Tools. Without them, we’d be sunk as woodworkers – and so many other trades. I don’t know about you, but motor tools are the way to go, usually! If you’re a purist, or a Roy Underhill, and you think that’s the way woodworking should be done, that’s cool and all, but not this boy. More pow-ah!
But like anything, you can buy the right and wrong tools; and again, just about like anything, you get what you pay for, as a general rule. If you put Harbor Freight tools (the majority of which come from China) up against a Festool or Fein (German), I think we know which the better tool is. “Better” meaning better built, better results, longer lasting.
Then again, the better tools cost more – usually a lot more.
Some guys aren’t willing – or able – to pay top dollar for top tools. I get it. I’ve been so poor in my younger days, the rainbows in my neighborhood were in black and white. I’m not slamming the less affluent.
What this post is about is re-thinking about the best – and worst – tools.
I do woodworking professionally, and doing pretty well, I might add, for a one-man shop. Tools are my make-or-break factor; if they fail, I could be dead in the water, trying to explain to customer why they aren’t going to get something when I promised them they would. But, there is more to it then that.
I’m starting to buy better and better tools – that is reasonable for my shop and price point, that is. I don’t need a 36″, 220 volt, closed end belt sander. Would I like one? Hell yes. But I don’t have the room, money, or need to justify it – and that’s where I’m going with all this, justifying better, more expensive tools. I actually have a criteria list I go through to justify a new tool purchase:
- Better Results: Will this new tool give me better results than I’m experiencing now? For instance, I just bought a Festool ETS 125 Finish Sander, and sandpaper for about $300 locally. Yes, I bought a lot of sandpaper; the sander itself was $195. I bought it for two reasons. My previous sander, a DeWalt D26451K (about $69), did a good job, but did leave a lot of swirl marks, and the dust collection wasn’t very good. If you happen to drop it on it’s side – even just a few inches, the next time you turned it on, a dust bomb would shoot out the side. The sanding pads I used (admittedly, from Home Depot) didn’t hold up all that long, and the grip on the sander was not all that ergonomically friendly – especially after a half hour or more. It was also quite noisy, and had this irritating issue of having to wait 5 seconds after turning it off and putting it down, so that the disc would stop spinning (and jumping all over where you would set it down). So, impressed with the Festool line I perused at my local Woodcraft, I bought their product. I won’t go into a full review here, but the dust collection is great – even with just the onboard bag, it’s much quieter, and winds down very quickly, so I can put it down and not worry. The swirl pattern is very minute, and results in a virtually nonexistent swirl pattern, and their proprietary sanding discs (albeit expensive) don’t clog up, and last a long time. Bottom line: I can protect my health better, and I get better sanding results.
- Time Savings: If I buy this tool, will it save me time? This won’t apply to all tools – a wrench, be it $25 or $2.50 still takes time to turn – but in many cases, great tools can save you time, and of course, time is money – in more ways than one. It maybe the tool is more accurate, or saves the use of two tools – such as a mortising machine.
- Money Savings: Is this tool going to save me money in the long run? Good tools can save you money. They can save you time, because they can do the job quicker – or maybe more importantly, accurately. Tools that mess up your work only cost you time when you to go back and fix what it damaged. Maybe that cheap box of screws broke off well into the workpiece, and you can’t get it out; perhaps those cheaper box of sanding discs last for only 5 minutes each, or those cheap saw blades mess up your cabinet grade plywood – this kind of thing. Is something a value when it costs you time and/or money, not to mention the end result of your project?
- Safer. Will I be safer if I buy this tool? We often blow off safety, admit it. I’m trying to up my game a little bit more in this area, especially in terms of dust collection. Dust is a pain, not just because it makes a mess of the shop, but because you breath in this crap, for decades on end. Not good. A tool, such as the Festool sander I just purchased, greatly helps in that area. Any tool that is safer is usually a good selling point on that criteria alone. You can always get another tool, but you can’t get a new eye, lungs or finger.
- More satisfying experience. I don’t like fighting my tools. I don’t like having to jury rig something, or baby it this way or that to get it to work right. My tools are their for my use, and I’m not there for them. When you use a great tool, the woodworking experience is more rewarding, I feel – the tool might be more ergonomically friendly, easier to use, give better results, quieter – or all of the above.
So I hope this helps you in selecting your next tool; you should never be afraid to buy the very best – you’ll never be dissapointed.