Tools- the pitfalls and solutions of them.

Woodworking comfort zone #2- Tools, the pitfalls and solutions for getting out.

Everyone of us can fall into a woodworking comfort zone. Once we do, it will hinder our progress to advance as a woodworker. This is a four part series of the common comfort zones we fall into and how to get out. Part one, covered the comfort zone issue of time. This article will cover comfort zone #2, Tools

As stated before, lack of time is the number one reason people fall into a comfort zone. But lack of money is also a valid reason. Money is something everyone needs. It always seems, there is never enough of it. The kids need new shoes, the mortgage payment due, or the unexpected break down of the car. Money is needed to take care of everything. If the majority of our money goes to necesites, it’s sometimes difficult to buy the tools on our wish list. Most of us believe, more tools means being able to do more in the shop. Or at least do more in a shorter amount of time. So the lack of tools becomes our second reason people fall into a comfort zone.

Buying New Tools

Perhaps we don’t have thousands of dollars to stock our shop overnight. But I always tell people for every project buy at least one new tool. It doesn’t have to be an expensive tool. A $5 tool will do. Tools are a great way to improve accuracy and save time. Tools will also increase your confidence level because you will know you have the right tool for the right job. If you take this approach before, long you will have a tool selection that will make even a Woodcraft store jealous.

When it comes to buying tools, buy the best tool you can afford. Let’s say you saved $500 to purchase a table saw. When you go shopping you will see table saws from $100-$2000. Don’t think, “Oh, I’ll buy the $100 one and then i can buy other tools with the leftover money!”

I highly don’t recommend this. The old saying, “you get what you pay for” is true. A cheaper saw will be louder, vibrate more, and be less accurate. If you don’t enjoy using your tools you will shy away from them. And if you don’t use them, what’s the point of owning them?

With that being said, don’t think that you have to buy the $2000 saw because it’s better built than the $500 one. Don’t go into debt for your tools, especially if it’s just your hobby. You can always sell your old tools later to upgrade to nicer ones in the future.

Buying Used Tools

Buying used tools is something I do on a regular basis. Not only do I enjoy the hunt for tools, but i can get it at a great price too. But I must caution the first time buyer. There are many pitfalls to this. So here is my best advice.

I mostly buy my old antique woodworking tools on Ebay. Buying on Ebay can be a risk because when you are buying, many times it’s “as is”. Most of the sellers are honest. You can check their scores, comments, and even see if they have a return policy. But sometimes you can get took, and the seller may not even be aware he/she was ripping you off.

The caution comes into play if the seller is not knowledgeable in old tools. They may have just been selling off “dad’s” old tools after he passed away. Or maybe they bought a lot of tools from an auction and are reselling them. You have to have knowledge of what to look for in an old tool so you are not buying junk. (In a future article I will talk about what to look for when buying old tools.)

Garage sales are another great place to score a deal on old and fairly new tools. Most of the time the seller just wants the tools gone to make room or to just clean out the old garage. The prices here are the best because you are not paying shipping costs and can ask the actual owner questions about the item. But they do not have a return policy. So you can buy a lemon. But odds are it’s so cheap that if you bought a broken tool, it’s no big deal.

In my honest opinion the best way to buy a used tool is buy one from an old time woodworker. These guys usually are selling tools because they are just getting too old. The tools typically are well taken care of and many times they will sell it cheap just because they want to see someone younger get into the wonderful craft they love.

Many people don’t like buying used tools because of the risk of the unknown. Many want to be the first to use a tool. They want the shiny clean look of it coming out of the box for the first time. Plus, a new tool comes with a guarantee of some sort, that they are reassured that if something goes wrong, they can get it replaced.

Now I like to buy a new tool in a store where I can touch it, see it, and ask the store owner questions. But the more popular way is to buy it online because it’s cheaper. If a question about the tool should arise there are usually “review” comments to read. However, in my experience I don’t trust them.  I think they are selected to make the review look favorable to them. I have no proof of this, just a feeling. I better way to get an honest answer is; go into a group or chat forum. There you can ask your questions and you will get honest answers from others who have used the tool. From there you can make a decision on to buy the tool or not.

Taking Care of your Tools

So now you have your tools, whether new or used, and the most important thing to do is take good care of them. Nothing kills a tool (or project) than a unkept tool. Here are a few suggestions for getting the most out of your tools.

Keep the tools clean of sawdust or wood shavings. Wood has moisture in it. That moisture resting in/on it can cause the tool to rust. I use my tools everyday so the dust has little time to collect on it. But if you only get into you shop every once and while, wipe the tool down or blow it off with an air compressor to keep the dust of it.

Keep the bits/blades sharp. A tool works it’s best when it is sharp. It reduces tearout, glides through the work easy, and can leave a smooth finish. Taking time to keep the tools sharp will not only make the job faster, more enjoyable, but can save you money by not ruining an expensive board.

On power tools, blow/vacuum the sawdust out of them. Sawdust build up in a table saw or router table can make the tool work harder because the dust does not allow the machine to cool off as easy. Excessive heat can prematurely wear out a tool.

Also make sure the bearings have a spray lubricant on them to keep the micro dust out of them and spinning smooth. I like to use, Boeshield T-9 from Woodcraft. It sprays on wet and when it dries it still lubricates the bearings. Plus, it also works good at preventing rust on any metal hand tools.

Finally I would recommend organization of your tools. Once the bits/blades are sharp it’s important that they do not bump into each other. Chisels rolling around in a drawer, bits tossed into a box, handplanes laying around on their sides, are a good way for them to hit other hard objects and chip the edge. Proper storage of each item will keep that honed edge razor sharp and ready for when you need it.

Finishing a project and looking for ways to improve it is a great way to advance our skills. But finishing a project and making excuses for its quality is never a good practice. Having good tools and having them well maintained will make the job easier and faster. More importantly, it makes the job more enjoyable. And that is what everyone wants.

The third part in this series will talk about finding inspiration and keep ourselves motivated in or woodworking.


-Chad Stanton