This is a section from A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects, which is available on Amazon. Over the next month, you will be able to read the entire book, and I hope that you like it enough to get tour own copy. Enjoy.
Chapter Three – All About Tools
Tools are the primary way that wood is worked into shape, and you will be using a lot of them as your woodworking hobby develops. There is a tool for just about everything, and you can spend a small fortune if you desire on buying one of everything.
Thankfully, there are ways that you can minimize your tool costs, and still get everything you need. It’s all about making good choices, and knowing when something is a good deal or not.
Sometimes you may already have a tool in the shop that can do the same thing, which means you may only need to make a jig rather than buy a new tool.
You can separate tools into many categories, but power tools and hand tools are the biggest division. For every power tool, there is a hand tool that can do the same job, though it will require a bit more effort.
Power tools do make things faster and easier in most cases, but they can also distance you from the actual work.
It’s important to have a good understanding of what is available in the world for tools, because you may be trying to do something ant not even realize that there is a different tool for the job that works much better.
You need to learn as much as you can about tools so that you know what you need when it comes time to start on a new project. A little knowledge goes a long way, and it can help you make good decisions.
Lastly, please be careful with any tools that you use in your shop. Very sharp tools that are intended to cut wood can cut through your fingers just as well, and it will happen so fast you won’t be able to stop it.
Learn about the safety requirements of your tools right form the beginning, so that you always know what you need to do with any of your tools.
Buying the Tools You Need
In the beginning it can be difficult to decide on what tools you need to buy. There are just so many out there that it can be overwhelming, and it’s important to make good decisions because they all cost money.
Thankfully, buying the tools that you need can be much easier if you only buy the tools that you need.
As a complete beginner, if you have exactly zero tools, your first shopping trip may be a little heavier than others, because you are laying the foundation for what you will be using in the shop.
I don’t remember ever buying a tape measure, but somehow I have several of them. Over time, the tools you need end up just being there for you as you go through changes in interests and make different projects.
The best way to decide on what tools to buy is to buy only what you need to make the project that you are currently working on. This is a great way to ensure that you are not buying tools that you don’t need at the moment, and it also saves a lot of money.
For example, if you really want to make wooden pens, then you need to buy a lathe before you buy a table saw. Sure, the table saw will be nice to have eventually, because you can saw your own blanks, but without a lathe you can’t even start the project.
Likewise, buying a band saw before you buy a drill press is not a good decision for a pen maker. The drill press is very helpful, because you can drill really straight holes through your smaller blanks much more easily. The band saw is a great tool, but again not nearly as useful.
Another example is for those of you that want to make cabinets and furniture. In the beginning, the best tool you can buy for a furniture or cabinet maker is a table saw. A lathe is nice to have for some decorative turned accents to your pieces, but you won’t have a project at all to accent if you don’t have a table saw.
Letting the project dictate the tools that you buy is a great way to help yourself make good decisions as a beginner.
If you have not yet decided on what you want to make, then it’s worth visiting chapter one and reading the helpful ways to decide on a first project. Not knowing what you want to make, or not having a project in mind can lead you to accidentally buying a tool that you don’t need.
It can also prevent you from getting a tool that you really do need for a while, because you spent your money on the first tool.
Also, if you don’t really know what tools you need, because you are new, that’s ok. There are a lot of great ways to find out. Start by looking online and finding videos or tutorials on how to make what you are planning on making in your shop.
If your project is very unique, but there are similarly built items out there, then look for videos and tutorials on those. Watch several of them, and see what tools are being used to make the item. If you need to, ask someone that is more familiar with tools to tell you what they are.
Figure out the most valuable and useful main tools are, and then look for those when you are buying.
Tools are one of the biggest investments that you will make in yourself as a woodworker. It’s important to get the right tools, and spend your money where it’s the most effective.
Buying tools based on what you are making is the easiest way to ensure that you are going to get what you need and not accidentally set yourself back by buying something that you don’t.
Tool Prices and Buying
Woodworking tools are like anything else in life that you can purchase. There is a high end, and there is a low end, and there are many levels in the middle. The tool makers know that there are customers of all income levels looking to buy tools, so they have offerings at many different price points.
While in general more expensive tools are nicer to work with, the price itself doesn’t always mean a significant difference.
You are going to discover that you can buy high end brand name tools for several times the price of a no name tool from a discount tool store. They will look similar, and sometimes they will work differently, sometimes not.
A huge range exists, because people buy differently, and the tool makers know this. There are also some boutique tool makers that do everything by hand, and produce individual pieces that are very high end. They are the same tool as what you can find in a discount store, but the quality and craftsmanship are very different in most cases.
When you are looking for tools, the best thing you can do is shoot for the middle price range. Most of the time, this is going to be where the value and the price intersect, and you are getting the most function for your money.
In a very low end tool, you are getting minimal function for minimal money. The goal of the discount tool store is to sell to people that will not pay retail for a brand name tool.
In order to produce something that can be sold in the store, quality, size, or other cost contributing factors need to be cut. Once that happens, a similar version of the product is made and sold in the discount stores.
As a contrast, the very high end tools have all the features, all the bells and whistles, and they are the very best of the best. These tools command a much higher price because they are the very best that we have. That being said, they are sometimes twice the price of a middle end model.
In cases like this, you have to look and decide if the couple extra features are worth the dramatic increase in price. If the new features are extremely valuable to you, then the high end tool may be what you need.
If not, look at the middle range and see what features fall off the higher end model. Many times, it’s only a few, and they are not as valuable as the change in price would suggest.
Also, when looking at really inexpensive tools, sometimes there is still enough quality to make it work for your particular needs, sometimes not. In the case of clamps, which can be very expensive when bought from a brand name company, the difference in holding power may not be an issue for you at all.
There are some clamps that advertise that they can hold with hundreds of pounds of clamping pressure, and they are well made long lasting clamps. However, if you don’t have a need for hundreds of pounds of clamping pressure, then you don’t need to spend the money.
Besides, even discount tool store clamps hold well enough in most cases to do just about any regular clamping job.
When you are buying tools, look in the middle price range first, and then see what you get and what you lose by going up or down. Using a really high end tool is usually quite an experience, but sometimes it’s not much more exciting than using something in the middle range.
If you can purchase tools in the price range that gives you the features you need, without any extras that you don’t, you will have more money for future purchases.
Also, buying in the middle range decreases your chances of getting a tool that is very poorly made, causing you to have to buy a second tool. When you add up two cheap tools, you might as well have bought the middle or high end first.
Why Expensive Tools are Expensive
The high end of anything is going to be very expensive when compared to the middle end. The main reasons can vary, but most of the time it’s because it’s either the very best you can buy, is made with a much higher quality standard, it has a feature that is exclusive to that brand, or any combination of those three.
When you buy the best, you get the best, and you pay for the best too.
Some tools command the higher price points because they are the very best that you can buy. In any field, there will be a best, and the best comes with the price tag expected of the best. In a case like this, anything else that you buy will be missing something that this tool has.
Other expensive tools are made with a different and much better quality standard. In the case of handmade tools, the quality difference is very easy to see. When you buy a handmade plane, or any other edged tool, you can see and feel the difference right away.
The tool may function about the same as any other, but the overall experience and ease of use in a top quality item shines through.
On certain tools, there is a feature that you can only get on that particular tool. When this is a desired feature that the manufacturer owns a patent for, this can drive up the price of the tool. In the case of Saw Stop, at the time of this writing they are the only table saw manufacturer that makes a saw that will stop the blade if your finger touches it while moving.
This is a very nice feature, and the Saw Stop table saws command a higher price than other table saws of the same size. There are some even more exclusive brands that are more expensive, but the feature on the Saw Stop, though worth it, adds to the price.
Most of the time, you are buying a good tool when you buy the more expensive tools. There is always going to be a little paying for the name, but the name typically means a quality difference, so it can be worth it.
When you are buying tools, if you like a higher end model, don’t be afraid to buy it. You are going to pay more, but if the features make it worth the price for you, the by all means don’t feel bad about it.
If, on the other hand the features of the next model down are about the same and you can’t really see the difference, then buy that model. You are going to pay a little less, and depending on the tool you may get a little less, but you tend to take out a lot of money and only a small quality difference between number one and number two.
Lastly, the price of the tool you buy does not mean that it will necessarily be any better than a lower priced model. Also, it doesn’t mean that it will be any easier to use. While more expensive tools on average are going to be better than really cheap tools, they are typically in a dead heat with middle range items.
Any tool that you buy is going to have a learning curve associated with it. Even simple hand tools are going to take your time and patience to learn. The higher end models will not make you a better woodworker.
In fact, many times the higher end models are more full featured, so it may even take a bit longer to fully understand everything that the tool is capable of doing. You can’t buy the skill, but buying nicer tools in general can help you have a better experience.
More expensive tools are really more about the experience than anything. A really bad tool can make you think you just aren’t that good of a woodworker, when in reality the tool will only let you do so much.
A poor quality edged tool is a great example. A well made and razor sharp chisel is a wonder in the hands of a skilled woodworker. By contrast, a dull and poorly made chisel is nearly worthless, and can make you think that you are never going to understand how to use it well.
This is where buying in the higher end can be beneficial, though again it is not completely necessary. Even in the case of edged tools, the middle of the road is often good enough for the majority of woodworkers.
It’s when you go really cheap that you can end up with a butter knife with a handle and wonder why you are no good at using a chisel. In a case like that, it’s not you at all.
When buying expensive tools, make sure that the features that make them expensive, and the benefits that they give you as a woodworker are worth the cost. If you do that, you can be sure that you are buying what you need, and not wasting money on features that you will never really appreciate.
Why Inexpensive Tools are Inexpensive
Inexpensive tools are priced that way for a few different reasons. Either the tool itself has been around forever and the design is simple enough to make on a budget, there are corners being cut to produce something that can be sold at a certain price point, or the same factory makes the tool for two different vendors.
Most of the time, inexpensive tools are going to be that way because they do not meet the same quality standards as middle end tools. However, there are some exceptions you can run into.
While I am a huge advocate of saving money, and getting tools on the cheap, be careful buying too many tools from the discount tool retailers. There have been some success stories from these sellers, but most of what they sell is going to be of a lower quality than you expect.
In general, inexpensive tools tend to fall apart faster, they do not measure as accurately, and they are not made of the same materials as middle end tools.
They do not have the same feeling in the hand of the user, and many times you can tell that they just don’t feel like quality pieces for your shop. In cases like that, you can safely avoid buying from the discount stores.
There are some notable exceptions that I have experienced personally that you might run into as you look for tools. I have a lathe that has been in my shop for a very long time, and it was from a discount tool store.
I won’t say which, but it’s green, so that should give you a hint. I did some research online before buying the tool, and everyone was saying that the unit was the same as another produced by a middle end maker, sold under a different name.
After I did my own checking, I noticed that the markings on the tool were in the same places, and so many things were the same that it could not be a coincidence. I bought the tool and it has never given me anything to complain about.
Another was when I purchased a router inlay kit. The bit was garbage, but the two brass pieces were excellent, and I have used them to make tons of easy inlays. Again, I did some research and discovered that the tool was basically the same as one that was about twice the price, with the exception of the bit that needed to be replaced.
Lastly, I have a discount tool store brad nail gun that has had tens of thousands of nails sent through it, and the gun only has a very small air leak that doesn’t effect the performance at all.
I was shocked, because I only bought it to get me through a few months until I could get a nicer one. I had the only brad nail gun in the shop that also shoot narrow crown staples, so everyone was borrowing it whenever they had to shoot staples. It took a beating for months like that, and still works to this day.
The discount tool stores exist because people will always want a deal. Most of the tools will work ok for the weekend warrior type, or for the person that only wants to use them a few times and dispose of them.
In some rare cases, like those mentioned above, you can find great tool for a really low price. It will exceed your expectations, and perform much better than you hoped. It’s not going to be every tool, but some will be great for you.
Spend a little time researching the tools before you buy them, and this can help you make a good decision. If you hear that the tool is really good, then you can feel better buying it.
People love to talk about their tools online, and people that got a great deal on a tool love to talk about it even more. All you need to do is a little internet research, and you will see right away if the tool you are about to buy has good or bad press.
With the right research, discount tool store items can be a part of your tool selection in the shop. Watch for extreme quality differences, and make the best decision you can.
Most of the time, inexpensive tools are inexpensive for a reason, but sometimes you can get a steal that lasts a long time.
Part 14 – Wrap Up
I hope you liked Part 14 of A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects. As you can see, this is a different kind of beginner woodworking book, and I encourage you to get a copy for yourself so you have it all in one place.
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