How hard it is to build furniture without using power tools?

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My brother wants to know. He’s interested in trying this out as a hobby and now I’m curious. What types of tools would you need? How difficult would it be? Is it much different than building with power tools?

  1. Reply
    June 26, 2011 at 9:44 am

    It takes longer, it requires more strenght. You would need basic wood saw, drill, plane,square, screws, clamps. You know it would be best to ask an older relative, they may even have all the bits he will need in a shed.

  2. Reply
    June 26, 2011 at 10:35 am

    it’s not difficult at all. take your brother for instance –

    get him to bend over —- lovely footstool/table/whatever

  3. Reply
    June 26, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Hammer, nails. Defineitely more strength. What else, hmmmm. Depends What he wants to make really…
    power tools take less time and strenght, more expensive and more noise pollution though.

  4. Reply
    DIY Doc
    June 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Hard is probably a relative word. Consider that just over 100 years ago, when there were no power tools or power sources to operate them, furniture making had been in existence for over 4000 years. Look at some fine examples of 400 year old furniture, crafted with no more than skill and hand tools.

    It’s more tedious, if anything, and takes a finer set of skills to create a finished product, but HARD might only be defined by the craftsman.

    Certainly if you lived in a Mill, and had a water wheel attached, belts were run and “power” tools were used.

    Your brother might research furniture making techniques, before electricity, and tools used. One great example of a TOOL before electricty, is the function of the pedal/pump type sewing machine. Similar methods were, and can be applied to some carpentry tools.

    Obviously it was a Mallet/ chisels/ hand saws, and scrape/draw blades/ some manner of smoothing, before sand paper was produced, etc.

    Just my two “sense”

  5. Reply
    June 26, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Power tools do make work easier and faster also. I was reared on a farm in the 40s and we didn’t have anything power. We used hammers, hand saws, axes, hand planes, spokeshaves, etc Work went slowly and we did it all by hand. Now I have a shop full of power tools and can do in a few minutes what it took hours to do years ago. Still, the memories are good.

  6. Reply
    June 26, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    It’s very difficult, but not impossible. He will need several saws (rip, cross cut, coping), a brace with bits, planes (block, jack, jointing, rabbeting), possibly a spoke shave, VERY sharp knives, chisels, etc. It’s a great hobby though. I wish him well.

  7. Reply
    June 26, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Basically, building furniture without power tools just takes longer and you’ll have to stock up on tools. At the minimum you’ll need a rip saw, a crosscut saw, a coping saw, a dovetail saw, a manual drill, a mallet, a tri-square, tape measure, an assortment of planes… you get the idea.

    These links will get you started on tools and techniques.

  8. Reply
    split dog
    June 26, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Depends on what kind of furniture….
    Had a shop & would sometimes have to repair or fake bits & pieces for antique shops.
    Had access to “antique tools ” if I needed them & had to research a bit about traditional joinery & finishing.
    No wonder the old stuff is still around.
    I cheated & used power tools where it did not matter, but you really get to appreciate the hand work when you knock something apart.
    As mentioned it is slower , does take some muscle, lots of patience & is very different though the basics remain the same.
    Also depends on what is being built.
    Rustic / primitive, pieces sometimes were made entirely from hand ripped planks & very clever hand made joints.
    Some were made from milled lumber , but still hand fitted.
    Fine furniture from the colonial (pre Dewalt era) is amazing in its craftsmanship.
    Did not have “power” tools but the makers did have apprentices ( people power) to saw, plane,make moldings , carve, etc.
    They also messed up a lot.
    Anyhow, it is very gratifying work & something of a cult.
    Lots of books devoted to it as well as sites for traditional tools.
    Occaaisonaly find “treasures” in antique shops & sometimes
    estate sales.
    Basics would be rip & crosscut saws, asst ,coping & jig saws
    brace & bits, chisels mallett & hammers , workbench, clamps ,woodvise ,etc…etc…etc.
    Best to find a book & website for the style of work & start there.
    Above all, learn to sharpen edged tools or find a good grinding shop.
    For traditional furniture, hardest thing is finding stock to work with .
    Seems that almost nothing was close to what is available at modern lumber suppliers ( thicker or thinner) & the good stuff is very pricey.
    Great hobby.
    Best regards

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