Hand Tools, Product Review, Tom Fidgen
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Tom Fidgen’s Made by Hand

This post is for anyone who wants to jump into the world of hand tools.

A key book in my journey as a hand tool woodworker.

I placed the glass of wine in the photo above for a reason. If you look closely at the cover of Tom Fidgen’s Made by Hand, Furniture Projects from the Unplugged Workshop, you’ll see an artistically designed table executed by hand tools. I tend to look at furniture in several ways these days, but mainly pieces fall into two categories: those that could easily be found in an art gallery and those that could be found in a furniture store.

The piece on the cover of Fidgen’s book is of the art gallery type which the glass of wine signifies, but after reading the book, a bottle of beer could have been used as a prop due to Fidgen’s background as a power tool woodworker.

I first ran across Fidgen when he was mid-way through the construction of a sharpening station featured at Fine Woodworking.com (see the multi-part series by clicking here). What I found surprising was he used absolutely no power tools in its construction – even holes were created with hand cranked drills. I remember thinking, “He is sooooo way ahead of me.” But, interestingly, Tom Fidgen used to be a full-fledged power tool woodworker. He even admits to watching a certain PBS TV show where the woodworker was known for wearing flannel shirts.

The book
In addition to being an accomplished furniture maker, Fidgen is a boat maker, a recording artist and a writer. I initially thought I was buying a “how-to” hand tool manual, but I quickly discovered that Made by Hand is a book that contains writing…

Take a plank of timber and look at it, rough and ready right out of a saw mill. Twisted and turning, grains roll along as if still being pushed by some outside force. It was in its natural environment not so long ago, still breathing, ever changing. From forest to you, in hand, in shop – your shop or place of work, not too far to fall…the tree that is.”

A look at the contents page shows just how complete this book is. It contains recommendations for everything needed to get the hand tool woodworker on his/her way: hand planes, spokeshaves, chisels, etc. Tips on techniques are discussed and then there is a selection of Fidgen’s project plans with step-by-step photos and notes.

His pointers on which tools to buy first and his discussion about flea market finds vs. modern tools are all helpful for me, the hand tool novice and anyone like me embarking on the journey with such tools.

Fidgen spends some time on sharpening hand tools and comments on the peace of mind gained by spending an hour in the morning sharpening tools – yikes, an hour! One more quote from the book:

The best hand tool in the world is worthless in the hands of the woodworker who doesn’t know how to sharpen.

Ouch – this is me and it is why I don’t do more work with hand tools. Fidgen’s book has given me the confidence to begin the practice of sharpening the few hand tools I currently have.

He works through bench jigs, like a shooting board, which are critical to successful hand tool work. Finally, before getting to the project section of his book Fidgen devotes a chapter to process techniques: calculating board feet, preparing rough sawn lumber, as well as cutting dovetails and mortises among other things.

The projects Fidgen selected for Made by Hand are all interesting and are certainly more complex than what I currently build. I feel compelled to attempt one or two of them if for no other reason than to know I can make something as challenging as these pieces are. I especially like his frame and panel cabinet.

The book also contains a DVD which goes into more detail about the basics for the up and coming hand tool woodworker. This makes the book/DVD combination very comprehensive.

I purchased Fidgen’s book prior to heading down to Panama City Beach, Florida for our annual family reunion. A goal of mine for this trip was to simply read. To that end, I picked up Made by Hand, sort of by accident. Of all the books at my local Woodcraft store, this one stood out. And I am glad it did. It is just what I need to get oriented in hand tools.

One of the projects featured in the book is a small wall mounted book case. The chapter on this project is titled, “Where the Good Books Go?” I already have a bookcase dedicated for my special woodworking books and Made by Hand certainly will reside there.


The book is available at Woodcraft for $29.99 but if you are interested, it is currently on sale at Popular Woodworking.com for $15.99 through August 31, 2011. You can also find it at Amazon.com or at Tom Fidgen’s website.


  1. The closest I have got to wood is keeping and working on the laptop on my wooden table – LOL 🙂

    I too wanted to develop some kinda hobby – not necessarily related to wood – but something like growing fruits / vegetables etc. It would help me get some exercise other than walking, which I do these days. Maybe some day….

    Anyways, I like people who are passionate about their job and consider it as an art than a chore. Your blog does portray an artistic touch to wooden posts! Keep up the good work 🙂

  2. ES – thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you explore the idea of growing plants. I actually put a major emphasis on this last year and while fun, I became a slave to all my plants. 😮 But, they can be a lot of fun too. Good luck with it all.


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