If you’ve ever played team sports, or have been in the armed forces, you may remember the brief but strange period when you first begin when nobody has gotten a uniform yet. For those first few days, especially in the military, you don’t really feel like a soldier, but a group of guys in sweat pants, sort of pretending… Then comes that magical day when you get issued your uniforms and suddenly it’s no longer a mob, but an army working in unison, or at least that’s the theory.
When it comes to woodworking, there is no official uniform, but there does seem to be a transition from “pretend to serious” and for me that transition started when I obtained my first high-quality woodworking tools. For whatever reason, when I got my first good table saw, my first hand plane, and my first set of woodworking chisels, and I began to use them, there was a shift in the way I approached the hobby of woodworking. I’m not saying that you cannot woodwork without “real tools”, my first few projects were done at first without a table saw, and then with a portable tabletop version, and a set of three Craftsman butt chisels. As my desire to woodwork grew, so too did my desire to work with higher quality tools. And when I got those tools and began to use them they made me want to improve. In short, they inspired me.
In a (very friendly) exchange I had with a commenter, I made the assertion that high quality tools make me a better woodworker. As I said in other posts, there may be many woodworkers who can go to your typical home center (of course there is a group of woodworkers out there that advocate only high end tools, and I’ve had my run-ins with them several times) and purchase a set of jobsite butt chisels, a basic handsaw, and a circular saw and make some very nice furniture, but I’m not one of those guys. How do I know? Because when I walk into a Lowes, I don’t get inspired to create, but when I attend a tool show like I did last weekend, seeing all of those world class tools made me want to make world class furniture. And that desire didn’t stem from wanting to own all of those tools, not in the least. It came from seeing high level craftsmanship.
As a former musician, I can remember like it was yesterday purchasing my first good quality guitar. Anybody who has ever played music whether as a hobby or a profession will tell you that there is a world of difference between playing a good instrument and a cheap instrument. A cheap instrument can easily hold you back, when a good instrument can easily propel you forward and make your playing improve dramatically. Why then should it be any different with woodworking tools? As I’ve mentioned many times before, when it comes to woodworking tools, there is a group of woodworkers (growing larger every day it seems) which feels that buying a high quality plane, or chisel, or what have you, is somehow cheating, or doing some sort of disservice to woodworking as an entity. Why? If making furniture with the most inexpensive tools you can find is your thing then so be it. There’s nothing wrong with that in the least. But if you are like me, and when you see a well-crafted, well-tuned, and beautifully designed tool, and that tool inspires you to improve, and create, and enjoy the hobby, what in the world can be wrong with that scenario?