Where Humans Can Still Beat Machines

In our age of electric power tools, is there any area left in the modern shop where an individual working with hand tools can outperform a machine tool?

Mostly, the answer is no. Today's power tools so greatly increase the productivity of those using them that it often doesn't make sense to drag out their hand tool predecessors. That's something you can certainly confirm for yourself if you ever took out an old-fashioned hand drill to drill a number of holes in a wood board instead of a modern battery-powered hand drill.

But not always. Core77 recently featured a story about Shannon Rogers, the Renaissance Woodworker, who found that in the hands of a skilled carpenter, a hand-powered frame saw invented in the 18th Century could outperform a modern day electricity-powered band saw in the task of resawing, which involves cutting a large board or post into thinner boards or sheets.

The following short video shows the frame saw in action.

Core77 describes how Rogers' hand-powered frame saw can beat the typical band saw found in virtually all of today's workworking shops in a battle of productivity:

With this saw Rogers has managed to cut veneer slices as thin as 1/8", and when cutting across 24 inches of wood, clocked himself at a cutting depth speed of one inch per minute. And when he tried doing boards of lesser width, he found this surprising fact: "I realize that my 14" bandsaw is pretty underpowered, but I know I can resaw a typical 6-8" wide board faster than it can. I have timed it and my hand method beat the bandsaw by 2 minutes on a 7×24 piece of old growth heart Pine for drawer sides. I’m not a super sawer, I chose the right tool for the job."

Now, here's where it gets really interesting. This 18th Century frame saw design would be capable of providing ordinary woodworkers with the ability to work with much larger pieces of lumber, which would put them on a much more advantageous and competitive footing with today's established large-scale woodworking shops that rely upon large mechanized and automated production equipment to perform the same tasks. Armed with the right tools, humans are not destined to become obsolete in a world of manufacturing otherwise trending in favor of greater levels of automation.

Shakespeare once wrote that what's past is prologue. In truth, sometimes it's more than that. Sometimes, what's rediscovered from the past that has been long lost becomes the future way of doing things.