Beginning Woodworker Just Starting Out #4: Cheap Tools

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Blog entry by Jimi_C posted 05-15-2010 03:26 PM 1366 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: First Handcut Dovetails Part 4 of Beginning Woodworker Just Starting Out series Part 5: My Future Workshop »

I commented on Dustin's blog entry yesterday that, as a beginner, I like cheap tools because they give me the ability to learn without making a huge investment – because, as we all know, there’s always one more tool that you need…

Last week, I finally got around to properly tuning up the Grizzly smoothing plane I had bought a while back, and to sharpen the blade on the wet grinder as well (I really should ask Grizzly for an endorsement… :D). The pics below show the results I’m able to get with this cheap piece of iron after a minimal amount of work (less than 1 hour of my time):

That’s as fine a shaving as I’ve seen come off any plane. Now, is the plane perfect? Far from it! The casting has a little slop in it, where the grooves in the base hold the frog. I think this causes the blade to sit just a little off angle, so that I have to adjust it in order to make sure the blade is parallel to the base. To do that, I just hold it up to a fluorescent light and adjust it until it’s even – takes a minute or two and I’m good to go for hours. Obviously, that’s not something you’d have to do on a Lee Nielson or other high-end plane, or even on a good old Stanley.

For the record, I have been hunting Stanley’s on ebay for months, but it seems like everytime I bid on one, some asshole sniper snags it in the last minute – and usually for more than I want to pay anyway. I did manage to get a 9 1/2 block plane though, and tuned that up at the same time as this Grizzly, and it is not bad. I also got a #8, but that needs some serious work (I didn’t notice when bidding, but the lever cap was split right in half… and those aren’t easy to find nor cheap when it comes to #8’s…).

Another bonus when it comes to cheap tools, I’m not afraid to work on them a bit. I bought that 1940’s bandsaw for $100 and have been learning a ton about how bandsaws function in general, and how to really care for a machine. I’m also interested in upgrading my Ryobi’s blades to the helical head cutter, like mckenziedrums did to his. If I had paid $400+ for that planer or bandsaw, I sure wouldn’t be too interested in ripping them apart piece by piece :)

So, cheap tools have their place, and as someone else commented on that blog entry, craftsman were able to do amazing work with tools that were a lot worse than the low-end power tools we have available to us today.

-- The difference between being defeated and admitting defeat is what makes all the difference in the world - Upton Sinclair, "The Jungle"

4 comments so far

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3168 days

#1 posted 05-15-2010 05:50 PM

Who knows, some of today’s cheap might be tomorrow’s collectable. Case in point, about 30years ago I bought a little Stanley block plane at the local hardware store. I think I paid about $8.00 for it. It was considered a cheap, low end, mass market tool; functional, but absolutely no frills. Yesterday I had to get a replacement because I lost the old Stanley. Talk about sticker shock.The new version is nearly $50. Then I thought before I pay that for a base low end tool I’d see what a top end tool costs. Went to a local Woodcrafters store and checked out the planes behind the glass case. Dang!! Think I’ll buy a 2 hp 12” disk sander for endgrain work and a Dewalt 12” planer and a Grizzly 6” jointer. That would be a smaller investment.

I do agree that there is a place for cheap. And it’s not in the trash can. I know if I buy a multi-tool from Harbor Freight for $35 it’s not going to be as good as a $350 Fien. But, if I only need a tool like that for 2 or 3 jobs there is little to be gained by paying 10 times more for the top end. If I made my living using those tools every day, then that’s a different story.

View uffitze's profile


199 posts in 3152 days

#2 posted 05-15-2010 06:47 PM

I will grant to you that cheap tools do have their place, but as a guy who makes his living using tools every day, usually the cheap tools are in the hands of amateurs. Furthermore, cheap tools more often than not are poorly tuned, and take a lot of work to get that nice thin shaving or to make a straight cut. Now, you can find quality tools on Craigslist or at your local flea market for cheap(ish), but it is important to know what a quality tool is because there is crap out there too that people want top dollar for.

My advice is to buy the best tool(s) that you can afford. You will rarely regret it.

And, last, but not least, you can make a surprising number of woodworking hand tools yourself.

View degoose's profile


7243 posts in 3552 days

#3 posted 05-15-2010 10:38 PM

I too have been there done that… I started out with the absolute cheapest I could afford.. a bit of a oxymoron there.. now I see the folly of my ways.. Life is not a dress rehearsal… so go for it … lots of platitudes here too..
Hey Todd Hope you are reading this… LOL If I can quite afford the best now.. I have been known to aim for the penultimate.

-- Don't drink and use power tools @

View Woodfix's profile


343 posts in 3497 days

#4 posted 05-16-2010 10:41 AM

You can still pick up some cheap old tools around, Garage Sales, markets, etc. I bought a number seven stanley for about fifty bucks and it looked like it had never been sharpened since new. The blade still had the machining marks on it. Tuning it up is a work in progress because the sole needs a bit of work. But it is useable now and does a very nice job. I would rather spend a little money and a lot of time to get a good tool than spend way lots of money to get a really good tool.

Having said that I did buy a Lee Nielsen block plane and love it.


-- I would rather have the most memories, than the most money.

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