High Tech Woodworking: Is It Worth It?

Technology is constantly improving. We’ve gone from the days of dialup to self-driving cars and innovative AI. The change is one that’s been impressive and, to some, rather scary. On the one hand, it has made life much easier. On the other hand, there are ethical concerns about the abilities and use of AI.

Woodworking is just one corner that’s been touched by technological development. So, is it worth implementing in your own woodwork? Can electronics and technology in woodworking provide users with extra help or more potential?

Shopping for tools?

Nearly everyone has seen the “Algorithms” in play when they buy things from the internet. Once you’ve browsed for some new tools the shopping websites give you recommendations for what to get next. These use sophisticated data mining and machine learning techniques to guide you into buying from their site.

However, despite these sophisticated tools, you still can’t beat a real person reviewing tools for you. Reviews of power tools are extremely popular and there are plenty of tools, features, and brands to choose from. For example, if you were interested in power tools for sanding then a comparison of belt sanders at http://thetoolsy.com/best-belt-sanders-reviews/ would be worth looking at.

Makita 9403

Hand Tools

Woodworking has long been associated with hand tools and many people use these exclusively.

The biggest argument for hand tools rather than power tools is the control and precision that they allow. The woodworker controls everything that happens directly in the use of hand tools.

There is also the point that hand tools will always be, well, handy. Users don’t have to worry about a dead battery, not working near an electrical outlet, or running out of fuel. Hand tools are also usually small and are easier to transport and store than a large, automated option.

The biggest disadvantage of hand tools is that they create a much slower process. This can be frustrating to some and even detrimental to professional woodworkers with high volumes of work.

Hand tools also take much more skill to master. This is because users are responsible for each movement with no aid from automation. Because of this, new or inexperienced woodworkers might struggle for the results they want.

Power Tools

The initial benefits of power tools are rather obvious. Mainly, it makes the job faster and easier. Sanding a piece, for instance, can take a lot of time. With a power tool such as a power sander, though, the same job can be done in minutes.

As far as ease in the process of woodworking, there are things that power tools can do in a single step that would take multiple steps by hand. In the same vein, there are things that power tools can do that, with simple hand tools, are almost unfeasible.  Power tools allow you to accurately cut things like box joints which would require incredible skill to cut accurately by hand.

That being said, there are disadvantages to power tools. Some of these we’ve already mentioned such as the need for a power source.

Another big problem with power tools is that they definitely need careful upkeep. Keeping a machine oiled, sharp, or otherwise maintained can be much more complicated than pulling a hand tool such as a chisel out of a drawer.

Another – more concerning – issue is that of safety. When someone is using a hand saw, screwdriver, or any other hand tool, they can stop movement by simply stopping their hand. Power tools require a button to be pushed or a lever to be switched to turn on an off which is much less automatic. This, paired with the fact that power tools move faster and with more power behind their movements, can lead to injury.

CNC and beyond

The next step up is CNC. CNC routers are popular with woodworkers for making complex repetitive shapes from sheet materials. These are large gantry devices and are driven by a computer into which you’ve put your designs using a CAD/CAM tool. These tools are continually evolving and even a novice can use them to take their designs from the idea stage to be making wood chips. Yet they are still sophisticated enough to get the maximum number of parts nested into one sheet of material.

The Shaper Origin takes CNC off the gantry and back into your hands. It uses special tape so that a vision system can accurately determine the position of the router and make adjustments so your lines are perfectly on track.

The SawStop is another example of electronics helping out the carpenter. In this case, it adds safety to the table saw. The sensors ensure that the saw only cuts wood with the blade sinking into the table and away from the user if it looks like you are about to be injured.

Artificial Intelligence

A more recent technology that has unleashed a lot of potential and raised a lot of questions is AI or Artificial intelligence. Although self-driving cars get all the press, some of the biggest gains have been seen in the processing of language, such as speech recognition or translation. Imagine being able to read a Japanese woodworking manuscript written over 1000 years ago or to chat live with woodworkers from around the world regardless of language.

Object recognition is another AI tool that has been advanced recently and it had been used along with 3D sensing cameras to allow you to measure up a room or project and then show it using augmented reality.

There are a number of ethical concerns when it comes to the implementation of AI. The biggest fear that AI brings to mind is that of replacement. After all, who will pay factory workers when a robot can be programmed to be do the same thing? Why would someone call a carpenter to repair an old chair when a new one could be made in a few hours?

An additional concern is that robots can’t bring the same level of personality to a job that a human can. A few examples of jobs that computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum claimed AI shouldn’t replace are psychologists, soldiers, and customer service representatives. The idea behind this is that AI can’t bring the same level of emotion to their work, although interestingly AI is already being used to augment existing customer service systems.

In woodworking, this argument would say that a machine can’t bring the same passion and creativity that a human could. When a person creates a particularly unique or creative piece, they might be making it to demonstrate their love of the craft, give someone something beautiful, or a number of other reasons. The concern is that this would be lost on AI and the products they make would just be another completed job.

An invention that is indicative of the state of AI in woodworking is the robots made by MIT researchers. This technology doesn’t take over the entire carpentry process. Instead, it is meant to be used as a tool by woodworkers. Users choose what they want to make through computer software. The AI uses the instructions given to it to cut the materials into shape. This technology is still in its infancy and can’t even cut through wood yet – only foam board.

Are Electronics Worth It in Woodworking?

If you want to produce more or have tight timescales then electronics and automation might just be the way to get the most out of your time.

However, for some, the zen like act of creation with hand tools is the only way to woodwork.

What are your thoughts on woodworking tech?

About the author

B. Murphy is a former carpenter-now-turned-writer with an undeniable sense to find beauty where most are struggling to find utility. Moreover, he specializes in kitchen cabinetry, ornate decoration, and the sort of woodworking that adds a lively note to an otherwise stale décor.

One thought on “High Tech Woodworking: Is It Worth It?

  1. Keith clark says:

    I have a shed full of power tools and they have earned their keep in so many projects over the years but I still really love the smell, the feel and the sound of hand tools.
    Some years ago I attended a short course in modern boat building techniques. Epoxy laminating, strip planking, glassfire sheathing etc
    One of the tutors was the legendary Jack Chippendale, a man whose eye for a boat was as good as his namesakes eye for a finely turned leg of furnitute. Elsewhere in the workshop a student was trying to fit a plank into the stem of a small boat and was having difficulty getting an accurate fit. Jack took his chisel, went to his whet stone and sharpened the tool. He took the chisel and took off a sliver of wood you could see through. The plank fitted perfectly, power for speed but zen for satisfaction.

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