"The machine, not the craftsman, dominates woodworking today. The result has been an artistic tragedy."
It takes no particular skill to rip a board on a table saw. I'm pretty sure monkeys could be trained to do it. My miter saw hacks out 45 degree angled cuts with a positive click stop on its table. I push a button and it cuts with relative precision. My benchtop planer is the ultimate example of push button technology in my shop. I stick a board in one end and it comes out flat and thinner on the other end. I don't even have to push the wood through: rollers pull it through at a constant speed. Its produces a loud, almost frightening scream letting me know who's really the boss. Most of the finesse required to use these machines involves continually tweaking them so that they run straight and keep doing what they are supposed to do.
Woodworking once required working wood
Each chapter of Old Ways of Working Wood describes in great detail each of these traditional woodworking techniques. It is educational and at times, awe inspiring. Would you know how to correctly fell a tree with a single ax? Ever used an adz? Bealer has learned these methods from people who actually use them and manages to share it all in a lively, easy to read manner.
So where does this leave us?
Using power tools doesn't diminish my joy of building woodworking projects. In fact, power tools increase my pleasure, because I don't have to spend years as an apprentice honing skills that can only be learned through repetition. Power tools enable anyone to become a hobbyist and create things. In the past, I suspect woodworking wan't much of a hobby. People devoted their lives to it because they needed to. But are we artists? Most of us probably aren't. But neither were most traditional woodworkers. They built things they required.
Old Ways of Working Wood makes me want to learn to use hand tools and really get in touch with the materials I use. It's inspiring. But the reality is, I don't have the time to start from scratch. I am a product of the 20th century. And here is where I find disagreement with Alex Bealer. My table saw may not be an extension of my hands, but it is an extension of my imagination. And I'm perfectly cool with that.