Last Updated on June 21, 2023 by Barry Gray
I must admit straight from the outset that I love both hand tools and power tools. However, I know not everyone will have the same opinion regarding this.
Yet, is it fair to compare hand tools against power tools? For me, they both have their uses, and the key is to understand those uses to then allow you to know you have the correct tool for the job in question.
Hand tools are better for hobbyists, and when taking your time is key. Power tools speed things up, allowing you to power through projects in less time. However, hand tools often offer greater control over your project.
But I feel it’s actually a bit of fun to sit here and seek to compare both options. Now, I know people will think that there’s just no comparison when it comes to hand tools or power tools and that power tools will win every single time, and I understand why.
Let’s face it, we live in a world where everything is fast-paced, and you need to complete things in the shortest time possible. So, if that’s what life is like, then why wouldn’t you automatically choose the tool option that means you can cut something in seconds instead of minutes or even longer?
But I think we need to go far beyond that when it comes to comparing tools and to get to the root of what it’s like to work with both options. I know most people will still opt for the power tools solution time and time again, and that’s absolutely fine.
Yet, in order to compare, I need to look at what each option offers, along with their pros and cons. It’s only by comparing their differences that I can hope to then come to some conclusions about both hand tools and power tools.
Your Introduction to Hand Tools
Hand tools have clearly been around since we started woodworking, and yet they have been mainly surpassed by power tools for reasons I’ll cover later on.
The Advantages of Hand Tools
I’m going to begin by looking at hand tools and telling you all about the advantages of using them. I’m doing this because we have become so used to firing up our power tools that some people have managed to almost forget that hand tools exist.
So, I don’t want that to happen.
Instead, I’m going to take you through the very clear advantages associated with hand tools in the hope it perhaps makes you sit up and take notice of them. Honestly, I find something quite soothing about using hand tools at times, and it’s partly due to these reasons.
You Have More Control
Everything is literally in the palm of your hand, and that means one thing: complete control over what’s going on.
Think about this for a moment.
With hand tools, you are the one that produces the speed and power. It doesn’t come from a motor or battery where. It is set at a specific rate that could be way beyond what you want.
I love this about hand tools, and it’s something I suggest any woodworker tries out at some point.
You Can Produce Finer Work
There is an undoubted finesse attached to using hand tools that you just cannot get with power tools.
Look at carpenters and the intricate carvings they could produce on furniture before power tools were invented. There’s just no comparison as to what’s possible when you compare hand tools to power tools in this area.
Hand tools will also prove to be less expensive to purchase when compared to power tools. So, if you are on a limited budget, then hand tools can be an excellent way to proceed.
I know I will mention costs later as well, but there’s no doubt you can build a selection of hand tools for a fraction of the cost when compared to doing the same thing with power tools.
Hand tools are often safer to use when you compare them to their power tool equivalent.
It’s all connected to there being no electricity involved and also no moving parts that are working at crazy speeds.
But the earlier point regarding more control is also important from a safety perspective. It’s very easy to stop hand tools compared to power tools, so there is undoubtedly less risk involved.
The Disadvantages of Hand Tools
But look, I will be honest and state that hand tools do come with some disadvantages as well, and I think you can guess what a couple of them will be in advance.
Lack of Speed
A lack of speed is a major problem. It just takes time to see through a piece of wood when a circular saw would do the same job in seconds. There’s no doubt a hand tool will take significantly longer than a power tool, so if you want to simply get a job done as quickly as possible, then hand tools are not your answer.
It Requires Physical Effort
One of the cool things about power tools is the fact they do all the hard work for you. However, that’s not the case when it comes to hand tools. Instead, it’s you that needs to put in the effort, and that can equate to a lot of physical exertion, depending on what you are doing.
Now, there are times when hand tools do not require you to put in too much effort. Yet, that’s not always the case, and it’s certainly something to think about when planning your projects.
A Lack of Versatility?
Another thing I’d like to point out is the fact that hand tools offer a lack of versatility.
Look at a hand saw as an example. It has one saw blade producing one type of cut, and I know you can cut different pieces of wood with it, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
Power tools allow you to work with different blades to produce different cuts. Power tools can be adjusted to allow them to work at different angles, such as a miter saw, and it just gives you greater chances to work on more projects.
The Advantages of Power Tools
But let me turn my attention to power tools because they are undoubtedly the most popular choice when it comes to working on various projects.
The array of power tools out there on the market is startling. They cover all price ranges and tool types, so finding something suitable for most projects should not prove too difficult.
So, what are the main advantages of using power tools?
The first advantage has to be the speed aspect. Undoubtedly, you can cut that 2×4 in less time with a power tool than you can with a hand saw.
That is why professionals prefer power tools. They need to get things finished in less time, and a power tool allows them to do exactly that.
Power tools are also very accurate, and this accuracy increases if you own tools that come with laser guides.
I also feel it’s harder to mess things up with power tools from an accuracy perspective.
Take a table saw as a perfect example.
With a table saw, you line up your cut, the fence guides you, and everything is over in seconds. In the end, you have the perfect cut exactly where you want it.
Cutting by hand can lead to errors in the cuts, and it will also tend to not be as smooth as the cut you get on a table saw.
But other power tools are just as accurate.
You Use Up Less Physical Energy
I see this as a considerable advantage of power tools over their hand tool counterparts: your energy levels.
Let’s be honest; there’s no comparison.
Think about how you would physically feel after cutting 10 bits of wood one after another by hand. Then, think about how you feel physically if you cut those same bits of wood with a table saw.
You would hardly break a sweat.
That is why power tools can make a huge difference, especially when you have limited energy to complete a project.
It’s also just a daunting task to think about all of the physical exertions if you are already pushing yourself when it comes to getting on with a project. Suddenly, that daunting task doesn’t seem quite as bad when you have power tools ready to do the hard work for you.
The Disadvantages of Power Tools
As with hand tools, you will also find a series of disadvantages associated with using power tools. Now, I know some people may see these disadvantages as relatively minor, but they could still sway your decision as to when you may wish to switch to hand tools.
Power tools have an amazing ability to produce a whole lot of mess, and they will tend to throw that mess everywhere.
Look at a power sander as an example.
If you do not have the correct dust system up and running, you will find that fine dust covers every single item in your workshop. It gets worse when you have a small space, and then that dust clogs up things and causes a whole lot of problems.
Lack of Control
I know there are so many occasions where you have absolute control over power tools, but that’s something that will improve as you become more experienced in using them.
But it’s not always like that.
At first, I feel it’s all too easy to allow the power to run away with your project. Some power tools have way too much power for beginners, and that leads to all sorts of problems.
That is why it’s important to consider not only if power tools are right for you when it comes to your project but also if you have the correct power tool.
I admit that some power tools cost a fortune to own, which could mean a particular tool is priced out of your budget.
I know a number of quality budget power tools do exist on the market, and they are easy to get your hands on. However, more specialized tools come with a higher price tag, and that can prove problematic for some people.
You don’t really have the same issue with hand tools, even though some brands of hand tools are still not as inexpensive as you would like to think.
But the cost is something I would suggest you weigh up. If you believe you will only use a particular power tool sporadically, then don’t go out there and blow your budget.
It wouldn’t make sense to do that, and there may be a hand tool capable of doing the same job at a fraction of the cost.
I admit that power tools do come with increased safety issues when compared to hand tools. I know you can reduce some of the safety risks by using cordless, so at least there’s not a cable to trip over, but there are still various risks.
Power tools have the potential to cause a lot more damage when used incorrectly than hand tools.
How to Choose Between the Two
Finally, let me guide you through how you would choose between the two options. Basically, I see this as a simple decision depending on your own personal requirements.
Yet, here are some areas you may want to think about when deciding whether you should use power tools or hand tools.
You Have to Reproduce the Same Thing Repeatedly
Let’s say you need to make a number of cuts, and they are to be the same cut repeatedly. Now, you could use a hand tool to make those cuts, but that’s time-consuming.
In this instance, using power tools allows you to make the same repeated cuts and do so in a fraction of the time. A circular saw will do the job in no time at all.
It’s just easier to use power tools in this instance. You will be more accurate, take less time, and can then push on with other parts of the project.
Do You Have a Deadline?
Another thing to consider is whether you have a deadline attached to your project. If you don’t, then hand tools can be the perfect solution.
After all, if there’s no need to push things as quickly as possible, then it’s sometimes best to enjoy the process. That is something hand tools allow you to do.
But professionals use power tools to finish the project in as little time as possible. Hand tools slow them down too much, leading to missed deadlines and an unhappy client.
Yet, if you know you can go at your own pace with no external pressure being applied, then I would suggest at least trying out hand tools to see how it gives you a completely different experience.
Do You Have an Adequate Dust Extraction System?
This is more of a health and safety point, but it’s certainly not something you should ever overlook with any project.
Power tools have the ability to kick up a whole lot of dust and mess. Now, I know hand tools also create a mess, but it’s not on the same level as power tools.
That is why you do require an adequate dust extraction system if you are using power tools regularly.
Wood dust gets everywhere, and that includes inside your lungs, if it’s not filtered and extracted. If you operate in a small space and do not have a way to extract the dust, then hand tools would undoubtedly prove to be safer in this instance.
But what about the dust created by hand tools?
Think about the dispersion of the dust when you saw something by hand. It doesn’t fly all over the place and covers every surface.
Instead, the dust you make by hand falls down and lands at your feet. It’s easier to control and then clean up as well.
The Hand-Finished Touch
I admit there’s also something quite special about finishing off a project by hand. I know it takes longer and will often be more challenging work, but there are moments when being able to do something by hand works out better.
It can give a project the sense of being unique, which is often missing when you just use power tools.
With power tools, it will often feel very mechanical because that’s what it really entails, and that’s not always a good thing.
It also helps your project to have something of a roughness to it. So, if that’s the type of look you want, then using hand tools over power tools would probably be the best solution.
Is it a One-Off?
I mentioned earlier how reproducing the same thing over and over would lead to you using power tools thanks to the speed, but what about something that is a one-off?
In that instance, I would tend to use hand tools, and I’ll explain why.
Imagine you need to make one angled cut. You can do that by hand, and it won’t even take too long.
It will certainly take you less time than if you had to get out your power tools, such as a jigsaw, set everything up, and then make the cut. By the time you had set it up, you could have been finished already.
So, weigh up if it’s actually worth all of the hassle of dragging out your power tools before you decide. I think it will surprise you how often it will be faster to do it by hand.
I need to mention the costs because it’s not always as clear-cut as you would think.
Sure, there’s no comparison between a hand plane and the power tool version. The hand plane is significantly cheaper, but that’s not always the case.
Budget power tools need not cost a fortune. Prices for basic power tools are low, and even though they will still cost more than most hand tools, the difference in price is no longer as great as it once was.
But there’s also the number of times you believe you will be using your power tools. If it’s a regular thing, then even a budget tool will end up proving to be value for money over an extended period.
So, when making your decision between hand tools and power tools, do not always allow the price of the tools to dictate your decision. You may be surprised at the relatively small price gap between the two.
Which Option Would I Choose?
Out of the two options, which would I choose?
Honestly, I would take it on a case-by-case basis. I feel that’s the only way you can do this, and it does result in you often ending up with the perfect solution for your project.
I do love the sometimes rustic nature of a project, and that’s only something you can do by hand. Power tools are simply unable to replicate the look and feel that you sometimes want from a project.
But I do love knowing I can turn to my power tools if required. I would not enjoy having to hammer in countless nails by hand if I was repairing a lengthy fence.
I know this does mean needing more tools, so my advice if starting out is to focus on basic tools that can help you with a number of projects. As long as the basics are covered, such as cutting, drilling, and sanding, it’s amazing how many projects you will be able to complete.
My Recap on a Hand Tools to Power Tools Comparison
I’ve covered so many things that a quick recap focusing on the key points will make life easier.
- Hand tools are safer to use
- Power tools are faster to use
- Hand tools allow for greater finesse
- Power tools can be more accurate thanks to guides
- Power tools are better when working to a deadline
- Hand tools are better for a one-off cut
- Power tools allow for repeated cuts to be completed quickly
- Hand tools offer more control
Overall though, both hand tools and power tools have their own advantages and disadvantages. That’s why I always weigh up what I intend to do and the reasons behind it before I select which option I will use at that time.
So that’s my comparison between hand tools and power tools, but your work in understanding the tools does not end there. Instead, there’s more to this than just comparing tools. Instead, you need to gain an understanding of what you need in order to complete your project.
So, to help, here are a few suggestions of other articles that I feel will help you out in that regard.