The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Am I the only woodworker that…


There are times that we all feel alone in our ideals or principles. There are times I often wonder if I am the only person on Earth who sees certain things a certain way. In fact, sometimes I feel that nobody will ever understand what makes me tick. So at that, I give you this post:

Am I the only woodworker that thinks used woodworking tools are way overpriced?

I’ve purchased used woodworking tools in the past; I admit it! Some of them even turned out to be decent bargains relatively speaking. I’ve always felt that the best reason for a woodworking hobbyist to purchase a used tool was saving some cash. Nobody is going to convince me that old tools are of better quality than comparable new tools. There may be an exception or three to that statement, but in general, you can purchase a new tool of the same or even better quality for the same relative cost. Don’t believe me? I’ll give you an example.

My jointer plane is a Stanley Type 11. Including tax and shipping I paid around $175.00 for it, which was in the ballpark of every other Type 11 jointer in similar condition that I’ve seen. If we use the labor theory of value as our guideline, that plane cost me roughly 6 hours of labor to purchase. At that, I am at a little less than half the cost of a #7 jointer from Lie Nielsen or Veritas. BUT! The plane also took me around 4 hours time to clean, hone, and refinish, not to mention the fact that I needed to purchase a few items in order to clean the tool, including Brasso, mineral spirits, and a brush. Suddenly, the plane was not such a bargain when you factor in the labor costs it took to purchase and restore it. In fact, they are nearly identical to the cost of purchasing a brand-new, high quality plane that is by many accounts better, and comes with a full guarantee! You may argue that my labor costs do not properly reflect my ability to restore an old tool, and that an experienced tool restorer could have finished the project in less than half the time. That is very true, but I am talking about myself, not a professional tool restorer or woodworker.

If you don’t believe my numbers, check it out for yourself, they are fairly accurate. Sure, there are some tools that are real bargains. For example, I paid around $30 for my egg beater drill; it was a steal, and a lucky break for me. The tool needed no restoration and was ready to use immediately. You can almost never say that about planes, chisels, or saws. Most used tools that are inexpensive are either near-garbage, or will require so much time and effort to restore that purchasing a new tool is usually a better option. If you want to collect or use old tools because of their history that is one thing, but if you are looking for a bargain then you may be looking in the wrong place.

Am I the only woodworker that thinks Japanese style saws really suck?

Even before I started woodworking I had heard great things about Japanese style pull saws. “They are crazy accurate!” “They are much easier to use!” “They are super sharp!” “They are inexpensive!” Of all of those statements, I only agree with the sharpness claim. I’ve used enough Japanese saws to know that they don’t offer any advantage whatsoever over a Western saw. They are no more accurate, no easier to use, and a good one is just as expensive as a comparable Western saw. I’m not saying they don’t work; obviously they do. I am saying that I think Western saws are better, hands down! There is not a single Japanese saw that I’ve seen which can do the same job as a Western rip-filed panel saw. Japanese dovetail saws do a nice job, but, once again a good one costs just as much or more than a Western saw, and in my opinion is flimsy for lack of a better word. Let’s not even mention the fact that you cannot sharpen most of them. -“But the pull stroke is much more accurate and doesn’t bind!!”-That’s highly debatable, yet even if that were true, the Japanese style handle is harder to grip and leads to less accuracy than the Western pistol grip in my not so humble opinion.

Now I’m not telling anybody what to do. If you like Japanese saws then who am I to tell you differently. But don’t try to tell me that they are somehow magical. Everything I’ve encountered leads me to believe that Western saws are superior.

Am I the only woodworker that wonders why there hasn’t been a calendar of hot woodworking women?

At the risk of sounding really sexist, I have to think that in a world with 7 billion people there aren’t twelve attractive women woodworkers who are willing to put out a tasteful calendar. I’m not looking for thong bikini photos here, but perhaps a strategically placed tool apron wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I know that this sounds terribly degrading but I am a guy, and I enjoy woodworking, and every now and again I don’t mind so much seeing a scantily clad attractive woman. Isn’t the only logical conclusion to combine my two passions into one small and useful package. Everybody woodworker needs a calendar right? And women woodworkers need not be excluded. I would have nothing against a calendar geared towards the female of the species. In fact, I have a few free days next month if anybody needs me to pose for a few pictures…

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21 Comments

  1. Jason says:

    LMAO! I’m a bit surprised I haven’t seen any “women-of-the-wood” calendars, to be honest, since many other hobbies seems to have them (ie, cars, video-gaming, etc) but I suspect it has more to do with two things: 1. the average woodworker is an older male (not all of which care about such things anymore; maybe I’m wrong), and 2. more women are getting into woodworking everyday, possibly throwing off the marketing numbers. Then again, maybe woodworking is one of the last bastions of respectful hobbies and most people are worried to tread into that field. I wouldn’t mind seeing one, but in today’s age of open-sexuality, it matters little to me.

    I’ve never used a Japanese-style saw, so I can’t comment on them. But I figure that if I can’t cut a straight line pushing the saw, then I likely can’t do it pulling it, so it’s of little consequence which style I use.

    I agree that old tools are incredibly expensive, but I suspect that’s more to do with woodworking celebrities pushing their use at one time (ie, Chris Schwarz, Paul Sellers) that drove the masses to them and, therefore, sellers inflated their price for the demand. Economics is funny that way.

    • billlattpa says:

      You know, I’m willing to look the other way if the “hot woman woodworker” really isn’t much of a woodworker to begin with. I don’t need the female equivalent of Roy Underhill when it comes to woodworking talent. I’m thinking more along the lines of Kate Upton wearing a shop apron and probably not much else. Maybe in the background we have a workbench, or a wall mounted tool cabinet, or something. That’s not wrong, is it?
      Bill

  2. Andrew says:

    I agree, on all three points.
    But just in case my wife reads my reply, I won’t comment more on the last one… 😉

  3. Jonas Jensen says:

    Regarding the old tools. I suppose it depends on the country where you live. In Denmark, traditional wooden smoothing planes can mostly be had for around 15-25 $, depending on the shape. I have been able to buy moulding planes for 8$ a piece because I took 5 with me.
    For some reason many vendors almost always believe that a wooden jointer is a very special plane because it is long, so they believe they are rare. And the price is ridiculously high. But you can also find those at OK prices though. There isn’t a big market for old quality tools here, why I have never really figured out. Perhaps because the majority of the old tools wasn’t of a super quality to begin with. Sweden is a much better country tool wise. They had their own high end manufacturing, and practically all old tools are of a good quality.
    I like your math on the labour value. I have started to think more and more like this: Do I want to spend 4 hours rescuing some old tool I might not use very much, or would I prefer to go on with one of my many projects instead. Sometimes the tool will win, and sometimes the project.

    Japanese saws: I don’t think they really suck, I like the smaller ones for trimming e.g. a mitered dovetail joint. I also like thir flush cutting abilities for trimming protruding dowels etc. But they are not the philosophers stones of woodworking.

    A woodworking calender is an excellent idea. It can be a tribute to nice design and fine proportions. But like you suggest, we could make one ourselves and lead the way. male woodworkers could be known as the Wood Chipping-dales.
    Brgds
    Jonas

  4. billlattpa says:

    I think tool restoration comes down to each person. If you are the person who truly enjoys restoring and using old tools then a used tool is the way to go. If you are a woodworker looking for a bargain tool then I think that a used tool isn’t always the best option. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the refurb of the jointer plane, but I wouldn’t want to do that with every tool I own.

    I shouldn’t have said that Japanese saws “suck”. In my opinion they are not as good as western saws, or at least not as easy to use. Part of that could be the fact that I’ve used a Western saw my whole life, but at the same time, when I let me daughter play around and saw a board, she seemed to have a much easier time doing it with a regular back saw. Like you said, I think Japanese style saws excel at tasks like flush cutting, and the small dovetail saw that I used was certainly pretty good, but in no way, shape, or form do they instantly make you a better sawyer.

    As far as the calendar, we have you and myself already on board for the men’s side. I’m thinking Art Watson should be in on it, and possibly Shannon Rogers. That’s certainly a start. As far as the women’s calendar, my list begins and ends with Kate Upton. Well, we could see if Megan Fitzpatrick will do a month or two as well 🙂
    Thanks.
    Bill

  5. Scott Turner says:

    The one clear advantage of a Japanese-style saw is that they have a much thinner kerf, since the plate can be much thinner being pulled than being pushed.

    • billlattpa says:

      I don’t actually hate Japanese saws to be honest, I just don’t think they are better than Western saws. I really only like the idea of a thin kerf saw for something like sawing dovetails, I don’t see much of an advantage with a thin blade for tasks such as sawing tenons, or cross cutting a board. At that, if you, or any woodworker prefers Japanese style saws, I would be the last person to criticize your decision. If those saws work for you then why switch? For myself, Western saws have worked better. Thanks!
      Bill

  6. Brian Eve says:

    I use both western and Japanese saws, and my opinion is that the quality of the cut has much more to do with the sawyer than the saw.

    • billlattpa says:

      I agree with you completely. I am an okay sawyer, and I can saw fairly accurately. I’ll be the first to admit that I bought into the idea that “if you are good with a western saw, you will be even better with a Dozuki!”

      Now, when I say that they “suck” I hope that everybody reading this knows that I don’t actually believe that. What I am saying is that I found no real difference in cut quality or accuracy, and the saw I used was a good one. All things being equal, I like the western pistol grip better.

      Let’s put it this way, if for whatever reason all of my saws were lost or destroyed, and I had to woodwork for the rest of my life with just the Japanese style saws, it probably would hardly change anything I do. But I’ve chosen the west rather than the east, and I am happy with that choice. Thanks.
      Bill

  7. Scott Turner says:

    Another nice aspect of the Japanese saw is that you can buy replacement blades cheaply. Even if you have access to a good saw sharpener, low-end Western saws aren’t resharpenable. In the end it’s much easier to keep a Japanese-style saw sharp. (That said, I personally use both!)

    • billlattpa says:

      The truth is, in no way do I really think that Japanese saws “suck”. I’ve read many articles and woodworking books where the author switched to using Japanese saws and suddenly his sawing skills were magically transformed. I went into it with an open mind and really found no difference, not just me but also a few other woodworkers I know. Not that I’m a great sawyer to begin with, but I am hardly a bad one, either.
      I was saying to another commenter, if for some reason I had to switch to all Japanese saws, it really wouldn’t make a difference either way, and I wouldn’t mind very much. All things being equal, I prefer the Western saw and think that compared to the Japanese saw it is a better option. Obviously, a thousand other woodworkers might tell me the complete opposite, but that’s what’s so fun about it. Thanks.
      Bill

  8. Bill

    Am I the only woodworker that thinks Lie-Nielsen is an arrogant company?

    • billlattpa says:

      They make nice stuff, but they are a little overpriced.

      • Jeff Branch says:

        More than a little overpriced – I just got a Vertias jointer plane and saved $125 vs. LN’s comparable model.

      • billlattpa says:

        Apples to apples, Veritas usually beats them, which is why I voted them the best all around woodworking tool/hardware company. I like the Lie Nielsen joinery saws better, but at the same time they are almost double the cost of Veritas. I also liked Lie Nielsen’s jack plane better, but again it is a lot more money. Veritas also offers joinery planes that are generally less expensive than Lie Nielsen, and at the same time there is no drop off in quality, in fact, some would say that Veritas was better. I’ve never used Veritas new chisel, but to me both companies are a little too costly.
        Either way, both companies make top notch stuff, and you probably couldn’t go wrong one way or the other, but you will pay for that privilege.
        Bill

  9. Andrew Wilkerson says:

    Sorry to comment so late but I only just stumbled across this. I was a
    little freaked out reading this because it’s like you’re reading my mind. I completely agree with all your comments. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks for writing it. I now feel not so alone.
    I’m interested to see what you think about the sharpening rabbit hole we all seem to go through before settling on what works. Have you written on that topic? Interesting writing. Thanks.
    PS. Is the calendar available yet?

    • billlattpa says:

      I’ve written about sharpening before: https://confusedwoodworker.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/my-t-sharp/
      this one is my latest post. Like most woodworkers, I kind of fell into the sharpening trap. Luckily, I started off with water stones and a basic honing guide, which is an inexpensive way to go about it, and does work. Later, I added a diasharp plate and a leather strop, and with those additions I saw a vast improvement. I don’t like power grinding even a little. I know some woodworkers swear by it. I used a Tormek grinder once and it did a nice job, but for me personally the cost is way too high.
      I’m glad you enjoy the blog! I didn’t get the calendar underway just yet, but if I do manage it I will let you know 🙂
      Thanks
      Bill

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