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First, I'd advise the young woodworker to part with $20 to buy the new Hybrid Woodworking book – ha ha! But what I find compelling about your question is it really highlights the reason why hand tools are making such a strong comeback: because for most hobbyists, it's more about the journey than the destination.
I'd really like to get into building more chairs, specifically a Maloof rocker and a Greene & Greene Blacker House chair. My wife used to travel a lot for work, and I'd find myself with lots of spare time on my hands. I don't really consider myself a writer, and the process of writing a long-form book is grueling.
If you had to advise a young woodworker with $500 to spend on one tool, would you recommend a table saw or a Lie Nielsen hand plane as the better tool to begin with?
My question is if we had unlimited time (and patience) for our woodworking projects, do you think power tools might have never been invented? We make cars that go faster, buildings that reach higher, machines that produce more widgets.
The average small-shop woodworker might have a spouse reminding them that the new dining-room table better be done by Thanksgiving, but in most cases there are no hard deadlines.
Just because I use a table saw to execute a cut doesn't mean the resulting work is any less meaningful for me, but other woodworkers might feel differently about it. Of course there are many more things of my own design that I'd like to explore, but those two chairs are things I have wanted to build for years. I began listening to audio podcasts on my iPod to help pass the time in the shop, and while there was one woodworking-related show (Matt's Basement Workshop), there were no video podcasts. You can do a plethora of milling and joinery tasks with the table saw and a few simple jigs and fixtures.
In other words, do you think time saving is the main benefit for choosing a power tool versus a hand tool for a particular task? So the long-winded answer to your question is: no, time saving is definitely not the only factor at play when deciding whether to use a hand tool or a power tool.
It wasn't long before my wife Nicole realized that a table saw would make some of these odd jobs go faster (clever girl!), so she purchased one for my birthday. Since I had a video camera and a laptop, I decided to make a video just to see what would happen. Because of my obligations to my free site, my paid membership site, and of course my family, I'm not sure when I'll be able to carve out a chunk of time like that again in the future. All you can do with a hand plane (in the absence of other tools) is thickness, flatten, square and smooth boards. So as long as a task needs to be done, someone will always think of a way to do that task better, faster or easier. For less money and much less effort, I could simply drive to WalMart and purchase an $85 entertainment center that will get the job done. My first thought was that I could use these videos to help educate my customers on the furniture-building process. So the answer to this question is a very personal one, and it can't adequately be answered without knowing more about the young woodworker, what their woodworking goals are, what hands-on instruction they have access to and what tools they already have. The house projects quickly came to a close, yet I still had a nice Craftsman® contractor saw sitting in my garage. Honestly though, it is more likely that I'll produce some new DVDs before I produce a new book. So if we were to make this a fair fight, we should replace the LN plane with a basic set of planes and saws bought used.
Not wanting a good tool to go to waste, I decided to build a recessed medicine cabinet for our guest bathroom. Now we've got an interesting dilemma on our hands and it's one that my book goes into lots of detail on. So I suppose if somehow we were able to subtract the parts of our brain that tell us to constantly improve our processes, we might never innovate in the world of tooling. The end result was really nothing to brag about, considering it probably contained more wood filler and caulk than actual wood, but the woodworking spark was ignited. Within a couple months of posting my first video, I knew that my future was in woodworking education.
So while I can't answer the question directly, my goal is to arm the reader with enough information so that they can arrive at an answer themselves. Personally, I'm thankful that's not the case as I love my power tools as well as the recent improvements in classic hand tools. A piece of furniture that will become my legacy long after I hang up my shop apron for the last time. I know I'm not the only one who thinks like this and I truly believe this is the reason many woodworkers choose what is undeniably (in most cases) the slower path. This piece was based on a commercial plan and showed me what I could accomplish with a little research and some practice. Many folks feel that taking more time with the project ultimately puts more of their souls into it.
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