Budget -v- Quality

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Blog entry by DannyBoy posted 11-09-2007 07:33 PM 2110 reads 0 times favorited 21 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Before I start this post out, I would like to say that any advice on a skill or subject helps. Even if it happens to be something that one can’t afford money or time wise. That being said, a recent forum discussion on sharpening plane irons has prompted me into writing this.

It seems that I have a problem. And I am positive that I am not alone. In fact, I hear-by declare that we need to setup a twelve step anonymous program to help deal with folks out there that are in the same predicament as me. It seems that every solution I come across for a particular woodworking problem or skill seems to be answered in what I can summarize as a two word instruction: “Spend money.”

Now, I realize that gone are the days of the average man in the United States being tool-wise enough to warrant companies spending their efforts on producing quality inexpensive tools. Our craft and hobby has become a niche market that even the best of tool makers are shying away from. If not completely, then at least in terms of quality.

Anyway, it is a perplexing problem. To make it even worse, in every suburb in America there is inevitably a discount tool store hidden in the back of a strip mall that has a decent selection of tools at what seem like bargain prices. Only problem is, many are made in poor quality. If you are lucky, the store may carry a variety of entry level tools that have been reconditioned after their first user broke them out of the box. This helps a budget minded tool man but even then one can find themselves lusting after that $200 item that we still can’t seem to afford.

Now I have discovered a hidden secret in the world of tool shopping and using. You don’t always have to pay for quality. Calm down, I’m not saying you wasted $800 on your Powermatic Jointer. What I am saying, is if you know what to look for or are just stupid lucky like me, you can get good quality at bargain prices. I kind of stumbled on this one by intentional accident. After buying a Crapsman dovetail router jig that I was completely dissatisfied with, I spent part of my store credit buying a Shark 12” pullsaw. What had I been missing!

Here I thought that if I was going to get a handsaw that was worth a damn I would have to spend upwards of $100 and this damn thing that had been setting on the rack for years as I glazed over it was only $19.97!!! Now, I haven’t every used a $100 handsaw, but I can’t imagine it being that much better than this. For $20 I got a saw that if I loose it I won’t cry and in the mean time it bites through the wood better, faster, and straighter than I ever got out of my old circular saw.

So, I’m coming back to my original rant. What they hell is with the answer “spend money”?

I do realize the difference between Craftsman and Delta in terms of quality. But do I have to go out and buy F-Style bar clamps at $19.99 when Harbor Frieghts got ‘em on sale? If it don’t break, a clamps a clamp. Right?

Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to put together than dream shop with all the luxuries and prestigious name brands. Until then, I’m going with a few lower brand or even generic tools that I realize do the same thing with the same quality results for less than half the cost. Remember, the tool just does the work. You’re the one responsible for the skill.


-- He said wood...

21 comments so far

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3865 days

#1 posted 11-09-2007 08:13 PM

DB- you can get great quality woodworking out of not to great quality tools and don’t need a workshop the size of Norms. You should check out Popular Woodworking’s series on small shops. Some incredible woodworking pieces come out of shops no larger than my small cubicle at work. I can guarantee those guys probably don’t have all the high dollar tools that are on the market (they might have a few). It’s all about working with what you’ve got.

As to clamps. I have a few K-body clamps and hate them. I would rather use my pipe clamps any day.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3958 days

#2 posted 11-09-2007 08:48 PM

Betsy – I’ll take those K-Bodies if you really hate them. Seriously, what sizes do you have and would you be interested in selling them?

Basically you get what you paid for in most cases. Example: I used to use a grinder all the time. I would go get a cheap ($30 at the time) and the bearings would end up going out after a few months. Then I would go out and get another “disposable” grinder.

Well after a few times of this I decided I would break down and spend the money for a good one. I spent about $180 (Back then) and got a good Baldor. It’s been over 20 years now and I just used it yesterday.
You shut if off and it still spind for about 3 minutes on perfectly good bearings.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 3844 days

#3 posted 11-09-2007 09:00 PM


It is such an overlooked option!!! I work in a used tool store and I see it and live it every day. The used tool store happens to be located across the street from the flea market (on weekends) and I frequent that as well. And don’t forget Craigslist and Ebay!

This debate over the quality vs. cost has repeated itself several times in the short time I have been a LJ. And every time I have chimed in with this advice. As for those Chinese clamps on sale, NO, just because it doesn’t break doesn’t mean it is still a clamp. They sometimes do not clamp (which would mean they are not clamps). They don’t hold under pressure, they don’t release when you need them to, they will wander out of alignment, they break, they will inevitably waste whatever money you put into them. We sell the same clamps that Harbor Freight makes (with a different sticker on them) in our store. And boy, do we see a lot of them come back (returned).

But with a little patients, you will find that set of older US made clamps down the street at a yardsale or at the swap meet. And they will only be $5 each if you buy all ten of them!!! And they will probably be made the same if not better than the $100 ones! You just have to keep and eye out and know what you are looking for.

The same goes for machinery. Much of the old stuff was made so much better than what is available today. It was all steel and no plastic. For example, you could probably find a good quality heavy 6” jointer for between $100 and $200 (I see it all the time) and the equivalent new would be five-times that much.

In our store we have four Delta and Rockwell contractor table saws. One even has a Beisemeyer fence on it. They are all in great shape, and good quality saws. The price ranges from $100 to $350, and they sit around! I just think that not enough people know about what we are doing. These are great saws! They don’t come wrapped in plastic, but they have proven their quality.

GaryK, you were right to buy the quality tool. But for someone who can’t afford it new, in our store they could get that same twenty-year-old Baldor grinder for about $50. You have already testified to the quality. And for the new owner I am sure it would last another 20 years as long as they take care of it.

Now I know not everyone has a used tool store down the block. But that is no excuse. There are so many options these days especially with the internet.

If you want to fill your shop with high-quality tools for pennies on the dollar, here is what I recommend:

  • Do a little research to find out what is/was good quality and what you want.
  • Be patient and keep an eye out for it (it will come along).
  • When good deals come along, go for it. It may be a while before another one comes around.
  • Put a WANT AD on craigslist. You might be surprised at the replies rather than just searching the “tools for sale” section.

I am sorry, DannyBoy, if I have hijacked your thread. I don’t mean to. But I am very passionate about this topic, not only because it is what I do for a living, but because without this concept, I would never have the shop I have today. You would be shocked if I told you what I payed for some of my best tools.

And buy the way, I do agree with you on what you said about the handsaw, there are some things out there that work great and don’t cost a fortune. I think that is a great point you made. Of course you can take any perfectly good tool and dip it in gold to make it more expensive, which is what some companies do. But in general, I think with new tools you get what you pay for. Especially machinery.

-- Happy woodworking!

View gbvinc's profile


628 posts in 3916 days

#4 posted 11-09-2007 09:07 PM

To my mind it’s about vision and craftsmanship, not what you paid for your tools. Of course the better the tool you have at hand, the easier to bring the vision to fruition. :-)

View DannyBoy's profile


521 posts in 3835 days

#5 posted 11-09-2007 09:34 PM

There will be a few groans on this, but I find it good advice:

On the show “Home Improvement” there was a great line once. “A man is only as good as his tools.”

Don’t take anything I said in the above as me throwing that out. I really do see the difference between Low Quality and High Quality. But, there is way to much of the “it’s expensive so it must be high quality” crap flying around. But it also gets back to a issue that happens everywhere now-a-days: “Throw money at the problem.”

I guess I just like the low cost option. There are plenty out there, but they just seem to get pushed aside so that we can look at the shiny new machine to solve our problems for 8 low low payments of $99.99. At the same time, I don’t want to pay $30 for one, it break and then pay $30 for the next one. I want that middle ground where it’s not too expensive, but it still does the job it was intended to do and does it well.

-- He said wood...

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4284 days

#6 posted 11-09-2007 11:38 PM

Find a middle line. China is selling some dangerous stuff to our kids. The last thing I want is a tool someone cut cost on. Who do I talk to when the cheap steel fragments take out an eye. I think a $100.00 nail gun is dirt cheap. I remember when they were $450.00 and back then I made a tenth what I make now. So why should I risk getting the $40.00 model from a brand I don’t know? I have a large collection of spring clamps I got to do solid surface counter tops. The ones I saved 50 cents on never get used because they are only half as strong. On the other hand I don’t need hand made leather wrapped spring clamps imported from Spain.

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3958 days

#7 posted 11-09-2007 11:41 PM

Danny – I think the word you are looking for is “Value”.


-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Paul's profile


660 posts in 4062 days

#8 posted 11-10-2007 12:17 AM

Middle ground or lower is fine. I think I suggested on another of your posts, find what works for you. I know how deep my pockets are, and I rejoice with those who are blessed with deeper pockets. God bless ‘em. I’m blessed, too. I just had to “moonlight” to purchase the three basic modest machines in my shop. I got lucky and actually won some tools in contests, too.

My table saw burns cuts . . . mainly because I have a cheap dull blade and need to fine tune the machine. I don’t have a blade and tuned machine that will produce edges that can be glue joints right from the table saw. So, I add a 1/16th to my measurements and always make a trip to the jointer after the table saw. If I didn’t have a powerful a jointer as I do, I would have to slow down my feed rate when jointing that edge.

I could do the same thing with a handsaw and plane. It would take me longer though. I haven’t practiced enough with a hand saw and plane. But, where there’s a will and patience and time . . . there’s a way. Most any chisel will work, if you’re willing to stop and sharpen as often as needed. There’s some mighty fine work housed in Smithsonian that was built with a collection of hand tools that would fit in a small chest. Sharpening was a constant part of their working routine though – no carbide tipped or High Speed Steel back then. It’s all trade-offs. Find what works for you, be content with your choices and celebrate with those who go a different way.

-- Paul, Texas

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3932 days

#9 posted 11-10-2007 04:19 AM

By golly, Danny, you got one going here, didn’t you. I don’t think the answer is to throw money at the problem.That’s the government. The answer is in education, usually self taught. Knowing how to build a cabinet with all sorts of power tools is great but knowing how to do the same quality work with what ever tools you have is pricless.If you can’t afford a jointer, buy a # 7 Bailey plane. If you can’t afford the plane, go to the shop and make one that will do the job. Get to know Niki (the LJ) real well. He is the master of improvisation. Study quality tools so that when you see one at a yard sale or flea market you will know what it is worth. The frustration I hear in your blog is the same frustration that all of us have felt when we were young and couldn’t afford what we wanted. This forum and several like it are all the education you need. that and a fair modicum of patience. There is a technique in art called limited palette. The artist is restricted to only the primary colors and white. That’s Red, Blue and Yellow. All colors can be crafted from these basic colors. It is a learning exercise in mixing colors. By the same token any thing in wood work can be done with a limited palette of tools. The result will be the same as the painting with a limited palette. You will learn more than you ever dreamed possible and don’t forget; at one time that was the only way to do it. So maoney is not the answer. Education and skil are. Good luck in your quest toward better woodworking. Acquire R. J, DeChristoforo’a “Complete Book of Power Tools” It’s from 1972 and still will help anyone with a limited supply of tools.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Karson's profile


35111 posts in 4370 days

#10 posted 11-10-2007 04:37 AM

Great blog and comments from all. It doesn’t pay to go into debt to get the best, when something less expensive and possibly some fitness will also get the job done.

Post 6000 . six thousand its been a while coming.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4069 days

#11 posted 11-10-2007 05:49 AM

As a professional I tend to always buy new and I buy brand names. For me it is not an issue of prestige or “gotta have the best”. I rely on my tools to work accurately, quickly, and reliably everyday day after day at least six days a week. I want the new warranty and I do not feel that any single tool manufacturer makes the best of everything. To make money sometimes I can’t afford to not buy a tool, and get a good one.

I don’t like buying used because that is usually from the pawn shop in my area, and I know of too many guys that have had their tools stolen. There is supposed to be a system in place to prevent these stolen tools from going straight into the pawn shops but it works marginally at best. Therefore, I am not supporting pawn shops and the sale of stolen goods.

These are the conditions that I weigh my tool purchase options. Higher priced, professional, name brand tools perform to the required standards for me as a professional. My tools are worth fixing, not throwing away and buying another one. That is how I measure value.

I do understand that others do not work their tools under the same conditions and their tool buying parameters and guidelines will be different.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4069 days

#12 posted 11-10-2007 05:51 AM

Thos. – I really liked your comments on the subject.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View cajunpen's profile


14575 posts in 4035 days

#13 posted 11-10-2007 01:04 PM

This is an interesting blog. Generally when I need (or want) a new tool I do as much research as I can and then, armed with the knowledge gained by my research, I buy the best tool that I can afford. I do not believe in buying any product because of it’s manufacturer’s name – but I do tend to stick to the recognizable name brands – thinking that the name brands like Delta, Porta Cable, Grizzly, etc. are at least making safe equipment and have some sort of quality control mechanism in place in their factories.

Karson – congratulations on 6000!!

-- Bill - "Suit yourself and let the rest be pleased."

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4130 days

#14 posted 11-10-2007 01:14 PM

Congrats on 6000 !!!! :)

I remember a discussion about cheap router bits and at first I thought it was a good idea to have them to play with because if didn’t matter if they broke – and then someone pointed out that if they broke that there was probably going to be a physical injury following….

Safety should always be first; knowing what you want to use the tool for goes along with this as well as determines the bells and whistles that you will need; price range is important – but sometimes it is better to wait and save than to buy a substandard piece immediately.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 3975 days

#15 posted 11-10-2007 01:50 PM

Purchasing tools is best done by pacing yourself with an ongoing slow and methodical approach. Waiting till you’ve GOT to have it usually means paying too much.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

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