Hand Tools – Purposeful Imperfection

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“Good Materials” (207) introduces the concept of selecting material that are easy to cut on site without expensive machinery.

Power Tools are not always the answer.

When building on a small scale, power tools can be more of a nuisance than a help. By the time you set up a table saw and find the extension cord, you could have cut the wood with a Japanese hand saw. You also have time to ponder what you are doing with a hand saw; you make mistakes real quick with a power saw.


There is another equally important facet to this pattern, the purposeful imprecision and character that sets apart hand-made objects from their machine-made counterparts.

When carving and finishing wood, only hand-tools “honor” or bend with the grain of the wood. This natural variation adds an additional level of depth and detail not found in machine-made items. Other hand crafting includes soft rounded corners and chamfered edges, which make for much more “touchable” wood than the sharp corners of machine-cut wood. Also, hand carved finishes create fine detail in otherwise flat and smooth areas.


Before assuming that you need lots of special power tools for your homebuilding project, think about whether it’s practical to use simple hand tools for many jobs.





For wood surfaces that people routinely come into physical contact with, always try to shape and finish the wood with hand tools.  Hand carved wood has a unique depth and texture that invites being touched. The purposeful imperfection of hand tools is an important means to achieve timeless architecture.

Hand tools adds a huge amount of fine detail to “Half Inch Trim” (240).

Gary Zuker is a Senior Systems Administrator at the University of Texas, Austin. In 1989 he built a house outside of Austin. Inspired and guided by "A Pattern Language", he developed 12 new patterns during the process of building his house.
Gary Zuker

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