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"