Featured article by Adam Roman, NY Woodworker.
Woodworking Tools...Oh boy are there a lot of them! In my opinion there is a good, bad and ugly side to woodworking tools.
The good side of tools is that there is generally a specific tool that can help you easily and accurately complete a woodworking task. For example, if you are building a drawer and want to join the front to the sides, you can get a dovetail saw to cut a dovetail joint or you can use a self centering dowel jig to help you properly place dowels for joints.
But having so many tool options for individual tasks is what leads to the bad side of tools, with all these tools it is very easy to run up your expenses. Do you really need a dovetail saw? Recently, John Heisz from IbuildIt.ca showed us we could cut a perfect dovetail with a hacksaw. Now there is nothing wrong with having a dovetail saw; it's just as a newbie woodworker figuring out 'what to have' versus a real 'need to have' can be a challenge.
Lastly is the ugly side of tools...how much should I spend on tools? New versus used? Cheap versus expensive and everything in between? On one side you have woodworkers who love Harbor Freight or finding good deals on Craigslist for used tools. These are individuals who can get tools for a fraction of the cost and don't mind dealing with a potential lack in quality or short life span of a tool. On the other side are the Festool and SawStop owners who only buy the most expense of everything, and then there are the rest of us who are just trying to do the best we can with the budget we got at Sears, Home Depot and Lowe's.
So when starting out, how do you deal with the good, bad and ugly? The best advice I can give is to simply buy the best tool you can afford for the current project. It is very easy to go crazy getting different tools. So when starting out, think about the types of projects you want to do. A lot of tools are very versatile, like a router for example. Besides being able to create different types of profile edges, it also can cut dados; or when combined with a router table, it can do double duty as a jointer. The key is research, research and more research. There are great online woodworking forums like LumberJocks.com and WoodworkingTalk.com where you can get a lot of good advice from experienced woodworkers.
You also really need to cater to your personality. Some people have the "I love finding a good deal" or "I can fix it up" mentality that is great for used tools. Others prefer to spend the extra money on newer, higher quality tools so they don't have to worry as much about them. David Picciuto from DrunkenWoodworker.com said this: "I like having nice tools. This is my hobby. I want to enjoy it as much as I can and sometimes that means having a nice, well crafted tool." To be honest, I have learned the hard way that I am of that same mentality.
I have a new router, router table, sliding miter saw and scroll saw. I did a ton of research and they are not high-end tools, but they all worked great right out the box and I love working with them. On the flipside, I also bought a used 1970's belt driven, contractor's table saw. I only paid $125 and it came with a Vega fence system and rebuilt motor, but the wire for the outlet needed replacing and the blade guard assembly was missing. The first time I ran it, the pulley attached to the arbor was worn away and flew off inside the saw! Let me tell you I easily lost a year off the end of my life when that thing flew off and started banging around. So I found the blade guard and pulley on eBay for around $70 in total. It's working well now but I put a lot of work into it and will probably upgrade to something new at some point.
I also bought a used 14 inch band saw for $100, but I had to replace the cool blocks (not a big deal) and what I thought was simple rust on the table is not rust. I honestly don't know what it is, but it's not coming out no matter what I use and the black is rubbing off on my wood. So I initially started looking for a replacement table and the prices were around $50...ugh. Then I found this great idea from American Woodworker.
So here you can see my bandsaw table with the mystery black spots.
So I took a piece from scrap 1/2 inch plywood and cut through the middle of it until it reached a spot on the table I was comfortable with.
Then I marked off underneath the plywood table where I could secure it to the original table.
Using a piece of scrap plywood, I lined up the location to the wood table and secured the scrap with glue and screws. To make sure I didn't drill through the top of the table I used a piece of scrap and a spacer. It worked perfectly!
Finally, I notched out a small wedge so it would be easy to slide in, and BAM...New table costing me nothing more than some screws and scrap wood.
It honestly came out much better than I had expected. So good in fact I plan to upgrade it to a piece of 3/4 inch melamine and add a fence for resawing.
Ultimately, tools are as much a part of woodworking as the wood. No single approach to them is right or wrong. New, used, expensive, cheap or a combination doesn't matter as long as you are enjoying and completing your projects to your satisfaction. If using a tool is becoming a drag then maybe it's time for an upgrade. Good luck, be safe and I am going to start saving up for that SawStop contractor saw. :-)