• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com pie forums private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Anne Miller
  • jordan barton
  • Pearl Sutton
  • r ranson
  • Nicole Alderman
  • Greg Martin
  • Steve Thorn
stewards:
  • paul wheaton
  • Leigh Tate
  • Mike Haasl
master gardeners:
  • John F Dean
gardeners:
  • Carla Burke
  • Stacie Kim
  • Jay Angler

Hand tools: What’s better done the old fashioned way?

 
pollinator
Posts: 852
Location: NW California, 1500-1800ft,
205
hugelkultur dog duck
  • Likes 7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I’ve been running an excavator the past week, and while it’s an incredible tool, the many hand jobs my wife has had to do while i sit in the machine as, they just make more sense to do the old fashioned way, stand out. What do you prefer to do, or have to do by, hand (regardless of funds)? What is the most worthwhile project for you to rent or buy power equipment for? Anything requiring more a couple days  of heavy lifting by hand is worth an excavator rental for me, as I can often do a months labor in a day. For anything under 12”, I prefer a good sharp kitana-boy or crosscut saw to a gas chainsaw. The slightly slower cut is made up for in less maintenance time, and its much safer. Anyone have insights or pontifications to share?
 
pollinator
Posts: 2239
Location: Bendigo , Australia
138
dog gear plumbing earthworks bee building homestead
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The way I see it, new designs of tools or equipment over the years have improved the quality of life for millions.
I did build a house entirely with old hand tools and would not recommend it to anyone today.
Its very time consuming.
 
pollinator
Posts: 140
Location: Southern Utah
29
chicken building homestead
  • Likes 7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I enjoy doing work by hand, but sometimes (especially now that I am a bit older) working smarter and not harder is a good idea.  If you have the time and you enjoy the work hand tools are good for the mind and the body.  If time is limited and the muscles are sore than power equipment is a good option.  I have several chores lined up waiting for time and money to rent a mini-excavator.  Digging trenches for water lines across the yard is top of the list.  Unless we get a bunch of rain spread out over a couple weeks digging them by hand will require a lot of water by hose to soften the ground and many hours of hard work with a shovel.

As a kid and young adult I preferred shoveling snow, even deep snow, with a shovel just for the exercise and for building muscles.  I don't get much snow in my current location, and so far have no cement on the property, so a shovel is still preferable and I have no intention of buying a snow blower if I ever get cement poured.

I have an old 2 person saw in storage that one day I would like to sharpen and use once with my son to cut down and cut of a tree for firewood, but after that it can hang on the wall while I use a chain saw because although nostalgic it just wouldn't seem like fun.  Again, sometimes it is best to work smarter, not harder.
 
pollinator
Posts: 368
Location: Appalachian Foothills-Zone 7
60
  • Likes 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I use loppers a lot for small branches.  No reason to fire up the chainsaw.

As long as wood is fairly straight grained and splits reasonably well, I prefer a maul to a gas wood splitter.  I can split wood down to size before moving it with no noise or fumes.
 
master gardener
Posts: 3435
Location: southern Illinois.
979
goat cat dog chicken composting toilet food preservation pig bee solar wood heat homestead
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have a PTO auger for my tractor that seldom sees use.  Yes, for many post holes in an open field, it is great.  But if I am digging one post hole .... or even a half dozen, it is faster to do by hand.  Then there is the issue of putting in a post hole where a tractor cannot easily go.  The majority of the time, I use the manual digger.
 
gardener
Posts: 3779
Location: Southern Illinois
722
transportation cat dog fungi trees building writing rocket stoves woodworking
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
As a generalized answer, fine, detailed work is often done best using hand tools.  I am especially thinking of woodwork.

Also, if one is tilling a garden, a good, heavy grub hoe is better than a gas tiller.  It is more work to be sure, but it does less damage to the soil.  On a similar note, weeding with a scuffle hoe, or swan hoe or similar is far better on the soil than using a tiller to kill weeds.

Eric
 
author & steward
Posts: 2101
Location: Southeastern U.S. - Zone 7b
1170
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Eric Hanson wrote:Also, if one is tilling a garden, a good, heavy grub hoe is better than a gas tiller.  It is more work to be sure, but it does less damage to the soil.


Or a broadfork.
 
Eric Hanson
gardener
Posts: 3779
Location: Southern Illinois
722
transportation cat dog fungi trees building writing rocket stoves woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Leigh,

Really good point about the broadfork.  I was thinking about digging a new garden bed.  Will a broadfork dig a new garden bed?  I know it is excellent for loosing an older one.

Again, that was an excellent point I was not thinking about at the time.

Eric
 
Leigh Tate
author & steward
Posts: 2101
Location: Southeastern U.S. - Zone 7b
1170
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Eric Hanson wrote:Will a broadfork dig a new garden bed?


Yes, we've started new beds with a broadfork. It does a beautiful job of loosening the soil. For me, it's not so back-breaking as a hoe. I think it goes faster too because it's so, well, broad.

I think a lot of it is personal preference. My husband's favorite digging tool is his maddox! Me, I'll grab a shovel every time. :) We both like the broadfork, though.

 
gardener
Posts: 1165
Location: Western Kentucky
505
dog gear foraging trees hunting food preservation cooking fiber arts woodworking wood heat rocket stoves
  • Likes 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think moving large amounts of stuff is where powered tools shine. Digging a pond, moving a large log, ripping a log into boards, etc.

I will give my standard plug about trying to find old hand tools from the time period when they were meant to be used by skilled workers all day long. Subtle (and not so subtle) differences make all the difference. Many people would be amazed at how quickly hand tools can work, but all they have ever seen/used is modern renditions that leave much to be desired.
 
gardener
Posts: 778
369
3
hugelkultur monies foraging trees composting toilet cooking bike solar wood heat rocket stoves ungarbage
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm one who definitely prefers hand tools over power tools as a general rule. I like that, again generally  speaking, they are safer, quieter, and able to give more nuanced detail work in trained hands.

Recently I was teaching a metalsmithing workshop during part of which I  taught everyone  how to make their own chasing tools.  (basically steel  punches or chisels) Everyone always seems surprised that I cut the rod with a simple hacksaw instead of some loud dangerous power chop saw or cutoff wheel on a grinder.They seem more surprised when I tell them I made the hundreds of tools in the sets they were using in class using that same hacksaw.  I  find a hacksaw cuts rod pretty quick and because it cuts a pretty thin kerf I can also get 9 tools out of a 3 foot rod instead of 8 with a useless scrap  length.

Give me a good hand hammer over a power hammer anyday too!
 
pollinator
Posts: 330
Location: Northwest Missouri
118
forest garden fungi gear trees plumbing chicken cooking ungarbage
  • Likes 7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Depends on the situation but I love my scythe over my string trimmer. Quiet, lighter, no vibration, no exhaust, and covers a huge swath in one swing.
 
David Huang
gardener
Posts: 778
369
3
hugelkultur monies foraging trees composting toilet cooking bike solar wood heat rocket stoves ungarbage
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I love my scythe too!  I still use my electric trimmer in some tight spots (my scythe is big), but it has fully replaced my lawn mower which I ended up giving away years ago.
 
gardener
Posts: 3479
Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
1072
forest garden trees woodworking
  • Likes 10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Jordan Holland wrote:I will give my standard plug about trying to find old hand tools from the time period when they were meant to be used by skilled workers all day long. Subtle (and not so subtle) differences make all the difference. Many people would be amazed at how quickly hand tools can work, but all they have ever seen/used is modern renditions that leave much to be desired.



About a month ago I was buying a rusty-hardware collection for a couple bucks from a young guy, clearing out and selling off "junk" that was probably his father's, all rusty and older than him.  He was doing a last-minute panicked rummage through the box of rusty tools and hardware I'd just offered him three bucks for, just to make sure he wasn't giving away any treasures.  (Actually it wasn't a box, it was an old oak drawer from a chest of drawers, itself probably worth more than I paid just in lumber value.)  At one point in his rummage he seized and removed a good sized "brace bit" (tapered square) style drill/auger for wood.  He stared at the tapered square end that would go in the chuck on an appropriate brace, and then, clearly thinking about his electric drill set, he muttered "You can have this, you can't use it anyway, these are useless" and dropped it back into the collection.

I didn't say a word, but I was laughing inside and my internal narrative was "Maybe you can't use it, you dumb fuck, but that doesn't make it useless!"  The funny part was, I had just picked up (literally at the last garage sale before I got to his) a beautiful old Stanley hand brace in perfect working order, for which I paid the princely sum of one dollar.  Don't get me wrong, I prefer to use my battery drill for most projects too.  But I like to have options.
 
pollinator
Posts: 277
Location: Sierra Nevada Foothills, Zone 7b
61
dog forest garden fish fungi trees hunting books food preservation building wood heat homestead
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I like splitting wood by hand. I have a wood splitter too because I don't have the time to split it all by hand but I do as much as I can. On days I get stuck in the office all day it feels good to swing the axe for a bit.
 
Jordan Holland
gardener
Posts: 1165
Location: Western Kentucky
505
dog gear foraging trees hunting food preservation cooking fiber arts woodworking wood heat rocket stoves
  • Likes 7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Dan Boone, that brings up another point. Using hand tools in the correct manner is a very big part of their efficiency. The old auger bits were designed to be turned by hand, so they cut as efficiently as possible. There were even different designs for different types of wood, it was that important. I see many people use modern bits designed for power drills in a brace, and the results are not optimal. When there is power to spare, efficiency is not typically their main design goal. They are more likely to go with speed of cut, longevity of edge, or even more likely, lowest cost of manufacture. But even the highest quality tools possible can only do so well when not used as intended.
 
pollinator
Posts: 198
Location: Wichita, Kansas, United States
46
2
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Jordan Holland wrote:Dan Boone, that brings up another point. Using hand tools in the correct manner is a very big part of their efficiency. The old auger bits were designed to be turned by hand, so they cut as efficiently as possible. There were even different designs for different types of wood, it was that important. I see many people use modern bits designed for power drills in a brace, and the results are not optimal. When there is power to spare, efficiency is not typically their main design goal. They are more likely to go with speed of cut, longevity of edge, or even more likely, lowest cost of manufacture. But even the highest quality tools possible can only do so well when not used as intended.



Absolutely correct on the different drill bit designs.  I've used paddle bits for decades.  Just recently I got a screw tipped paddle bit.  There is a big difference in how it works (using a power drill).
 
Phil Swindler
pollinator
Posts: 198
Location: Wichita, Kansas, United States
46
2
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Just recently finished helping a co-workers family member build a custom sized, farmhouse style bench.
Parts of it were done with power tools.  But, for other parts we used hand saws, chisels, and mallets to do the joinery.
Yes, I can look at it and find a few more flaws on the hand-chiseled joints.  But, the level of satisfaction with the hand-hewn joints is significantly higher.
We didn't use any screws or nails.  Instead we bored holes and drove in pegs & wedges.  The "Cool Factor" knowing there isn't a stitch of hardware in this bench is very satisfying.
Sorry, I didn't think to take pictures before sending it home with them.
 
pioneer
Posts: 91
Location: North Texas, Zone 8a, Black Clay
6
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

I have a PTO auger for my tractor that seldom sees use.  Yes, for many post holes in an open field, it is great.  But if I am digging one post hole .... or even a half dozen, it is faster to do by hand.  Then there is the issue of putting in a post hole where a tractor cannot easily go.  The majority of the time, I use the manual digger.



Yes, we've started new beds with a broadfork. It does a beautiful job of loosening the soil. For me, it's not so back-breaking as a hoe. I think it goes faster too because it's so, well, broad.



When it comes to digging I think it really depends on soil type. In my area it is no comparison, if you need multiple post holes and have a choice between hand digging or power tools you will want the power tools every time (often aided by the hand tools and a water hose).

For digging new beds I use a shovel, but my beds are mostly smaller size.

 
Ben Zumeta
pollinator
Posts: 852
Location: NW California, 1500-1800ft,
205
hugelkultur dog duck
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
So in 1 week for 1850$ +100$ in diesel on a rented compact excavator I got at least  6months of hard hand labor and 10-15k$ worth in work done (if I had contracted it out).
- Fixed our rutted driveway to drain into swales, water garden basins and ponds;
- dug 1000+ft of swales for this runoff
- built about 1200sq ft of hugels 3-6ft tall, burying a lot of our brush therein for fire risk reduction
- swaled our house runoff through a new gravel walkway that will double as a grey water catchment that will lead 50k gal+/yr to a garden terrace on a ridge line next to the house
- expanded our pond with the primary goal of improving it as wetland/aquatic habitat w potential for gardening on terraces as water recedes, and used topsoil for adjacent hugels uphill (not on contour so not a floating dam!), and we have several cubic yards of good clay now for building and future pond lining
-removed trees across lower road for access by vehicle, and moved 20ft logs in tact for use as building timbers

All this probably would have taken 6months to do by hand, which means it probably would have never gotten done. On the other hand, I now have at least a months work of hand work to clean up and finish what the excavator did. I used to do backcountry trail work and restoration, led crews, and wrote my masters thesis on how these experiences and the community formed by teams doing them can facilitate self realization. I value the soul building potential of manual labor in and for nature. I am still extremely grateful that I got trained on excavators/backhoes doing demo on former in holdings for the park service. My wife also had fun learning how to use it on simpler, lower risk tasks (moving dirt away from anything fragile). When the damage was done with heavy equipment, like the hydrology and ecology I worked on repairing at my place, I think heavy equipment is the appropriate tool, and it always leaves plenty of hand jobs in its wake.
 
Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal! And this tiny ad too!
Rocket Mass Heater Plans: Annex 6
https://permies.com/wiki/138231/Rocket-Mass-Heater-Plans-Annex
reply
    Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic