think they're too good for advice, and as long as I was willing to apply his advice, he'd provide it for free.

He's a fanatical machinst and diemaker, too, which goes in one ear and out the other for me, but I guess if I'm using the term fires, just about everything fuels his. I have to be able to do hand work well first.
 

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AndyT":3j4mgjfv said:
... it achieves economy by the classic technique of division of labour, as famously described by Adam Smith.
So each operator does one tiny task ... but they do it accurately and they do it fast.
My friend, a long retired (very good) chippie told me that when he did his City & Guilds as an apprentice he worked with the chap on the other side of his bench - he cut the mortices, the other chap the tenons, and so on. Someone queried the arrangement and he told them that was the reality. :D
 

D_W

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MikeG.":fbb5c8lp said:
D_W":fbb5c8lp said:
MikeG.":fbb5c8lp said:
. Any joinery workshop can turn out high quality handrails for stairs which curve in 3 planes, particularly for Georgian/ Edwardian staircases without newels, but also for modern "spiral" (dammit, they're helical, not spiral!) stairs.......and that is work that they would do by hand (after initial roughing out on a bandsaw).
This is still done by hand in the UK? There are restoration workers and skilled trades folks like that here in the states, but they generally only work for very wealthy people, and there are few of them. .........
Yep. Bear in mind that many if not most of the houses in most of the UK are between a hundred and 500 years old and you'll understand the need. A 400 year old hand-made staircase needs its handrail repairing.......your only recourse is to old hand-craftsmen. The oldest house I've worked on was built 1432, and some of the church projects I've run have been in buildings well over a thousand years old. Repairing pre-mediaeval woodwork, for instance, isn't something that readily lends itself to machine work. So yeah, there is a steady and enduring requirement for top quality craftsmen around here.
i'd forgotten about the age of some of the older buildings. It's not uncommon where I'm from for houses to be 200 years old (the oldest remaining locally was 1740, and further east, there are some buildings dating to the late 1600s). That said, even with those, the same desire for preservation is probably only recent, and most buildings have been redone inside, even if the outside structure is old - probably most of the churches have had several fires (the one I went to growing up burned twice over the last couple of hundred years and was refitted like a modern commercial building at some point in the early 1900s - blech).

For the older houses and churches that do remain, we just don't have the established professional joiner skill (and people are cheap here about that kind of stuff, anyway) around to do the work reasonably.

There are some old houses in Pittsburgh, but the zest for reviving them seems to be gone (the property value isn't there to support it). For a short period in the 1990s, there was a huge run up in the value of antiques, and suddenly everyone wanted to refit their houses as they looked more than a hundred years ago. That was combined with a bunch of people fleeing the soviet union and eastern europe looking to settle here and do restoration work (skilled work like restoring murals, etc, people who had worked for the soviet government keeping up antiquities over there).
 

D_W

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phil.p":182p5ctb said:
AndyT":182p5ctb said:
... it achieves economy by the classic technique of division of labour, as famously described by Adam Smith.
So each operator does one tiny task ... but they do it accurately and they do it fast.
My friend, a long retired (very good) chippie told me that when he did his City & Guilds as an apprentice he worked with the chap on the other side of his bench - he cut the mortices, the other chap the tenons, and so on. Someone queried the arrangement and he told them that was the reality. :D
And going back further, one of the boston furniture makers interviewed here years ago finished a piece and said he was waiting to have it sent to be finished. It was a high boy, and it was shocking to me to find that he could make the piece but didn't feel skilled enough with finish work to do the finishing.

it's probably been the case here that other than in small rural areas, specialization has always existed and small high end workers doing every bit of work on a new piece is more of a modern thing than it is historically accurate.

When I worked in a cabinet factory, you could end up in the drawer or door area or the finish room, etc. If you were a stain wiper, that meant that's what you were - wiping stain. Not applying and wiping, not stain and top coat, you wiped the stain. Someone else probably sprayed it (fortunately, I worked in assembly, where you could have exciting daily jobs like gluing drawers together on a circular merry-go round. You didn't get to do the whole drawer, just a step in it. Nobody there really cared at all that they were doing one step over and over because they could just do the work and hold a conversation while they were doing it as long as they didn't get below rate).
 

AndyT

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Although these replies are interesting, it's no surprise that they are veering away onto specialist heritage work, restoration and luxury goods.
If we stick to woodworking trades in the UK (this is Ukworkshop after all) and look for anything that any of us might buy in the ordinary way of things, I don't think anyone will come up with an example where goods made just by hand work are what we will buy.
 
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