Traditional Woodworking With Hand Tools Only

This came in last week:


I’m a longtime fan of your books (and more recently, your blog) and wanted to let you know about my current project, as you are partly to thank. Largely because of discovering Shelter in the early 90s, I’ve had a deep interest in traditional woodworking. Combined with with Eric Sloane and Roy Underhill, my appreciation for the older, time-tested styles has been maturing all this time. We moved out to Coastal Oregon a couple years ago, and I’ve been delighted to find some examples (few and far between as they are) of “Sheltery” structures, and have tried my hand at making some small ones (chicken coops and the like). I dream of building a small off-grid cabin on our house and spend hours late at night tinkering with the design… it started as a cluster of drydocked VW Vanagon campers, but as my woodworking skills improved, I am thinking more and more Gypsy Vardo. But I digress!

I wanted to let you know about a project I have going on, which I hope you will enjoy. I want to preface it by saying that I am NOT seeking backing or contributions (I have met my goal) so with that out of the way, let me tell you a little about it.

I discovered a book “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” on an episode of The Woodwrights Shop. This is a book from 1839 which details a cabinet maker’s apprenticeship in great detail, including how to make 3 sample projects. I had to order this book immediately, and it was much better than I expected. Amusingly written, full of fascinating historical as well as woodworking detail, and very informative on many levels. “I have to do this!” I said to myself… but was met with the big obstacle – outfitting a woodshop (simple as it may be). I have the core powertools needed for carpentry, and a few decent handsaws and planes, but I never really went to far with handtool-only projects because I was always missing something or another, and as you know these things can be very difficult to find, or extremely pricy for new versions. Roy Underhill always pulls out the perfect paring chisel, spokeshave, or other sometimes esoteric tool for a task – he doesn’t really tell you how to get by with whatever crap you can find at a fleamarket. So… my idea was born.

I wanted to sell the items I made, in order to buy tools. But how to make the items to sell? Thats when I had the idea for kickstarter: If you aren’t familiar, its a funding generator for projects such as this (although mine seems to be the only woodworking one I could find).

In short, it worked! Within a couple weeks I had enough supporters to outfit myself with the minimal tools and materials to work through the book, and provide the artifacts I create in exchange for the payment of my sponsors. Its truly win-win, and the whole reason I am sharing this with you is that it makes me much more excited about being a part of our economy. Its very heartening to know that with the right vision, strangers will indeed come together and lend a hand. I was also blown away by how many people are apparently interested in traditional craft like this, even if they don’t want to get their hands dirty per se. There’s a lot of rap out there about not letting anything get in the way of your dreams, and I was very close to shelving this one because I just could not see how to get ahold of the tools I needed to really learn this art. Turns out people are right; don’t give up, just do it!

I’m going to blog the experience of building all these items, and if all goes well, shoot some “how to” videos in the process. It will all be here:

I hope I haven’t wasted your time- it seemed to me the type of thing you would find interesting, both the woodworking itself and the crowd-sourced support for it. If Shelter ever needs some capital to get a new project going, give it a shot. I’ll be your first sponsor if you announce it.

Hope you are well, stay safe with your downhill adventures, and I look forward to your Tiny Houses book!

rob campbell yachats, oregon

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

15 Responses to Traditional Woodworking With Hand Tools Only

  1. Hi, im a highschool student attending a trade school, i took up woodworking and would like to stay in this area of traditional furniture making and want to buy high quality hand tools, i need recomendations of tool companys and what tools i will need.

  2. I am looking for a list of furniture making hand tools i will need, the furniture i will be making is curves chests, grandfather clocks, and chairs and so on. thanks.

  3. Popular Woodworking for beginners has delivered articles and commentary from America’s best and brightest woodworkers for more than 30 years. The editorial focus is a committed philosophy of hybrid woodworking – blending the best of hand tool and power tool woodworking. We bring you woodworking projects for every skill level ranging from simple (but attractive) projects that use basic joinery, to complex furniture plans using advanced woodworking techniques. Nearly every project also comes with a SketchUp model.

  4. Hey, this is a great article, I really enjoy reading anything related to hand tools, toolboxes or working with tools =) There is a great retailer of toolboxes for practically anyone called Wilson & Miller. You can check them out on I bought some stuff and it has really stood my test! If anyone is interested to chat or talk about hand tools and toolboxes I`m always willing to throw in my experiences.

  5. We moved out to Coastal Oregon a couple years ago, and I've been delighted to find some examples (few and far between as they are) of "Sheltery" structures, and have tried my hand at making some small ones (chicken coops and the like). blades

  6. Thanks for sharing this – I thought it was really touching to have readers leave you a note and appreciate. I also like reading various online references especially when buying new tools like scroll saw before making the final decision.

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