Thursday, March 14, 2013

I Am a Tool Snob, and You Can Be One, Too!

Some Tool Porn from my chest.
Perhaps we should define this term.

It is often seen on blogs, websites, even woodworking magazines, to refer to someone, in a pejorative manner, who has nice tools.

There was even a recent episode of the Woodwright's Shop where St. Roy jokingly accused The Schwarz of being a tool snob because he had a Spofford brace in his tool chest.

I am not sure where this curious attitude comes from, because most woodworkers would rather use a premium new handplane rather than one of the cheap, Asian knock-offs.

Don't get me wrong, I am 100% in favor of making your dollar go farther, especially in today's economy.

But, I am 200% in favor of passing up buying crappy tools.  To me, crappy tools are those tools which get in the way of pleasant woodworking.  I think many beginners think that it isn't the tool, it is their lack of skill and quit woodworking due to lack of decent tools.

I have an extremely small woodshop.  It is about 10 feet by 12, and contains a lot of household storage.  I simply don't have room for tools that don't earn their keep.

Am I a gazzillionaire that has no where else to blow money than at Lie-Nielsen?  No.  I am a humble public servant with a modest income.

Then how do I have such awesome tools?

I'm glad you asked!

The main trick, is to know what you need.  I operated for a long time buying what I wanted, and wound up with a lot of tools I never used.  Once I read "The Anarchist's Tool Chest" a whole new world was opened up to me.  There are certain tools that are vital and more important than others.

Once I learned this, I was able to begin thinning out the dreck (although I am still working on it).  Also, I came to the realization that a tool that you use every day for the next 40 years becomes fairly inexpensive, even at full retail.  Paul Sellers calls them "Lifetime Tools."  $300 is a lot of money for a brand new plane compared to five bucks for a rusted junker you found at your neighbor's garage sale.  That is, until you try to use them.

If it really is a tool you use often, it works out to pennies a day.

The trap is the double ended side rabbet gizmo you think you couldn't possibly cut sliding dovetails without.  I have a tool like this that i have never used.  That one is expensive.  I want to use tools, not find room to store a collection.

Here are a couple tips on getting some fantastic tools in your tool chest:

1)  Don't compromise.  Don't get an Anant plane because the catalog shows it being 1/5 the price of the Lee Valley that you really want.  You will upgrade at some point.  Save money by doing it from the start.  Worst comes to worst, you can sell a good plane on eBay for nearly the price you paid for it.

2)  Stick to a budget.  Many of the tools I have I purchased with my "tool fund."  This is a small amount of money (agreed upon by SWMBO) set aside every month for the purchase of new tools.  I might have to save up for a year for a new plane, but that is OK.  Once I have it, it will likely stay in my chest forever.

3)  Old, used tools are OK.  In fact, many old tools are better than what is offered today.  I dare you to find a new brace and a set of bits that can touch mine, which only cost a few bucks from a used tool dealer.  A reputable dealer will even help you weed out the good stuff.  You might need to learn a bit to rehab an old tool, but for the most part it is worth it.  There is a lot of great advice on the internet regarding this.

4)  Make your own tools.  You are a woodworker, after all.  Marking and measuring tools, planes, jigs, workholding (including a proper workbench).  All these are things that can be bought, but can be made often just as well.

5)  Learn how to cut joints with the tools you already have.  Perhaps this is one of the more important of all.  Don't think that you need a mortise chisel and a router plane to cut a mortise and tenon.  Many oldtimers made fine furniture with only a chisel and a saw.  You can, too.  You might find that you make these joints so seldom you might not need those tools.  Or, you might make so many that you can justify the expense.  Your choice, but the basic skill is important for you to learn. 

In fact, this all goes really well with what I call the Basic Tool Kit.  Click on the label at the end of this post if you are intrigued.  There are a few tools that you need to get started.  From there, you might be able to better determine the next tool you need.

Whatever you do, make sure you get a tool you won't have to replace.  It is cheaper in the long run that way, and you will have the benefit of those nice tools not getting in the way of enjoyment from your woodwork.

Whether you spend lots of money on your tools or not, be a Tool Snob and make sure the tools you buy will stay in your chest forever.


  1. "When you pay too much, you lose a little money - that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought is incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do." - John Ruskin

    1. " The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot -- it can't be done."

  2. I agree 100% with you. I save just like you do. I am learning that tools I lusted for that when it comes time to buy it, I'm buying something else. During the time saving, my needs and skills changed along with my mind I what I thought I wanted and absolutely had to have.

  3. Really well written.

    I bought a cheap electric router a couple of years ago, and it stinks. I just hate it when I have to use it for some project, so I will nearly always try to find a differetnt way of doing the job, to avoid using it. It has helped me finish one project when it was newly bought, but that tool was just way too cheap.

    By the way, I really like the clamp in the picture. What brand is it?

    1. I think it is an old Bessey K-Body. I'll have to check. I really like them. The parallel jaws are much easier to work than normal F-style clamps.

  4. Best advice I heard: buy the best tools you can afford. You hit it on the head.

  5. Yup, that is the older Bessey clamps. I have a rack full of them. Not sure how the new ones compare, but I don't see a time when I will need to replace them because they are good clamps.