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Power versus Hand Tools?


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I am just interested to get a gauge of usage of power tools over hand tools, (or vice versa), when people build a wooden kit model. I might well be wrong, but I would envisage a far greater use of power tools when building a scratch model as opposed to a kit. For me, I have no space, tools, or knowhow to build a vessel from scratch so I stick to kits only, albeit with a little bit of scratch enhancement when I can manage it.

In building my kits, the only power tools I ever use, in fact the only ones I own, are a soldering iron for plank bending, and very occasionally, a dremel for sanding. Mostly I find myself using hand saws, files, cutters etc. Now I am pretty happy with the end product I achieve with these tools, but looking at some of the truly majestic builds on this site and the internet in general, I wonder how many of these results are achieved via only/mainly hand tools? a mixture of both, with a greater emphasis on using which? And which power or hand tool couldn't you do without to complete a specific task?






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I think it's more of a "mixture of both".   Both have their place and all power tools do is speed up the process and/or make thing repeatable. 


In order of most used to least used here's my list.  Be advised that it's easy spend more on the accessories than the tool cost.  :rolleyes:

Small ME table saw with an assortment of blades for different thickness of wood. 

A full size jig saw, Hitachi for cutting things like frames, etc.

A mill from Little Machine Shop.  Used for sanding bits and pieces and milling things like capstans, etc.

A lathe (14") from ME.  Used to turn guns, masts, etc. 

Laser cutter...  It sees more and more uses as I progress and transition from the jig saw.


There's other assorted hand power tools such as a Dremel, some small power sanders, and very small rotary from WeCheer I find useful for odds and ends.  


Having said that, I've did one heavy kit bash (my Constellation) where the only power tool was a dremel.  I even turned the guns using it and a set of files.  The best tool is your mind...  if you can visualize what you want to make, you can make without any major tools.   I'm just getting lazy in my elder years.  :)

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If you work in your living room or somewhere in the house, power tools probably should be avoided due to noise and huge amount of dust. My first ever model was a simple scratch built one, did it in the living room with absolutely no power tools. 

Then I moved and had a garage. Power tools made building more enjoyable and accurate but as Mark said it will always be a combination of both and imaginative thinking is always needed to effectively use tools. Most frequent tools are a home made disk sander, dremel moto saw and dremel rotary tool. I recently got a proxxon mini table saw which I seem to be using all the time. 

I would love to get more tools though!

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As someone who just started building his first kit my fear was that using power tools will make it easier to mess things up. I do have a Dremel with various accessories at hand (bought it a couple of years ago) but decided not to take advantage of it when constructing the ship.


I'm now a couple of weeks in and think it was the right choice. There were numerous situations when my inexperienced fingers slipped or I took a bad measurement and if I was using a Dremel instead of a pin vice things would get ugly. Same goes with sanding down - using sand paper and files makes it a lot harder to take off too much material at one go.


The way I see it is that I need to get a lot better at the hobby before using a power tool. Doing it prematurely is just inviting disaster to happen.

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I gather it depends (partly) on one's dexterity and manual skills. Some people - as our ancestors, or course, achieve incredible results with just hand-tools. I personally seem to need powertools to arrive at well defined and repeatable shapes ... perhaps I am too slow in building so that I am loosing my skills acquired in process, before I can apply them again :(

Edited by wefalck
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This is mostly a personal situation.  Wefalk is guite right that our ancestors built incredible models with hand tools, and without electricity.  I for one need lots of electric light and power tools, but I started this great hobby with only a few hand tools, then acquired power tools along the way.  Power tools do make fast and accurate cuts, make lots of noise and dust and can speed up the production of parts.

So it depends on your desire.  Hand tools are essential, power tools are nice.  Become proficient with hand tools first.     


Keep building and above all, have fun.                     Duff

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  • 4 weeks later...

I've been building my (scratch) dromon model using almost no power tools except an electric drill. However, the sheeting for my planks was kindly cut for me by another member of MSW, otherwise I would have been lost. So I'd say a good bench saw is a must - at least from my own experience. I've used a drop saw to cut some wood from large pieces of timber, but that's because I've been very lucky in getting timber from local trees rather than buying it. 


An electric drill can double as a lathe with a bit of tweaking (though I carved all 100 oars for the dromon by hand - I don't think they were thick enough for a lathe).


My main tools have been a coping saw, Stanley knife and scalpel. Using a power sander to trim down the plug around which I built my model was a real mistake - I took too much wood off and had to build it back up again with builder's bog.


I can't see that it's necessary to have a large range of power tools to produce an excellent model. It's more about the individual builder's skill than the sophistication of his/her tools.



Edited by Louie da fly
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I tend to think that it also depends on the type of ship you are building. Pre-industrial ships were built without any machinery and everything was shaped by hand - this can be reproduced by hand-work (apart perhaps for the tedium of sawing timber to size). Industrial-age ships increasingly tend to have geometrically well defined parts, which would have been produced using machinery, which in turn are easier to reproduce using also machinery.


It is also a question of the scale you are working in. Bigger parts are easier to handle manually than small parts that may require only minimal amounts of material to be removed, which is easier to do with the controls of lathe or milling machine.

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  • 1 month later...
On 5/20/2018 at 9:02 AM, vaddoc said:

If you work in your living room or somewhere in the house, power tools probably should be avoided due to noise and huge amount of dust.

There is a small class of scaled down power tools - starting from Proxxon (typically the most affordable), ending with Sherline and Byrnes in a higher price range.

They are small enough to be hidden under a table when not used, do not produce a lot of dust (any home-grade vac would easily handle it, if needed), and are generally not very loud. 

I can't really imagine being without a table saw or a disk sander. 


Here are Proxxon tools in a living room. They are typically less visible because the table is usually lower (it is lifted a bit on this photo).

Foto 2016-08-30 14 57 47.jpg

Though if you build kits and do not plan a lot of improvements to the kit - then a rotary tool and a set of good hand tools (chisel, knife, etc) should be good enough!

Edited by Mike Y
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Since most of us are "Hobbiest" only and not in it to sell our creations.  (Although I have sold a few.).  We tend to work when time permits, even if you are retired it is sometimes hard to find time to build.....whereas, our ancestors that built usually had more free time, and those that were building for masters, had all day and all night if needed.  So we tend to want to accomplish more in the time available than just "hand tools
would allow.  An example would be shaving masts and yards. And a few other tasks which electric tools can expedite.


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My first model was made entirely with the use of hand tools, and I'm sure if I'd carried on like that I'd have continued to enjoy the hobby. However I've always believed (to misquote Robert Louis Stevenson) that the journey is at least as important as the destination. Over the last 10 years or so that I've been ship modelling I've really enjoyed learning new skills and techniques, and getting to grips with new hand and power tools. On occasion I've had to justify the cost of a new machine by convincing the family finance watchdog that it would come in handy round the house. To my surprise, that has actually proven true on a significant number of occasions - for example turning up replacement parts for showers and garage door mechanisms on my lathe and mill (Chuck's Rope Rocket and Serv-o-matic were harder to justify on those grounds, but fortunately much less expensive!). 


Each to his and her own though - you only need to look through this forum to appreciate that there is no 'best' way to create great models.



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