The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Monthly Archives: January 2014

How to become a cool woodworker in 5 somewhat not so easy steps.

This one is for all you new people out there. By now you’ve gotten your tool set together; you’ve subscribed to a woodworking magazine or two; you’ve read a few woodworking books, and you may even have some nice completed projects under your belt…so what’s the problem? The problem is that you are not a ‘cool woodworker’, and the real problem is that you don’t really know how to become a ‘cool woodworker’; well that’s why I’m here.

I can’t claim to be a cool woodworker, and I’ve probably offended too many cool woodworkers to be ever be invited into the club, but after nearly five years of woodworking and 18 months of blogging I’ve managed to compile together my research and I believe I’ve finally discovered at least some of the secrets to becoming a cool woodworker. While this list may not be perfect, I do believe it is a good start on the path to woodworking coolness.

Cool Woodworker Rule #1: Always refer to woodworking as “The Craft”

This one is fairly easy to accomplish, though it may cause some slight embarrassment and self-loathing. All you need to do is substitute the word ‘woodworking’ with “the craft” and you will be fine. For example, a normal woodworker may say: “I’ve been woodworking for three years.” Sounds fine, right? But in order to be a cool woodworker you have to say something along the lines of: “I’ve been practicing the craft for three years.” That simple phrase is the first step into the cool woodworking club.

Cool Woodworker Rule #2: Never admit the cost of your tool set.

A cool woodworker will generally have a tool set that costs at least $5000. But somehow, a cool woodworker obtains this large and expensive set of tools for very little money, usually under $100. Three hundred dollar Lie Nielsen jack plane? A cool woodworker got it for five bucks at a yard sale. Set of chisels? A cool woodworker found them under a floor board in an old barn. Delta Unisaw? A cool woodworker finds his in a basement and fully restores it himself. So if you are forced to actually purchase most of your tools the same way the vast majority of uncool woodworkers usually do, never admit that you paid any real money for them.

Note: A cool woodworker can also inherit his tool set, but it is much easier to get in the club if that set was “earned” and not inherited.

Cool Woodworker Rule #3: Your workbench top must be really thick.

This one is subjective, but you should shoot for a bench top at least 8 inches thick. While this doesn’t sound difficult to accomplish in theory, don’t be fooled, it is. Firstly, finding a board at least 8 inches thick is easier said than done. Secondly, if you do so happen to find that board , it is going to cost you some big money, and that’s a real problem, because like a cool woodworker tool set, a cool woodworker bench top must be obtained at a minimal or no cost. Ideally, a cool woodworker finds his massive bench top…somewhere. If he doesn’t happen to find that magical board in passing, a family friend of a cool woodworker who happens to own a farm should happen to come across it while cleaning out an old barn and then think of the aforementioned cool woodworker upon the miraculous discovery.

Cool Woodworker Rule #4: If you do purchase your tools, you must modify them heavily.

Even cool woodworkers are at times forced to purchase their tools and not discover them in an ancient shipwreck. If you do happen to purchase your woodworking tools new, and you still want to be a cool woodworker, you must make modifications to your newly purchased tools in order to prove that you know something that professional tool manufacturers do not. The modifications to be made are limitless, from changing the handle of a plane or saw to completely rebuilding the purchased tool. Remember, the goal here is to showcase your knowledge of the inner workings of woodworking tools, as well as letting the cool woodworkers guild know that though you purchased a new tool, you did in fact make it your own. In this instance you are only limited by your imagination and your propensity for being supercilious.

Note: This rule also applies to store bought hardware.

Cool Woodworker Rule #5: You must befriend a blacksmith.

This one is the toughest on the list and I’ll tell you why. While purchasing hardware from a blacksmith isn’t necessarily easy, it isn’t all that difficult either if you have one within driving distance. But in order to be a cool woodworker, that blacksmith should really be a close friend. Actually, to be a really cool woodworker, said blacksmith should be a person you’ve known most of, if not all of your life. Not only that, the blacksmith should not, under any circumstances whatsoever, be taking any actual orders. A really cool woodworker has a blacksmith friend who makes custom hardware for him only because they are so very close. Admittedly this is one is a tough nut to crack, and really separates the boys from the cool woodworkers. The only advice I can offer here is: Good Luck.

While I cannot guarantee that following these rules will make you a cool woodworker, I do believe that any woodworker who manages to meet this criteria is certainly heading in the right direction. If you do manage to become a cool woodworker, and I somehow helped you achieve that lofty goal, please let me know what it’s like up there. Though it’s too late for me, I can still dream; can’t I?

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Dutch tool rack is finally finished.

Yesterday morning, a frigid one at that, I completed the construction of my Dutch Tool Chest by finishing and installing the tool rack. I had actually already prepared the two pieces that make up the rack, but ran out of time last week to install them. I changed the design a little, not going with the standard rack you see in a lot of tool chests. That being said, I still used the typical ‘row of holes’ and slots, but assembled them slightly differently to make it easier to install.

For the construction of the rack I used clear pine. I didn’t want just the straight, thin board, which I believe is prone to splitting when attaching with screws, so I ripped a two 1/2 inch wide board and then added a 1/4 inch deep x 3/4 inch wide dado along the length which would hold the row of holes. I also ripped three spacers two inches long x 3/4 inches square, which would give me two half inch wide slots behind the row of holes. The whole idea behind this was to make a stronger rack as well as making it easier to screw to the back of the case, which was accomplished with the wide board, giving me plenty of flat face for attaching the rack with screws. It went all went together easily with some glue.

Dado cleaned up with a router plane

Dado cleaned up with a router plane

Spacers added.

Spacers added.

While the spacers were clamped and drying, I made a new row of holes. I did not go with just 1/2 inch, but a medley starting with 3/4 inch and working my way down. Like on the doomed rack I made a few weeks ago, I used a drill press for the work, as it is much more accurate and efficient. Once the holes were bored I took a few passes with a smooth plane to clean it up and then attached it to the spacers with glue. While the rack was drying I cut two five inch wide spacers to use as guides for attaching the rack once it was dried. Because I had already installed the doomed rack, I pretty much knew exactly where the new one needed to be, but I wasn’t foolish and did actually do a test fit after the new rack dried, just to be certain. Before the rack was installed I planed it nice and smooth, first with the jointer and then with the smoother. I then attached the rack using a screw gun and three drywall screws in holes I had already predrilled and counter sunk. It was easy, far too easy, but I’m not complaining.

Tool rack is dry and ready to be planed

Tool rack is dry and ready to be planed

Spacers for installing the rack

Spacers for installing the rack

Once everything was installed I gave the case another light sanding and added the rest of the tools. Nearly every woodworking hand tool I own is now in there, except for the saws. The funny thing is, after I looked at the chest with the tools in it, I realized that I don’t have nearly as many tools as I thought I did, not that it really matters one way or the other, but it was strange nonetheless to see them all in one compact little box. Though I didn’t install the handles, cut nails, or bottom cleats as of yet; I’m waiting until I paint it do to that, I did pick up the chest to gauge its weight. I’m estimating that it comes in around 110lbs or so. In the original article from Popular Woodworking, Christopher Schwarz claims his chest weighs around 135lbs fully loaded; I don’t doubt that. However, he also claims that he can “easily” pick it up and move it around. Maybe he is a lot stronger than he looks, but I don’t see anything easy about lifting 135lbs. At work, I regularly lift 1000ft reels of 12/2 MC cable, which weigh exactly 124lbs according to the shipping spec. I can pick one of those up and put it into a van or pickup truck without help, but that is about the maximum amount of weight I will try to haul around single-handed, and there is nothing “easy” about doing it. So while this chest may be theoretically portable, I wouldn’t want to carry it around all day, and not to brag, but I am a fairly strong guy.

Tools in their place

Tools in their place

Bottom compartment

Bottom compartment

Finished and ready for paint.

Finished and ready for paint.

So with that, the Dutch Tool Box build is done for all intents and purposes. I had thought about adding an ogee detail to the lid, but now I may just chamfer it. The one detail I would like to incorporate is an American Flag, or something to that effect. I had planned on doing that to my last chest but it didn’t work out. But rather than paint one, I would like to find a small, metal plaque that I can inlay into the front panel, sort of the way you may see it on a metal tool box from Snap-On or Craftsman. I haven’t found a suitable one either on-line or in-store that I liked as of yet, but I am confident that I will find one which will work. I would love to be able to say that the chest will be painted this coming weekend, but we are expecting even colder weather and I would rather not paint it inside without any ventilation. Of course I could send it out to be painted, but I would like to do it myself. For now, I’m going to be patient, but if the weather doesn’t improve soon, I’m pretty sure desperation will take hold, and I may just have to drive to Key West just so I can get this sucker painted.

Leaving well enough alone…

In my region we are experiencing what the geniuses that predict the weather call an “arctic blast”. The temperatures have been frigid for more than a month, and the streets and sidewalks have a perpetual covering of snow and ice. It is not fun weather for woodworking, or anything else for that matter. I’ve decided that this morning I will brave the cold garage one last time to finish up any loose ends on the Dutch Tool Box I’ve been building. There is really nothing else left to do but attach the tool rack. I do not want to hammer in the cut nails or attach the handles until after the chest is painted. Nonetheless, this weather has given me something that I’ve struggled with finding for many years, and that something is time. My wife and daughter are a little under the weather, and with the extreme cold and snow covered streets we have not really been doing much outside (except for shoveling snow), so that has left me with some actual free time around the house, which also means I can spend a few hours in the workshop without incurring the wrath of mom.

Here is something I’m finding out, and which also goes against nearly every instinct I have when it comes to woodworking…Sometimes, having too much free time for woodworking is a bad thing. A great example was yesterday afternoon. I arrived home from work around 1 p.m. It was snowing, again, and I had little to do except wash some clothes. After a while, I wandered into the garage and found myself disassembling my jointer plane yet again. Why this time? I very nearly stripped off the handle and refinished it. I have no reason to do this really. The handle works fine and doesn’t look bad. But, when you have nothing to do and a garage with some woodworking tools in it, these are the things that tend to happen. Not that refinishing the handle on my jointer plane is such a bad idea, but it is completely unnecessary. Still, that was nothing when it comes to what I really have been considering.

A few months back, when I changed the configuration of my workbench, I actually had something very different in mind, and a post by Jeff Branch really brought it back into focus. Jeff is considering building a new workbench, a Nicholson style bench to be specific. What does it have to do with me? Well, a few months back I nearly did the exact same thing. It started out innocently enough. When considering ideas for modifying my current bench, I came across another fellow woodworker, Graham Haydon, detailing the build of his Nicholson bench. I love the Nicholson design, because I believe it fits my style of woodworking. I use my bench for sawing dovetails, sawing tenons, cleaning and smoothing up boards, edge jointing, and other basic joinery tasks; just like most woodworkers do. I do not use the bench for assembly or for preparing rough lumber. The wide front apron on the Nicholson style bench really would help greatly with what I do, such as holding boards vertically for joinery sawing, as well as eliminate the need for a board jack, which is an appliance that I do not care for. So one fine day late in autumn, I decided to modify my bench by installing a front apron on it.

That idea was not a bad one, but not a great one either. It would have required modifying the bench top, which I did end up doing, but also modifying the base. In theory that seemed plausible, but it wouldn’t have been all that easy either, because I would have had to disassemble the base completely and saw out the notches to set the apron. Long story short, it was easier said than done, so I scrapped that plan. My next idea was to build the base in pieces, set it aside, and assemble it when everything was all ready to go. In fact, had the weather not gone south and I hadn’t gotten sick, that is exactly what I was going to do. In the meanwhile, all I would have had to do was find a taker for my current workbench just before my new one was assembled (my garage does not have room for two). In the end bad weather and a case of the flu kept me from building a new bench. That was a blessing in disguise, wasn’t it?

My workbench in its current form.

My workbench in its current form.

The truth is that I really don’t need a new bench. My current bench works just fine, and with my wife and I considering a possible move to a new house, building a new workbench just to end up having to move it probably isn’t a great idea. But workbenches are funny things. I’ve said before that I don’t enjoy building shop projects, especially workbenches, but there is something about the Nicholson bench that I really like; it speaks to me. As I was just saying, my current bench works just fine, and changing it for a bench that may be no better doesn’t sound like a smart idea, in particular when all I am doing is adding one seemingly minor detail, a front apron. But in woodworking, minor details can make all the difference. You could also wonder why we should build fancy bookshelves when cinderblocks and a 2×10 will do just fine. It may seem stupid to spend money and a lot of time replacing a perfectly good piece of equipment with a another very similar piece of equipment. Maybe it is stupid, but climbing a mountain may seem stupid to people who don’t climb mountains. I’m a woodworker, I like making stuff. That may sound stupid to some people, but then again, there is a reason that most people don’t woodwork, and only some do…

When you’re wrong, you’re wrong.

I’ve written more than my fair share of blog posts that were critical I will readily admit. I’ve tried not to take my criticisms to a personal level, though that isn’t always easy to do, but I have been critical of certain ideals and mindsets that I don’t agree with. Logically you may conclude that if one is being critical of a particular person’s ideals or way of thinking, one is then being critical on a personal level. That could very well be true, but I do believe that it’s possible to disagree with somebody and still respect them and what they do; and I’ve tried my best to make that fact be known. I also want to go on record and admit that I’m not always right. On the other hand, I’ve also tried to offer praise whenever I found something praiseworthy. I am a firm believer in the concept of reciprocity, and if I can put my energy into being critical, I also have the responsibility to put my energy into being constructive. It is my hope that I’ve maintained that balance as much as possible, because I do believe it is important.

Last night I happened to catch most of an episode of the Woodwright’s Shop. I’ve only been watching Roy Underhill for three years or so. I knew who he was before then, and I had watched his show here or there on the internet, but the Woodwright’s Shop has not been airing in my region for a very long time, so I wasn’t introduced to it until fairly recently. I’ve come to really enjoy the show, and I look forward to watching it every Thursday evening. Last night’s episode featured Bill Anderson, who I know of vaguely, and his using hand planes to make a “drop-leaf” joint for a folding table. The work was very interesting and it was obvious that Anderson is a talented woodworker, but his plane work isn’t the reason I am writing this post.

Near the end of the episode it dawned on me why this guy was actually doing the show. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t there for money. Most professional woodworkers are not wealthy or rich, though I do hope that every one of them makes a nice living. I’m pretty sure that he wasn’t there because his “agent” was trying to get him some exposure. It seemed to me that he was there because he really enjoys woodworking and he thought it would be fun to film a few episodes of a woodworking show with Roy Underhill. I liked watching him work; he seemed like a nice guy and it is really enjoyable watching a talented person who enjoys what he or she does for a living. I was so impressed that for a brief moment I experienced the serendipitous notion that the world is not such a bad place afterall.

As brief as my euphoria may have been, it did bring me to the realization that woodworkers like Bill Anderson, Peter Follansbee, and Christopher Schwarz among many others, as well as the many tradespeople that have been featured on the show, went out of their way to appear on the Woodwright’s Shop not for personal gain, but because they love woodworking and they wanted to share their knowledge with whomever may be watching. That is commendable, and it makes me feel good about woodworking. At that, I felt the need to write this post to thank Roy Underhill, Bill Anderson, and the many other woodworkers who have gone out their way to share what they know and love. I also feel the need to apologize if I’ve ever gone over the line and gotten personal with my criticism. Last but not least, I feel the need to put this hippie dippie love fest to bed, before some of you start to thinking that I’m a nice guy.

Another interview with myself.

In order to answer a few questions that a thoughtful person asked me about myself and my woodworking hobby, I give you this post:

What is your favorite project?

So far it has to be the Arts and Crafts style bookcase I made last year. It turned out exactly how I wanted it to look, which is sometimes a feat in and of itself. Everybody who has seen it gives me a compliment.

What is your least favorite project?

Probably the TV stand I built a few years ago. It’s concept was fine and I like the design, but building it was a nightmare. I didn’t care for the finish, and the hot, humid weather caused the panels to warp uncontrollably. Of every piece of furniture I’ve made, it is the one project that I wish I could rebuild.

If you could build anything, what would you make?

I’ve always wanted to make a full bedroom set: chest of drawers, a dresser, matching end table, and a bed frame. While I think I have the skill to accomplish a project like this, I don’t have the space, or the time for that matter. At my current rate, it would take years to build and finish a large scale project like this. I don’t have that kind of patience.

If you could have free pick of any one power tool, what would it be?

If I were picking a power tool, it would probably be a Sawstop cabinet saw, though a Delta Unisaw would be a very close second. I have limited experience on both tools, but it was enough to tell me that these are both great saws. The safety feature of the Sawstop saw pushes it to the top. If it were a hand tool the choice would be a little more difficult. Would a full set of moulding planes count as one tool? If so that would be it. If not, I would probably choose a plough plane, which is a tool I’ve wanted to get but never got around to actually purchasing.

If you could improve one woodworking skill, what would it be?

I think if you talk to just about any amateur woodworker, they would all say that they need to improve at sawing, or sharpening, or accuracy. While all of those are important skills, they can easily be improved upon with practice. For me, it would be learning the correct pace to work at. Like music, and sports, woodworking has a rhythm to it, and finding that rhythm, I believe, is the key to not only doing good work, but having fun while doing it. Everybody knows that working too quickly can lead to mistakes, but so can working too slowly. Getting into a rhythm, such as preparing your stock in the most efficient sequence, or having your workspace maximized for good work, or even something as simple as assembling parts in the correct order; these things lead to better woodworking. Of course, being a good sawyer and sharpener also leads to efficiency, but if your stuff is all over the place and your workshop is a mess, being able to saw a straight line has a lot less meaning.

What do you like most about woodworking?

That’s hard to answer in a straightforward way. I think that most people have a desire to create…something…and woodworking is a very creative hobby. Yet, there is a lot more to it than that. I think that taking a raw material like wood, and assembling it into furniture, and using that piece of furniture in your home; I think the pride a woodworker feels in accomplishing that feat is something that cannot be duplicated in any other way. When I get my woodworking tools together, and I’m at my bench, it’s a pretty amazing feeling to know that so much can be accomplished with what is right in front of me. Maybe it’s the feeling that an artist has when he has a blank canvas and some paints. It makes you feel like you can do anything.

What do you dislike most about woodworking?

Time. There is never enough time, and woodworking takes time. My wife and I both work long hours, we both commute, we both work on weekends sometimes. When you are married and have a family, it’s not easy to tell them that you’re going to spend the entire weekend woodworking in the garage, especially after you’ve barely seen them all week. At the same time, when a project builds up momentum, it isn’t easy to just stop cold and start again eight days later. That is the difficulty in being an amateur, and only having a few hours to spend woodworking every month. There is no answer to it, because both answers are wrong; the equation doesn’t balance no matter which way you assemble the numbers. You can’t woodwork and spend time with your family, not really, because as much as you try to involve your family, woodworking is a solitary hobby for the most part, and it’s a hobby that takes time. That time is not easily gotten or shared. I’ve tried for going on five years to figure it out and I can’t. I will never have enough time to woodwork and also spend with my family.

Why do you write a woodworking blog?

I don’t know. Part of it is maybe because a lot of what I’ve read in the woodworking sense I don’t agree with. I don’t think that professional woodworkers can ever understand the mindset of an amateur. I’ve always gotten the sense that professional woodworkers write their articles and books like they are trying to be “one of the guys”. Whatever the case may be, it doesn’t always work for me. Another reason I write a blog is because woodworking can be a lonely hobby. Woodworking isn’t like playing baseball or basketball; it’s a solitary act. I could go to a park or a YMCA and get into a basketball or softball game pretty easily. Right there you are immediately with a group of people you have something in common with. Woodworking doesn’t work that way. A woodworker can’t just talk shop with his neighbor on a whim, at least not always. Like most people, I like to talk about my interests, and share them, and talk to other people that share them. With woodworking, the best way for me to do that was with a woodworking blog.

How are you perceived in the world of woodworking blogs?

I’m not too sure. According to the stats, about 80 to 100 people visit this blog each day. I think most of them generally like what I have to say. I also know there are some people that don’t care for what I write. What I do here is mostly insignificant in the woodworking sense. I understand and accept that because I am neither a professional woodworker nor a professional writer. I never expected anything out of this; I never expected to have followers, but I’m glad that I do. The nice thing about this medium is the simple fact that if you find something you don’t like, you can easily just ignore it, which I’ve done, and I’m sure that others have done with me. As far as professionals are concerned, my blog is little or nothing to them, and that’s the way it probably should be. As far as amateurs like myself, I think that some of them like what I have to say, and understand what I am getting at most of the time. That is a good feeling.

These are the answers to a few questions I was asked over the weekend…

P.S. Sorry about the formatting. I usually write my posts on word and paste them. It didn’t work this time and wordpress is not cooperating.

Dutch Tool Box Finished.

Yesterday morning I completed the construction phase of the Dutch Tool Box I started a few weeks back. I didn’t have much left to do: cut and fit the front panel, and attach the lid. While the work I completed yesterday didn’t take a long time, it was somewhat frustrating.

The first thing I did was make cut the front panel to length and width, and then size it to fit. I cut the width a bit oversized and then used the jointer plane to get a nice fit. After it was jointed I did take a couple of passes with the smooth plane just to make it look pretty. I then used a scrap piece of oak to make the catches that would hold the sliding lock and keep the panel in place, which for some odd reason Christopher Schwarz calls ‘bits’ in the magazine article. Anyway, I measured and cut the kerfs with a hand saw, but rather than chisel out the waste, I used the table saw to nibble away at it. I installed one, made sure the fit was correct, and installed the other. The last thing I did to the front panel was install two cleats which act as hinges to help keep the panel flush. Once I installed them and attached the front panel, it seemed that they made the top pull away a little. Before the cleats were installed, the panel sat nice and flush, after, it seemed loose. I’m undecided on keeping them and fooling around with them until the fit is correct, or just removing them completely. The front panel is less than 7 inches wide, so I don’t believe it will need the cleats to cut down on warp. Last thing I did was chamfer the top of the front panel with a block plane just to ease the edge.

Planed to fit.

Planed to fit.

Why are these called 'bits'?

Why are these called ‘bits’?

Front sliding lock fits.

Front sliding lock fits.

Chamfering the cleats

Chamfering the cleats

The next and last task was to finish the lid. I had already cut the lid to size last week, so I only needed to install the hinges to get it finished, which is easier said than done. Installing hinges on a flat chest is fairly easy, but the angled lid makes it somewhat trickier for this box. First thing to do was saw the mortise to set the hinge in, which was the easiest part of the job; the tools used were a marking knife. a carcase saw, a chisel, and a router plane. That portion was finished quickly, but actually getting the hinges on was a lot of trial and error, about an hours worth actually. I used everything from clamps to blue painters tape (which I don’t recommend). In the end, I still haven’t found a simple solution. To compound the frustration, it turned out that one of my hinges was bent. I did my best to straighten it out with a hammer, but I still couldn’t get it perfectly flat. Nonetheless, I got the hinges installed, and of course the side with the bent hinge does not sit perfectly flush like the other. There is little I can do about it for now, and the only way to fix it properly would be to purchase new hinges and make a new lid. If I do go that route, I will install the hinges on the lid first and fit it from there, rather than the opposite.

Kerfs sawn in the mortise

Kerfs sawn in the mortise

Hinges installed, the right side is the bent one. You can also see where the front panel is pulled away.

Hinges installed, the right side is the bent one. You can also see where the front panel is pulled away.

Finished box

Finished box

The only things left to do are give the box a final sanding and then paint it, after which I can install the cut nails. As far as the tool rack is concerned, I have all the pieces cut, but I ran out of time when it came to assembling them. I may install a latch on the front, but I’m not sure yet. But just in case I made the lid with very little overhang in the front in order to make the latch installation as easy as possible. I may also route a decorative edge on the front lid, but chamfers may do just as well. Once again, I’m still not all that sold on making shop projects. I’m not saying it wasn’t fun, but I don’t get the satisfaction out of making them that I do when I make a piece of furniture. The good news is that the materials costs were low, only around $100. I’m hoping to have it painted next weekend and then onto my next project. Once again we are in for a stretch of bitter cold weather, so anything I do probably won’t start until it warms up somewhat. In the meanwhile, I could always attempt making a tool or two.

Are woodworkers cheap?

Cheapskate

Go on just about any woodworking forum, website, or blog, and chances are you will find a woodworker or two complaining about the prices of all things woodworking. In fact, I would bet that nearly every person who ever picked up a tool and tried to make furniture with it eventually came across a woodworking related item and thought, “they want how much for that!?!” I’m no exception, but I like to think that in my case I can plead ignorance, at least a little. As a former press operator, and as an electrician, I am well aware of the cost of a good quality hand tool. I always have purchased the best tools I could afford for the job, and because of that nearly all of my tools are still in working order, and most of them I’ve had for almost twenty years. But…When I first seriously became interested in woodworking I did what many other new comers do and purchased a few books, as well as bought a magazine or two. Those books and magazines often described how a person could get started in woodworking with a minimal amount of expense, and provided lists of tools, both new and used, and what those tools should cost. So when I first started shopping around for woodworking tools, my surprise at the costs of woodworking tools wasn’t so much at the price tag itself, but at the disparity of what the books said they “should” cost, and what they actually did cost. Nearly five years later, I am still running into this scenario.

Sooner or later, every woodworker comes to the realization that woodworking is an expensive hobby/profession; there is no way around it. If you are new to woodworking, I will tell you that unless a relative wills you a miraculously well preserved set of tools, be prepared to purchase most of your tools new, and be prepared to spend some bucks. You are not going to complete a set of woodworking tools at auctions, ebay, and yard sales. Even if you do manage to somehow do that, you aren’t going to do it on the cheap. Good quality used tools cost nearly as much as good quality new tools in many cases, and all but the best quality used tools will generally require some form of tune up and restoration, which are skills that a new woodworker probably doesn’t possess in the first place. I’ve always felt that in order to tune up an old tool, you need to know what you are actually tuning it to, and that requires already having used a tool that was working at an optimal level to begin with. I mean, how do you know what filet mignon tastes like until you actually have tasted it? However, that is a topic of discussion for another post.

So the question of the day is: Does complaining about tool and material costs make a woodworker cheap? To answer that question, I will first talk about the “old days” a little. When the old days are reverently spoken of, we are often told that the woodworkers of yesteryear would never purchase poor quality anything, let alone tools, and how they understood that a well made tool was well worth its cost, which was as expensive then as it is now. I don’t dispute that, but if you read history books, you will find that the people of yesteryear were cheap. Yeah, cheap. I don’t say frugal or thrifty, those words are sugarcoating it. We are talking about people that would burn down their chicken coop to get the nails out of it. We are talking about people that ate their dogs when they died. But if you think I’m picking on our ancestors, the people of today are no better. I work in Pennsylvania Dutch country, and let me tell you; you have not met a cheap person until you run into an old Dutchy. This is a group of people that will drive fifty miles out of the way to save 3 cents on a gallon of gas. This is a group of people that only wants one light bulb out of the $1.29 four-pack. Yeah, I’m not making this up or exaggerating in the least. But none of this really answers the question.

So do I think woodworkers are cheap? For the most part, yes, but most don’t realize it. Only a woodworker would scour area yard sales to purchase a rust bucket chisel from the bottom of Lake Erie for a dollar and spend three months restoring it just so he could make the claim that he only paid a buck for it. Only a woodworker will constantly brag about how little his tool set actually costs. Only a woodworker would spend months building a tool cabinet out of exotic hardwood only to fill it with tools he got at a flea market. So yeah, I think woodworkers are cheap, but for that matter, so is just about everybody else walking the planet.