What constitutes handmade?

I would like to open this topic by making a quote from a member at lumberjocks.com and I quote

“As it relates to woodworking, I’d say a purist is defined as a person who disapproves of any methods other than his own.”

Hand tools; one of man’s greatest inventions that’s been around since the dawn of mankind. Something we have come to rely upon every day in our lives, but since the revival of hand tool woodworking, it’s become handmade vs purists. With purists emerging from every corner, judging what is handmade and what isn’t has become a new issue; a new debacle for those trying to make a living from their craft.

A truly handmade product is what the name suggests; a product that is crafted and fashioned by your own two hands. A scrollsaw, bandsaw or lathe that has current running through it cannot fall under the category of machine work, even though it is technically machinery- but so is a foot powered tablesaw, lathe and bandsaw, so it’s not just because its motorised.



A scrollsaw cannot internally cut wood into works of art on its own, only a cnc can do that and poorly I might add. It takes a great deal of skill and know-how to scroll a piece of timber with patterns that have tight radius’s that come to a sharp corner point. A scrollsaw on its own without the aid of its user can do nothing more than push the blade up and down.


A powered lathe does nothing for the woodworker than spin the timber. How does this current (Electricity) turn a truly handmade item that can only be fashioned by your own hands into a machine made one? How can one lay blame and declassify a handmade item by the use of any one of those machines I made mention of, but approve of a foot powered tablesaw or a foot powered mortise machine, lathe or scrollsaw? And yes they do even have a foot powered bandsaw – ‘a new invention’,


and yet still have it fall under the category of hand tools and handmade? How can these purists believe that if someone manually hand turns a very large wheel in order to spin the stock for you in your lathe, williamsburg lathebe considered truly handmade as opposed to a current going through your motorised lathe and that to be considered machine made? latheworkLudicrous! Both perform the same function, both require the users’ hands to mould and shape that stock into a work of art.

I think the whole purist approach is wrong, I think common sense must start to prevail and for novices to begin to learn the difference between what’s truly handmade and what’s machine made.

I am not referring any of this to any particular person but to a group of purists turned marketing strategists. It is something that I have been watching over the years grow out of hand since the revitalisation of hand tools by those Richard Maguire from the English Woodworker made mention of “the novices turned experts” and by those teachers who are using this as a marketing strategy ploy to gain more business.

I am not new to the business sector; I know all the marketing strategies employed in the corporate world, I have a major in both Marketing and management and have never agreed with their tactics.

I have used hand tools all my life and a small portion of it I fell victim to the marketing strategies of ‘efficient woodworking’ and gave in to that temptation of resorting to machinery based woodworking i.e. Tablesaw, jointer etc. no CNC ever, but was as quick to sell it as I got it in the door as I do not need it nor did it make my work go any faster. In fact, I was more frustrated with all the constant set up for alignment and the need to have this jig and that jig to perform what I always could by hand. Not to mention the kick back experience my gut felt due to the inexperience of using a tablesaw but that wasn’t a deterrent, just a valuable lesson in the correct usage of a tablesaw.

This is not my only grievance I have; what about those who belittle tool makers and their poor engineering skill sets, highly priced tools, again I am not referring to any particular woodworking teacher but am generalising a few as a whole in one big pot. I’m not going to include Stanley or Irwin or any of the major flawed companies out there that has forgotten the meaning of the word quality but who are riding on the backs of the great reputation they once had so many decades ago.


I’m specifically referring to the big boys like Lie Nielsen




and to the small guys, the one man show like Chris Vesper from Melbourne, Victoria a woodworker turned tool maker who is extremely skilled in engineering and a perfectionist who produces only the highest quality squares and other woodworking tools on the market.  I challenge anyone who can prove me wrong in this.


and what about HNT Gordon a plane maker who has dedicated his life in producing high quality wooden planes and has addressed the ongoing issue that we Australian woodworkers face with the working difficulties of Australian hardwoods.

hnt gordon

This is to name a few if not of the hundreds out there both here in Australia and abroad who have invested a ton of money into their sophisticated engineering machinery, mortgaged their homes, placed themselves in debt that combined just that of a single toolmaker would pay out someone’s mortgage and a world trip, whose skill sets has led them to develop hand planes and other woodworking hand tools that is unmatched by any standards of what Irwin or Stanley produce today.

Why have they become a target, when all they’re doing is trying to provide a service to both the business sector like myself and to the home hobbyist enthusiasts also like myself- more on that in another topic.

They run a business and as such they cannot afford to run it like anything else lest they go under, it’s that simple. How can one expect them to sell their item for the price of a flea market bargain and pay for the machinery involved, their workers whom I may add puts food on their tables, pays the rent, electricity etc. etc. etc. and etc.?  Those screamers who use this method which is another method and form of self-marketing by raising emotional outbursts of agreeance from their followers are charging people the equivalent of a premium hand plane per person to teach them how to refurbish an old hand plane. These same woodworking teachers who like to point fingers at tool makers, are charging up to $1800 per person for a 5-day course in the construction of any particular furniture they may conjure up at the time. Again, I am not referring to any particular person here but it’s there on every forum and blog I have visited.

I know education is not free. Lord knows how much I have paid to educate myself and not just through school but through schools of life, through constant experimentation of different products made available to us by marketing strategists and have come to countless conclusions of abandonment of modern day finishes and the adaptation of ancient practices and ingredients from our ancestors of 200 years ago. But there’s the old saying “I will teach you not how to eat the fish but how to catch the fish.” And this statement is very true and extremely important, but how about I teach you for half the price or for a ¼ of the price or even what about the price of a flea market hand plane. No, it’s a business and as such it must be treated as a business just like Lie Nielson, Veritas and others. Instead they have no problems in belittling LN or Veritas in order to get you into their shops to teach you how to refurbish an old hand plane, just like LN targets the newbies out there- so does the woodworking teachers! Welcome to the corporate world of competition through sabotage.  I think I’ve said enough on this topic and have off loaded what has been on my chest and bothering me for quite some time.

To finish this off on a happier note,

One particular teacher I have in mind for the positives he brought to the hand tool woodworking arena is Paul Sellers. He opened up woodworking to many out there and has taught many aspects of woodworking where many others have failed to provide this level of teaching and understanding and I might add, for a small price of $15 a month or so to watch his videos, I’m sorry I don’t know what he charges for his actual classes as I have not had the pleasure to attend. Even though I have worked wood for so long as I have, I have never closed the doors of further educating myself in this craft as this craft like any other craft takes an entire lifetime to master and to master only one aspect of a vast deep and rich sea of all areas of woodworking is an achievement to be content with.


Also I will be releasing both parts 4 and 5 which is the final parts of the Small Wooden Hammer Project, so be on a look out for that one.


4 thoughts on “What constitutes handmade?

  1. Salko,

    I’ll bet your chest is a bit lighter now! 🙂

    I read some of your latest posts on P.S. and Greg M. and it seems you
    had something in your chest…

    You got a point there.
    But today we are kind of Dinosaurs facing a new era… not kidding

    I believe you probably eared that we are in the “dawn of the 4th
    industrial revolution”
    Being 1st – vapour machine
    2nd – electricity machine
    3rd – electronic machine
    and now the 4th with the new cnc’s and the 3D printers…

    I’m not a hipster, or smoked something. As a teenager my favourite
    “toy” was the computer TIMEX 2068 – similar to the Sectrum 48k, and
    after the Army I got into a very tech job as a visual effects
    engineer. I loved all about tech. Until one day I realised I’m human
    working my but for someone (stock holders board somewhere) interest
    who cares only about €€££$$ and I was a taking part of that “machine”.

    But I also have Hope.
    And at the same time I get a long and met with more and more people
    using bicycles for work, solar panels, recycling and using “human
    power” tools in lots of activities, and supporting more and more local

    So the words I use for my stuff/work is “human powered work” by hand
    Although I have a power drill for 2 reasons:
    1- getting a brace from Germany or the UK for the moment is a bit expensive
    2- the house I live have brick and concrete walls so… it’s kind of
    mandatory to have a power drill with hammer… lolol


    Post scriptum: I love the looks of the Aussie Jack Plane and the spokeshaves


  2. Thanks Antonio hnt does make beautiful planes and most suited for Australian hardwoods as his blade have a cutting angle of 60 degrees while our US friends don’t really have these issues as we do. I want to point out that I’m not advertising for any tool makers out there I’m just kind of sick of reading all the bull dust thrown at them. They have a job to do and they do it well, they offer great customer service because they aren’t big and they depend on you to make a living as we depend on them. Large companies expect or demand your business, they get so large that they forget who put them there in the first place. They become arrogant until they drown in their own feces. The thing is that these tool makers are not forcing anyone to purchase their products, it’s there if people want it. There’s just no need for this kind of behaviour from so called educated professionals after all and I’ll repeat what I wrote above woodworkers and tool makers depend on each other for our survival within the industry. If one group falls so does the other. Remember those flea market bargains, who made them they didn’t make themselves.


  3. OK, personally, I could care less what tools a person uses to build with. I use hand tools almost exclusively for multiple reasons, but that is my personal choice. If someone wants to use electric only or a mix, I could care less. Nor do I think there efforts are somehow diminished by doing so. The major difference is the skill set required. In my experience the “purists” simply want to elevate their own methods. I simply want to see more people making, regardless of how they do it.
    As to the hand tools themselves. I think that we should support the toolmakers that are putting forth the effort to produce quality tools. The main reason the once great names in tool production began to cheapen the product is because folks stopped buying as electric rose to power. (Sorry for the pun) Although cost is always a factor, I rarely see a true quality tool with an unreasonable price. Just because some are outside of my budget doesn’t mean that the price is unreasonable.

    Liked by 1 person

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