The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Can a woodworker have too many tools?


The spring and summer of 2016 has led me to more vintage woodworking tools (and tools in general) than the entire past 6 years combined. Last January I made the vow to not purchase any new woodworking tools. I sort of broke that vow when I purchased a bench grinder specifically for sharpening woodworking tools, but otherwise, I haven’t made a single purchase. That being said, I’ve shared on this very blog some of the many vintage tools I’ve come across during the past months. The good news: I paid little or literally nothing for all of them; the bad news: I have a lot of old tools laying around that need a lot of work.

So this all leads to the question: Can a woodworker have too many tools?

As of today, the mindset among the most influential woodworkers seems to be that too many tools is a bad thing. The arguments are compelling: they take up space, they take up time, they decrease the chance that a woodworker will develop proficiency in using a core set of tools, and maybe most importantly, they can be expensive (in particular if you are purchasing nothing but new tools).

Too many tools can also keep a woodworker from actually making furniture. Care for both new and vintage tools can be very time consuming (this includes power tools).  As of today, I have enough vintage tools in need of restoration to take me well into next spring. If I spent every Sunday restoring one of my vintage tools (that needs restoration) I estimate that the my next piece of finished furniture wouldn’t happen until sometime at the end of April, 2017.

The whole idea of woodworking is actually working wood, isn’t it? Tools can be fun, for sure, but tools are just a means to an end, right? The furniture, the end result of our toil, is why we woodwork.

So that still poses the question: Can a woodworker have too many tools?

After careful consideration, my answer is: F**K NO.

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12 Comments

  1. As long as they’re the tools I like to use, sure get as many as you want.

    • billlattpa says:

      And as long as you aren’t going broke doing it. I think that is the appeal of auctions, you can come away with a lot of stuff for literally pennies.
      Thanks!
      Bill

  2. Steve D says:

    I can and I do. Excess tools can be a distraction with respect to maintenance, sharpening, etc. I have a cracked #5 that is my go to first plane for rough work. If it breaks I have 3 more lying in wait, which is totally unnecessary. One of the standbys needs a tote. Most likely I will do a clean and purge, then repurchase them again later. The ones I use are sharp and ready to go but the extras always need inspection and touch-up before using so it’s not necessarily a benefit.

    I don’t see anything wrong with 2 No. 7’s that are set up with different blade profiles in that they do different things. 2 duplicates in separate work areas makes sense. Two set up completely the same makes no sense if they are right next to each other.

    I have a lot of stuff that gets used infrequently but you never know when you will need something…

    Steve

    • billlattpa says:

      The maintenance is the worst part. I honestly don’t have an abundance of tools, and thankfully only have a handful of duplicates. But as I mentioned in the post, I could easily dedicate the next 20 weekends to restoring old tools. That being said, the tools in need of restoration aren’t on my necessary tools list. The set I use every time I woodwork is always ready to go. My “restoration” set is all stuff I got from friends/family, auctions, and a coworker. I spent next to nothing on them, and that is not an exaggeration because nearly all of them were basically given to me.
      And like you said, there are tools you may have that rarely get used, but are nice to have around just in case.
      Thanks!
      Bill

  3. dzj9 says:

    Having a bit more than you need is OK. If you have wall to wall moulding planes, you should also have a dsm code :).

  4. ausworkshop says:

    I was a bit worried about where this was going until I read your last word on the subject and breathed a sigh of relief. I can relate to everything you said. I think it’s important to rescue old tools even if you already have one or two, if they are a great price and you can’t resist the purchase. Think of it as an investment for future woodworkers, there is less chance that it will end up in landfill if it’s kept in a woodworker’s shop for it’s life then sold when you’re no longer able to woodwork or you die. So even if you have a few extra that you’ve never had time to fix up properly it’s still a good thing to do. It also helps you learn about sutle differences between brands or tool manufacturing dates. You might think you have found your favorite spokeshave for example, only to find that another one you have just purchased then becomes your favorite for whatever reason, it might have a better/harder blade for example. Only by using it will you ever know because sometimes these things are not obvious at first, only by repetitive use with different tools will you tell the difference.

    • billlattpa says:

      The way I look at it, those tools would very likely have been sitting in a box in somebody’s barn or attic until at some point they were just tossed away. I’ve already come away with half a dozen really good user tools for almost no cost, and I have at least a dozen more that I have yet to start restoring. The best part is these are all tools that I didn’t have for the most part. Even better…I paid almost nothing for all of them..less than $50 easily, and that includes enough wood to make 3 or 4 nice sized projects. I could not pass it up.

      The only way I can really see “too many tools” being a problem is if you don’t have a place to store them, and you are paying way too much for them. Otherwise, get as many as you can, and have fun!
      Thanks
      Bill

  5. Jonas Jensen says:

    Hi Bill.

    I think you nail it pretty well when you say that if you have the room for them and they are not too expensive, there is no upper limit.

    But I must confess that I have become a little bit picky over the years. If a plane for instance is so worn and the blade rusted to scrap, I’ll pass it. There are still so many OK tools out there that are in better shape, and I prefer to use my energy on those.

    I like to think that I will be able to supply my children with a decent set of tools once they start a family and a home of their own. My dad did that for me, and I am really grateful for that.

    Brgds
    Jonas

    • billlattpa says:

      I think I would be much more picky if I was paying for most of these tools, but the truth is most of them I got either for free or just a few dollars. I know that a lot of woodworkers aren’t always truthful when it comes to the prices they pay for tools, but in this case I am being completely honest. If I hadn’t gotten these tools for free I likely wouldn’t have them. The only tools I actually paid for were the rabbet/bullnose plane, which I think I paid $5, and the wood try plane, which I think I paid $10. For the others, I bought a pizza for lunch for my coworker, and that was it, and he didn’t even ask, I just did it because of his kindness. And there are many I didn’t even show in the photos…
      Just like you, I am hoping to build up a set I can pass on to my daughter and her children.
      Thanks!!
      Bill

  6. Robert says:

    Never have too many tools Thanks for sharing

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